Titans still like ex-Titans ..
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
NASHVILLE, TENN. — For just a moment, it sounded as if spectators were serenading Isaac Bruce with the familiar chant of "Br-uuuuu-ce!" at Baptist Sports Park.
Couldn't be. Bruce no longer plays for the Rams. Appropriately enough, it was a "Dr-eeeee-w" salute to Bruce's replacement at wide receiver and former Tennessee Titan Drew Bennett.
A few minutes earlier, offensive guard Jacob Bell was breaking the huddle with the Rams' starting offensive unit when he heard a familiar voice from the next field over. RELATED LINK
Photos from Rams-Titans
"C'mon, Jacob Bell! Run to the line!"
It was Tennessee center Kevin Mawae, Bell's linemate the previous two seasons with the Titans, saying hello to his friend.
For Bennett and Bell, the Rams' joint practices with Tennessee this week have been a homecoming of sorts. Bennett, 29, spent six seasons with the Titans before signing with the Rams a year ago as an unrestricted free agent.
"It was nice coming back," Bennett said. "There's still a lot of people that I keep in contact with here. And it's nice to hear some people still cheering my name, even though I no longer play for the Titans."
Bell, 27, spent his first four NFL seasons with Tennessee before signing with St. Louis last March 4 in free agency.
"It feels kind of crazy coming back," Bell said. "Being in the other uniform. But it felt good to see some old faces."
Homecoming aside, for the Rams offense to gel this year, Bell and Bennett must make themselves at home in the lineup.
After a disappointing first season in St. Louis, in which he caught 33 passes for 375 yards as the team's No. 3 wideout, Bennett now moves into the starting lineup in Bruce's spot. Tough shoes to fill, for sure.
"Here's a guy that's going into the Hall of Fame and had a ton of good years here," Bennett said. "Everyone appreciates what he accomplished. ... I'm just going to be me and play my own game."
Bennett has looked sharp and confident so far in training camp. Then again, the same could have been said about him a year ago at this time. But then Bennett suffered a quadriceps muscle injury in practice eight days before the regular season opened, and things spiraled downward thereafter.
He missed two of the first seven games with quad and hamstring injuries and didn't come close to the production the club hoped for when it signed him to a six-year, $30 million deal. Bennett used the frustration of '07 as motivation while training over the offseason.
"I picked it up a little bit," he said. "Probably a little more intensity this offseason, just because I was disappointed with how last year turned out. All you can do is work a little bit harder and put yourself in a better situation."
Even with a new offense to digest, Bennett feels more comfortable entering his second season with the Rams. He and quarterback Marc Bulger appear to be establishing better chemistry than a year ago, when they weren't always on the same page.
As for Bell, he's being counted on to provide stability at left guard, where the Rams have had 11 players start since the beginning of the 2004 season.
"What he does is, he brings experience to our group," coach Scott Linehan said. "He's a guy that's been starting for three-some odd years (for Tennessee), and played very well for his previous team."
The soft-spoken Bell literally had a quiet first 12 days of camp at Concordia University Wisconsin. But Bell has asserted himself and showcased his skills, blocking against former teammate Albert Haynesworth in Nashville.
"He's a good guard; a real good guard," Haynesworth said. "He's developed. I watched him develop into being one of the top guards in the league, and he's going to do well over there (in St. Louis)."
Haynesworth, who earned his first Pro Bowl berth last season, is big, physical and plays with a nasty streak. Bell credits going against him nearly every day in practice for four seasons with helping make him the player he is today.
"Going against him made it a little bit easier on Sunday to go against some of these other guys," Bell said. "So he taught me a lot."
The venerable Mawae, who's entering his 16th NFL season, was more mentor than sparring partner for Bell in Tennessee.
"He's just about seen it all," Bell said. "You never really stop learning, but he's definitely learned a lot, and he's one to teach you everything he knows. So I listened with open ears."
Mawae offered advice to Bell on everything from technique to how to deal with referees. The Rams now hope to bear the fruit of Bell's growth and development.
"He's going to be around for a long, long time," Mawae said. "Any time you lose a guy like that, you lose something in your locker room. ... I wish we still had him, but that's the business. Nobody's going to fault him for taking the money ($36 million) that the Rams are giving him.
Re: Titans still like ex-Titans ..
bennett is going to be himself?? oh no.. I hope he atleast learns how to catch.