"Who would have thought we'd be 9-7?" fullback Ahmard Hall said Monday after the Titans cleaned out lockers. "Who would give us a chance to be 9-7? Munch is building something great here, and everybody wants to be a part of that."
For a franchise that got rid of a quarterback and head coach a year ago, handling a secondary where four defensive backs are pending free agents should be much easier. Defensive captain and cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safeties Chris Hope, Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux all are up with no contract talks since Finnegan bolted training camp in August.
Finnegan doesn't sound as if he expects to be back, though he hopes to return after six seasons in Tennessee.
"Coach Munchak is building something really special around here," Finnegan said. "He plans to talk to everyone. We'll see what the future holds."
Munchak said the salary cap will decide how many players they keep. He hopes they keep as many as possible in free agency along with another crop of rookies to go with a promising draft class where three started on defense.
"You got a nice little core here, so I think it's something we can build on," Munchak said. "I think that's part of the excitement of selling to the guys that are in this room is that yeah, 9-7 was OK. It wasn't quite good enough this year, but a lot of good things happened at 9-7 that we're excited about as an organization, as a team and that we can build on."
The Titans finished the season beating the Houston Texans 23-22, missing out on their first playoff berth since 2008 when the Jets lost to Miami and Denver lost to Kansas City. That left Tennessee tied with Cincinnati but losing the head-to-head tiebreaker due to a Nov. 6 loss to the Bengals where the Titans blew a 10-point lead in losing 24-17.
"Hopefully the lesson we learned is you can't hope that someone else can do your job for you," Munchak said. "We had to earn our way in, and we didn't."
At least Munchak has his quarterbacks in veteran Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker going into a full offseason to push for the starting job. Hasselbeck started all 16 games and became the first quarterback for this franchise not named Warren Moon to throw for at least 3,500 yards. He finished with 3,571 yards passing with 18 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. Locker threw for four TDs with a 99.4 passer rating coming off the bench in five games.
Munchak said the quarterbacks will compete again with the player who should start being an obvious decision when the time comes.
He plans on keeping his coordinators, giving Chris Palmer to work on an offense that ranked 17th in the NFL in passing even though top receiver Kenny Britt tore his right ACL in September.
The biggest focus will be on a run game that ranked 31st in the league averaging a measly 89.9 yards.
A full offseason will help Jerry Gray's defense too.
"We were limited in what we could do because guys were learning it on the run," Finnegan said. "That'd be huge for this defense."
Notes: The Titans will pick 20th in April's draft. ... The Titans' 2012 home schedule features visits from Houston, the Colts and Jaguars in the AFC South along with the Patriots, the Jets, the Steelers, Chicago and Detroit. Tennessee will visit its AFC South divisional rivals along with trips to Minnesota, Green Bay, Miami, San Diego and Buffalo after finishing second in the division.