By PHIL SWEETLAND
Tennessee Titans running back Jackie Battle has found Williamson County as an ideal place to live for his fast-growing family.
For Tennessee Titans running back Jackie Battle, his wife Christine and their fast-growing family, Williamson County has proven to be an ideal place to live.
â€œThere are parks everywhere, and we got memberships to Monkey Joeâ€™s bouncy house. Thereâ€™s always something to do for our kids,â€ Jackie BattleÂ said Saturday afternoon following the Titansâ€™ opening practice of training camp at Saint Thomas Sports Park.
When we first spoke with Battle in late June, he and Christine had one child, 2-year-old daughter London Grace.
They now have two, and Jackieâ€™s proud grin stretched the width of the locker room as he talked about his new baby boy on July 26.
He and Christineâ€™s first son, Justus Jace Battle, arrived last Monday â€“ nearly two weeks ahead of schedule. He weighed in at 7 pounds, 5 ounces, and 19 Â½ inches.
â€œJustus was due Aug. 3. We were a little concerned with me having to come to training camp, I might miss the birth. But Godâ€™s timing is unbelievable,” Battle said.
Fans will quickly notice that Battle is wearing No 44 this season. He sported No. 22 for the Titans last year, but that now belongs to his former Kansas City Chiefs teammate Dexter McCluster.
The two have lockers next to each other now, and the 25-year-old McCluster considers Battle, 30, a mentor on and off the field.
â€œJackieâ€™s a good guy,â€ McCluster said. â€œI need to surround myself with guys like that, guys that live life right.â€
At 6-2 and 240 pounds, the bruising Battle towers over McCluster, a 5-8, 170-pound speed burner from Ole Miss.
All McCluster had to do to get No. 22 from his teammate and mentor was to donate some money to each of their home churches.
New Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt also finds Battle extremely easy to deal with. He plans to take full advantage of the former Chief and Charger’s versatility, both as a running back and on special teams.
â€œWell, Jackieâ€™s one of our leaders on special teams, and heâ€™s very good,” Whisenhunt said. “I think when you look at the running back position, those guys have to contribute on special teams.Â So he brings that to the table, and it’s one of the reasons why heâ€™s so valuable. What he does as a running back â€“ playing some fullback, playing some tailback â€“ itâ€™s always great to have versatile backs.”
Tennessee signed Battle as a free agent just before last yearâ€™s training camp. In his very first game as a Titan last September at Pittsburgh, Battle scored Tennesseeâ€™s first points of the season on a 3-yard blast up the middle just before halftime of a game the Titans eventually won 16-9.
That would prove to be his only touchdown of the year.
After Battle scored, bowling over a Steelers defender, the native of Humble, Texas pointed skyward â€“ as he does after every TD.
â€œItâ€™s pointing to God,â€ Battle said. â€œHeâ€™s opened up so many doors for me. Without His grace and mercy, I wouldnâ€™t be in this position.â€
He has racked up 1,168 yards and 8 TDs in 80 career games, despite starting only nine of them. Battleâ€™s also caught 33 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown.
Many of his contributions, however, show up on tape but not on the stat sheet. Theyâ€™re made in comparative anonymity on special teams, which heâ€™s even played on at times when he was a starter â€“ a rarity in todayâ€™s highly specialized NFL.
â€œSpecial teams are how I make my living,â€ said Battle. “This is my eighth season. Almost every year, Iâ€™ve played on every special teams. Thatâ€™s how I made teams early in my career.
“I enjoy special teams. Thereâ€™s nothing like on kickoffs, running down the field full-tilt and getting to destroy somebody.â€
A classic Battle example came in 2011 with the Chiefs. Superstar Kansas City back Jamaal Charles, who had rushed for over 1,400 yards the year before, got hurt, played in just two games, and only had 12 carries the whole 2011 season.
That left Battle (149 carries for a team-high 579 yards and a pair of TDs) and McCluster (114 carries for 514) to try to pick up the rushing load.
It didn’t stop Battle from playing on all the Chiefs special teams that year as well â€“ such as kickoff, punt block and PAT.
â€œI take a lot of pride in that work on special teams,â€ he said. â€œI enjoy it.â€
As a running back, Battle again takes pride in the little things â€“ pass protection, catching passes out of the backfield.
â€œI was never really great at one thing,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m pretty good at a lot of things. Thatâ€™s what got me on teams â€“ special teams, knowing what to do, and being versatile.â€