Titans' assistant coach happy with group of young linemen - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Titans' assistant coach happy with group of young linemen

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tackle Antonio Johnson hears the voice of Jim Washburn yelling his nickname so much it feels as if the Tennessee Titans' defensive line coach has invaded his dreams.

Everywhere he turns, it's "Mookie. Mookie. Mookie."

"He's been on me pretty tough," Johnson said. "In a sense, it's a good thing. That's what the older guys tell me. It's a good thing. If he's not on me as hard as he is, he probably don't see as much in me. He stays on me because he sees a lot in me."

Talk to Washburn, and he's unusually happy for a coach who lost two veterans who gave him 14 combined sacks last season. Additionally, tackle Albert Haynesworth is unsigned as Tennessee's franchise player.

"This is a really good group. They're young. They probably got a chance, I mean they really do. It's fun to coach guys who really like football. We had some guys in the past, they didn't really care. They played for the money. Not that they don't like money, but they like football and they're eager and they respond," Washburn said.

A lot of attention is being focused on the Titans' defensive line during their final minicamp sessions. This is the unit that set the tone for one of the NFL's best defenses in 2007 and the biggest reason why Tennessee finished 10-6 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

The Titans ranked fifth in the league in yards allowed with the line grabbing 36 of the defense's 40 sacks. Gone now are Antwan Odom (eight sacks) and Travis LaBoy (six) for big money in Cincinnati and Arizona. 

In their place, the Titans brought in veteran Jevon Kearse on a two-year deal, and Bryce Fisher also is back after being picked up in a September trade last fall.

But the Titans are counting on a youth movement to provide help to Pro Bowl end Kyle Vanden Bosch and Haynesworth.

They have Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound tackle they drafted in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. He tore his left anterior cruciate ligament during the first week of training camp last year. Speedy end Jacob Ford, a sixth-rounder from Central Arkansas, also sat out with a torn Achilles' tendon.

Tennessee then drafted Jason Jones and William Hayes in April to go with undrafted free agent tackle Barry Booker and Dave Ball, a 2004 draft pick by the San Diego Chargers.

"I've got five rookies ... so that's neat," Washburn said.

Linebacker David Thornton said it's never easy to lose two veterans like Odom and LaBoy. But he has looked at the young group and thinks the Titans more than filled their needs.

"To see our young guys come in with a focus and a determination to fill that void that was left, it's exciting to see. Coach Washburn has done a great job preparing those guys in the classroom and getting a tremendous amount of effort from them on the practice field," Thornton said.

"They want to be accepted and depended on. If they continue to work hard and stay focused, they can come in and do a good job for us early in their careers."

Coach Jeff Fisher also has liked what he's seen so far but knows it's hard to evaluate the young talent until the pads come on in training camp.

"The two draft choices from last year have come on, and they're doing quite well for us. We're pleased. It's almost a bonus for us, and of course Jason and William are coming on ... They clearly can run. They can do the things we thought they could do," Fisher said.

Kearse, who was benched last season in Philadelphia, and Haynesworth, who's working out on his own during contract talks, will be key if the Titans' line is to play as aggressively and effectively as last season.

Washburn is trusting Haynesworth and believes he has matured enough to be working hard to be ready for the upcoming season. As for Kearse, teammates sense a hunger in him, and Washburn said the end should be motivated going into his 10th NFL season.

"He wants to restore his name more than anything else. That's why he's back. We lost those guys. He's got a chance to go play left end where he made two Pro Bowls. That's good. I'm real excited," Washburn said.

 

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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