Welcome news for Titans: Hayes' injury not as bad as feared

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans feared the worst when starting defensive end William Hayes injured his knee at training camp. However, they breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday after learning Hayes might be ready for their season opener.

Tests showed Hayes only has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, welcome news on a team that's growing thin on the defensive line.

Hayes gingerly walked off the indoor practice field Tuesday with a trainer and a doctor after being hit on the outside of his knee during a drill. Hayes slowly walked into the locker room Wednesday with a brace on his right knee.

"Happy it's not an ACL," Hayes said. "I definitely thought it was probably going to be a little bit worse than it was, but it's not as bad as we thought."

Coach Jeff Fisher said the Titans were excited to hear the test results.

"When you have that kind of injury on the practice field, and upon immediate examination, your fear is you've got an ACL involved," Fisher said. "So with a mild MCL sprain, that'll keep him out for a couple weeks, it's good news."

Hayes, who's entering his third NFL season, started 11 games last season. He is the latest Titans defensive lineman beset by injury.

Top draft pick Derrick Morgan has yet to practice with the full team because of injuries, and Jacob Ford missed three days with a hip flexor before practicing Wednesday afternoon. Tackle Jason Jones played a few snaps Tuesday to help finish off practice, and tackle Kareem Brown did the same Wednesday.

Tackle Tony Brown remains on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from knee surgery and is waiting to be activated to the roster.

"If there's ever going to be a C-L involved, you don't want neither," Brown said of the news on Hayes. "But at the same time, we're definitely glad it's not the ACL. We're praying and hoping he has a quick recovery."

Hayes was a fourth-round pick out of Winston-Salem State in 2008. He played in all 16 games in 2009 with four sacks, five tackles for loss and 51 total tackles. Hayes has worked with the first-team line opposite Ford in training camp.

The Titans open the preseason Saturday night at Seattle, and their home opener is Aug. 23 against the Arizona Cardinals. But Hayes said having coach Jim Washburn means every practice is like a preseason game.

"So preseason is good for the younger guys and for us to try to help with a couple little glitches in the game to help clear everything up a little bit. We'll be fine," Hayes said. "I'm going to come back out when I get cleared, practice hard and I'll be ready whenever it's time for me to go."

Wide receiver Damian Williams and safety Nick Schommer came off the physically unable to perform list and practiced in a special teams session Wednesday. Williams, a third-round pick out of USC, is expected to have the best chance at being the team's new punt returner.

Williams said he believed he was ready to return from his strained right hamstring a couple days ago, but team officials wanted to be cautious. He would love to play at Seattle.

"At the same time, I know this is one of those injuries you've got to be really careful of," Williams said. "... I'll leave that to coach Fisher."

The Titans slowly worked Williams back in the team practice, but he had some nice catches against the defense, including a one-handed grab of a pass from Vince Young.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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