Randy Moss and the effort question

The effort Randy Moss puts into being a team player will be closely watched in Nashville. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Will he always try?

Will Randy Moss, Tennessee Titan, bust it at the line of scrimmage and run every play? As much as he bristled at the question -- I was fortunate enough to ask one of four he fielded in his first meeting with the Tennessee media Wednesday after practice -- it’s not an unfair one based on his history.

Moss has not always given maximum effort. The Titans are expecting that he will.

“He’s caught passes for 15,000 yards, so he knows about playing the game,” Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said. “I think [the effort question] becomes kind of a product of your environment, not to speak of where he’s been and whatever. But if you watch our practices, our guys practice hard, and I think that’s a contagious thing. I think we’re optimistic that that happens."

And if it doesn’t, what does it tell a young team with young receivers like Kenny Britt, Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins?

“That’s a fair question,” Reinfeldt said. “I think the good thing is we have enough young guys that are so strong, that really work hard and with passion, I don’t think that impacts that at all. I’d be disappointed if we saw it, yeah.”

The Titans playfully sent rookie safety Robert Johnson onto the practice field in a Moss jersey before the new addition came out himself. Jeff Fisher smiled about it fooling cameramen and photographers briefly and said he thought Johnson did a nice imitation, though he wore the wrong color gloves.

Before the Titans' biggest media crowd in memory, Moss stood against a team banner and talked for 3 minutes, 4 seconds, opening by telling his family “your baby brother, your baby boy is good.”

“I’ve been through a lot the last couple weeks, but like I’ve said, I’ve got these broad shoulders. I can carry a lot of weight,” he said.

I asked, “What can this team expect from you effort-wise, snap to snap?”

Moss: “What do you expect from me, effort-wise?”

Me: “Well other people…”

Moss: “I didn’t say other people. What do you expect from me, effort-wise?”

Me: “I don’t know what to expect.”

Moss: “Well, I don’t know what to expect either. Next question.”

(I should have done better there.)

Fisher and quarterback Kerry Collins, who played with Moss in Oakland in 2005, both talked about how lack of effort from the receiver is a misconception.

Fisher immediately turned to the play against New England where Moss, then with the Vikings, didn’t really go after a ball on what was a pass interference penalty in his favor.

But that’s not what Fisher was being asked about and when pressed, he admitted as much.

Question: There have been times when Moss has jogged off the line of scrimmage, have there not?

“Yeah, there’s been times when that’s happened. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what the scenario was, I don’t know what the play call was, I don’t know what the formation was, whether he was primary or not or didn’t get a check. So I can’t comment. The only thing I can comment on is the way he’s going to play here."

Question: If he’s not primary here, you’re still expecting him to run hard off the line of scrimmage, yeah?

"He could be primary here at any time with our quarterback and his legs."

Question: So he’s expected to run?

“Yes, he is.”

Question: What if he doesn’t?

“I’m not going to deal in hypothetical. I don’t have any issues with what he’s done right now. We’re trying to get him ready to play and get him involved in this offense. And he understands we have a running back that can, literally, come out any place on the run plays. He understands that and is ready to be a part of that.”

Said Collins: “I never worry about what you’re going to get from Randy Moss. … Never once did I ever question whether he was going to give me everything he had. I expect that here. I know what kind of guy he is, what kind of pro he is, so there is no doubt in my mind what we are going to get from him.”

Hey, I hope for the Titans’ sake that no effort issues arise.

But if one does, it will set an awfully bad example for a young team that’s coached to play hard, all the time, and for the rest of the receivers who are expected to block, a lot, when the ball isn’t coming to them.

Let’s set aside, please, the concept that the not-always-playing-hard line of questioning is some sort of media creation. The media didn’t create the tape we’ve seen of snaps where he has hardly bolted off the line of scrimmage. The media didn’t make him say, “I’ll play when I want to play.” And the media didn’t put words in the mouths of people like Brett Favre.

“Did he hustle on every play?” Favre asked last week after Moss was released by the Vikings. “I don’t know if Randy has ever hustled on every play. That’s just Randy. But he knows what his value is. He figures, ‘Heck, two guys follow me everywhere I go.’ [Jets cornerback Antonio] Cromartie did a great job against him, challenged him one-on-one, but eventually we got a big one. That’s why teams don’t do that.

“They may watch and say, ‘He’s jogging, jogging, jogging.’ Boom, 70-yard touchdown. That one definitely got us a spark that night.”

Britt is out with a hamstring injury and it could be a good while before he gets back on the field. He said jogging off the line of scrimmage can’t work.

“Oh no, not here,” he said. “Especially in our running game. We want to sprint off the ball as much as we can. That’s how the defense can’t tell if it’s a run or a pass. When you start jogging off the ball they can tell it’s a run or what we are going to do on our offense.”

Might he see Moss jog off the line here?

“I hope not,” Britt said. “We’ve got rules for that. We might get a little fine for jogging on the backside or not finishing. Twenty bucks. For a dropped ball or anything like that, everybody gets treated the same.”

That’s one place where equal treatment might not be a good thing. I seriously doubt a $20 bill is going to dissuade Moss from doing his own thing if he wants to.

Fisher and the Titans have a setup in which Moss can succeed. But the coach also has set himself up for a lot of criticism if Moss doesn’t pan out. The coach has said he sees “no risk” in the addition and promised Moss won’t receive special treatment.

“Randy’s going to play hard.” Fisher said Monday. “Yeah, he’s going to look around and watch everybody play and play hard. There is not going to be a double-standard here for anybody, there never is. If players aren’t playing hard, they’re corrected -- constructively corrected.”

Who wouldn’t like to see receivers coach Fred Graves, offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger or Fisher himself constructively correct a receiver who’s heading for the Hall of Fame, who has just come from time with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and who a friend and former teammate, Cris Carter, said struggles with male authority?

To hear Moss tell it, none of them will have an issue.

“I look forward to just coming out here and just helping this team,” he said. “Do whatever I can and whatever my role is, is what I am going to do. Hopefully, I fit into Coach Fisher’s team and hopefully I’m going to go out here and make some plays to keep winning.”

Cortland Finnegan is thrilled to have Moss on his team. But he’ll also advise the rest of the receivers to listen to their coaches and not necessarily look to another player as a model.

“The young players realize they have a job at stake too and they’re going to have to do things the way that they are coached to do,” Finnegan said. “And I know that Randy will, too.”