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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Titans have high expectations for Justin Hunter in the receiver's second NFL season.
New coach Ken Whisenhunt had only seen the 6-foot-4 Hunter on tape until the team's offseason program started this spring. Whisenhunt says he's excited about Hunter's potential and sees the receiver working hard.
"But I think he's got to bring his game to a whole new level to understand what he can be," Whisenhunt said. "That's what's exciting about him. He's working hard and hopefully he'll continue on that track."
The Titans traded up to draft Hunter last year at No. 34, and he gave tantalizing glimpses of what he can do as a receiver with two 100-yard games, four touchdown catches and a long reception of 57 yards as coaches tried to take advantage of his lengthy body and ability to jump.
Only five receivers with at least 16 catches or more had a higher average per reception than Hunter's 19.7 yards in the NFL.
"Every practice you can see him grow a little bit," quarterback Jake Locker said Tuesday. "There's still some times where he needs to hold himself to a higher standard because he's that good of a football player. Continue to let him know that, talk to him about that, I believe he'll continue to get better and better and be a dangerous player in this league."
The Titans believe Hunter has only scratched what he can do, and receivers coach Shawn Jefferson said recently the receiver could help put them into the playoffs this year. Hunter has heard all the talk and using it as his motivation.
"I just use it in my tank to go out and work hard," Hunter said.
Hunter played only two seasons at the University of Tennessee missing his sophomore season with a torn ACL. He went to the NFL Combine where he was timed running a 4.40-second 40-yard dash. Not only is he fast, Hunter was measured with a 39 1-2 inch vertical jump and a 78-inch armspan.
As a rookie, Hunter only played in 14 games and ranked third behind Kendall Wright and Nate Washington with 18 catches for 354 yards.
The Titans still list Hunter at 203 pounds as they did his rookie season. But the receiver says he has added about 15 pounds of muscle to help him better survive the season and bigger defensive backs, and he reported to April's voluntary minicamp at 205 pounds. Hunter has changed his eating habits adding more steak, chicken and fish while also eating a bit more at each meal.
Washington sees Hunter being much more comfortable going into his second season. Even though Whisenhunt is installing a new offense, he kept Jefferson on staff. Washington said Hunter listens to older receivers like Wright and himself along with Jefferson. Tennessee defenders never miss a chance to trash talk with Hunter, doing their best to push him as well.
"His confidence is growing," Washington said. "Confidence is a danger in this league. You get a guy with some confidence, the sky's the limit. Right now we're just trying to make sure that he understands what he could possibly be in this league. It's not just making sure he's doing everything he can do, but going above and beyond."
Notes: The Titans' newest receiver Derek Hagan, signed earlier Tuesday, was on the field for the first of a three-day minicamp that wraps up the offseason.
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