12 padded practices must be enough for Titans to set tone, find left guard

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- NFL rules dictate the Tennessee Titans can have only 12 padded practices during training camp. The first one is Monday morning.

A dozen practices with real hitting provide a pretty small window in which to set the physical tone the team is determined to play with. And it won’t provide a huge body of evidence for sorting out the open spot at left guard.

But it’s what the Titans, and 31 other teams get, so they’ll do all they can with it.

“[This] week is four in a row, the week after we're four in a row,” coach Mike Mularkey said. “So you have to evaluate very well. With less reps, these guys have to show what they're capable of doing with less opportunities. I think the preseason games are going to be critical for these guys as well."

But if he could put them in pads more?

“I would have more full-padded practices, yes,” he said. “But don’t tell the guys I said so.”

Second-year man Jeremiah Poutasi is in the left-guard competition.

“I feel like every practice is important," he said. "We have 12 padded practices. Four guys competing, I’m just doing the best I can do out there, being coachable, just doing what I asked. I do my best, I don’t win it, at least I can say I did my best. My best has yet to come out. I can be a lot better. I built a lot more confidence, learned a lot from my first year and I am starting to fix mistakes. I feel like I am better at criticizing myself, which makes me a better player.”

Brian Schwenke has worked some as second-team left guard with Andy Gallik at center, and some at second-team center with Gallik at left guard. Schwenke said he cannot think about the small window that the most-physical practices will offer.

“If you think about it, you start overthinking things," he said. "You really just need to go out there and just play football well. I mean, it’s so simple. A lot of guys will overthink it and think they have to do something special.

"You just want to put consistent, good film up there, and that’s how you make an impression. You show up doing what you are supposed to do every single day for every one of those padded practices. That looks good. That may not be all you need -- it’s a cutthroat league -- but that’s about all you can do.”

When the players negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement with the league in 2011, less work in the offseason, the end of old-school two-a-day practices in camp and a reduction in padded practices were among the wins for the players. Very few will say they wish there were more to help their team sort things out.

“Honestly, I love it,” veteran outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said, laughing. “I am not going to complain about it. Obviously you are stressed with time to evaluate. But if you can play, you can play.

“Guys with years in the league, you just want to get to Week 1 healthy.”