AFC South: Tennessee Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Every time a big, productive name bubbles to the surface as potentially available, it prompts Tennessee Titans faithful to wonder if he will land here.

It’s that way for most teams really. It’s especially that way for a team bereft of talent coming off a 2-14 season.

The Titans need receiver help.

Brandon Marshall is a top-flight target with great size at 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds. In Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, Chicago has a great pair of big, physical receivers who are hard to defend on their own, better yet in tandem. Marshall didn’t post his standard numbers last season because of an ankle injury, but he played through it a few times and posted big games.

But as the Titans try to reset a culture in need of serious changes, I don’t expect Tennessee to jump into the market for Marshall, who is reportedly available for a mid-round draft pick.

The Titans need guys who come free, of course.

But this would be the fourth time Marshall has come free. He was traded by the Broncos to the Dolphins. He was traded by the Dolphins to the Bears. Now he might be traded by the Bears.

You know what teams don’t do with fantastic players they like having on their team? Ship them out of town.

As ESPN’s Adam Caplan said, "Brandon Marshall is a guy that you have to understand. If you don’t get him, you may not want him around."

Marshall has salaries of $7.5 million, $7.9 million and $8.3, million due over the next three seasons. Those are not prices that should handcuff a team if it gets the sort of production out of Marshall of which he’s capable.

He’s not regarded as the greatest locker room guy or influence on teammates. Remember a post-loss speech last season that reporters overheard, and the fallout from it? (Michael C. Wright wrote about it here.)

Though he has shown encouraging signs of growth and maturation and took on the stigma of mental illness, the Bears’ apparent desire to part with him suggests there is some sort of hole.

He’s got the skill set, the money isn’t outrageous, he embraced the new setting and reunion with Jay Cutler.

So what’s the issue?

I don’t think the Titans are dying to find out for themselves.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jonathan Massaquoi, the outside linebacker claimed by the Tennessee Titans off waivers from the Atlanta Falcons, might be more than a longshot contributor for Tennessee.

He began the 2014 season as a starter for the Falcons but only started twice before playing in 13 of the team’s remaining 14 games as a reserve.

Listed at 6-foot-3, 264 pounds last season, Massaquoi was a fifth-round draft pick out of Troy in 2012. In 40 career games and seven starts, he's recorded six sacks and three passes defended.

Pro Football Focus ranked him No. 23 of 59 4-3 defensive ends, with a positive pass-rush rating and a negative run-defense mark.’s Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure wrote that a carefree attitude cost Massaquoi standing with the franchise.

Massaquoi has talent. He showed flashes of it last season, particularly in games against the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens. But he rubbed some folks the wrong way with his carefree approach.

One member of the previous staff said Massaquoi was in the doghouse because he skipped treatments on the right foot he injured during a game against the Detroit Lions in London. Massaquoi was tabbed a "good kid who made some poor decisions and needs some structure."

A coach from the fired Falcons staff told McClure that Massaquoi is a “good kid.”

“Needs structure,” the coach said. “Makes some poor decisions at times, but what kid doesn't?”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith has spoken of how he wants more of a physical football team.

As the team prepares to shuffle its roster for its second season with Smith as head of the ownership group, he reiterated those themes in an appearance on 3HL on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville.

Regarding the identity of a team that went 2-14 and will draft second overall, Smith said: "I don't think we have one."

Doesn’t the smashmouth idea he touts run counter to coach Ken Whisenhunt’s desire to emphasize a downfield passing offense?

“I think you’re going to see a run game this year,” Smith said. “We didn’t have much of that last year. We lost two of our three tight ends early, we lost O-linemen and so forth. But if you’re going to go down the field you also have to have a run game to compliment it. We have a lot of work to do on that.”

Smith also addressed pass protection, which wasn’t great early and deteriorated as the offensive line injuries mounted.

“Until we protect a quarterback, we can talk about going into the draft or to a free agent or whatever but at the end of the year, we’ve got to keep the man upright for goodness sakes. It’s unfortunate [Zach Mettenberger] got injured.”

Smith said the quarterback is tough and committed, but he would like to have seen more. A shoulder injury kept Mettenberger out of the final three games.

The team needs some quarterback competition for Mettenberger, to at the very least be “safe.”

Draft and free-agent decisions will be made by general manager Ruston Webster and his staff, Smith said.

While he’d prefer to have a franchise built predominantly thorugh the draft, the current roster demands help from all available avenues.

"We're going to be very active in free agency,” Smith said. “We need to be."

A few other items he hit on in the interview:
  • After top non-football executive Don MacLachlan was ousted, the team will now have multiple public faces rather than heavy representation by one high-ranking man.
  • Smith is sticking with goals he started earlier for the Titans: the playoffs in 2015, the Super Bowl in 2016.
  • While the team is returning to navy blue as its primary color, Smith didn’t offer any indication that uniform or logo alterations are in progress.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ndamukong Suh was recently in Nashville.

His strength coach from Nebraska is now at Vanderbilt, and I was told Suh plans on spending even more time this offseason with James Dobson.

Detroit Lions defensive line coach Jim Washburn also still has a home in Nashville, where he started his NFL coaching career. Suh saw Washburn during the visit.

His Nashville trip, however, had nothing to do with the Tennessee Titans. Any interaction with the city's NFL entry would have been tampering.

With the Lions deciding not to place the franchise tag on Suh, he's now in line to become a free agent March 10. As of March 7, teams can begin to negotiate with agents for players in advance of their free agency.

The Titans are desperate for difference-makers.

Suh is a major difference-maker, perhaps second only to J.J. Watt among NFL defenders. End, tackle, whatever. They would shape their front to suit him. He would make everyone better. He would give a faceless team a jolt.

Suh is going to get a ridiculous contract. Watt got a six-year, $100 million deal in 2014, and it came with $51.8 million guaranteed.

Suh has a long history of player-safety issues on the field, which are well outlined by's Michael Rothstein.

Is that stuff worth the trade-off? If you believe he's going to play hard for you and want to prove he's worth a massive contract, the Titans have to say yes to that.

While I generally fear huge deals for veterans, as we've seen so many blow up, it's hard to look at Suh and the Titans and say anything other than this: Tennessee should aggressively pursue him.

And I think they will.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As if the list of pending free agents wasn't enough, we’re starting to see other players who might be of interest coming onto the market.

ESPN’s Adam Caplan recently gave us a rundown of his most likely salary-cap cuts. One of them, running back Reggie Bush, has already been released.

A. Jones
Four names on Caplan's list strike me as guys the Titans could be interested in: Kansas City outside linebacker Tamba Hali, Philadelphia outside linebacker Trent Cole, Indianapolis defensive lineman Arthur Jones and Buccaneers tackle Anthony Collins.

The Titans showed interest in Jones a year ago before he signed with the Colts.

I asked ESPN resident scout Matt Williamson about those four and how each could fit in Tennessee.

“All make sense and are scheme-fits,” he said. “Hali and Cole are similar and both have played very well in a 3-4 as an OLB. Dick LeBeau also has a history of having shorter, leverage-type OLBs, which suits both, but especially Cole. Although Cole’s best days were as a 4-3 end. Still, both bring something off the edge and are far from done.

“I like Jones as well. Tough guy that would be a defensive end for Tennessee, but can be moved around the line a bit. He’s a run-stuffer, but can also push the pocket. I would think LeBeau would be quite fond of him.”

“Collins was a great third tackle for the Bengals and did really well when he got in as a starter due to injuries, but like the rest of Tampa Bay’s offensive line last year, he really struggled as an every-week starting left tackle. He can play either side but is a little frightening. Guess it depends on cost with him. I would be afraid to overpay.”

There is a going to be a huge push to add edge rushers. Top players in free agency, such as the Chiefs' Justin Houston, are bound to get tagged and not make it to market.

The more out there, the better, of course.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In draft analysis circles, it’s difficult to find a less-than-stellar review of USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams.

But Greg Cosell, who studies players for NFL Films, has watched four game of Williams and isn’t overwhelmed.

"I’m going to be in the minority here, and I am sure there are a lot of people who think I am a moron, and it wouldn’t be the first time, but I’m not blown away by Leonard Williams," Cosell said in his weekly interview with my Nashville radio show, The Midday 180 on 104.5 The Zone.

"I think he tends to play high, I think he tends to show his chest, which is a really bad thing for a defensive lineman. I wouldn’t say he’s a natural pass-rusher. I didn’t think he played real well sort of in space. I thought there were too many snaps in which he was moved by double teams. I think that he’s flash player. Every once in a while you see a certain play and you go, 'Wow, that’s pretty good.' But I don’t see him as a purely explosive player the way you’d think of let’s say a Gerald McCoy coming out of Oklahoma or a Sheldon Richardson coming out of Missouri.

"Again, I’m not going to sit here and tell you he’s a bad player. But people are talking about him now as if he’s a Hall of Fame player. I’ve watched four games now, and some people would say that’s plenty, and I’ll probably watch even more because I know I’m in the minority and I want to make sure I’m not missing anything -- but that’s what I see on film."

If the Tennessee Titans have a similar feeling, I could see them concluding their bigger need isn’t on the line, but at outside linebacker, and looking to drop in the first round and land Dante Fowler Jr., Randy Gregory, Shane Ray, or Vic Beasley.

Cosell said Gregory is a better athlete, more explosive and more flexible, but not as strong as last year’s No. 1 pick, Jadeveon Clowney. Colleague Tania Ganguli reflected on that from a Texans’ perspective.

Cosell is also very high on Fowler, who he said could be a Clay Matthews or Justin Houston.

Listen to the whole Cosell interview here.

You can also check on Williams discussing his versatility and his relationship with the Titans' best defensive player, end Jurrell Casey.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Time and time again, under a mostly invisible owner, Don MacLachlan was the guy facing fire from Tennessee Titans fans for anything and everything that went wrong -- whether it was his issue or not.

As recently as Sunday, the Titans executive vice president of administration and facilities had a former player in his face belittling him for issues the alumni have with the team. That’s largely a problem or perceived problem created by coach Ken Whisenhunt, but MacLachlan was on the front line at a local radio station event.

He took what was dished out while staying calm and reasoned.

For a franchise that has become moribund in many ways, he brought constant energy and enthusiasm.

[+] EnlargeDon MacLachlan
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyTitans executive vice president Don MacLachlan, right, walks with Ken Whisenhunt to Whisehunt's introductory news conference.
But the Titans announced Tuesday that he had resigned.

If McLachlan did resign, I suspect it was only because he was going to be fired. That the Titans had immediate word of some of the replacement plans indicate that this was in the works for at least a while.

So in exchange for being an administrative face of the franchise while the head of the team’s ownership group, the inexperienced and perhaps overmatched Tommy Smith, got to stay way in the background, MacLachlan got shoved out.

Both Smith and MacLachlan offered the standard press release line offering thanks.

I'm not impartial. I've known MacLachlan since 1996 and was a fan of the way he carried himself and the constant spark he brought. I like him professionally and personally.

The team’s bad year certainly extended beyond its 2-14 record. Following pledges from Smith that game-day operations would be enhanced, there was at least one game where there was a major backup at the gate that delayed fans from getting into LP Field. There were steady complaints about the new concessionaire, Aramark.

Maybe both sides ultimately needed a change.

But the move begs for Smith to step out from behind the guy who did most of his public PR and to explain what’s happened and the plan going forward.

“While we are sad to see Don go, we know there also is a great deal of work ahead of us to improve our organization, Smith said in a statement. “Over the last year, one of my primary objectives was to monitor how things have been operating within the team. This offseason, we have decided to make changes in a number of areas from both a personnel standpoint and a structural standpoint. As of today, we have hired or promoted some of these people already; and for some other positions, we are in the interview process. This is not an easy process, but these changes will reflect a shift in our approach and hopefully will result in making our fans proud.”

What’s the shift in approach? Could he be more vague?

MacLachlan’s departure came with an announcement of one in-house promotion and one outside hire with previous ties to the organization. Senior director of ticketing Marty Collins and director of ticket operations Tim Zenner were recently fired, the team confirmed.

Stuart Spears, who has been with the organization for a total of 28 years and has served most recently as vice president of business operations and sales, will become the team’s chief revenue officer. I know Whisenhunt quickly became very fond of Spears.

Spears is a hard-working guy who’s popular in the building and might be fantastic in his new role. But as Smith looks for a shift in approach, he’s promoting someone who’s been part of the franchise's approach since 1987.

Bob Flynn, who has most recently served as senior director of corporate partnerships for the NHL’s Nashville Predators, will become the Titans’ head of facilities and game day operations. Flynn previously was an Arena Football League general manager, including for four years with the Nashville Kats. The Kats were controlled by the Titans while Flynn was employed.

More news of new people and new roles is surely to come.
The Tennessee Titans rank 116th out of 122 franchises in the four major American professional sports leagues when it comes to their use of analytics.

That’s according to an extensive look by ESPN The Magazine.

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsKen Whisenhunt said he's more into the feel and emotion that go into football, not necessarily analytics.
Not long after he got the Titans' job, coach Ken Whisenhunt responded to a question about how he views analytics. His answer played a big role in this ranking.

"[I]f you get so wrapped up in analytics, sometimes you lose a feel for the game. And to me, there is an emotional side of the game and there is also a feel for the game. When you see a guy like [Frank] Wycheck make a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone with the guy draped all over him, how do you put an analytic on that? I mean, I respect it, I respect the fact that you can do studies and that you can put time in about it. But to me ... there is a lot of feel and emotion involved."

I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say the Titans are complete non-believers, however.

In a recent conversation with general manager Ruston Webster I broached the subject.

“I think it is evolving,” he said of the Titans' use of analytics. “I think there is something to some sort of analytics as part of the equation, not the sole answer, but part of it…

“It’s something that I’ll ask for on a fairly consistent basis, just for more information, maybe sometime just to prove my own point. We do that from time to time when we are looking at our team, places where we need to get better more than anything else.”

Vice president of football administration Vin Marino and assistant director of football administration Dennis Polian are the guys Webster said he turns to for a study.

The envelope is way broader than that, though.

Whisenhunt and Webster both sound threatened by it when they talk about getting too wrapped up in analytics or about analytics not being the sole answer. Nowhere in the questions they were answering was there a suggestion they should turn so far toward analytics that they leave no room for feel for the game or other answers.

But there are mountains of information out there that can give a team an edge.

Sorting through it, finding what’s most pertinent that can help a team make more informed choices seems like it should be an obligation. That can help you get a feel for an opponent. It can help you make decisions -- during game-planning, during a game and in developing a roster.

Tapping into that sufficiently seems like a no-brainer.

This ESPN The Magazine story ranks no NFL team as “all-in.”

It's crazy to me that in 2015 there remains a tug-of-war about using analytics, that there is a fear from old-school people that new-fangled analytics can somehow be a dangerous force.

Read the assessment of the Ravens.

If I had a team I was rooting for, that’s what I’d want it to be saying about analytics.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger knows the noise about a new teammate at his position is only starting.

He’s not worried about it, and while he tries to ignore it he gets texts and questions from friends and family about it.

The 2014 sixth-round pick is likely "the guy" for the 2015 Titans. But they hold the No. 2 pick in the draft and could get one of the top two quarterbacks, Florida State's Jameis Winston or Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

Speaking to media before taking the stage at 104.5 The Zone’s SportsFest in Nashville (disclaimer, I have a show on the station), Mettenberger said general manager Ruston Webster has been completely straight with him, with “no smoke and mirrors.”

As for Winston and Mariota, Mettenberger spoke respectfully.

“They are obviously very talented guys,” he said. “ … If they were here I think they would say the same thing: If we had to compete out there, I think I’d beat them out.”

Mettenberger’s appearance was with his close friend, the Titans' top pick in the 2014 draft, left tackle Taylor Lewan.

Lewan loves hearing Mettenberger speak confidently.

“I think any person that doesn’t say that is not going to be successful,” he said of Mettenberger saying he’d beat out a high pick. “There are only so many positions in the NFL you can be a part of. If another guy comes in that’s a first-round pick or a second-round pick or a higher pick than you were, you either fold it up or you can take that adversity and thrive with it.”

Mettenberger missed the final three games of the season with a shoulder injury. He said he’s 100 percent and has been throwing.

Lewan started six games after Michael Roos was hurt, then missed the remainder of the year with a high ankle sprain.

Lewan, too, said he’s 100 percent. He’s running and jumping and said he could have played in a game about a week and a half after the season ended.
USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams is regarded by many as the best defensive player in the draft.

He could well be the Tennessee Titans' pick at No. 2 overall if they stay put in the spot.

Friday in Indianapolis he spoke to the media covering the combine and hit on a theme that will be big with the Titans, who love versatility.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Ric Tapia/Icon SportswireUSC standout Leonard Williams could be a good fit in the Titans' scheme because he has experience all over the defensive line.
"One of the biggest things that made me so versatile in my career is I played for three different D-line coaches while I’ve been at USC -- Pete Jenkins, Ed Orgeron and Chris Wilson -- and three defensive coordinators as well," Williams said. "I’ve played in a lot of defensive schemes. With that came moving around a lot. The versatility came."

"I actually did (enjoy all the adjustments). I’ve played D-line my whole life. I’d rather move around the whole D-line than stay in one spot the whole time. It was more fun to create matchups and be able to go against some weaker opponents every once in a while and getting to the quarterback. When the coaches switched it up for me, I liked it."

If he winds up a member of the Titans, odds are he’d be on the opposite end of the team’s 3-4 front from Jurrell Casey in the base defense. Casey is another USC Trojan, and Tennessee’s most effective defensive player. In nickel and dime they’d likely push together as the tackles with outside linebackers beside each of them.

"I’ve actually come into contact with (Casey) a few times as he visited USC," Williams said. "I actually had my first informal meeting with Tennessee (Thursday), and I got his number by the coaches and actually gave him a call last night and talked about it, and said we could actually be teammates.”

"That would be a lot of fun to play with a former Trojan. Trojans always have that connection. We’re a strong alumni. It would be great to play side-by-side with him. I know he’s been doing great in his profession so far."

Williams has not studied Casey’s game and knows they are different body types. Casey is listed at 6-foot-1, 305 pounds. Williams is more like 6-5, 302.

"(Casey’s) been causing a lot of destruction in the backfield," Williams said. "I can see myself doing that at the next level."
A combine peek around the rest of the AFC South as we ponder what the teams the Titans play twice a year may be doing in the draft ...

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are consistently in need of players to shore up their offensive line. One possibility for them at No. 29 is LSU offensive lineman La’el Collins, says Mike Wells. Collins can play both guard and tackle.

After the Trent Richardson disaster, Indianapolis could also benefit from a stud running back. That puts them in play for Georgia's Todd Gurley or Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon.

But the Colts gave up a first-rounder in the Richardson trade. No back has gone in the first round since 2012. At No. 29, the Colts could break that streak. That, however, would mean the Colts will have spent two first-rounders on the position in the span of just three years. With the needs they have elsewhere, it could be a tough move to make.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville could be looking for a mid-round pick to compete for the starting right tackle job. They started three players there last year, and incumbent Austin Pasztor has had health issues, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

And maybe the Jaguars will be loading up on picks.

Mike Sando spoke with one GM who said he believes the Jaguars are more likely to trade out of the No. 3 spot than the Titans are to trade out of No. 2.

Houston Texans

Houston may be interested in Southwest Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett, who lost out to Marcus Mariota at Oregon, says Tania Ganguli.

The Texans are the most quarterback-needy team in the division. Drafting 16th doesn't put them in position for a prime prospect, so someone like Bennett later could make sense.

Here’s a scouting report on Bennett from’ Dane Brugler. An AFC East scout said of Bennett: "Did you see him last year? He made play after play after play. He doesn't exactly run a pro-style offense down there, but his athleticism and feel in the pocket are impressive.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- On Monday, an article in The Tennessean featured Titans general manager Ruston Webster praising young quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

The broad reaction: The Titans aren't taking a quarterback at No. 2.

On Wednesday, Webster and coach Ken Whisenhunt answered questions about the draft's top two quarterbacks: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images"We like Zach [Mettenberger], but I am not willing to commit to anything, including who we are going to pick at No. 2 right now," Titans general manager Ruston Webster said at the combine.
The broad reaction: The Titans are taking one of them at No. 2.

Yep, we're all the way into draft season.

Many of us close to the team have long presumed the Titans will look to create some sort of credible competition but hope Mettenberger wins the job and is the starter in his second year. He had six reasonably good starts as a rookie despite no wins.

Winston carries maturity issues that can't help but remind the franchise of issues they ultimately had with Vince Young, selected third overall in 2006.

Mariota brings a great set of spread offense skills into the league, but it's no guarantee they translate and he doesn't fit Whisenhunt's mold the way Mettenberger does.

But draft speculation kicks into a different gear at the combine. I was somewhat critical after Webster's early-week comments about Mettenberger, because I think the Titans need to play the game better than that.

You know the game, the one where misdirection plays regarding draft intentions are paramount in the effort to maximize value and land who you want where you want. You don't have to play it nearly as much at No. 11 or No. 10 or No. 20, where the Titans have picked over the last three season. A lot of people are off the board and your field is trimmed in those scenarios. With so much wide open at No. 2, with so much behind you instead of in front of you, there is a chance to lure a trade partner and still get your guy.

Webster said Wednesday the Titans are being straightforward with Mettenberger and have made no promises or determination about what they will do in the draft. That's fine, but it requires them to say something less positive about him than they've been saying.

And that arrived Wednesday.

“I know he is going to be reading a lot of things, hearing a lot of things,” Webster said in Indianapolis. "I was not able to give him a commitment. I don't think we are in a position to commit to anything.

“He knows we like him and he knows we value him, and we'll just kind of go from there. We like Zach, but I am not willing to commit to anything, including who we are going to pick at No. 2 right now."

That does a lot more to say the Titans are in the game.

(Sidenote: I concede this is awkward. I am a truth-seeker and a reporter/analyst who appreciates that Webster and Whisenhunt are far more honest than most of their counterparts around the league. And I am commending them for beginning to send mixed signals.)

Within a week, the Titans have given cause for two different readings of what is going to happen under center.

That's what any team wants right now -- to do its best to leave the rest of the league uncertain about where it's heading with its pick.

I remain convinced they stick with Mettenberger.

But I'm not pretending to get that from anything other than close observation and interpretation. A lot will unfold between now and April 30. Things could change.

We crave certainty.

We should expect none until Roger Goodell announces a Titans' pick or trade and puts the Jacksonville Jaguars on the clock.

General manager Ruston Webster said at the combine in Indianapolis that he and the Titans will do a lot of homework on the draft’s top quarterbacks as they prepare to make the draft's No. 2 pick.

While they might be content to go forward with Zach Mettenberger as their starter, it won’t prevent them from doing a thorough study of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the draft’s top two quarterbacks,

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Doug BencThe Titans will do their own evaluation of Jameis Winston, beginning at the combine.
“Those are two very good players,” Webster said. “And we’re in a good position that way, be it quarterback or somewhere else. We do like Zach Mettenberger as a quarterback. These two guys have unique skill sets and we’ll look at that position as well as others…

“We’ll spend a lot of time with those guys over the next few months. We’ll meet with them here. And do our due diligence all the way through. I mean, they are very good players. There would be no reason for us not to, and that’ll start with meeting with them here at the combine.”

As for Winston’s troubles at Florida State, which included a sexual assault accusation that did not result in charges, Webster said the Titans are seeking to form their own opinion of him and what he’s done.

“We’ve done a lot of work with Jameis. We’ll continue to do a lot of work on Jameis, just like these others guys at No. 2 or in the draft in general,” Webster said. “But it’s something that, I just don’t want to go off perception, I want to know what reality is with him and we’ll give him a fair shake.”

Webster hit the theme that virtually all teams without an established starting quarterback hit: Until the position is settled, a franchise is swimming upstream and has to be perfect almost everywhere else to have success.

“It’s always been difficult to find the right guy, the guy that can be out there for 16 games that you can build your team around. There are a lot of things that play into it with a quarterback. I think one is the kind of team you have around him. The continuity in coaching staff and scheme.

“I think those are important things, and when teams are struggling, I think a lot of times they don’t have those. I think the fit is important, what you are trying to do offensively, does this quarterback fit? And then you have to build a good team around him. And it’s not just offensively; it’s defensively also.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A closer look at the areas the Tennessee Titans could address in the draft. Today, a look at cornerbacks, who are scheduled to work out Monday.

Position of need: Jason McCourty didn’t make a lot of plays, but he covered top receivers every week, and top receivers weren’t what undid the Titans defense in 2014. The spot opposite McCourty was a giant problem. It was manned by often-overmatched Blidi Wreh-Wilson until he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. For the last three games, and one earlier in the season, Coty Sensabaugh showed why he’s a nickelback. The Titans need to be deeper, and no matter what kind of jump they anticipate from Wreh-Wilson, they need a viable alternative for the starting lineup.

Three players the Titans could target in the draft:

Trae Waynes (CB), Michigan State -- Waynes brings nice size at 6-foot-1 though he needs to fill out and gain strength. He’s played well in press coverage. Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout compares him to Kyle Fuller of the Bears and says improved discipline will make him a NFL player with a bright future.

Kevin Johnson (CB), Wake Forest -- ESPN’s Kevin Weidl believes Johnson is “most natural” man corner in the draft, and the Titans favor man-to-man guys. They will also like his height because at 6-1 he’ll be able to match up more favorably with top receivers.

Ladarius Gunter (CB), Miami -- Has dream size (6-1, 200 pounds) for a corner in a league where Seattle has built an elite defense with an emphasis on big corners. Gunter moves well, though he might not rank as super fast. Projected as more of a mid-rounder.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- On his way from iced-over Nashville through snowy Kentucky to Indianapolis for the scouting combine, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt checked in with my radio show, the Midday 180.

He joked it was his first work as a traffic reporter.

Whisenhunt told us his cautionary tale about giving a combine drill too much weight.

“You always see guys that run real fast where it doesn’t show up necessarily in their play speed,” he said. “There are other guys that kind of bend the other way. Jerry Rice, back when I was coming out at the combine (in 1985), was in my running group and he didn’t run very good at all in the 40-yard dash. But it didn’t seem like anybody could run with him in games.”

In looking up Rice’s 40 time -- 4.59 seconds -- I found this great piece Bill Walsh did for the The Sports Xchange about how he used combine information.

Another of my favorite combine storylines is a team’s ability to get a true impression of a guy in a 15-minute interview. Each team gets 60 of them.

I used to think it was highly unlikely a team could get a good read in such a scenario. But Malcom Gladwell’s book “Blink” changed my mind, and I wrote about why during the combine four years ago.

Does Whisenhunt feel he’s ben duped by guys in the past?

“Sometime, some of these players are so coached up at these interviews, you try to break that down and get to the real player, the real person,” he said. “I would say it doesn’t happen much, but there have been times where I can remember a kid was different than I initially thought….

“I think you just call them on it sometimes. I don’t think there is necessarily a formula for trying to trip them up or get them out of that (prepared script), but you can tell a little bit when they have their scripted answers. You try to call them out on that and see how they respond.”

If a guy’s interview persona is dramatically different than what the team expects based on a scout’s knowledge of him, then the questions to get them out of their comfort zone begin.

And of course some of an interview is football work on the board, and players can’t necessarily anticipate what they will be asked in that regard.