Special teams drill cranks up intensity at joint practice

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NASHVILLE – Special teams drills don't necessarily grab people's attention. It's often a time for starters to chat on the sideline, or for quarterbacks and wide receivers to work on some timing on an adjacent field.

But during Thursday's joint practice with the Panthers and Titans, the punt coverage drill took center stage.

The drill took place twice during the two-hour session. First the Titans served as gunners or coverage men, with the Panthers trying to block them. Later in the session, the roles were reversed.

When this drill began, every player and coach from both sides gathered around the sideline to get a view of the action.

"It's a bunch of guys that want to prove that they can do something to help the team," special teams stalwart Russell Shepard explained. "You have a lot of veteran guys out there who made their way doing these type of drills. And veterans know what these drills can do for young guys."

The drill is simple. The isolated gunners (typically a wide receiver or cornerback) are tasked with fighting through a double team and sprinting down the field to cover a punt. Coverage guys between the hashes (typically tight ends or linebackers) are tasked with disengaging from the opposition trying to block him one-on-one.

When the whistle blew, the hooting and hollering began. Pride was on the line and the intensity increased with each rep.

"Pride and competition," cornerback James Bradberry said. "You have to be a different type of person to play special teams consistently."

Added Shepard: "It's what special teams is all about. It embodies the underdog. It creates a spark for both sides of the ball. It's an opportunity to create some energy."

When Carolina was fielding the punt, defensive backs Teddy Williams and L.J. McCray earned the most decisive victory. Titans rookie wide receiver Taywan Taylor tried to split their double team to no avail, and the Carolina sideline erupted.

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When Carolina was covering the punt, Shepard and rookie wideout Austin Duke earned praise after splitting the double team with relative ease.

Tennessee linebacker Wesley Woodyard notched a big win for the Titans, locking up tight end Chris Manhertz at the line of scrimmage. Woodyard, a longtime special teams ace, strutted to the sideline as his teammates roared.

But the best came last. On the final rep, with the tension building, rookie fullback Alex Armah blew up the Titan lined up across him and ran downfield with a bunch of giddy teammates following.

"I didn't get to see it," Bradberry said, "but I heard it."

Armah was mobbed when teammates caught up with him.

"That's a guy that was drafted in the later rounds who is trying to prove himself," Shepard said. "He just demolished that dude. It's great to see."

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