Titans hope 'Heimerdinger Effect' hits star QB

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Not only was the temperature rising at Titans' training camp this week, so were tempers. The first of three scheduled practices with the St. Louis Rams erupted into four fights in the opening five plays Wednesday morning between the Rams' offense and the scrappy Titans' defense.

"It was like Cotto-Margarito," Titans tight end Alge Crumpler said.

Of all people, Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth not only wasn't involved, he said after practice, "We need to focus a little bit more and stop worrying about kicking people's butts and stuff and actually do it between the whistles. I think we got a little more focused on the brawls after (the play) instead of the actual play."

Here's five other meaningful observations from a hot training camp in Nashville.

1. Will the Heimerdinger effect work for Young?

Despite a 17-11 record as a starting quarterback, Vince Young understands he has to improve markedly this season if the Titans are ever going to become the team he hopes they will be. To that end, he has spent long hours with new (and also old since he was here before during Steve McNair's rise) offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger in the classroom, although their relationship started on the dance floor.

"Their relationship didn't start on the chalkboard," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "It was inside the (practice) bubble changing his footwork. We'll have to wait until the end of the season to measure it (Heimerdinger's impact) but so far it's been significant."

Although Young threw nearly twice as many interceptions as touchdowns last season (17 to nine), he did improve his accuracy from 51.5 percent in his rookie year to a more respectable 62.3 last season. Yet Young understands an offense that scores a touchdown or less in nine of its 16 games, as the Titans did on 2007, will not keep winning for long.

For that to change, he has to change. And fast.

"We're looking pretty good as an offense but it could be better," Young said. "Mike and I get along real good. He understands the game. I want to showcase my legs. I want to showcase my arm. He wants the same things. I feel the things I'm being taught are good.

"I'm getting the ball out quicker to the edge so guys can make plays. I know it's going to take a lot of hard work but I got some goals and some dreams. It's going to take sitting down in that film room to accomplish them because that helps a whole lot. If I can get that pre-snap read down, I'll be all right. I'm starting to learn the game a whole lot better."

Young was 49-of-63 during two practices against the Rams' defense with only one interception. Although the bulk of those throws were in 7-on-7 competition, Fisher was still happy at what he saw.

"I was very pleased with his production and his improvement," Fisher said. "He was decisive. He made plays. He had no preparation whatsoever as far as their defense is concerned and he was making good plays."

Young's tutor is the same one who converted McNair into an MVP passer. However, the offense will not be the same one run by McNair because Heimerdinger understands Young is not a pocket passer. He is someone who seems to play his best out of the shotgun and when he's on the move, two places Heimerdinger intends to put him much of the time.

2. The Freak's back where he belongs

Jevon Kearse now understands that even though the green may be there, the grass may not always be greener elsewhere.

Four years ago, Kearse left Tennessee for a record contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, an eight-year deal worth $65 million, including a $16 million signing bonus. The reasons to leave the place where he became the first rookie defensive end named as a Pro Bowl starter in 21 years and a pass rusher so unique and productive he was labeled "The Freak," were many but they had nothing to do with football.

Financially it was the right move for Kearse but the best place for him to play was right where he was, which is why he's back with the Titans after four years in a Eagles' defense ill-suited to his skills.

"Jevon is an upfield rusher," said Titans assistant head coach and linebacker coach Dave McGinnis. "He's not a two-gap, hold the point, read and react type player. His gift is getting upfield. They didn't want him to do that in Philadelphia and it showed but we believe he still can."

It showed in dwindling production and growing criticism. Still, he twice led the Eagles in sacks before finally losing his job to a knee injury and dissatisfaction with his play. Kearse was finally released on Feb. 28 and barely a week later he was back where he belongs. Back in a Titan defense he now knows was perfect for him.

"I'm here with a lot of motivation," Kearse said. "I was a totally different animal in Philadelphia. That defense was not meant for me. I tell guys going into free agency study what you're getting yourself into. I thought I played pretty well there for what they wanted but it hurt my name. Everybody thought I was done. People here know me and they know better."

Kearse has rejoined a defensive line that a year ago produced 36 of the team's 40 sacks. It is the place where he had more sacks in his first two seasons in the league (26) than he had in four years with the Eagles (22), a place where he joins a rotation that includes Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch, who has 31 sacks over the last three seasons.

When Kearse looks at that he sees a lethal group and the return of "The Freak Show" to Nashville.

"I've been welcomed back with open arms," he said. "The team knows I still got what it takes. I've been revitalized. I feel the same. I look the same. Now I got to go out and do the same."

3. This rookie can run

First-round draft choice Chris Johnson has already proven to be a welcome compliment to pile driving running back LenDale White.

When the Titans drafted Johnson out of East Carolina it was the third straight season they'd taken a running back in either the first or second round. It also produced a badly needed infusion of pure speed into their backfield.

Johnson ran the combine's fastest 40 time (4.24 seconds) and has already shown this summer that there is a reason to get him the ball.

"Sonic The Hedge Hog is good for us," Young said of Johnson. "He's speedy and he makes the right cuts. You can't coach that.

"I'm a big fan of his right now. When I hand off the ball to him I finish off my fake and then I'm like the fans. I'm watching him too."

With White limping, Johnson has been carrying an expanded load and thriving in it. Heimerdinger plans to get the rookie on the field in passing situations and find an assortment of other ways to utilize his speed not only in passing situations but also on regular downs.

"I'm not going to go into details and tell you what exactly we're going to be doing with him," Fisher said of Johnson. "We're going to use him as a running back. We're going to use him as a wide receiver, and we're going to use him for everything in between. We'll also try to use him as a returner."

Johnson appears to have already passed former second-round pick Chris Henry on the repetition list in practices if not quite yet on the team's depth chart.

4. Williams has an opening, can he fill it?

In his fourth season, wide receiver Roydell Williams has the speed to give the Titans a true deep threat, although he has seldom been used that way.

A year ago, Williams was primarily a possession receiver and became the team's sole red zone threat on his way to tying for the club lead in receptions with 55. But as Young grows more comfortable in the pocket and begins to read defenses faster, it could finally turn Williams into the kind of deep threat he has the speed to become.

One player confident in Williams' potential is the same guy who has to find him if he's ever going to reach his potential.

"Roydell is a quick, quick player," Young said after Williams made a diving 40-yard reception during one of the Rams' training camp practices. "He's going to be an X factor for us."

Camp: Nashville, Tenn.

Preseason games:
Aug. 9: St. Louis, 8 p.m. ET

Aug. 15: Oakland, 8 p.m. ET

Aug. 22: at Atlanta, 7:30 p.m. ET

Aug. 28: at Green Bay, 8 p.m. ET

5. Who will guard the pocket?

Fisher has to find two new starting guards after the retirement of Benji Olson and the free agent defection of Jacob Bell, who is now starting in St. Louis. Fisher believes one spot was immediately shorn up with the signing of veteran free agent Jake Scott, who had been a hard-nosed member of the Colts' very productive offensive line.

For the moment at least, the left guard is fifth-year veteran Eugene Amano, who has started only eight NFL games but is manning the spot between former Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae and massive and rapidly improving left tackle Michael Roos (six-foot-7, 315 pounds).

Fisher admitted this week the Titans "were very much interested in re-signing (Bell). We made a concerted effort to try to get him back under contract but he was advised to wait and get on the market and it just didn't work out. We're happy for Jacob. We're also happy to have Jake Scott."

As for Amano, the former seventh-round draft choice remains in a fight with Leroy Harris for the left guard job. Amano has been working with the starting offensive line throughout training camp and the Titans' decision to extend his contract last November through 2009 seemed to make it clear their future intentions for him.

If Tennessee plans to grind the ball out on the ground to control the clock and limit the problems Young faces, as is Fisher's first choice, they will need not only what Scott used to give divisional rival Indianapolis but also consistent play from Amano, who at this stage remains a question that has to be answered this summer.

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