At 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, Karl Klug is not your prototypical defensive tackle. While his lack of size at the position may have scared off some teams in last year’s draft, the Titans were thrilled he was still available when they made their selection in the fifth round.
Little did they know Klug would produce at such a high level early on in his NFL career.
He played in all 16 games (one start) and led the team with seven sacks, 32 tackles, 10 QB pressures, two tackles for loss, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles. One of Klug’s best games came against New Orleans when he sacked Saints QB Drew Brees twice at LP Field.
Klug was the second of three defensive tackles taken by the Titans in 2011 (Jurrell Casey and Zach Clayton were the others) and part of an overall draft class that made huge contributions and exceeded most everyone’s expectations last season.
Titans head coach Mike Munchak calls Klug a “natural” pass rusher that will play a big role on Tennessee’s defense line in 2012.
“When you turn the tape on, he’s a guy that can beat somebody 1-on-1. A lot of d-linemen just can’t do that consistently like he can,” Munchak said. “He’s great with his hands, has great body control…that’s what we saw on the draft tape and that’s what we’re seeing now.”
Klug compensates for his lack of size with a combination of quickness and wrestling maneuvers he learned while competing in high school.
“I think that’s helped me out a lot,” Klug said. “Even though that was in high school, I still think that’s helped me up to this point as far as being aggressive with my hands, understanding leverage and playing underneath the guy. In wrestling, you are constantly in an athletic stance. You have bent knees. That’s how you want to play football — you don’t want to stand straight-legged.”
At times Klug catches larger offensive linemen off-guard.
“I’m assuming they’re probably licking their chops when they see my skinny (butt),” Klug said.
But Klug’s production in college — 9.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss during his final two seasons at Iowa — didn’t get past Titans scouts and key decision makers.
“Maybe some teams have size parameters, and so they put those guys lower on their draft board,” Titans GM Ruston Webster said. “I think everybody saw that he was a good football player. He went to the East-West (game), he did well. His tape was good. He stood out on a very good college defensive line and made a lot of plays for them. It’s just when do you take that guy that’s a little bit undersized, and how do you play him?”
Munchak credits Webster and former Titans GM Mike Reinfeldt for finding players like Klug that fit the Titans’ system. With a little more upper body strength, Munchak believes Klug can become an excellent player in this league.
“It’s up to us to keep developing him and getting him to play more,” Munchak said. “He played a lot inside. We limited him a little more last year to passing downs. He could probably work on his upper-body this year to gain some weight to help him dramatically. But he’s a great kid, a great guy to have on your team. He led our team in sacks last year and he can up that number every year. He’s a special guy that really has a chance to make a difference in this league.”
Tags: Karl Klug
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“Talking to my mother and coming from a great background, one of the best things she ever said was, ‘That’s a lot more money than you ever played for in any season you ever played. You can’t really be upset because you played for $3 million last year and you’d play for 6.2 million this year,’” Griffin said.
“It’s a business. When you started to play this sport, it was a business first and playing was second. You have to honor your contract, and you’ve got play out your contract. That’s all you can really do. There’s not anything else you can do except to go out and do your job.”
The franchise tag allows both the Titans and Griffin time to work out a long-term contract prior to the start of the season.
Tags: Michael Griffin
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The success of Tennessee’s 2011 draft class is well documented, and no rookie shined more last season than fourth-round draft pick Colin McCarthy.
After receiving considerable playing time while filling in for injured starter Barrett Rudd down the stretch, McCarthy appears poised to take over the starting middle linebacker job for the Titans heading into the 2012 season.
“We thought he came on in a big way last year,” head coach Mike Munchak told reporters at last week’s NFL scouting combine.
As a rookie, McCarthy tallied 76 tackles, a team-leading eight tackles for loss, one quarterback pressure, one interception, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in just 13 games (seven starts).
Not bad for a player who was initially projected to primarily help out on special teams his first season.
“When he came in we thought he would be more of a special teamer for sure and maybe help us with some depth at the inside positions — at the “Will” and the “Mike” linebacker — but we had some injuries and he came in and played very well,” Munchak said. “You saw he made plays. He found a way to knock the ball loose, create some fumbles and make some interceptions. He took control and didn’t act like a rookie out there.”
That was never more evident than in Week 13 at Buffalo when McCarthy notched 11 tackles, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a pass defensed in a 23-17 victory. He was named both the AFC Defensive Player of the Week and NFL Rookie of the Week for his performance.
“There’s always room to improve,” McCarthy said. “I tried to take advantage of the opportunities I had to make plays. As a middle linebacker, you’ve got to get everybody lined up, you’ve got to make the calls and I tried to do that this year.”
With Ruud set to become a free agent, Munchak seems confident in the abilities of his second-year linebacker.
“He has some learning to do – he’s a young man – but we’re excited about his progression, the way he finished the season and the energy he brings to the defense,” Munchak said. “Everything is a plus with him. He is the kind of player you love to have on your football team, and we’re excited about what he’s going to be able to do in the future.”
Even Munchak was surprised by how much McCarthy was able to stay on the field. But the more he and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray saw McCarthy produce, the more comfortable they felt having him on the field for all three downs.
“He runs the nickel defense very well and we used him in that role,” Munchak said. “You never know how a young rookie is going to respond, but his first start was in Carolina and he came in and did a great job for us on the road getting us in position. I think it was probably one of the best defensive games we played all year against a very explosive offense, and Colin handled it very well.”
McCarthy said he’s looking forward to building off his rookie campaign, both personally and as a team.
“I just need to continue to work on everything — studying the playbook, studying offenses and defenses,” he said. “I still have a lot to prove. Every week you have to prove yourself.”
And he’ll do so on a team he believes is on the rise under Munchak.
“The attitude coach Munchak brings to the players, you see results. You see guys working, guys pushing each other throughout the locker room it gets exciting,” McCarthy said. “9-7 was a good start for our first year, but we want to improve on that next season.”
Tags: colin mccarthy
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Head coach Mike Munchak has consistently said that open competition throughout offseason workouts, training camp and the preseason will determine whether Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker start at quarterback for the Titans in 2012.
“By us going out and competing as hard as we can every day against each other is only going to bring out the best in each of us, and at the end of the day the best guy will play,” Locker said. “I don’t think that it’s any different of an approach than we took last year. Every time I practiced I was preparing for a chance to possibly start, and that’s how Matt is. You understand it as competitive guys that have played their whole life and have been used to being on the field.”
The Titans’ quarterback situation is much clearer and solidified than it was a year ago. The team had released Vince Young and was prepared to use its 8th overall pick on the position, plus sign a veteran prior to training camp — all with the on-going uncertainty of the NFL Lockout.
“I think standing here a year ago and saying our quarterback situation was a mess, and then this year feeling so good about it because of signing Matt and drafting Jake…but then the negative side is you can’t play both of them at the same time, so how do you make two guys happy that are that competitive?” Munchak said while addressing reporters at the NFL Combine last week. “That’s the tough part, and neither one of them wants the job handed to them. They want to come in and compete for it, and we’ll try to do the best we can when we start in May, June and into training camp to put them in situations where they truly are competing and hopefully it becomes obvious who should be the best guy to lead the team.”
Locker and Hasselbeck have already built a strong friendship, one that can withstand some hearty competition, the second-year quarterback said.
“Personally I don’t think it will have any effect on our relationship at all,” Locker admitted. “We have a friendship that is a lot deeper than just football. I think whoever ends up getting the nod at the end of all of it, the other guy will be there giving him all of the support he can from the sideline and throughout the week of practice. I truly believe that.”
In the meantime, Locker will use this offseason to review his own tape, while looking at tape of some of the NFL’s top quarterbacks in an effort to improve his game.
“For the guys that have been doing this as long as they have at such high levels takes a lot of hard work, a lot of confidence in what you’re doing, and I think the ability to prepare,” Locker said. “It’s amazing to watch those guys work.”
Locker took advantage of his own playing time as a rookie, completing 34 of 66 passes for 542 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in five games as a reserve. In addition, he rushed the ball eight times for 56 yards and a TD. But he also took a sack on the final play of a 22-17 loss at home to New Orleans in Week 14, coming up a few yards short of a victory.
Locker said he’s spending extra time studying red zone situations when the game speeds up and the field becomes shorter.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement as far as figuring out how to close a few of those games out because I think we had an opportunity to do that,” Locker said. “It comes down to one or two plays during the course of a game. I think just mastering the offense, really understanding that if the first and second reads aren’t there, finding a check-down to get four or five yards to continue to move the chain and keep your defense off the field and allow your offense to gain momentum.”
Locker said he felt prepared when he had the chance to play, but that won’t stop him from continuing to find ways to improve his game.
“I took some stuff home with me. I have all our games from last year on tape. I’ve been watching those, going through them, especially some of the ones I had an opportunity to play in to kind of see where I could improve,” he said. “It’s also a great way to keep yourself familiar with the offense so that when you get back you’re not having to retrain your mind to the verbiage and the structure of the plays. I’m also watching some guys that I have a lot of respect for in the NFL and play the position really well.”
That additional knowledge, plus having a full offseason to train at the NFL level, will only help him improve, he said.
“Anytime you’ve had a full season you have a better idea of what to expect, especially going into training camp,” he said. “Throughout the course of the year you have a better idea of what your schedule is as far as preparation and what goes on during the week. I think those things allow you to really kind of settle in to those routines and schedules so you can get the most out of them. That’s the thing I’m looking forward to the most is being familiar with the process and being able to feel comfortable in it.”
Tags: Jake Locker, Matt Hasselbeck, Mike Munchak
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There is little doubt the Titans will look towards free agency and the NFL Draft to strengthen their defensive line, and it’s a good year to do it, says Titans GM Ruston Webster.
“I think it’s a really good crop. Defensive line in general, I think is good,” Webster said. “Typically, those guys are going to be in the first round because everybody needs them. They’re rare birds. Outside of quarterback, the one position that’s the toughest to build, and the one position where you have to be really strong in order to win consistently, is up front on the defensive line and the offensive line.”
The Titans could use the help. They struck gold on defensive tackles Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug in last year’s draft, but are thin at defensive end with William Hayes, Jason Jones and Dave Ball set to become free agents.
“It’s definitely a need,” head coach Mike Munchak said. “Derrick Morgan is really the only guy playing a lot who is under contract, so that’s definitely an area we’re going to have to look at from both ends — in free agency and the draft. And when the smoke clears, we’ll have some good defensive ends. It’s a matter of where they’re going to come from.”
Munchak would like to possess a combination of veteran leadership and young talent at defensive end. Webster covets a playmaker, similar to what the Titans had in Jevon Kearse back in 1999.
“He changed things,” Webster said of Kearse. “When I was in Tampa, we had Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp. They made everybody else around them better. Those type of special rushers really can affect your defense. They help the guys on the back end, and if you can get a lead on people and rush the passer, you’ve got a great chance to win.”
Munchak spoke of the special player he’d love to find either in free agency or April’s draft.
“You’d like to have a guy that the offense is worried about, a guy that when there’s two minutes left can take the game over, knock the ball out of the quarterback’s hands and win it for you,” he said. “I think we’re looking for those kinds of guys, someone on the edges that can create those kinds of problems for an offense.”
Tags: Derrick Morgan, Mike Munchak, Ruston Webster
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For the Titans, the re-signing of Hawkins ensures that they will have one more veteran in their wide receiver corps, another player who will know the offense the minute that the team steps back onto the field in April. Because of the way Hawkins played last November and December, that is a good thing.
For Hawkins, the rationale in why he wanted to re-sign with the Titans shows his continuing maturity, a maturity that is evident on and off the field.
That is significant because that maturity wasn’t always evident.
After a 2009 practice, Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger was frustrated with Hawkins’ play. That frustration was obvious in one particular segment of practice, as Heimerdinger thought Hawkins might have some opportunities to contribute during an approaching game. Hawkins’ work on the practice field, however, did not inspire confidence in the veteran coach.
In our weekly production meeting with Heimerdinger, I asked the coach about what happened, trying to gain some insight into his view of Lavelle Hawkins.
Heimerdinger smiled the frustrated smile that many of us do as parents.
Heimerdinger liked Hawkins. It’s virtually impossible not to like the affable Hawkins. Heimerdinger wanted to see him succeed. He saw potential in the former California Bear. He saw the flashes of Hawkins’ talent.
But to paraphrase Heimerdinger, he could not trust Hawkins to be where he was supposed to be on certain plays. And so from 2008-2010, Hawkins only got on the field enough to catch 19 passes.
In 2011, a season-ending injury to Kenny Britt moved all of the receivers up one spot. That meant chances for everyone, including Hawkins. Sensing that this was his big moment, Hawkins made the most of his chance.
Hawkins caught at least one pass in the Titans’ final 15 games. Of his 47 catches, 23 went for first downs. 207 of his 470 receiving yards came after the catch. He scored his first career touchdown against Cincinnati.
Lavelle Hawkins had proven to be reliable.
In our final production of meeting of 2010, offensive coordinator Chris Palmer praised several of the Titans’ receivers for their improvement during 2011. Palmer heaped lavish praise on Hawkins because of number 87’s improvement throughout the season.
Chris Palmer was proud of Lavelle Hawkins. Mike Heimerdinger would have been, too.
Hawkins’ 2011 season was four years in the making.
He gets what it took to get there and clearly understands what it will take to build on it. That’s why he re-signed with the Titans.
Hawkins could have rolled the dice and chosen to head into free agency next month. Maybe some team would have offered him a bigger contract and a bigger role. Maybe not.
But instead of spending the next month wondering where he might be in 2012, instead of taking trips in March, instead of seeing if he could get an extra couple hundred grand in salary, instead of trying to learn a new offense—Hawkins made it clear that he wanted to stay with the Tennessee Titans.
Impressive. A player who realizes that the grass—and the money—isn’t always greener somewhere else.
More impressive, a player who realizes that he needs to keep working if he’s going to reach his potential. His rationale in making the decision leads one to believe that he’s going to keep getting better.
Here’s what we know about NFL receiving corps—you need as many good players as possible. Guys are going to get hurt. Guys are going to get double-teamed. Guys are going to have off-days. The more good players that you have in the group, the better off that you are.
Ask the Giants. It wasn’t their star wide receivers who made the big catches in their two recent Super Bowl wins.
Not only did David Tyree have the miraculous, hold-the-ball-against-helmet catch to set up the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII, but he also caught a touchdown pass earlier in the game. Tyree caught four passes for 35 yards during the 2007 regular season and never caught another pass after that Super Bowl.
This year’s Super Bowl hero, Mario Manningham, is much more accomplished than Tyree, but he was an unlikely hero on the game’s final drive for the Giants. His phenomenal 38 yard catch to spark Big Blue overshadowed an injury-plagued season that saw him catch just 39 passes and lose his starting spot.
It takes a bunch of receivers to make it work. It takes stars and role players. It takes fast guys and guys who know who to run routes. It takes five or six good football players who do different things.
Hawkins has proven that he is a good football player. He did it with hard work. He earned it.
The Titans may well add more talent at wide receiver through free agency and/or the draft. One more guy with extreme speed certainly would not hurt the Titans offense. I think personnel people call them “weapons”. Another “weapon” couldn’t hurt.
But Lavelle Hawkins’ decision to stay with the Titans and the Titans’ decision to bring him back is a win-win for the Tennessee offense right now.
Tags: Lavelle Hawkins
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However, he took time out of his schedule to connect with Titans season ticket holders on Tuesday, spending 45 minutes on a conference call that covered topics ranging from the team’s approach to free agency and the NFL Draft, to the progress of wide receiver Kenny Britt and recent rumors swirling around Colts QB Peyton Manning.
Tags: Ruston Webster
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As afternoon turned to evening on November 26, 2006, you could have located no man, woman or child who would have ever believed that Eli Manning would later win two Super Bowls, outdueling one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in both.
At that moment, Eli Manning was barely hanging on to his job as the New York Giants quarterback.
The Giants had just blown a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead at LP Field, losing to the Tennessee Titans in dramatic fashion, 24-21. In the game, Manning was incredibly shaky, especially in the fourth quarter. He threw for just 143 yards in the game and his two interceptions in the final fifteen minutes were crucial to the amazing Titans comeback/Giants collapse.
At that moment, Eli Manning wasn’t a bust, but he seemed close. His signalcalling draft mates from 2004, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers, both appeared to be much better quarterbacks.
In the sports megatron that is New York, Eli Manning could find few friends.
Today, barely more than five years later, he is now “Mr. Fourth Quarter,” a mix of Willis Reed, Derek Jeter and Joe Namath — a two-time Super Bowl winner who has beaten Tom Brady head-to-head twice and outplayed him in both title games.
What a game, this NFL football.
In the latest Harris Poll that asks Americans “What is your favorite sport?”, NFL football ranked #1 again. It has been that way every year that Harris has asked the question since 1985.
There are lots of reasons to love the NFL, but two come to the surface.
First, any team truly can beat any other team on any given Sunday. The NFL is predictably unpredictable. We love that.
Second, all that really matters is the Super Bowl.
Life is complicated, we have very little “simple” in what we do. The NFL is simple — win the Super Bowl and nothing else matters.
Giants fans had to keep that in mind on December 11, when they trailed the Cowboys, 34-22, with 5:41 left in the game. Big Blue was on its way to its fifth straight loss and was going to miss the playoffs again. If you believe what you read and heard, Tom Coughlin was going to get fired. Eli Manning’s one Super Bowl win was just that, one Super Bowl win.
But Manning rallied the Giants and they won that Sunday night game in dramatic fashion. Two weeks later, they handled the hated Jets. The following week, they eliminated the Cowboys and made the playoffs.
You know the rest of the story.
Any given Sunday.
Super Bowls are all that matter.
And a team that was dead at 10:15 p.m. on December 11 is the World Champion on February 5.
What a game, this NFL football.
November 26, 2006 was a nightmare at LP Field for Eli Manning and the Giants. After that crushing loss to the Titans, few would have ever believed that Manning would become what he has become.
But he has and it is hard not to be pleased for the youngest of the Manning brothers. We will probably get tired of the story quickly, as we will be awash in “Eli Love” for the next few days and weeks. Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian will get a break.
For Manning and the Giants, this is the end of the season. For everyone else in the NFL, it is a beginning.
Welcome to the 2012.
You can dream any NFL dream that you wish, starting today.
As Eli Manning and the Giants have learned, your past — both distant and recent — doesn’t matter any more when the page is turned.
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New Titans GM Ruston Webster was the guest speaker today at the Golden Bison Luncheon on the campus of Lipscomb University. He addressed a group of strong supporters of Lipscomb’s athletic program, offering his thoughts on several topics relating to his new role with the team, the direction of the club and the type of players he and his staff will be looking for in free agency and the upcoming NFL Draft.
Here are a few highlights:
(on his philosophy of building the team)
“You have to have a solid foundation with the right type of guys and players that work hard and are dedicated to football. They have to be tough and smart. I know that’s what Mike Munchak wants. It’s important to him that we have solid guys to do the things he wants them to do and buy into what he does.
As a team, I want us to get back to being the old Titans. I remember when I was with the Bucs, when we played the Titans, they played a fast, aggressive, nasty defense. They were physical and they could run the ball. They were always a tough outing. That’s what I’d like for us to get back to – that kind of style of play. Mike Munchak feels the same way. He was here during all of that. That’s really what I want to see us be.”
(on that style of play helping the Titans get back to the playoffs)
“We haven’t won a playoff game in a long time – since the 2003 season. It’s time for us to win a playoff game and go further. And for us to do that, you’ve got to be that type of team. For all the passing yards and great quarterback stats this year, when it came down to it in the NFC Championship game, it was the New York Giants tough, old-school football and it was the San Francisco 49ers tough, old-school football. To get to the playoffs and win, you have to be able to go in the cold weather and run the ball.”
(on the challenge of free agency)
“Unfortunately the business side gets in the way sometimes. You can’t keep everybody you would like to and you have to make tough decisions. Those decisions are not always easy and they’re definitely not always popular. For the most part, I feel like when we make our decisions, and in the past when we made our decisions, we had all the information. You just do the best for your team and for your owner. I think we’ll draft well and continue to build a good, young core.”
(on what his immediate goals are to build the team)
“My immediate goal is to help improve our offensive line and our defensive front seven. That’s going to be our focus moving forward into free agency and the draft. If we can do that – get a little bit more of a pass rush and run the ball a little better — I think we’ll be okay.”
(on Jake Locker’s potential)
“I think we have a good, young quarterback in Jake Locker who just has natural leadership ability, and he brings that toughness and type of temperament in his game. I think you’ll see our guys rally around that.
I was with the Seahawks when Jake started playing at the University of Washington, so I saw Jake play probably two or three games a year all through his junior year until I came here. Jake was a star the minute he stepped on campus at Washington because everybody knew who he was. He was a high-profiled recruit from a little town – Ferndale, Washington – who wanted to stay and play for a state school. He was loved and revered there. You could see early on that he had talent. He has a lot of physical skills and he’s continued to develop his skills as a quarterback. He works so hard at it.
That’s the other thing. He kind of has that ‘it’ factor and people rally to him, gravitate to him. He’s a good guy. He’s solid, and he cares about his teammates and they feel that. We were interviewing a linebacker who got drafted in the third round by the Bucs who played at the University of Washington with Jake and we asked him about Jake – like we do with other players when we ask about their teammates because players know players. If they don’t like their teammate, then there’s probably some issue there. He said, ‘I’ll tell you about Jake Locker.’ He said he would drive from one end of the town to the other to pick up a teammate that didn’t have a car or was having car trouble – and Seattle’s a big city – to get him to workout. That’s leadership, and that’s one of the big reasons we drafted him.”
(on working with Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden in Tampa)
“Tony changed everything because he brought stability to an organization that didn’t have any. He came in with a plan and executed the plan, no matter what anybody said. Tony just did the right thing. His decisions were made based on what he thought was right for the organization and for his team. And then as a person, I’ve been around a lot of guys, coaches and people in high positions and Tony treated everybody the same. No matter what your position was, you never felt like you had to get loud to get your point across. You just had to let him know and he was going to listen and he was going to make his decision. He was awesome in that way, and he, in my mind really saved the organization because of the stability he brought. And then we got good players in there and they all bought into him and loved him. One of the unfortunate things was we couldn’t quite get to the Super Bowl and so Tony was let go, which was unfortunate. It did work out for us when Jon (Gruden) came in and we had always struggled on offense and Jon got the offense going. Jon brought juice to the offense and to the team. He made it to where he put the offense on equal footing to the defense and they challenged each other and it made us really good. They were different guys. Jon’s a good friend and a great guy. It was enjoyable. There was a contrast, but I’ll always look back fondly on both. I learned a lot from both of them.”
Tags: Ruston Webster
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One of the great people in this business is leaving the Titans today.
Senior assistant coach Dave McGinnis is joining former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher’s staff in St. Louis as assistant head coach. McGinnis has been with the Titans since 2004 when he signed on as linebackers coach.
Like most coaches, McGinnis burned the midnight oil here at Baptist Sports Park. But he was never too busy to talk to staff members, getting to know each of them and often taking time to simply stop by and say hello. His door was always open.
He would ask about your family, reminisce and tell stories from his 27 years in the NFL — or even offer up a great restaurant tip in a town you might be visiting — all the while getting his players prepared for the upcoming game.
McGinnis told The Tennessean he’ll miss the people within the organization and the greater Nashville community.
“It’s hard to leave Nashville and the Titans organization. I had eight great years here, seven with Jeff, and this past year with Coach (Mike) Munchak, and it couldn’t have been better. The people in this organization and the city, everyone has treated me fabulously,” he said.
“It was just another blessing in my 27 years in the NFL. I thoroughly enjoyed everything, and whatever little bit I was able to contribute, I am grateful for.”
And the Titans are equally grateful for the impact he made and relationships he built during his time here.
Tags: Dave McGinnis
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