NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Finding his locker parked in the middle of the defensive backs left linebacker Wesley Woodyard feeling nervous as he joined the Titans.
A defensive captain in Denver, Woodyard wasn’t quite sure what to think.
Turns out the Titans knew exactly what they were doing with the locker assignment.
“Now it’s cool,” Woodyard said. “I’m sitting next to Mike Griffin and Blidi Wreh-Wilson and across from Bernard Pollard, and those are the guys I have to communicate with. Now it all makes sense that I also have the linebackers in my (meeting) room with me. I’m just excited to be able to be in the center of the locker room and be a guy that everybody can talk to.”
Tennessee hasn’t reached the postseason since 2008, and turning around a franchise mired in mediocrity needs talent and winning experience. The Titans added some winners a year ago in safety Bernard Pollard and tight end Delanie Walker, with right tackle Michael Oher and linebackers Woodyard and Shaun Phillips this offseason and new coach Ken Whisenhunt.
Walker and Pollard did what they could in 2013 with the tight end catching a career-high 60 passes and the safety having a career-high with 152 tackles. But it wasn’t nearly enough as Jake Locker missed nine games due to injuries, and the Titans decided to fire Mike Munchak after three seasons.
Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith replaced Munchak with Whisenhunt, who won a Super Bowl as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh and was head coach taking the 2008 Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl. General manager Ruston Webster followed that by signing Woodyard and Phillips, who both played in the Super Bowl in February with Denver.
Webster also added Oher, who won the 2013 Super Bowl with Pollard while teammates in Baltimore. The Titans signed running back Dexter McCluster, who was a Pro Bowl punt returner too.
Pollard said players who have reached the Super Bowl understand what it takes to win and how to prepare for games that matter most in November and December. They also help hold teammates accountable for missed assignments and mistakes with a winning mindset that Pollard sees spreading through the Titans.
“We have guys that are hungry, and we have to bring that winning attitude,” Pollard said. “It’s going to be different, be a lot different this year. There’s no outs, no outs this year, none whatsoever. That’s the exciting part about seeing what Mr. Smith and Ruston have done.”
The Titans’ goal is reaching the playoffs this season in Whisenhunt’s debut, and the coach said he hopes that changing the team’s mindset about expectations already has started. He said the Titans saw how he and his assistants work through the offseason, Whisenhunt installing the offense and coordinator Ray Horton putting in the new defense.
“One of the things that I like about this group, we have a lot of good leadership, a lot of good, young leadership,” Whisenhunt said. “We’ve got some guys like Wesley Woodyard that played with a playoff football team, that was one of the best in the league last year. They bring a lot to the table from the leadership perspective that way.”
The Titans needed the help. Left tackle Michael Roos is the longest tenured Titan, drafted in 2005, and he has been part of only two playoff teams and three with winning seasons. Griffin and tight end Craig Stevens are the only other Titans to play in the postseason with this franchise, though veteran receiver Nate Washington also won two Super Bowls in Pittsburgh.
Washington said going into his sixth season without a playoff appearance has put quite a chip on his shoulder. All the new players have stoked the Titans’ desire even more.
“It makes us work even harder,” Washington said.
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