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Opening loss exposes Titans' run game, defense

Associated Press Modified: September 10, 2012 at 7:02 pm •  Published: September 10, 2012
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans have receiver Kenny Britt back from his one-game suspension. Unfortunately, he can't fix a run game that looks worse than a year ago, or a youthful defense that still can't get sacks or tackle very well.

Chris Johnson had his worst day yet with 4 yards on 11 carries in a 34-13 season opening loss to New England to start his personal rebound from the worst season of his career. Not that the Titans had many chances to run the ball after falling behind 21-3 by halftime before finishing with only 16 rushes for 20 yards.

"We all know that the running game has to get better," coach Mike Munchak said Monday. "We're not denying it. We're not trying to act like, 'Hey, we're OK.' We're not."

The Titans have a lot of work ahead before visiting San Diego on Sunday, though Munchak expects Jake Locker to be able to play. Locker had an MRI exam on Monday just to make sure he didn't suffer any structural damage to his left, non-throwing shoulder.

Locker was sore Monday and may have to split work Wednesday with Matt Hasselbeck in practice. He also likely will wear some form of brace. The eighth pick overall in 2011 threw for 229 yards with a touchdown and an interception while completing 71.9 percent of his passes.

"If we still feel he can be productive, run around and do the things he needs to do to play the position, then we're going to be fine with him playing," Munchak said. "If for some reason he's not able to do those things, then we won't put him in a position that he shouldn't be in."

But it's not a good early sign that Locker, in his first career start, led the Titans in rushing. He had 11 yards on two carries, with a holding penalty wiping out a big gain on a quarterback draw.

Tennessee ranked 31st in rushing last season when Johnson had a career-low 1,047 yards after a holdout that kept him away all preseason. Johnson spent the offseason working in the team's program, and the Titans signed five-time All-Pro Steve Hutchinson to bring some veteran savvy to the interior at left guard.

The Titans benched right guard Leroy Harris in the fourth quarter, but Munchak said that was due to fatigue as Harris recovers from offseason surgery on his right knee. The Titans also agreed to terms on a one-year deal with veteran guard Deuce Lutui on Monday, according to his agent, Ken Harris.

Munchak spoke before news of that deal broke, but the coach said he isn't going to evaluate the running game off only one outing. He also isn't ready to start splitting up Johnson's carries either.

"We need to have a few more weeks into this first quarter of the season to see really where we are in that phase," Munchak said.

At least the Titans will have Britt available after he sat out a one-game suspension for a driving under the influence arrest July 20.

Britt has had three knee surgeries in the past year, the first repairing a torn right ACL. He was activated off the physically unable to perform list Aug. 28 and had to stay away starting the night of Sept. 1. Britt worked out with former NFL quarterback Neil O'Donnell last week, and Munchak said Britt worked with the team Monday and will practice Wednesday.

How much Britt can do remains to be seen.

"We just like to be able to say he's available to play on Sunday and take it from there," Munchak said.

The Titans also are busy looking at all the missed tackles that allowed Stevan Ridley to run for 125 yards, and the pass rush that managed only one sack of Tom Brady, though Kamerion Wimbley did bloody the quarterback's nose. Safety Michael Griffin, the franchise player who signed a five-year contract in June, said after the game he did not play well.

Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks should be back from a right knee injury that sidelined him against New England. Munchak said they will get more sacks.

They'd better because after San Diego, the Titans host Detroit before visiting Houston in a tough opening month.

"We're 0-1," Munchak said. "We're not happy about that, and we shouldn't be. We have a lot of work ahead of us to get a win next week."

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter: http://twitter.com/teresamwalker