NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Near the end of the offseason, the Tennessee Titans rewarded safety Michael Griffin with a five-year, $36 million contract extension.
Now, the Titans want Griffin to reward their faith in him by becoming the leader of the defense.
"What Mike needs to do is say `I'm going to be the leader of this defense,' and `we're going to go this way.' All the great safeties that I've been around have done that," Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said. "They take it upon themselves. Really good safeties take ownership and say, `I'm going to put you on my back, and let's go.' And then they challenge everyone around them."
In his time as a Titan, Griffin has had his moments of excellent play -- 17 career interceptions and two Pro Bowls attest to that. But there were moments of inconsistency, too, and that is what Griffin wants to eliminate from his game.
"I just want to be the same guy, but get better and work on the things I need to work on. I want to be more consistent," said Griffin, who was given the franchise tag by the Titans in March.
Many players tagged in the NFL hold out of offseason work and training camp as leverage. Not Griffin. He signed a waiver that allowed him to take part in the Titans offseason, something that no doubt earned him respect from teammates and coaches.
"He's a guy that was here every day during the offseason. He's the first guy out in practice, helps on special teams, even though he's not on them," coach Mike Munchak said. "He leads that way, which is fun. I think he loves the game, and we're looking forward to a big year. He's a guy that's been to the Pro Bowl a couple of times, he's had success in his career with some picks, and that's what we're expecting this year. I think he's enjoying the role."
For his part, Griffin said the leadership role isn't something he necessarily has sought out.
"Being a leader, that just comes from the respect of your teammates and leading by example," he said. "Some people don't really think of themselves as leaders, but when people look up to guys and want to work as hard as they do or whatever it may be, that's when you start having those leadership qualities and people start looking at you as a leader."
Just looking around the locker room, Griffin can see why he needs to be more of a leader. In the past few years, the team has said goodbye to Chris Hope, Keith Bulluck, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cortland Finnegan. So now, at just 27, Griffin is the longest-tenured starter on the Tennessee defense, having been drafted in the first round pick in 2007.
"I was thinking to myself that there's nobody here that was on this defense from when I first got here," he said. "I feel like I'm in the position where I'm the old guy now. I don't feel that old, but I'm the old guy that's been around here the longest, the one who has seen this team evolve into what it is today."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)