NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In three seasons in the NFL, receiver Justin Hunter has been stripped down by the Titans and pumped up by them, too.
Former receivers coach Shawn Jefferson had Hunter wearing a jersey with “JAG” on the back rather than his name, reminding Hunter after some success that he was still “just a guy.”
Now coach Mike Mularkey is telling Hunter about how good he can be.
Both were seeking ways to get Hunter to elevate his game.
“I am asking him to step up and be more aggressive about it," Mularkey said. “To get up at the line and look at the guy across from him and tell him, ‘You can’t cover me.’ He just needs more confidence in his body language, and everything about him. He has so much talent, he just has to believe he has the talent.”
Hunter wasn’t at his locker Wednesday when I looked for him to ask about what Mularkey said.
As he heads into a contract year, he’s not assured of a roster spot.
That body-language issue and the seeming lack of confidence often make him appear timid. Those have been issues for him for three years. And last year at this time, Jefferson was saying that the mental part of Hunter’s game was catching up to the physical gifts.
Then, in nine games before he suffered a season-ending broken ankle, he was very ho-hum: 22 catches for 264 yards and a touchdown. He had two games with four catches, and his top game produced 54 yards.
I appreciate that Mularkey is maybe trying something new or different.
“I want him to be successful," Mularkey said. “I am on his side. What is it going to take to get you to play at the level we want you to play at?”
That is the big question with Hunter.
Frankly, his resume doesn’t offer a lot to suggest there is a real answer. And three years amounts to a significant sample size.
Plenty of guys in the league take a while to get it and then their growth curve takes off.
Maybe that happens for Hunter now, with a new staff that has a lot of resources for receivers.
But thinking the switch is going to flip now for Hunter, and he’s capable of turning into a confident playmaker with swagger, is more offseason optimism than anything.
It would be great if he pulled a surprise.
But it would be a big surprise.