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News » Tennessee Titans Strategy and Personnel 2009-01-30

Tennessee Titans Strategy and Personnel 2009-01-30

Tennessee Titans Strategy and Personnel 2009-01-30
Jeff Fisher has shown loyalty to his coaches over the years, and Tennessee's staff would likely return mostly intact, unless defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz lands a head-coaching job.

Schwartz has had two interviews with the Detroit Lions, and appeared to have made a decent enough impression to be considered strongly in the mix.

Schwartz's defense has been among the best in the NFL the past two seasons after being ranked dead last in 2006. Schwartz has held the job since 2001, and has long been primed as potential head-coaching material. He was on other teams' initial candidate list, but for now, the Lions would appear to be his best chance at a head-coaching opportunity.

If Schwartz leaves, the Titans would choose from among three candidates to replace him. Former Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams might be the top choice, unless he lands in Green Bay or New Orleans first. Also, linebackers coach Dave McGinnis and defensive backs coach Chuck Cecil are possibilities.

Offensive assistant Bart Andrus was reported to be under consideration for a coaching job with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts. Andrus, a former Titans quarterbacks coach and long-time friend of Fisher, returned to the Titans just before training camp last year and holds the vague title of "offensive assistant."


Wide receiver: Jeff Fisher insists that the need of a playmaker on the outside isn't that big of a deal for a run-first team, but a speedy threat who can stretch the field has been one of the Titans' shortcomings for most of a decade.

Defensive tackle: Obviously this is predicated on the Albert Haynesworth situation. But if he departs in free agency, this need moves to the top of the Titans' list.

Punter: Craig Hentrich, a 15-year veteran, is likely to retire, meaning that for the first time since 1998, Tennessee will have an opening at the position.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Kerry Collins. Backups -- Vince Young, Chris Simms.

Collins, who is a free agent to be, is high on the Titans' priority list at the present time to re-sign. The veteran threw for 2,676 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Those numbers aren't eye-popping, but are markedly better than what Young had put up the year before (nine TDs, 17 INTs). Collins wants to come back and said he will not re-sign anywhere unless it is as the starter. He would rather retire than back up Young or anyone else. Young, who appeared detached from his teammates at various times after his demotion, is on the spot to prove himself as a professional. The Titans need to see more of a commitment to learning the system and more accountability. The Titans liked what they saw of Simms after picking him up off the scrap heap, and would like to re-sign him. There are those who believe Simms is not interested in being a No. 3 again, but if Collins is re-signed and Young's approach doesn't improve, who's to say Simms couldn't be No. 2 and Young third on the depth chart?

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Chris Johnson, FB Ahmard Hall. Backups -- LenDale White, Quinton Ganther, Chris Henry. Non-football injury -- Rafael Little.

The Titans have a star in the making with Johnson, who is arguably the fastest player in the league. For those who haven't seen him up close, think Brian Westbrook with more breakaway speed or a bigger, speedier version of Darren Sproles. Behind Johnson, who rushed for 1,228 yards as a rookie, is where the issues lie. When Johnson hurt his ankle in the playoff game against Baltimore, it was evident that White, a good short-yardage back, could not carry the load against a top defense. White needs to get in better shape or be relegated to being a situational player only. Ganther pulled the upset for a roster spot last year in camp with his value on special teams, while Henry was inactive for all but one game and had just one carry. He'll be lucky to retain a roster spot, as the Titans believe Little, signed as an undrafted free agent after an ACL injury in Senior Bowl practice, can get healthy enough to be a third-down back and return man. At fullback, Hall, an ex-Marine, is very workmanlike and shows surprising skills with the ball in his hands.

TIGHT ENDS: Starters -- Bo Scaife, Alge Crumpler. Backups -- Craig Stevens, Casey Cramer, Matt Mulligan.

Scaife enjoyed a career year with 58 catches, but tailed off late in the year. He is an unrestricted free agent, but the Titans want to bring him back barring a ridiculous offer from elsewhere. Crumpler, haunted by a costly fumble in the divisional playoffs, is as solid a pro as they come, but his numbers (24 receptions, one TD) were not what the Titans expected when they signed him from Atlanta. Stevens, a rookie third-round pick, was mostly a blocker and special teams player, but the Titans like his upside. Cramer, also a backup fullback, is a hard worker and likable player, but is limited to special teams if he makes the roster. Mulligan finished the year on the practice squad, but was signed to a futures contract this week.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Justin Gage, Justin McCareins. Backups -- Brandon Jones, Lavelle Hawkins, Paul Williams, Chris Davis, Craphonso Thorpe.

Gage was hampered by injuries during the early part of the season, but came on late in the year with three 100-yard receiving games, including a 10-catch, 135-yard day in the playoffs. McCareins, beset by injuries and inconsistency, is a free agent, and though he is a favorite of Mike Heimerdinger's, might not return. Jones is also a free agent and showed more of the same flashes he has shown throughout his career with a personal-best 41 catches. Hawkins, a rookie, has potential, but must be more of a student of the game and refine his route-running and blocking. Williams and Davis are both in danger of being camp cuts next summer, barring marked improvement. Thorpe, signed to a futures contract, has not made much of an impression in several previous stops.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Michael Roos, LG Eugene Amano, C Kevin Mawae, RG Jake Scott, RT David Stewart. Backups -- C/G Leroy Harris, T/G Daniel Loper, T Mike Otto, G/C Jason Murphy, G Fernando Velasco, C/G Doug Datish.

This group didn't get the attention of, say, the New York Giants offensive line, but was one of the best in the business this year. They allowed just 12 sacks all year, and the not-very-mobile Kerry Collins was sacked just eight times. In addition, the Titans rushed for 2,199 yards this season behind this group. Roos and Mawae were first-team All-Pros, and Stewart was a second-team selection. Scott came over from Indianapolis and was solid, as was Amano, a former backup who paid his dues and became a starter for the first time this season. Harris is the heir apparent to Mawae, while Otto is a developmental project. Loper is a valuable backup, but is an unrestricted free agent who could surely start somewhere in the league. The others all closed the year on the practice squad and were re-signed to futures contracts.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LDE Jevon Kearse, LDT Tony Brown, RDT Albert Haynesworth, RDE Kyle Vanden Bosch. Backups -- DT Jason Jones, DE Jacob Ford, DE Dave Ball, DE William Haynes, DT Kevin Vickerson, DT Amon Gordon. Injured reserve -- DE Ulrich Winkler.

A solid group that spearheaded the defense, they played much of the year without Vanden Bosch, who was bothered by a groin injury that required surgery. Haynesworth is a free agent who will break the bank if the Titans let him get to the open market. His presence would be difficult to replace. Kearse had a solid year, improving his run defense and creating enough pressure to justify the Titans' decision to re-sign him after four years away. Brown is the unsung member of the group, but is a hard worker and solid pro. Behind them, Jones will challenge for a starting role in the near future (He will be handed one if Haynesworth departs). Ford, who missed all of his rookie year with an Achilles injury, had seven sacks, while Ball, out of the league in '07, was solid as a backup to Vanden Bosch. Hayes is a long-term project, while Vickerson is the fourth tackle. Gordon and Winkler, a German national from now-defunct NFL Europe, are long shots.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- LLB David Thornton, MLB Stephen Tulloch, RLB Keith Bulluck. Backups -- Stanford Keglar, Colin Allred, Ryan Fowler, Ken Amato. Injured reserve -- Josh Stamer.

The Titans don't ask their linebackers to blitz much, using mainly their front four for QB pressure. Bulluck and Thornton are both sideline-to-sideline tacklers, who can pass cover in space. Tulloch has good instincts in finding the ball carrier, but sometimes gets out of position. Fowler lost the starting job in the middle early in the season, but remains a key special-teamer. The others are all primarily special teams players with very few defensive starts to their credit.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Nick Harper, FS Michael Griffin, SS Chris Hope, RCB Cortland Finnegan. Backups -- S/CB/NB Vincent Fuller, CB Chris Carr, CB Tyrone Poole, S Donnie Nickey, S Tuff Harris. Injured reserve -- CB Eric King, CB Reynaldo Hill.

Another solid part of the Titans defense, as evidenced by Finnegan's All-Pro selection, and Hope and Finnegan heading to the Pro Bowl. Finnegan became the type of shutdown corner the Titans had hoped Adam "Pacman" Jones would be, while on the other side Harper provides a solid veteran presence, using savvy and sure tackling to get the job done. At safety, Tennessee pairs the veteran Hope with up-and-comer Griffin, who led the team with seven picks. Nickel back Fuller is a free agent the Titans would like back. Carr is also a free agent, and while primarily a return man, can play a number of spots and did OK at corner when the team was in a pinch injury-wise. Nickey and Harris are primarily special teamers, while King, Hill and Poole are all unrestricted free agents, with King having the best shot at returning.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters -- K Rob Bironas. P Craig Hentrich, LS Ken Amato, KR
Chris Carr. Backups -- PR Brandon Jones, Chris Davis, KR Michael Griffin, Chris Davis.

Bironas wasn't as heralded this year as he was in '07 when he was an All-Pro, but he had just as solid a season. He is an unrestricted free agent the Titans need to get under contract before he hits the market. Hentrich, too, is a free agent, but the 15-year veteran has strongly hinted that he is at the end of the line and may retire. Carr helped the Titans lead the NFL in kickoff return average this season, while Amato is very reliable as both a punt and placekick snapper.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 30, 2009

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Stephen Tulloch Name: Stephen Tulloch
Position: LB
Age: 23
Experience: 3 years
College: North Carolina State
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