NFL: Catawba's Hartsell in Tennessee camp

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 29, 2011

By Mike London
SALISBURY — From his room in Nashville, Julian Hartsell can see the lights of 68,798-seat LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans.
“It’s a clear view, and it’s beautiful,” said Hartsell, a free-agent roster addition who toiled for the Catawba Indians at 4,500-seat Shuford Stadium last fall. “You almost don’t want to go to sleep because you’re afraid maybe it’s just a dream and you’ll wake up.”
The mature defensive lineman may be living a dream, but Catawba coach Chip Hester has been saying for six months that Hartsell, who is officially 6-foot-2, 295 pounds, had the best pro chances of last season’s seniors.
“When Julian wants to be a force, he’s a force,” Hester said. “He’s big and he can run. This is a 295-pound guy who doesn’t have a gut.”
Hartsell was born at Fort Bragg and played prep football at Ridgeview High in Columbia, S.C.
He was a four-year standout for the Indians, starting games as early as his redshirt freshman season in 2007. His junior year he returned a pick 25 yards for a touchdown against Fayetteville State. His big senior year included All-SAC honors and a three-sack day against Shaw.
At his Pro Day workout for NFL scouts in March at N.C. State, Hartsell bench-pressed 225 pounds 25 times, produced a 29-inch vertical jump, broad-jumped 9 feet, 3 inches and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.95 seconds.
The draft analysis service “NFL Draft Scout” ranked Hartsell 96th among the 150 defensive tackles it listed for the seven-round draft that was conducted in April.
“My Pro Day was OK, but I was honestly disappointed,” Hartsell said. “I know I can jump 30s. And I’ve run faster.”
The Titans were one of the teams that scouted Hartsell’s Pro Day. He maintained hope he’d be drafted right down to the last pick. After that, he stayed optimistic he’d get a chance to get into a camp as a free-agent if the dragged-out NFL lockout ever ended.
“It was a tough time because I just wasn’t 100-percent sure which way things would go,” he said. “I tried to keep my mind off the negotiations. I stayed with my workouts in Salisbury, sometimes with Catawba coaches, but some days doing my own thing. I also took care of a Spanish class in summer school.”
When the labor strife was settled, phones started ringing. Hartsell was one of 14 free-agent pickups announced by the Titans this week.
Very early Wednesday morning, Hartsell was driving west, and he arrived in Nashville at 10:30 a.m.
It’s going to be non-stop meetings and workouts for a while, as he tries to impress a new Titans coaching staff during a whirlwind courtship.
Ordinarily, there’s a careful indoctrination process, especially for rookies, but, obviously the luxury of mini-camps isn’t available this time.
Teams are hurriedly trying to put in plays and schemes as they prepare to play games, and the Titans got down to serious business on Friday.
“Definitely, this is tough for the players, especially rookies,” Hartsell said. “But it’s also tough on coaches. The advice everyone gave me at Catawba is just to listen and observe everything I can — and don’t say much.”
Mike Munchak is the new head coach of the Titans, Jeff Grey is the new defensive coordinator, while Tracy Rocker is the new defensive line coach. It’s a whole new ballgame for the Titans — including new quarterback Matt Hasselbeck — but they are expected to stay with the 4-3 defense they’ve employed.
Hartsell isn’t sure if he’ll be looked at primarily as a defensive end or tackle. He may get a chance to back up both positions. He may have enough size to play inside and enough explosiveness to play end.
Grey has stated the Titans have to get bigger upfront after a season in which they ranked 26th in the NFL in total yards allowed and 29th in pass defense.
The Titans selected three defensive linemen from big schools in the draft — USC’s Jurrell Casey (third round), Iowa’s Karl (fifth round) and Auburn’s Zach Clayton (seventh round), but Hartsell is confident he’ll get a legitimate look.
“I’ll be walking into a locker room with NFL players, guys I’ve looked up to all my life,” he said. “But I can’t be in awe of that. I just have to maintain focus and show that I can be one of those guys.”