NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Titans want their home-field advantage back. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray hopes they can turn back the clock a bit to make it happen.
Gray has talked repeatedly about the good old times when opposing offenses thought the Titans were pumping in noise so they couldn't hear. Now the Titans get their first chance Sunday to give their fans something to cheer about in their home opener against San Diego (1-1).
"When the defense is playing well, the fans are going to holler and we got to get it back like we had it in the (late) 90s," Gray said Thursday. "You know, 'Hey, let's get the crowd in it.' Let's do the same thing and when we got into 2000 where the offense is coming in, they say, 'Oh, they pumping in noise,' and really it's the crowd."
Gray wants the Titans playing so well on defense that offenses can't hear each other and have to use hand signals and silent counts. That gives the defense an energy boost and a chance to get a jump off the ball.
"Then all of a sudden, the defensive ends get more sacks because now the offensive tackle is not getting off on the snap count," Gray said.
In 1999 and 2000, the Titans had the likes of Jevon Kearse terrorizing offensive tackles. Fred Miller was flagged repeatedly for false starts in one game, unable to hear over the crowd while trying to get ready for the speed-rushing end nicknamed the Freak. That was when the Titans had some of the stingiest defenses in the NFL.
The Titans didn't have that edge last season when fans didn't have much to cheer about. Tennessee gave up an NFL-worst 471 points and went 4-4 at home. They are home after a two-game road trip showing marked improvement defensively. They have seven sacks, three interceptions and holding opponents to 19.5 points a game.
And the Titans are willing to work to give fans reasons to get excited.
"It's up for us to create that environment," Wilson said. "We give these fans something to cheer about, we can have the environment we want to create for the opposing teams to come in here."
It's been a month since the Titans have played at home. Safety Bernard Pollard said they want to have fun and make themselves at home by outplaying San Diego with one of the NFL's most competitive quarterbacks coming in Philip Rivers.
"This is our home," Pollard said. "This is our house. We have to protect it by any means necessary."
Rivers has played with the Chargers in Nashville a couple times, including Christmas night in 2009. He's had family on hand and calls it a tough place to play.
"It's a tough crowd," Rivers said. "They're loud, but it's a classy place. I've always felt like it's a first-class place to play. The fans are tough and loud and good, but it seems to be a very respectful place. I always appreciate that. It's definitely a challenge. We're both 1-1 and trying to fight to get our second win."
The Titans also hope for another benefit from being at home where fans quiet down when their offense is on the field.
"It will be fun to have third down not rocking for us and rocking for the defense, so it'll be a good advantage for us," quarterback Jake Locker said.
Of course, Chris Johnson has his own idea about what really gets fans excited and screaming, and it's not the defense.
"This game, it's all about offense and putting up points," Johnson said. "It's cool for the defense to get stops and all that. You know the people come out to see touchdowns being scored."
Notes: LB Zach Brown practiced Thursday after missing Wednesday with an illness. RT David Stewart (right leg) also returned to practice. DT Sammie Hill (right ankle) missed a second straight practice along with WR Kendall Wright (concussion symptoms). CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson left practice Thursday with a sore hamstring.
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