published Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Wiedmer: Titans’ people still busy

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NASHVILLE — Tennessee Titans radio voice Mike Keith has heard the question more times than he can count.

“Everybody says, ‘When are you going back to work?’” Keith said with a chuckle Friday afternoon. “My answer is, ‘I’ve never stopped working. I’m getting ready for the season, just like any other year.’”

There will be no NFL season until the lockout officially ends and players are allowed to return to their team headquarters and practice facilities.

Yet even though Keith refused to speculate — and Titans headquarters at Baptist Sports Park was unusually quiet this week — no one believes there won’t be an NFL season, or that it will in any way be delayed.

As one former NFL assistant told me last week, “Both sides are making so much money, they have no choice but to play.”

Still, until the owners and players figure out how best to divide this year’s $9 billion in revenue — or, perhaps more importantly, how to divide the expected $20 billion that could be out there seven or eight years from now — there is no football.

“I know we’re preparing for a season,” said Jared Puffer of the Titans’ media relations department. “We’re working on the online media guide right now. We’ve had teleconferences between the coaches and the fans. We’re preparing for the season as best we can.”

Ever the professional, Keith said he’s actually a wee bit ahead of his normal schedule in one area, even though he knows his game-day preparations will need some major alterations once the hundreds of free agents are signed.

“I’ve pretty much already wrapped up all my charts and graphs and notes,” said the former Chattanooga resident. “Where I’m really behind is the television show.”

The show is “Titans All-Access,” and it airs locally at 11:30 p.m. for 21 straight Saturdays throughout the late summer, fall and early winter on CBS affiliate Channel 12.

“We normally spend April, May, June and early July shooting the vast majority of our features,” Keith said of the magazine-show format. “But it’s going to be a real scramble this year. We’ll just have to shoot a ton of stuff whenever camp starts.”

Most believe the lockout needs to end by Saturday for there to be no major problems throughout the league with training camp, exhibition games and the like.

Already breaking in a new coaching staff with the departure of Jeff Fisher and the promotion of Mike Munchak, the Titans may need every minute of that time more than ever now that 38-year-old quarterback Kerry Collins has decided to retire rather than return to the team for a sixth season.

Then again, first-round draft pick Jake Locker did join 39 other Titans in participating in an unofficial minicamp at Nashville’s Father Ryan High School last month, the players even wearing “Father Ryan Athletics” T-shirts while working out under the watchful eyes of that school’s coaches.

Moreover, All-Pro running back Chris Johnson told The Associated Press after that camp that his first impression of Locker was highly favorable.

“You can see he’s a hard worker,” Johnson said of the former University of Washington star. “You can also see he’s a pretty good quarterback by the way he throws the ball. And he’s mobile, too.”

Perhaps that’s why Keith said of the upcoming season, “I think people will be pleasantly surprised.”

And they may. Johnson already has a 2,000-yard season in his young career. The defense has both talent and depth. Munchak was reportedly the players’ choice to follow Fisher from the beginning.

“Mostly, I sense that people are anxious to get started,” Keith said. “They want to see Locker. They want to see Munchak. It’s hard to believe, but there’s a new era in Titans football for the first time since the team moved here from Houston in the 1990s.”

This isn’t to say everything’s been abnormal since the lockout began on March 11. Fisher still conducted his wildly successful celebrity softball tournament a few weeks ago. Defensive back Cortland Finnegan again staged his Karaoke for the Cure event to raise money for leukemia research. Led by Munchak, the staff conducted its 10th annual high school coaches clinic.

Even the newest batch of Titans cheerleaders has been picked, their smiling faces plastered all over the team’s website — www.titansonline.com.

So it has somewhat been business as usual.

“There just haven’t been any players around,” Puffer said.

At least not for another day or two or five.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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