Rumor has it that backup linebacker Frank Chamberlin is the player on the Tennessee Titans defense that offensive players look for most on the practice field.
That’s because with Chamberlin on a football field, the hits just keep on coming, no matter what the drill or whom the adversary.
That much was evident last weekend in the joint practices against the Miami Dolphins, when Chamberlin more times than not decked his man in coverage during the so-called “limited contact” seven-on-seven drills. It was apparent again Wednesday when Chamberlin and fullback Greg Comella got into a minute-long tussle and took at least four Titans to break up.
But his Titans teammates have grown used to that from Chamberlin, who after the squabble had finished went over and knelt down beside Comella, put his arm around him and struck up a conversation.
“Everything you’ve heard is true,” Titans guard Benji Olson said of Chamberlin. “He has got a hard head, and he does bring it and hit you. I don’t look forward to coming into contact with him too often, because you can wind up with a headache for the rest of the day.”
Added tight end Frank Wycheck, whose route is run Chamberlin’s way plenty of times in practice, “He’s just an old fashioned, hard-nosed, tough kind of football player. He’s kind of a throwback to the era of Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke and those guys. He’s just a tough guy, a guy that’s going to outwork you and just hustle to the ball and give maximum effort.”
Olson said he even tried to work out a deal to get Chamberlin to take it easy on him before camp started.
“Sometimes I try and work deals out with him where he won’t come and kill me if it’s a padded practice, but he isn’t much for taking deals,” Olson said. “I just have to take the punishment sometimes.”
Chamberlin said it would take quite a bit for him to ease off the throttle, even in practice.
“He tried to before camp, but I said that’s big money for me not to practice hard against him,” Chamberlin said.
“Frank has just one speed and that is full. I don’t think Frank looks forward very much to walk-throughs and things like that,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.
Chamberlin’s reputation as a Titans tough guy has been cemented even in practices. And anyone is fair game, from the biggest offensive lineman to even backup quarterback Chris Sanders, whom Chamberlin leveled on a special teams drill in camp a year ago.
“I’m just trying to get better out there. It’s nothing personal. That’s just football I guess,” Chamberlin said. “I like to practice hard. It makes me feel better and feel like I can go out there and do my job on Sunday.”
It’s an admirable characteristic, says fellow linebacker Keith Bulluck.
“He’s a guy that goes 150 percent every single time he steps on the field,” Bulluck said. “That’s a characteristic I wish I had. I’m sure it’s just something that came with him that he’s used to doing. He probably doesn’t even realize it. That’s just his speed. His speed is go hard or go home, even during walk-throughs.”
His play on the practice field has also earned him several nicknames, according Bulluck, who slyly grinned when it was suggested that he might have bestowed some of those monikers on Chamberlin.
“Frank has a plethora of nicknames – ‘Braveheart,’ ‘Frankie Mumbles,’ and some other really funny ones,” Bulluck said.
And surprisingly enough, those nicknames fit Chamberlin, who contrasts his aggressive play on the field with a fairly low-key demeanor off it.
“I guess ‘Frankie Mumbles’ came about because as a rookie I mumbled a lot in the meetings,” Chamberlin admitted. “I’m not exactly a vocal guy off the field. On the field, I am. ‘Braveheart’ goes along with the fact that I practice hard.”
Whatever the nickname, Chamberlin knows only one way to play the game.
“If you get in a habit of doing it every day, it’s going to be easier for you on Sunday because you don’t have to think about it,” he said. “If you try to turn it on on Sunday, sometimes that’s too late. That’s why I do that.”
It is something that certainly turns the heads of his teammates and the coaches. Chamberlin, a middle linebacker by trade, is trying to forge his way into the lineup as much as possible. He is currently working at outside linebacker in the absence of Peter Sirmon, who is battling a viral infection.
“We have a couple of packages that we call ‘extra backer,’ where we play with four linebackers and take one of the corners out and/or one of the safeties out at various times,” linebackers coach Gunther Cunningham said. “That’s his opportunity to get on the field. I wouldn’t be afraid to play him in any situation whether it be third down, first down, goal line, I don’t care. I know Frank Chamberlin is a winning football player, and I’d play him at any time.”
Cunningham wouldn’t even rule out Chamberlin pushing for a starting role this training camp.
“You bet he can,” Cunningham said. “I think we’ve got four good veteran linebackers. Like I told Peter and Frank last year all year long, always think as starters while you’re going through this progression. They made a lot of progression on the field and off, and there’s no question that Frank Chamberlin could start for us and any team in the NFL probably.”
Despite not yet cracking the starting lineup, Chamberlin remains upbeat about his situation and his role, which, of course, includes lots of special teams work as well.
“I definitely want to be out there and work to be out there, but I try not to let that stuff get to me too much,” he said. “I just go out there and do what I have to do every day and if I do everything I can, it doesn’t frustrate me. If I wasn’t doing everything I can, then it would frustrate me.
“Gun has said, ‘Don’t let it get to you. Go out and do your job every day and things will work out.’”
In the meantime, Chamberlin can also take consolation in knowing that the offense deep down really appreciates the approach he brings to the game on the practice field.
“He makes everyone better when he’s out there. He’s always going a hundred miles per hour and giving a great picture out there, because that’s the kind of speed you’re going to get on Sundays,” Wycheck said. “He gives that each and every day. Sometimes, when they’re not feeling their best and they see Frank still going, it gets kind of frustrating at times, but I’m glad to have him on our team.”
The Titans backed Jevon Kearse down because of soreness in his ankle, but he and Henry Ford, who was out for a second day also with an ankle injury, are both still expected to play Saturday against St. Louis.
Sirmon is still suffering from flu-like symptoms and a fever and will spend one more night in the hospital, according to Fisher. His status for Saturday is up in the air. If he can’t go, Chamberlin and rookies Rocky Calmus and Rocky Boiman will both play. Calmus has a cast on his hand to protect a thumb injury, but has not missed any practice time.
Justin McCareins had tightness in his hamstring and was held out of practice Wednesday. He is still expected to go on Saturday.
Dainon Sidney and Bobby Myers will likely practice just once a day for the duration of camp, as both are coming off knee injuries.
Backup quarterback Neil O’Donnell sat out Wednesday’s practices with a sore shoulder.