Titans want more after playoff miss

Dave Ongie • Apr 24, 2007 at 9:27 AM

JOHNSON CITY - Their quarterback is a human highlight reel, their coach has ice water flowing through his veins and narrowly missing the playoffs left everyone in the locker room feeling the weight of unfinished business.

The message was clear when the Titans Caravan rolled into Johnson City on Tuesday: One of the youngest teams in the NFL is growing up.

For tight end Ben Troupe and defensive tackle Jesse Mahelona, bouncing back from an 0-5 start in 2006 to contend for a playoff berth on the final day of the season offered very little consolation.

"That makes it even worse," Troupe said. "We don't like to look at it as us being one of the youngest teams in the NFL because at the end of the day, we strap it on the same as everyone else straps it on.

"We're going to use that as motivation - we're coming out with a vengeance this year."

Mike Keith, the voice of the Titans, had one of the best seats in the house as Tennessee came together following the horrific start.

While QB Vince Young lit a spark and made everyone on the Titans' sideline believe they could come out and beat anybody, Keith said it was coach Jeff Fisher who kept everyone calm in the midst of the early-season losing streak.

"Jeff Fisher was no different at 0-5 than he was when we were about to play in the Super Bowl," Keith said. "The secret with Jeff Fisher is that it's always ‘Stay the course' - when you have a coach like that, the players have confidence in that coach and they have trust."

That mind-set makes Fisher the perfect coach for such a young football team.

Mahelona, like many guys on the roster, is learning the ropes and figuring out what it takes to play on Sundays.

After a solid career at the University of Tennessee, the soft-spoken defensive lineman moved a few hours west on Interstate 40 to continue his career, but he said Neyland Stadium seems like light years away from LP Field.

"You think the SEC is tough, and you get to the NFL and it's so much different," Mahelona said. "In the NFL, you play against great players, and if they're not great, they're good."

Mahelona is also getting used to the idea of being teammates with Troupe, who played his college ball at Southeastern Conference nemesis Florida.

"It's pretty rough being one of the biggest rivals in the SEC," he said. "Getting to know Troupe, it's hard to hate them now but when that day comes around and we're playing, Tennessee all the way."

Mahelona said he was a little bit lighter in the wallet last year when the Gators nipped the Vols in Knoxville. Troupe said that was a familiar tale around the locker room during a year when his Gators won national titles in football and basketball.

"Everybody lost some money to the Gators last year in football and in basketball," Troupe said. "It's fun, though. Even though we play football for a living, we're fans of the game."

Adam "Pacman" Jones will have plenty of time to be a fan during the upcoming season.

Jones, the Titans' dynamic cornerback and kick returner, will miss the 2007 season after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for his conduct off the field.

While Mahelona and Troupe both admit the team will miss Jones on the field this season, they can see why the punishment was handed down.

"It holds us accountable," Troupe said. "That's been the biggest thing with Pac - he does get a bad rap, but at the end of the day, we've got to take responsibility. It's a privilege to be where we're at."

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