FLOWERY BRANCH — For anyone tempted to compare the starting tight ends for Tennessee and Atlanta on Friday night, Ben Hartsock would like to make one point clear.
"I’m not here to be an Alge Crumpler replacement," Hartsock said after Wednesday’s practice. "That’s not something anybody can do. He’s a special type player."
Each tight end will be playing against his former team when the Titans visit the Falcons in a preseason game Friday night.
The Falcons signed Hartsock, the former Titans starter, in March after releasing Crumpler. Tennessee quickly signed Crumpler, a four-time Pro Bowl player with Atlanta.
Crumpler had knee problems last year and missed two games, but he still had 42 catches for 444 yards and five touchdowns. It was his fifth straight year with 40 or more catches, including two seasons when he led the Falcons in receptions.
Hartsock has only 24 catches in 45 career games, including 12 receptions with the Titans last year in a shared role with Bo Scaife.
Hartsock says he’d like the chance to show he can be an effective receiver, but his blocking skills were the big draw for coach Mike Smith in the Falcons’ run-oriented offense.
"Ben has worked extremely hard and I think he’s about what we anticipated he would be," Smith said Wednesday. "He’s a guy who can move the chain with the run game."
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Hartsock had only six catches for the Titans in 2006.
Hartsock’s playing time increased last year, but still he gave way to Scaife in passing situations. With Atlanta, Hartsock says he hopes to prove he can be more than just a blocker.
"It’s just a different role," Hartsock said. "When I was at Tennessee I was sharing a lot of reps with Bo. I was the run-blocker and he was the pass-catcher. Here I’m able to just go in and be more of a complete player where I’m asked to do everything."
Hartsock has two catches for 13 yards in the Falcons’ first two preseason games.
"I think the coaches obviously know if the ball is thrown to me I’m going to be able to make the catch," he said.
Added Smith: "His strengths are his run-blocking but he also can catch the ball. It’s not just that he’s a glorified offensive tackle."
Crumpler was a team leader and fan favorite in Atlanta.
"Anytime a guy goes back and plays against a team where he played from start to finish, there is some emotion associated with it," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher. "He’s a very, very mature veteran. He’ll stay focused, and he’ll deal with it. He’s part of this team, and he’ll be concerned with nothing but making sure he can help contribute to our offense."
Tennessee quarterback Vince Young says the addition of Crumpler, who has 35 career touchdown receptions, "is going to be big" for the Titans.
"He has great hands, knows how to use his body," Young said.
"The funny part about it, I like seeing him after practice when he’s in the locker room (maintaining) his body, taking care of his body. That’s good ... because it shows the expectations he wants to have of this team."
Crumpler told two Tennessee newspapers he is not bitter about his release from the Falcons.
"I understand it’s a business," Crumpler said.
"I gave those fans everything I had, and I still live in Atlanta in the offseason. Every time I’ve been down there, I’ve bumped into many, many fans, and they want their team to win. That’s why they’re in the stands. If I get booed or jeered, that’s all part of it.
"As long as I go to the right sideline and the right locker room, I think I’ll be fine."Note: Smith said he expects RT Todd Weiner, recovering from major knee surgery, to make his preseason debut against Tennessee. Weiner shared time with Tyson Clabo on the first-team offense in Wednesday’s practice.