AFC South: Tennessee Titans

Examining the Tennessee Titans' roster.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
If all are healthy, Locker starts and Whitehurst is the game-day backup with Mettenberger not dressed, at least at the beginning.

RUNNING BACKS (5)
Battle beats Collin Mooney because he can carry the ball and is a good special-teamer. Washington could get some touches, but is on the team to return.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
Mariani and Preston both making it seems like a long shot to me, but it could happen. I think a receiver who is cut elsewhere at the end of the preseason is signed and on the roster when the season starts.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Walker has said he expects to play on the line more and Stevens is a blocker. Thompson is at a make-or-break point and could easily lose out to someone emerging or an outsider.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

A starting caliber tackle is on the bench (Oher or Lewan) and that means Byron Stingily is less needed than backups for the interior such as Spencer and Olsen.

DEFENSIVE LINE (8)

A big fight here is pending with Lavar Edwards having value and Klug being a question to start in the 3-4. But the Titans are going to have to make tough cuts on the line. Nine defensive linemen on a 3-4 team is too much and won't happen.

LINEBACKERS (9)

McCarthy, Gooden and Moise Fokou could be battling for one spot between them. McCarthy is the best football player if he can stay healthy. Year 2 would be early to give up on a third-rounder in Gooden.

CORNERBACK (5)

The fifth spot could be up for debate, though Campbell is over a shoulder problem he’s had for some time and will be removed from the pressure put on him by former coordinator Jerry Gray, who over-touted him.

SAFETY (4)
Khalid Wooten, a corner who got summer work at safety and could be a versatile guy, might beat Stafford. I was tempted to give fourth safety to a player not on the roster as I did with fifth receiver.

PUNTER (1)

A solid guy who had a bit of an off year in 2013.

KICKER (1)

He has a huge leg but is completely unproven and comes with a risk. The favorite in a competition with undrafted rookie Travis Coons.

LONG SNAPPER (1)

There has not been much chatter about a position player snapping, but it still surprises me a team would dedicate 1/53rd of the roster to the position.

Camp preview: Tennessee Titans

July, 17, 2014
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NFL Nation's Paul Kuharsky examines the three biggest issues facing the Tennessee Titans heading into training camp.

Jake Locker: It’s now or never for the Titans’ quarterback, at least in Tennessee. The fourth-year quarterback started last season well, then he got hurt, didn’t shine when he came back and ultimately suffered another season-ending injury. Now he’s got his third offensive coordinator in Jason Michael and a new playcaller and head coach in Ken Whisenhunt.

The Titans would love to see him blossom into the player they thought he could be when they tabbed him eighth overall in 2011. But they began to line up a contingency plan for beyond 2014 when they drafted LSU's Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round.

The team declined to execute Locker’s option for 2015, and he’ll be a free agent after this season. He needs to prove himself worthy of a new contract or the Titans will be prepared to go a different direction next season -- or maybe even sooner.

Things are set up for him to succeed with an upgraded coaching staff, a running game that should be better with a committee instead of Chris Johnson’s deteriorating vision, a reshaped defense and what should be a far easier schedule. But plenty of league insiders and outside critics have little faith Locker can be an effective long-term starter on a winning team.

The new 3-4 defense: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will bring people from different spots and has some rushers who can play as deeper outside linebackers or line up in a three-point stance as if they are defensive ends. We don’t know if they added enough, but out of Kamerion Wimbley, Shaun Phillips, converted end Derrick Morgan and Akeem Ayers, there could be ample edge rush.

The team’s best defensive player, DT Jurrell Casey, will now be playing a lot on a three-man line. But the Titans promise his duties will not change much and say he actually will get more one-on-ones -- because offenses won’t be able to help on him before getting to a linebacker who will be at the line of scrimmage a lot sooner.

Horton quickly won the respect of the team based on his fine résumé and calm but purposeful no-nonsense demeanor. He said small guys who can hit and big guys who can run will have a major say in whether the Titans are successful.

Houston and Indianapolis made the playoffs in their first seasons following recent transitions to a 3-4. The Titans know the scheme change doesn’t buy them patience.

Whisenhunt’s weapons: The Titans signed pint-size Dexter McCluster to be a weapon in Whisenhunt’s offense. McCluster played receiver and running back in Kansas City, but the Titans will look to him as part of the backfield committee, where he figures to catch a lot of passes coming out of the backfield.

Bishop Sankey was the first running back taken in the draft and should be a more direct, decisive back than Johnson, though he certainly doesn’t bring CJ’s speed. Shonn Greene will have short-yardage chances. Are those three enough to take heat off the passing game?

The Titans are counting on a big jump from blazing outside receiver Justin Hunter. Kendall Wright was the best player on offense. And while Nate Washington is aging, he has been dependable and productive. Along with tight end Delanie Walker there are options for Whisenhunt to be inventive with, but we don’t know what will work.
Kevin DysonAllen Kee/Getty Images
Score: Titans 22, Bills 16
Date: Jan. 8, 2000 Site: Adelphia Coliseum

ESPN.com readers rated the Music City Miracle the franchise’s most memorable play in a landslide vote, and they got it right.

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Mike Renfro's non-catch catch in the 1979 AFC Championship Game influenced the creation of the instant replay system and hurt the Oilers badly. Had it gone the other way, maybe the Oilers would have won the game and a Super Bowl. Maybe Bum Phillips would have coached them for more than one more year. Maybe they never would have moved.

Kevin Dyson's fruitless reach for the end zone that came up 1 yard short on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV is an iconic NFL play, but much more for the Rams and Mike Jones, who made the tackle.

But two "negative" plays never stood a chance against a phenomenal positive play.

The Music City Miracle is a prominent fixture in lists and videos of all-time great finishes in the NFL and in sports.

It was a creative surprise. It pulled a win out of a loss. It sparked a playoff run.

It made or enhanced reputations for coach Jeff Fisher; play architect Alan Lowry; Lorenzo Neal, who fielded Steve Christie's squib kickoff; Frank Wycheck, who threw the lateral; and Kevin Dyson, who fielded the lateral and scored a 75-yard touchdown.

Although it seems clear that the throw didn't go forward, good luck convincing anyone in Buffalo of that.

The lasting controversy over that only helps to make it more memorable.

The most memorable play in the franchise's history.

Titans' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
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With the third pick in the 1995 draft, the Houston Oilers found what everyone in the league needs: A quarterback who developed into a reliable starter and could lead a team to victory.

Locker
Steve McNair was unconventional in many ways: He had unsurpassed toughness, combined great ability to throw and run and won the respect of his team with his ability to lead it.

He had shortcomings, for sure, but ultimately, after the franchise relocated and was reinvented as the Tennessee Titans, he took it where every team wants to go. He took the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV. In 2003, he shared the league’s MVP Award with Peyton Manning.

Since his football fade and subsequent trade to Baltimore after the 2005 season, the Titans have not found a long-term answer at quarterback. They spent the third pick in 2006 on Vince Young. They went 13-3 in 2008 with Kerry Collins at the helm. They spent the eighth pick in 2011 on Jake Locker.

But none of them has proved a long-term guy with the capabilities of McNair or any of the league’s current top quarterbacks.

The biggest issue regarding the potential for the Tennessee Titans over the next three years is quarterback. They have to find, develop and build around a guy. Maybe they already have him. Maybe they don't.

Perhaps Locker stays healthy and goes to new heights under new coach Ken Whisenhunt. If he does, the franchise would be in far better shape than conventional opinion says.

Plenty of league insiders would be surprised if Locker emerges as more than he’s shown so far, which is a player who has the ability to play well in stretches but has spotty poise and a propensity for getting hurt.

The Titans spent a sixth-round pick on a big, big-armed pocket passer, LSU's Zach Mettenberger who could be an ideal fit for Whisenhunt and develop into that long-term solution. However, Mettenberger was coming off a serious knee injury in his final year at LSU. He also has a character question, as he pleaded guilty in 2010 to two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery for groping a woman at a bar while he was a student and quarterback at Georgia.

If Locker isn’t the answer, the Titans have hope for Mettenberger. But sixth-round picks who turn into solid starters are a rarity.

In the next three seasons, the Titans simply have to identify a quarterback who can give them a chance to win and have him leading their huddle.
Mike Jones, Kevin DysonMike Zarrilli/Getty Images
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. We’ve already looked at Mike Renfro's non-catch catch for the Houston Oilers in the 1979 AFC championship game and the "Music City Miracle" that won the Tennessee Titans a 1999 playoff game against the Bills. Please vote for your choice as the Oilers/Titans’ most memorable play.

Score: Rams 23, Titans 16
Date: January 30, 2000 Site: Georgia Dome

The St. Louis Rams, The Greatest Show on Turf, had run out of gas.

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The Tennessee Titans had poured it on with a second-half rally but gave up a Kurt Warner-to-Isaac Bruce late bomb that allowed the Rams to take the lead in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Steve McNair guided the Titans to the Rams’ 10-yard line, where they stopped the clock with six seconds remaining. Six seconds to score a touchdown and kick an extra point to force overtime for the Super Bowl XXXIV championship.

The play call wasn’t a bad one. McNair’s favorite target, Frank Wycheck, ran a route into the end zone, and if he wasn’t open, it would mean he’d drawn attention to leave some room underneath. That’s what happened, so McNair threw to his other option, receiver Kevin Dyson, who caught the ball with a man to beat to barge into the end zone for a score.

Only that man was linebacker Mike Jones, who read the play beautifully and broke off of Wycheck and toward Dyson as the play unfolded. Jones made an excellent form tackle that left Dyson twisting and reaching fruitlessly for the plane of the end zone, just short of glory and the first overtime in Super Bowl history.

“I doubt if they'll ever be a greater play made on the final play of a Super Bowl with one second left on the clock,” Rams coach Dick Vermeil said. “It just isn't possible."

The play is certainly a memorable one for the Rams, and it’s a candidate in their three-play poll.

It’s a Titans candidate, too, and illustrates the frequent fate of the Oilers/Titans, who even in their best moments -- AFC title games in Pittsburgh in the late '70s, the playoff collapse in Buffalo and now their lone Super Bowl appearance -- came up short.
As the Tennessee Titans have been treading water in recent seasons, flirting with mediocrity, their fans have continued to buy tickets while not always showing up.

Why they haven't stopped paying for tickets they are not using is a mystery I attempted to solve back in December. Those people invested in personal seat licenses. If you cease to buy tickets connected to those licenses, you sacrifice the licenses.

You can sell PSLs, but there is no market for them now. If the Titans get good, there will be a market, but many of the people who have the tickets will want to use them again. It's a brilliant device that keeps the team in position to build on a technical sellout streak that includes every game played in the building.

And they are on track to build on it further.

Don MacLachlan, the team's top non-football executive in Nashville, said the Titans' season-ticket renewal rate was 98 percent.

That amounts to about 60,000 of LP Field's 69,143 seats.

From the start, the Titans have sold at least 2,500 tickets per game on a game-by-game basis, so as not to leave out fans who can afford a game or two but not a PSL or season tickets. Other tickets that are left are sold in group sales, given to the visiting team or attached to sponsors or promotional programs.

"We're thrilled with the response we've had from season-ticket holders," MacLachlan said. "It's a 12-month process, engaging with season-ticket holders. We're encouraged by the enhancements to LP Field made under Tommy Smith's direction and there will be a different look in a lot of different ways in the stadium."

Wi-Fi will be available for everyone when the Titans open the preseason against the Packers on Aug. 9. The team has changed concessionaires as well, addressing longtime complaints about the available food.
Kevin DysonAllen Kee/Getty Images
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. We’ve already looked at Mike Renfro's non-catch catch in the 1979 AFC Championship Game. We will also feature Kevin Dyson's desperate, unsuccessful reach for the end zone that came up a yard short of forcing overtime as time expired on Super Bowl XXXIV. Please vote for your choice as the Oilers/Titans’ most memorable play.

Score: Titans 22, Bills 16
Date: January 8, 2000 Site: Adelphia Coliseum

As a head coach, Jeff Fisher prided himself on having his team ready for everything.

In a playoffs-or-pink-slips season, the franchise's first as the reinvented Tennessee Titans, Fisher got to offer the best possible example of that.

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The Titans fell behind 16-15 with 16 seconds left in a wild-card playoff game after Steve Christie hit a 41-yard field goal.

The Titans responded with “Home Run Throwback,” a play designed by special teams coach Alan Lowry. It called for Frank Wycheck to field an expected squib kick, sell the coverage team he was returning it to the right, and then whirling and throwing a lateral to Derrick Mason.

Mason was out with a concussion, however, and his backup for the play, safety Anthony Dorsett, was also unable to play.

Kevin Dyson was quickly coached up to take on the role.

It wasn’t Wycheck, but Lorenzo Neal who fielded the kick. He handed it back to Wycheck, who sold the fake and made the throw. Dyson came back to collect the low throw, turned and sprinted into wide-open space with a convoy of blockers ahead of him. He pulled up and eased into the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown.

It withstood a replay review by referee Phil Luckett, and provided the winning margin for a team that went on to make the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance.

The Music City Miracle added to the lore of Buffalo sports teams coming up short, while creating an incredible story in Tennessee in just the ninth meaningful game played in the stadium built to draw the Oilers from Houston to Nashville.
Flip channels Sunday night and you might have stumbled across NBC's broadcast of "Miley Cyrus: Bangerz Tour."

I was alerted to it, as I am to so much in life these days, by Twitter. And so I took a gander, you know, just to be up on what kids in America would be talking about on Monday after the big holiday weekend.

While any snapshot might have served to characterize the two-hour event, I felt I hit the jackpot as I saw Cyrus dancing around with a giant orange ostrich-like puppet. Snuffleupagus' cousin, perhaps?

[+] EnlargeMiley Cyrus
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesWhile there is no NFL on our televisions right now, there is singer Miley Cyrus.
The reaction of the non-target audience was one Twitter frequently shares in similar situations: Too bad it's not football season. Boy it'd be nice to have a football game on right now. Wow, look at the stuff a network needs to turn to in the Sunday Night Football time slot out of season.

Year-round football, or anything close to it, is not in the realm of possibility, but only because man has physical limitations. If the league and the networks could make it happen, a group that has already stretched the one-game a week for 17 weeks formula into Thursdays and off to London would do more. The game just isn't elastic enough to get it to Wednesday nights, or to July Fourth weekend.

At TV moments that don't suit us, we often default to wishing the NFL was present. This time of year, however is the stretch -- the only stretch really -- where it's absent in every form. Pine as we might, we must acknowledge that six weeks without the NFL is a good thing. (I know, there was a news dump of performance enhancing drug suspensions the night before the holiday weekend. I'm just not counting it.)

Yielding to Cyrus only helps increase the craving.

The NFL wants to have a constant presence on the sporting calendar. Let's be honest, “sporting calendar” pretty much translates to “calendar.”

The national holiday of the Super Bowl spilled over into February a dozen years ago already.

Despite our objections, the league moved the draft from April to May in part because it believes event spacing improved. We obliged by giving them the requisite additional hype and build-up to the event that is likely now to become a road show and stay put in its new month.

So we've got camps and the preseason in late July and August, the regular season from September into January, the playoffs from January to that February Super Bowl and the combine at the end of February, begging now to be moved to March.

April is draft hype month, and May is the draft and rookie arrival with organized team activities and minicamps as tent poles for the league in May and June.

Then, graciously, coaches and executives are permitted to see their families and visit a beach and read a book. For a month or six weeks, the dimmer switch is dialed down. Rookie contracts, once a big deal, are now structured by the CBA in a way that takes the intrigue out of whether everyone will be signed in time for camp.

The media does its duty, providing you with camp previews and lists -- oh, it's list season in a big way. I'm voting in a player-ranking project right now.

What can the league do to own July, I wondered? Surely it is watching the World Cup and thinking, on some level, about how it can yield to futbol when so many yearn for football.

But the fact is, even the NFL can't stretch something into its summer dead period to give it some life.

And the quiet is good.

Twitter loads up with countdowns to the opening of training camp and the kickoff of meaningless, but pricey, preseason games.

We think a bit about our fantasy drafts as the big questions that have been put on hold grow while the pause button is pressed: Can the young quarterback blossom? Is the cornerback's ACL healed? Will the new coach be more inventive? How will the draft pick change things for the better?

It all hovers, and we have to wait.

In the quiet month, the NFL still creates and markets, including creating and marketing anticipation.

We’re in the midst of five weeks that amount to dusk on the Fourth of July. We wait for the sky to turn black so it can be lit with football fireworks, bright lights on our TVs that are sure to trump a grown up Hannah Montana in sparkly outfits, dancing with a puppet.
Mike RenfroAP Photo
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days we’ll feature: the Music City Miracle trick kickoff return that won a playoff game against the Bills for the Titans in January 2000; and Kevin Dyson’s desperate, unsuccessful reach for the end zone that came up a yard short of forcing overtime as time expired on Super Bowl XXXIV. Please vote for your choice as the Oilers/Titans’ most memorable play.

Score: Steelers 27, Oilers 13
Date: Jan. 6, 1980 Site: Three Rivers Stadium

Oh, for replay in the 1979 NFL playoffs.

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The first version of replay wasn’t instituted by the league until 1986, and it was far too late to help side judge Donald Orr, who ruled that Houston receiver Mike Renfro didn’t get both feet down in the end zone for what would have been a game-tying third-quarter touchdown in Pittsburgh.

The Oilers went on to lose the AFC title game 27-13, failing to get to the Super Bowl with a second consecutive championship-game loss in Pittsburgh.

Houston lost in the playoffs after the 1980 season, too, to eventual champion Oakland, and Bum Phillips was fired as coach after three playoff seasons with a good team failed to produce a Super Bowl appearance.

Renfro’s “catch” would have only tied the game with plenty still to play. Who knows what would have happened from there? Oilers fans would have liked to have found out. Had their team won that game and gone on to a Super Bowl title, a lot could have changed between then and 1996, when the Oilers struck a deal to leave Houston and move to Nashville, Tennessee.

The impact of the play went well beyond Houston.

"It brought about the use of instant replay a lot faster than it would've gotten here," Renfro said in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram piece in 2008. "I do know that."
 
We've covered the Tennessee Titans QB Jake Locker questions pretty thoroughly in this space.

And we’ll hit them over and over once training camp starts, looking for any tidbits that offer any new degree of answers.

[+] EnlargeLocker
AP Photo/Wade PayneConsidered the 31st-best quarterback in the NFL, can Tennessee's Jake Locker succeed in 2014 and rise among the ranks of his league peers?
In Mike Sando’s thorough run-through Insider that places NFL quarterbacks into tiers based on his conversations with 26 people in the know including general managers, former GMs, evaluators, coordinators and coaches, Locker ranked 31st, ahead of only the Jets' Geno Smith.

"We'll see," a former GM said. "Guys like Locker can be run-around guys. To me, Jake's die has been cast."

His die has been cast. In other words, we’ve seen what he is -- a guy who’s a great teammate and worker who can flash, but isn’t always accurate or poised, can try to do too much and tends to get hurt.

The Titans don’t think his die has been cast, they think he can still blossom into a franchise guy.

So what can change him?

The coaches and scheme: Coach Ken Whisenhunt is regarded as a quarterback guru, but that may be a bit inaccurate. Plenty of offensive coaches could have fared well guiding Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner and Philip Rivers, right? Whisenhunt failed to help the Cardinals find and develop a replacement for Warner in his one big test of development.

He is, however, a very good schemer and playcaller. Perhaps he, offensive coordinator Jason Michael and quarterback coach John McNulty can pull stuff out of Locker we haven’t seen and help him blossom.

Health: Say Locker's luck changes and he stays healthy and gives the Titans 16 games. He's not a guy who lacks confidence when you speak with him, but he does seem to get swallowed up by the moment sometimes. Perhaps he can put together a stretch like he did at the start of 2013 when he was getting progressively better.

If it’s uninterrupted by an injury, his confidence can grow and a switch can flip.

The running game: The Titans expect to run the ball better without Chris Johnson getting the bulk of their carries. Bishop Sankey is likely the primary back, but they’ve got better situational ability with a group. Dexter McCluster offers a new dimension as a pass-catching back, and Sankey is good at running routes, too. A healthy Shonn Greene can covert short-yardage situations.

Bob Bostad is the new coach of an underachieving offensive line that now has starting caliber players, which means the group should improve. That should translate into better protection and a better run game, two things that can alleviate pressure from Locker.

The defense: Coordinator Ray Horton is converting the Titans to a 3-4. If the Titans can rush the passer the way they believe, they can stall more drives and force more turnovers. If the offense gets the ball back more often and with better field position -- an area a good crop of return men can help as well -- things will get easier for the quarterback.

Most of this, of course, is about making the things around Locker better, so that Locker can be better.

Final thoughts ...

Both of these statements are too broad in a team game:

  • A) A quarterback makes the guys and things around him better.
  • B) The guys and things around him make a quarterback better.

In today's NFL you need more A than B.

If the Locker die is cast, we’re talking too much about B.
A guy has to be rated to be overrated, which makes sorting through overrated guys a very subjective and dangerous exercise.

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports rates Tennessee Titans tackle Michael Oher as the most overrated member of the team.

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The case for Oher: Some scouts and evaluators feel his game was best when he was a rookie in Baltimore and gradually faded, and the Titans went and handed him a four-year, $20 million contract. They do have an out after one year and $6 million.

So who else is a candidate?

Running back Shonn Greene was 2013’s Oher, a debatable signing that got more money than he seemed to be worth: $10 million for three years. He can be good in short-yardage situations, but as the running back market was starting to fade the Titans jumped out and gave a limited guy a lot. His knee injury limited him in his first season.

Defensive tackle Sammie Hill wasn’t as big an impact guy as the Titans had to be expecting when they signed him in 2013 to a three-year deal worth over $11 million. He was an element of the team's push to get bigger and stop the run better. He's not working as a nose tackle in the new 3-4.

Outside linebacker Akeem Ayers has dealt with some injuries in his first three years. The old coaching staff never had a great feel for how to use the 2011 second-round pick. He should be better suited to the 3-4, but he’s going to have to rush better and play better in space when he’s asked to.

Free safety Michael Griffin was better in 2013 than he had been the few years before. I often say he needs to be surrounded by talent to be good, and he asks me who is that not the case for? But a guy with his contract -- he’s in year three of a five-year, $35 million deal -- should be a guy making others better, not needing others to help make him better.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Former Tennessee Titans tight end Frank Wycheck is now the team’s radio analyst and a sports-talk radio colleague of mine at 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, Tennessee.

He’s long talked about quarterbacks working inside-out or outside-in in terms of their comfort level in looking for targets. And being that Wycheck spent a very good career working the inside, he tends to like to see quarterbacks look there early as they read the field.

Steve McNair was an inside-out guy early in his career but his recognition improved to where he could go the other way, too. Neil O’Donnell tended to be outside-in, as did Kerry Collins. Vince Young was mostly a one-read guy.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyJake Locker has plenty of options to work with this season.
With the Titans running a new offense, we don’t know if they will tend to have Jake Locker inside-out or outside-in.

“Locker has been taught to be an outside-in quarterback,” Wycheck said. “But I think they should start turning him into an inside-out. He needs to use his tight ends more.”

I spoke with head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who will call the plays, and quarterbacks coach John McNulty about what we might see from Locker and the new Tennessee offense.

Broadly, they said it can depend on plays and defenses.

McNulty said Locker likes the idea of categorized plays and the Titans quickly grouped theirs in bunches: Against one-high safety, this play will go to this side. Against two-high safeties, it may go to the other side. These plays give you full-field options. This batch cuts the field in half.

The Titans are hardly ready to say in the new offense Locker will be an inside-out or outside-in guy. (If they were ready, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t share.)

But there is one advantage to looking outside first, McNulty said.

“I don’t know if there is every really a preference, but I guess you usually figure it’s easier to go outside-in,” he said. “If you go inside-out you can get stuck inside, because there is a lot going on there. Whereas when you go outside-in, the outside one defines itself pretty quick and then you start working your way back if it’s not there. If you’re inside-out, with all the moving parts -- it could be a linebacker, a safety, a corner a dropped lineman -- that can cause you to hang on to it a little longer and now you’re late getting to your outside part. That’s where I think it can slow you down.

“Jake is very decisive, that’s the kind of guy he is and that’s how he’s been playing. He’s not hanging on anything and then late getting to everything else. Which is a better way to go. If you ever come off of something a hair too quick and you missed it, you’re better off doing that than being a guy who hangs on it, hangs on it and then really the rest of the play is lost.

“I think that’s the most impressive thing I’ve noticed with him, he’s picked up the progressions well and he’s been very decisive working through them.”

Whisenhunt said it’s about personnel.

As head coach in Arizona, Whisenhunt had Larry Fitzgerald and, for a time, Anquan Boldin. With wide receivers of that quality, an offense should be looking to the perimeter first.

But as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh before his time with the Cardinals, and last season as coordinator in San Diego, where Antonio Gates is an offensive centerpiece, things were more inside-out.

“It’s more a function of personnel,” Whisenhunt said.

While Justin Hunter and Nate Washington should be quality options outside, Locker could have more solid options inside in Kendall Wright (most often a slot receiver), Delanie Walker and Dexter McCluster.
The quick conclusion about tight ends and the Tennessee Titans: With former NFL tight end Ken Whisenhunt as the coach, former tight ends coach Jason Michael as the offensive coordinator and former NFL tight end Mike Mularkey as the tight ends coach, we’ll see all sort of clever use of Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens and even Taylor Thompson.

[+] EnlargeDelanie Walker
Mark Humphrey/AP PhotoTight end Delanie Walker warms up during the Titans' organized team activities on June 12.
Said Walker: "We’re going to be very physical, we’re going to play until the whistle blows, we’re going to be very tough in the run game and when the passing game comes to us, we’re going to make plays. ...I see the tight end position being of big impact in this offense."

But in terms of creative use, the Titans' top tight end doesn’t necessarily expect to line up all over the place.

“We’re going to move around, but I think you’re going to see more of Dexter McCluster in that spot,” Walker said. “He’s the Swiss Army knife now for this team. He can play multiple positions, and I think you’re going to see Dexter moving around making great plays for us.

“I see myself as that guy as well, but you’re going to see me on the end of the line more too as well.”

Walker guesses he lined up on the line about 70 percent of the time last year and thinks that number will go up to 80 or 75 percent this year. According to the stats, Walker was actually on the line just over 60 percent of the time last year.

Where Walker lined up last season, from Marty Callinan of ESPN Stats & Information:

Wide: 30 snaps, 4.1 percent
Backfield: 54 snaps, 7.4 percent
Slot: 202, 27.8 percent
Tight: 440 snaps, 60.6 percent

“Our strong point is going to be running the ball, we're going to run the ball this year," Walker said. “And that’s going to help our passing game. I feel like you’re going to see me in the running game blocking more, doing my part to help pen up that passing game.”

Game-to-game matchups mean we’ll see Walker moving around more in some game than others.

He's one of the team's top weapons in the passing game. Mularkey is teaching him to finish blocks in ways he’s never learned before, Walker said.

"The hand technique -- we call it lifting the keg," Walker said when I asked for an example of what he’s learning about blocking. "If you ever had a keg before, you know you've got to get your hands inside and lift it. He’s been teaching us. He’s been teaching us that and stepping on toes.

"Basically you just lift up and you thrust your hip and you want to step on his toes, you want to get as close as you can to him while you’re lifting him up. You never thought of it that way and now it’s set in your mind. I can just do it naturally, that’s something we do every day. I feel like my blocking has been getting better."

I'm all for an increase in his run-blocking role, so long as he's still up near the top of the reception list as well.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The NFLPA is considering asking the NFL to pay out annual salaries over the course of the entire year as opposed to over the course of the season.

It's a change that might help young guys dealing with big money for the first time pace themselves when it comes to spending. That would be healthy even if the side effect is teams get to hold their money longer, earning interest on it.

McCourty
"It's not a bad idea," said Titans cornerback Jason McCourty, the team's union rep. "For guys with high enough salaries it's not a big deal, but this is trying to make a decision based on the majority, and there are a lot of guys with those lower-end salaries -- which is awesome money regardless -- trying to manage that money and looking at those huge paychecks, you're kind of more inclined to spend more money opposed to having it spaced out."

Most teams pay players their base salaries over the 17-week regular season, though it's clearly not required because the Tennessee Titans do it different. Some contracts around the league pay out differently than the 17-week distribution, but it's not clear if any other teams beside the Titans stray from that standard formula with the bulk of the roster.

The Titans' pay schedule is a step closer to where the PA may be heading.

Titans making minimum salaries -- rookies or veterans -- do get paid in 17 installments.

But veterans making more than the minimum have their money distributed in a different way.

The Titans divide the overall salary by 24, and make 13 payments from mid-September through mid-March. That accounts for about 54 percent of a player's salary. The remaining 11 payments and 46 percent arrive in a lump sum at the end of March.

Earlier in the team's history, the team's payments were basically year-round, but the move to the March lump sum was probably made to ease tax complications and keep things within a fiscal year. It's the way the team has paid players for as long as anyone remembers and it's believed to have started based on the cash-flow of late owner Bud Adams.

"It manages your money for you in a sense," McCourty said. "I like it and I'm used to it because that's what we've been forced to do."

As for year-round pay, which the union will likely vote on next spring at its annual meetings, McCourty said:

"I definitely think it's a good idea, even if you start with just the young guys and show them and kind of teach them, and guys as they become vested can opt out of it. But I think it's a good idea. Whether we go with it or not, it's something to look at and seriously consider."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton is a plain-spoken guy, and as Titans fans get to know him they are going to love his no-nonsense talk.

Thursday after the Titans wrapped up their final OTA, I was part of a wide-ranging conversation with him.

I was particularly struck by one element of that chat.

Asked about if he had enough of what he needs to run an effective defense, here’s what he said:

“Here are the two things I need: I need big men that will run, and if you guys watch us, we run all the time, and they have to finish to the ball, wherever that is. And then the other part is, I need little men that will hit, and that will show up in game day.

“If I have that, that’s all I need from these guys, I don’t need a height-weight-speed guy to fit this position or that position. I just need those two qualities and we’ll be fine.”

Obviously that comes on top of having football defaults of big guys who are strong and little guys who can run.

I appreciate the simplicity of an outlook like that one from Horton, and I suspect players do, too.

I read that to veteran linebacker Shaun Phillips and he said things like that are well received in the meeting room and locker room.

“He says that to throw the bait out there so we can take it the right way," Phillips said. "He wants us to interpret it, to be tough, to be fast, to be physical, to be strong. He doesn’t have to raise his voice. He tells it exactly like it is, he’s played the game, he’s coached at a high level, Super Bowls. He tells you what he wants and your job is to be a man and be a professional and get the job done.

“He does a great job of telling you exactly what he wants done.”

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