Keith Bulluck (file)/THE TENNESSEAN
Commentary by David Climer, The Tennessean
For the media, this particular outpost in the Titans' locker room is a destination. For a solid decade, we have always detoured past Keith Bulluck's locker to hear what he had to say.
On Thursday, there was silence. Bulluck's name was still on the locker but he was nowhere to be found.
It is our loss. We should have flown a tape recorder at half-staff out of respect.
Bulluck's absence is a stark reminder that an NFL team is forever in transition. Every year, a quarter to a third of your average NFL roster turns over.
Some players retire. Some are traded. Some are cut. Some, such as superstar running back Chris Johnson, go AWOL to make a point.
"It's just the nature of the business," fullback Ahmard Hall said.
But the transition of this offseason has hit the Titans particularly hard in terms of veteran leadership.
Bulluck and Kyle Vanden Bosch were unquestioned leaders of the defense. Kevin Mawae and Alge Crumpler were stabilizing factors on the offense. Each held great influence in the huddle and in the locker room.
Vanden Bosch and Crumpler signed elsewhere as free agents. Bulluck and Mawae are in limbo, the former because of knee surgery, the latter because nobody seems to want to sign the president of the NFL Players Association at a time when management and labor are on a collision course.
With all that in play, the veteran minicamp Thursday was a wakeup call. The Titans' locker room has a much different feel these days. Bulluck wasn't filling up every reporter's notepad. Mawae's old-school music collection was on mute.
"It's a little bit of an adjustment because some of those veterans are gone," said safety Michael Griffin, a fourth-year pro.
"Some of the younger guys are going to have to step into those roles."
Easier said than done. Newcomers will fill those lockers but you can't always fill the leadership void.
Take Vanden Bosch. He was one of the first Titans at the facility every morning. His workout routine was legendary. With his relentless style on the field, he led by example.
"You get used to seeing some of these guys every day, so it's different when you look around and they're not here any more," Hall said.
Who, then, are the emerging leaders of this team?
Certainly, Vince Young is expected to assume a prominent leadership role. That's the nature of the quarterback position. Johnson is the best player on the team and perhaps the best running back in the NFL but it's impossible to lead when you're working out off site.
"The guys would prefer that he is here," Coach Jeff Fisher said of Johnson. "We would all prefer that he is here. ... I'm concerned with those that are here and not the ones that are not."
Defensively, Chris Hope and Cortland Finnegan exert a great deal of influence in the secondary. Newcomer Will Witherspoon has the right stuff.
But considering all the transition of this offseason, there are some tough acts to follow.