Recapping this trip: The Nashville edition

The shrimp and grits at the Mad Platter was spiced perfectly (Twitpic)

Well, it was a quick trip to Nashville, just one day. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t eventful. A nice meal, a visit with an old friend… and an up-close and personal look at one of the league’s more intriguing quarterback battles.

Here is my training camp report on the Titans.

What was Nashville like? 

– There’s no doubt the focus is, and should be on, the battle to be the starting quarterback between former first-rounder Jake Locker and veteran sage Matt Hasselbeck. It is a topic every day, and Tennessean reporter Jim Wyatt is doing a fantastic job chronicling it locally. It is a real competition, but I have no doubt the hope inside that team is that Locker wins. Then, they can install him as the QB for 10 years. The players like him and respect him — for his work ethic, especially. He may be the team’s hardest worker. It’s something guys recognize. And also, he’s such a great athlete, Locker is kinda like at the cool table at lunch. Hasselbeck is making it hard, playing well, but my guess is he’ll end up as the NFL’s best backup. This is the video of my one-on-one with Locker that ran on Total Access.

As you’ve probably seen by now, I was impressed by the product Chris Johnson put on the field during practice. He looked fast, and the team is pretty pumped about how he showed up to camp. I had a good talk with Johnson yesterday, mostly about last year. Johnson is sure this year will be different, because he’s here. “It feels different,” Johnson told me. “It’s like the same story. Me coming in couple days before the first game of (last)season… It’s like when you start training camp and you wear the helmet the first couple days of training camp. Then, it’s time to go out there with pads and go hit, you’re going to be nervous until you get hit a couple times. But instead of me going to camp,  I went into a live football game for the first time, know what I’m saying? It’s kinda crazy. Like, I don’t like to make excuses, but a lot of things factored into it. But I’m more comfortable this year and getting to go through camp and getting into football shape and get hit around and deliver blows and stuff, so when it’s time to get into a game, I’ll be used to it already and be used to running with my offensive line.

– The Titans are no doubt still feeling the loss of O.J. Murdock, who died recently. He was a former teammate, and they are reeling. So, it was a nice gesture and the right thing to do for coach Mike Munchak to allow WR Damian Williams and TE Jared Cook to attend his funeral and miss practice. In fact, Murdock’s mother asked both of them to speak, considering they were his roommates at one time or another. The Titans have a lot going on, and they are clearly focused on football. But the impact of this news is jarring. As GM Ruston Webster said, “That’s a difficult thing to deal with.

– I only had one meal in Tennessee, but I made it worth it. My buddy Josh Cooper, who covers the Predators for the Tennessean, took me to a sweet place called the Mad Platter in Germantown. Excellent selection. I had the shrimp and grits (pictured), and they were spiced perfectly. The place kinda looked like a library, which was nice, and they never fill all of the tables to ensure great service. Oh, and the menu changes every day. My kinda spot.

– Speaking of the QB controversy, it’s really not. I was wondering, before I arrived, why it hadn’t really taken hold nationally. But the reason is that, I think, it’s relatively boring. Just two good guys who like each other, duking it out on the football field. I mean, Hasselbeck and Locker are buddies and have been since Locker was at Washington. If one was good and the other was evil, that would make it more fun. But it’s not even like that. I even get the sense Hasselbeck enjoys mentoring Locker, even if it could land him on the bench. “I’m just thankful that he’s as willing to teach as he has been,” Locker told me. “For us, it’s more…. We work together and try to help each other out. I try to do whatever I can, (laughs) but there isn’t a whole lot I can tell him that he doesn’t know. It’s a little one-sided at this point, but I’m thankful for that.”

– OK fine, one more note on the QB battle… The question has come up a bunch about Hasselbeck’s status if Locker ends up winning the job. As in, could he be traded to a QB-needy team after an injury strikes? He would be the game’s top backup, and his experience would make for a quick acclimation. But I don’t get the feeling the Titans would want to trade Hasselbeck unless the offer was so insanely good under that scenario. The reason is, Locker runs around. He’s physical. He takes hits, and he gets sacked. They know he’s going to get hurt. Hasselbeck would be the best insurance policy ever.

– WR Kendall Wright was slated to practice for the first time in pads today, and that’s a good thing. The team has high hopes for its first-round draft pick, and they want the process to begin sooner rather than later. When you team him with WR Kenny Britt (whenever he’s healthy enough to play and is done with a possible league suspension) that’s some duo. Yikes. Listen to what the organization likes about Wright. “He’s got really good play speed, he’s quick, makes people miss, great with the ball in his hands, catches everything that hits his hands,” Webster said. “So I like that about him. He’s very competitive. Kendall had a good OTAs, and looked very comfortable, picked everything up very quickly.”

– Finally, I love visiting Nashville. When I covered the SEC, it was an easy No. 2 for best conference city to visit (behind Athens, Ga., obviously). Nothing has changed. Walk around to any bar, and you’ll find an open mic with a fantastic singer doing his or her thing. There’s just nothing like it. Better than listening to the radio. How dedicated is the city to its music? There was a live band in an airport restaurant. Awesome.

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