NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Coaches and seasons can change. Tension whenever the Tennessee Titans and St. Louis Rams get together doesn't.
These teams had some feisty joint practices back in 2000, months after St. Louis beat the Titans in the Super Bowl, and it didn't take long Wednesday morning for tempers to flare up as they gathered Wednesday in training camp.
Rams receiver Reche Caldwell grabbed Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan in a bear hug and took him to the ground.
St. Louis coach Scott Linehan was watching his defense with rookie end Chris Long going against the Tennessee offense and Vince Young when he heard some of the grumblings two fields over between his offense and the Titans defense.
"We've got to limit that,'' Linehan said. "We can't get to where we lose our cool out here. It's that time of year. Guys aren't in very good moods out here. We've just got to make sure we continue to get better. It's good to see us compete and those things. We'll get rid of the extracurricular stuff. It wasn't anything big, a couple of little ones.''
That included Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch skirmishing with Rams left tackle Adam Goldberg. After being blocked to the ground on his rush, Vanden Bosch took a big swing at Goldberg.
The head coaches tried to calm things down. But on the next play, Titans end Sean Conover tangled with St. Louis tackle Mark LeVoir, with Vanden Bosch rushing in to help, without his helmet.
"We were anticipating it, and we need that as a football team,'' Rams receiver Torry Holt said. "After a while it kind of got excessive as far as the banging and guys trying us. We needed that. That's something we're trying to build on is our toughness and at the same time build on our mental toughness.''
Wednesday's first practice is the only session in full pads. Taking those off could help ease the tension in several sessions before the teams open the exhibition season Saturday night.
The Rams are trying to build off a 3-13 season by working against Tennessee, a team that went 10-6 in the AFC South and made the playoffs in 2007. The Titans had the NFL's fifth-stingiest defense in yards allowed in 2007, so they offer a good early test for a Rams offense that was 24th a year ago, averaging 297.5 yards and without contract holdout Steven Jackson.
The Titans are pushing themselves defensively to improve as well, and All Pro tackle Albert Haynesworth, who stayed out of the frays, said it's easy for something to happen with Tennessee's aggressive style.
"You know this defense. We're a tough, rough defense. We don't back down from anybody, and that's how we've always played,'' Haynesworth said. "Ever since that day that Lance Schulters gave us that nickname the Tennessee Tyrants, that's what we've been trying to live up to.''
Tennessee cornerback Vincent Fuller, the Titans' fifth defensive back in passing situations, gave Brock Berlin a rough morning by picking him off twice. Fuller said he and Berlin know each other from college when Fuller was at Virginia Tech and Berlin in Miami.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
"He's definitely a guy we've got to pay attention to the next two days,'' Holt said.
The Rams had the last say with Caldwell catching a short pass from Marc Bulger and faking to his left, then running past Finnegan into the end zone.
But the action was so hot on the other field for a bit that even Tennessee tight end Alge Crumpler wished he wasn't tied up two fields over.
"Man, I wanted to watch the other field. I wanted to go over there so bad,'' Crumpler said.
Notes: Rams left tackle Orlando Pace, who missed most of the past two seasons with injuries, had some spot work in team drills. Coach Scott Linehan said it would be easy to be conservative with Pace but they're pushing him along now.
CSN: The Super Bowl's golden anniversary will be held in the Golden State. The new stadium, which opens in 2014, in Santa Clara will host Super Bowl L two years later, the NFL announced Tuesday.
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