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Munchak will be tested as soon as lockout ends

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Recent posts by Arthur Arkush

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Posted July 13, 2011 @ 9:56 a.m. ET
By Arthur Arkush

Step into Mike Munchak's shoes for a moment.

The former Oilers left guard played 12 brilliant seasons in Houston, ending with his bronze bust being added to Canton in 2001.

One year after retiring, Munchak joined Houston's coaching staff as an offensive assistant/quality-control coach. He spent three seasons in that role before being promoted to offensive line coach.

Munchak weathered the move from Houston to Nashville, consistently producing one of the league's most disciplined offensive lines for 14 seasons.

This past February, after 30 years with the organization, Munchak finally was rewarded with his first head-coaching opportunity.

His patience would have to continue, however, with the NFL lockout not so warmly greeting him upon his hiring.

No OTAs. No minicamps. No implementing two new systems. No contact with his ballclub.

Zip. Zero. Nada.

To say that Munchak will be behind the eight-ball when the lockout is (hopefully) soon lifted and a truncated offseason resumes is a vast understatement.

On top of cramming an entire offseason — including free agency — into a matter of weeks, Munchak will be faced with two pressing decisions that could define the season and potentially his first head-coaching gig.

The first decision, which will greatly involve owner Bud Adams and GM Mike Reinfeldt, is how to appease the team's greatest asset, RB Chris Johnson.

Johnson is the definition of a player who has outperformed his rookie contract. In his first three NFL seasons, only three players — Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell and Jamal Lewis — have racked up more yards on the ground. Although he didn't come close last season to matching his historic 2009 effort, in which he became only the sixth player to surpass 2,000 yards, Johnson still finished fourth in the NFL in rushing.

And he did it with everyone and their mother knowing he would be getting the ball because of the Titans' rocky QB situation. Seeing eight and nine defenders crowding the line was the norm for Johnson.

Although he has not officially announced it, a holdout from Johnson is about as predictable as the rumors swirling last week of another possible Brett Favre comeback.

Johnson said last season when he agreed to restructure his contract that it was a one-time deal and he wanted $30 million guaranteed. That might be a stretch, depending on what the salary cap is and how a rookie wage scale impacts how much rookie QB Jake Locker will command, but surely the Titans can work something out with their most gifted player.

That Tennessee struck out on a pair of first-rounders, QB Vince Young and CB Adam "Pacman" Jones, prior to Johnson's arrival should make paying Johnson more manageable. Young and Jones, neither of whom is still with the club, would be in line for new deals or already absorbing a large portion of the cap. Furthermore, the Titans do not have any other free agents who will command monster pay days this offseason.

Munchak wants his team to have a running identity more than ever this season with Locker and backup Rusty Smith the only QBs currently on the roster. With unproven backup RBs Javon Ringer and rookie Jamie Harper behind Johnson on the depth chart, re-signing the electric Johnson is a must.

Give Johnson a fair deal and then give him the ball as much as possible.

Sounds simple, right?

Munchak's other pressing dilemma — what to do with WR Kenny Britt — is a bit trickier.

You would have to be living under a rock not to know Britt's story. He has had more than half a dozen brushes with the law since joining the league in 2009, including multiple incidents during the lockout. It is widely expected that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will discipline Britt once the lockout is lifted, saying that the league's personal-conduct policy is completely separate from the expired Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Munchak shouldn't even wait for Goodell to weigh in. He needs to suspend Britt for at least two games as soon as the lockout is lifted.

Repeated slaps on the hand clearly are not sending the message. I would say suspend Britt longer, but he has not been convicted of anything.

Still, Britt's offenses are hardly harmless. High-speed police chases, bar-room brawls and resisting arrest are very troubling.

And I have little doubt that Britt soon will make a mistake with even greater consequences if someone does not get through to him and make him understand he is in danger of wasting his rare God-given abilities with his bad behavior.

I'm told that Britt has a lot of work to do in order to regain trust in his locker room. And who could blame his teammates? Britt is on a path of self-destruction similar to that of Pacman's.

The Titans don't want to go down that road again.

Munchak has no shortage of issues to address once the lockout is lifted. Who is going to play QB? How to improve that woeful defense? These are just a few of the questions that will be raised very soon. And finding answers to these questions will be critical for Munchak and the Titans.

But neither requires more urgent attention than protecting the club's two best players and doing whatever it takes to ensure they are as productive as possible for years to come.

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