Titans' Hunter needs to practice more safely

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A slap fight in helmets between safety Michael Griffin and receiver Michael Preston escalated into a bigger deal involving about 20 players at Tennessee Titans practice Saturday afternoon. Some guys wound up on top of gray garbage cans near the fence bordering the field before it wound down.

It was relatively timid and largely standard fare for a training-camp fight, more shoving and yelling than anything. Afterwards players and coaches talked about how such things shouldn’t escalate, are bound to happen and will be forgotten.

Griffin said he told coach Mike Munchak that if there are fines for both the headliners, he wanted to pay both.

Munchak took it seriously, but also said, “It was mainly a lot of little guys trying to look tough.”

The big thing, to me, that came out of it was in the few plays that followed, where rookie receiver Justin Hunter was tentative and looked to put himself in potential danger as he finished up following a couple catches.

After the first, volatile safety Bernard Pollard let Hunter have it for all to hear. Pollard, to put it politely, questioned Hunter’s toughness. Hunter, to his credit, jawed back at him.

But soon after, Hunter went down awkwardly again. He looked timid and unsure as he went to the ground feet first, on his backside, nearly asking for a cleat to get stuck in the ground and something bad to happen to one of his legs.

Guys who carry the ball generally have a sense of how to end a practice play safely. Hunter doesn’t yet seem to have that knack, and after getting berated by Pollard it got worse, not better.

“When I see it, I feel like I can do a little bit more than I did going to the ground, get two extra yards,” Hunter said. “I just have that in my mind, to always fight for more.”

Receivers need to have that urge, but they also need to manage where and when they use it as safely as possible.

Said Munchak: “Guys have to learn how to protect themselves and how to fall, for receivers, quarterbacks, all those guys. [Hunter] has a lot of things to learn. He hasn’t played a ton. I’m just glad he’s out there competing, catching some balls. Going against guys like Pollard, [Jason] McCourty, those guys in the secondary, I think will help him, have him battle-tested, ready when the season starts.”

In training camp, players ideally are supposed to stay on their feet as a play ends. A receiver will make a catch, defenders will touch rather than tackle him, and he will “finish the play” by continuing to run even after it would have been over.

Griffin said it is part of the secondary’s job to help a young receiver figure out how to make smart choices at the end of a play.

“I think Reggie Wayne does a great job at it, when he catches the ball, when he realizes he can’t get any more yards, he gets down,” Griffin said. “But stopping right there in the line of traffic and what not, may possibly get [Hunter] hurt.

“Especially one play where he ran across the middle and he tries to stop and turn back the other way and go in the middle of the field. I mean there are defensive players running all over the place. Just for safety precautions on himself. Out here he is all safe and all. Come in two weeks when you play the Washington Redskins, you do one of those things, no telling what’s going to happen, tearing up your knees stopping suddenly or somebody dives into the leg or whatnot.”

The Titans have a somewhat lousy history of young receivers suffering lingering leg injuries. Hopefully Hunter doesn't end up being another one of them. He can certainly do more to reduce the likelihood of that.