NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A week ago after he failed to convert a route, receiver Justin Hunter was labeled “just another guy” by his coaches.
The nameplate on the back of his practice jersey was replaced by “JAG.”
After a week of great catches in practice, he grabbed two touchdowns in New Orleans, pulled in four catches for 111 yards and showed off the leaping ability that can make him practically impossible to defend.
“I think you’re seeing just a glimpse of what he can be, but because of what he did last night, let’s not make the mistake and think he’s, by any stretch, close to what he can be,” Whisenhunt said at his Saturday news conference. “There are a lot of things, from route depth to discipline on his releases, where even though he made some big plays last night, those have got to become more consistent.
“So he’s still got a lot of work to do. I’m excited for two things: No. 1 because he can make those big plays; and No. 2, because he seems to have the right mindset to work on those two things. Part of being a young player is you’ve got to be able to do that yourself. Right now, he has to be reminded at times to do that. Not from a negative standpoint, just because there is a lot going on. …
“I’m seeing growth, we’ve just got to continue to see that.”
The “JAG” jersey is still in his locker, maybe as a little reminder. Whisenhunt doesn’t expect to see it on the practice field this week.
“He definitely was not a JAG last night,” the coach said.
We’ll have to see how consistently Hunter can produce for the Titans outside the red zone. But once inside the 20 he will certainly be deployed as a target for fades and jump balls like the 4-yard touchdown he caught from Jake Locker at the Superdome.
There simply are not corners in the league who can match Hunter's combination of size (6-foot-4), speed (4.4-second 40) and leaping ability (39.5-inch vertical jump at the scouting combine).
I asked Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who’s either going to start at cornerback for the Titans or be part of the nickel package, how a defender can approach Hunter jumping for a pass in the end zone. Wreh-Wilson is 6-foot-1 with a 36-inch vertical.
“You can definitely see where he’s turned something on,” Wreh-Wilson said before the Titans went to New Orleans. “Something has clicked for him. … You have to play through his hands. You’re not going to find a lot of guys that can athletically jump with him. When it comes to the red zone when the ball is up in the air, he’s got a good advantage against a lot of corners. So you’ve got to play through him.”
Said the corner Wreh-Wilson is fighting for playing time, Coty Sensabaugh: “Hunter is a vertical challenge. He probably has one of the highest verticals in the league. I say you go through his hands and try to make him catch it one-handed.”