AFC South: 2011 NFL combine

Deep draft thoughts from Mike Mayock

February, 28, 2011
2/28/11
2:07
PM ET
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network has become the official final word at the combine -- he’s the last guy at the podium after four days of interviews because he’s great at summarizing things.

I just listened to a tape of his talk, and pulled out some things I thought you’d find interesting. I’ll have his voice in a piece or two still to come as well.
  • “The defensive line in general is phenomenal. I’ve got nine defensive ends with first-round grades. Typically 3.8 to four go in the first round.”
  • He believes tight end is the weakest spot in the draft and that the safety class is below average. (Bad news for Texans, Jaguars and even Titans.)
  • Patrick Peterson vs. Julio Jones was his favorite tape of the year to watch.
  • He like the depth of the first couple rounds at offensive tackle and thinks there could be a plug-and-play guy at the spot who would be a fit for the Colts at No. 22.
  • Ryan Mallett is a first-round talent he doesn’t think will get drafted in the first round.
  • Oregon inside linebacker Casey Matthews is not explosive like his brother Clay, but he is instinctive and will play better than his measurables suggest.
Getting an actual nugget about an actual change from a team at this stage, especially given the upcoming shutdown, is a big deal.

Jim Wyatt got one out of reserved Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt in this piece, just the sort of wrinkle that would have fit nicely in my piece from a few days ago about how scouts in Tennessee and Houston have to adjust to the desires of new coaches.

Under new defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and new defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, the Titans will be looking for defensive ends who are a bit different.

Writes Wyatt out of his conversation with Reinfeldt:
In previous years, the Titans had their ends play a lot of 9-technique, lined up wide and told to collapse the pocket. Under Gray, the Titans could play more of a 7-technique, lined up across from the offensive tackles or tight ends, placement that requires stout, run-stopper ends.

"It is still a work in progress," [Reinfeldt said]. "I think our scouts are pretty good at evaluating talent and evaluating a young man's ability to play in the NFL. At the same time they need to have a really good idea of the scheme we are running, what traits we are looking for and I think that is where the combine is good for us. It's a chance for both those guys to be together and I think the pre-draft meetings will be critical for that also."

It appears this is a good draft to be looking for such an end. The Titans could conceivably even trade down from No. 8 and land a first-round defensive end like North Carolina’s Robert Quinn, Cal’s Cameron Jordan or Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn.

All of them are bigger than Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford, smaller Titans ends who are not under contract for 2011. One of those prospects could look good working in combination with last year’s No. 1, Derrick Morgan, and William Hayes, two ends on the roster who are sturdier types. Morgan went on IR on Oct. 5 of his rookie season after blowing out a knee.

A bit later in the draft there are more guys who could be attractive given a desire to have more physical ends. Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward, Miami’s Allen Bailey and Mississippi State’s Pernell McPhee all have nice size and would likely be better equipped to line up tighter to the line of scrimmage and do more against the run.
The Titans, who draft eighth, and the Jaguars, who draft 16th, are among nearly a dozen teams I expect to address the quarterback position in the draft.

Our teams may go in a different direction in the first round and take a second-tier quarterback.

Let’s take a look at some pool reports from members of the Pro Football Writers of America who watched quarterbacks work out on Sunday.

Disclaimer: A combine workout is one of several snapshots in an album teams put together. Let’s not get too excited about a good showing or too distraught about a poor one.

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

[+] EnlargeRyan Mallett
AP Photo/Darron CummingsRyan Mallett had arguably the best performance throwing on Sunday.
"Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett had the best throwing day in his throwing group, having a slight edge over Jake Locker of Washington.

"What was evident -- as expected -- was his strong arm, an arm that sometimes was almost too strong. Mallett’s first throw on a short route was so strong and hard it caused Mallett to step back and almost hit himself with his hand as if he was mad at himself for throwing a 5-yard route with such velocity. After that, he settled down and had a great day.

"Mallett elected not to run but instead to throw, emphasizing his strengths as a quarterback. On deep seam routes in the middle of the field, Mallett was flawless, arching the ball with perfect touch and hitting receivers in stride. On out routes to the sideline, Mallett delivered his best fastball and was perfectly accurate. The ball exploded into receivers’ hands.

"His slant route throws were perfect although some of the throws are so hard and fast they will challenge the hands of receivers. He was particularly impressive on his post corners on the right, going four-for-four. If there was a weakness, it was his 17-yard turn-ins to his left. His first pass was high. His second one was a little off, but by the third throw he was perfect.

"Mallett has excellent deep touch on his throws. His challenge is making sure he can be accurate on his intermediate throws."

Jake Locker, Washington

"Though Sunday wasn’t a perfect rebound from a sub-par Senior Bowl week, University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker bounced back with his throwing. Running was no problem. It never has been.

"His initial unofficial times of 4.52 and 4.52 would have tied him for Daunte Culpepper, the former Minnesota Vikings quarterback, as the fourth best quarterback 40 time since 1999. Considered the Tim Tebow of the West Coast, Locker has always been known for having great athletic skills for his ability to move.

"It’s been his inconsistent throwing that has been under scrutiny. Sunday was good day overall because he was consistent in most of his throws. He opened by showing great arch and touch on seam routes down the middle of the field.

"Though his throws on slant route were fine, a drop and a miss-step by a receiver led to two of three incompletions, but drops by receivers were familiar to him from his days at Washington.

"Locker wasn’t as sharp in two of his three 'nine' routes to his left, being a little high with a couple of throws. Locker bounced back with a strong performance of throws to his right. He completed two of three throws on short out routes. His 12-yard curls to his right were natural. He was 3-for-3 on post corner throws.

"Overall, Locker seemed to be in tone with his throws and made it easy for receivers to catch them. He’s made progress since the Senior Bowl."

Colin Kaepernick, Nevada

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Darron CummingsColin Kaepernick threw nice intermediate routes at the combine, but his long throws needed work.
"Kaepernick, considered a promising project coming out of the Nevada pistol offense, immediately displayed what he needed to work on the most -- his deep throws. He opened the throwing sessions with three long overthrows on seam routes.

"He was also high on two of three passes on out passes to the right. If anything, he seems to have inconsistencies with his footwork on his deep throws. His long passes tended to sail. Only once did he have a deep underthrow.

"But let’s move to the positive. He was flawless on his 12-yard curls, going 3-for-3. His most consistent throws were the 17-yard turn-ins. In each of those three throws, the ball had the right velocity and was places in a good spot for receivers to catch them.

"Though his first post corner route to his right was a little high, Kaepernick made two of the best post-corner throws of his group."

Christian Ponder, Florida State

"Ponder had the best day of the second group of the quarterbacks. He was accurate on the short and intermediate routes but struggled a little bit on the long passes. He doesn’t have the strongest arm. Extremely accurate and good placement on throws. Definitely had the most command of anyone out there."

Andy Dalton, TCU

"Dalton looked very comfortable in his drops and delivery throughout the morning. For the most part his passes were in catchable areas for the wide receivers, including the deep passes. They did not always connect, but with the exception of two or three passes, there was always a chance to make the catch."

Ricky Stanzi, Iowa

"Another tough day for him as his throws were all over the place. Only thing he did well was a quick release. Passes were short and low. He threw a deep ball better than he did at the Senior Bowl but it was short most of the time. Did not improve his chances."

Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech

"Suprisingly accurate and had good touch on his passes. He didn’t try to zip most of his shorter throws, which helped him complete them. But he looked comfortable in his set-up."

Pat Devlin, Delaware

"Devlin was inconsistent in his delivery and at times he did not give his receivers a fighting chance to catch the ball. However, during the workout he probably had the best accuracy percentage, somewhere in the neighborhood of 65-70 percent."

Nathan Enderle, Idaho

"Enderle seemed the least comfortable in his drops and delivery and several times seemed to be pushing the ball down the field rather than throwing. On 30-yard pass down the left numbers, he hooked up for a nice completion with Ricardo Lockette out of Ft. Valley State. It was Enderle’s best throw of the morning."
INDIANAPOLIS -- A Peyton Manning contract before the expiration for the CBA is looking unlikely.

Agent Tom Condon agreed with Bill Polian in saying nothing is imminent.

It’s not a huge surprise that they won’t be able to close the deal before the current agreement between the players and the league expires, throwing things into uncertainty and preventing further negotiations until a labor agreement is reached.

Manning is the highest-profile player in the league without a contract for 2011, but the Colts used their franchise tag on him. Under that tag he’d make roughly $23 million in the coming season, but it’s not certain the tags will hold their power in a new labor agreement.

"The players association and the management council have different interpretations about whether you can franchise any player," Condon said. "We really don't know what it means, and the players don't recognize the tag."

Even if they don’t, Manning is going nowhere. Ultimately there will be a new deal that will keep him with the Colts.

"Certainly it would be nice to have it done by then," Condon said, referring to the expiration of the CBA. "But I don't think there's any real urgency."
INDIANAPOLIS -- According draft-expert types, it’s a bad year to need a young safety.

It’s not a deep pool and there is no clear-cut first-rounder.

[+] EnlargeRahim Moore
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireUCLA's Rahim Moore is viewed by many analysts as the top safety available in the draft.
Scouts Inc. has Rahim Moore of UCLA as the top guy at the position, 31st overall.

“I believe I have first-round talent, I believe that I’m special,” Moore said Sunday at the combine. “… But you know what? I can’t be the judge. It’s all about that one team that will fall in love with me. Hopefully on draft day I am in the first round and my dream comes true."

Maybe he climbs to be No. 16-worthy for Jacksonville. He was asked about Houston, which drafts 11th, and he said he hopes to talk to the Texans because he knows they have a need at the position. Going to Baltimore and playing with Ed Reed “would be like going to heaven,” he said.

If he does last to the late first or the top of the second round, I’d love to see the Texans or Jags one of those teams move up to get him. I’ve written time and time against that it’s embarrassing that two teams who face Peyton Manning twice a season can be so woefully stocked at safety.

While Moore talked of his versatility and willingness to move to cornerback if asked, he said his favorite work is probably playing the deep middle.

“The thing I bring is the hard work and dedication,” he said. “If a team drafts me, they won’t have to worry about the safety position for the next 10 to 12 years. I believe that I am special, and I mean that in the most humbled way. I’m going to be a guy, I’m going to get in early, I’m going to leave late. I’m going to put in similar hours, maybe more, than the coaching staff.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Todd McShay and Kevin Weidl offer some nice insight into three of the top offensive tackle prospects in their combine report. Presumably if any of them are still on the board at No. 22, the Colts would have to consider them.
  • USC’s Tyron Smith was up to 307 pounds from 285 and “carrying the weight well.” He had 29 reps bench pressing 225 pounds. But fluid on his knee forced him to shut things down. He should be OK for his pro day March 31.
  • Colorado’s Nate Solder “displayed remarkable speed and explosiveness for a massive left tackle prospect. The 10-yard split is the most important part of the 40-yard dash when evaluating offensive linemen because it shows the initial burst and explosiveness that translates to their responsibilities in the trenches, and Solder had the top 10-yard split (1.62 seconds unofficial) among all offensive linemen and the fastest 40 (5.05) in the offensive tackle group.”
  • BC’s Anthony Castonzo turned in an adequate 10-yard split (1.79 unofficial) while showing good flexibility and quick feet with his lateral slides.

An interesting aside on Solder: NFL Draft Scout’s analysis uses Houston’s Eric Winston as Solder’s NFL comparison.

Garrard plan for lockout encouraging

February, 27, 2011
2/27/11
10:35
AM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- We're late catching up on this Gene Frenette piece on David Garrard, who said some encouraging things about his plans for the Jaguars if NFL players are locked out.

“We’re going to make sure all those guys still under contract are going to get workouts in,” Garrard said. “We’ve been meeting as leaders. We met with the coaches a few times to get ideas of how to keep this team rolling [in event of an owner lockout]. We’re not taking the whole offseason off. We’re on top of things.”

The easy part of the Jaguars’ contingency plan involves position groups working out together. But once a lockout extends into May, when teams normally begin offseason training activities, Garrard anticipates trying to get his receivers and the offense together at his local neighborhood park at Glen Kernan.

“If [a lockout] goes long enough, you have to start thinking about plays and keeping everybody refreshed,” Garrard said. “So when we report back [to team facility], we’re not too far behind. None of this is mandatory, but if you’re trying to win a championship, you expect certain things. You know the direction your teammates and fellow brothers are trying to head in. Why wouldn’t you want to be there?

“I like the game plan the leaders have put together, along with young players that have bought in to what we’re preaching. If your leader is saying he wants guys to be here at a certain place and time, I believe they’ll be there. Some guys may want to work out on their own. It’s not as strict as coaches would be, but don’t think we don’t know who’s doing their job.”

Peer pressure and peer review will be big in a protracted lockout, as there will be no coaches involved in the work teams do. Self-motivated guys are crucial.

I’ve written that the teams with the strongest leadership stand to benefit. The Jaguars called out Garrard last year at this time, talking about the need for him to do more. He responded well. But while he played better, his inconsistency was still an issue that hurt Jacksonville.

The Jaguars will draft a quarterback in the first three rounds, I expect, and that player should challenge and push Garrard from the start. He'll ultimately replace him, it'll be a question of when.

Jack Del Rio and Gene Smith have to be pleased with what Garrard said here.

Interesting too is Garrard’s stance on Del Rio, who’s basically been given a playoffs or pink slip directive by owner Wayne Weaver.

“Last year, [Weaver’s comments] were directed straight at me,” Garrard said. “I made sure to make strides in my game, though I’m still not where I want to be. When you’re critical of the head coach, you’re also directing it at the quarterback. That’s how I feel. I have [Del Rio’s] back, and I know he has mine. We’re tied at the hip. I want to step up my leadership abilities to help us get to the playoffs.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- As I rolled through Twitter last night, I found myself thinking about the aside that was missing from so many media reviews of the news conferences of Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Darron CummingsAuburn's Cam Newton received mostly positive reviews for his media session at the NFL combine.
Newton generally got raves. He was accountable for recent comments where he talked of aspiring to be an icon and an entertainer, saying he was in spokesperson, not football, mode and was guilty of being unclear and allowing for misinterpretation.

Mallett was staunch in not addressing the red-flag type of concerns about him that have been clinging to him. He said he wouldn’t put those questions to rest because he didn’t want to. He said critics of his decision-making and accuracy should look at his numbers.

In a room of 500 reporters who prefer to feel respected than slighted, it's not hard to understand how the prevailing feeling was we were pleased with Newton’s demeanor and almost insulted by Mallett’s.

But as we all tweeted about their podium performances, we failed to add two things to the tail end of those messages that are quite significant:

  1. Winning the press conference is nice, but ranks very low on a player’s list of combine priorities and things that teams consider important.
  2. A fantastic NFL quarterback could be a complete dud at his combine media session. A terrible NFL quarterback could conceivably wow us.

None of that fits neatly in a 140-character review.

Sure, it stands to reason that a guy who can’t handle the rush of questioners in a club section of Lucas Oil Stadium isn’t going to do well under the type of fire he’ll face in meetings with teams, and ultimately on a football field on a Sunday.

But there is hardly a direct correlation.

Our exposure to these guys right now is limited. Our business is rushing to judgment faster than ever.

So we're ready to call this the Cambine (just heard that from a colleague) and drop Mallett into the third round.

It’s a good time to remember that the performances we all tweeted so enthusiastically or negatively about Saturday aren’t likely going to be something we look back on as accurate gauges of what came after.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It would likely take a trade up or an unexpected draft-day tumble for the Houston Texans to land Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Brett Davis/US PresswireTexas A&M linebacker Von Miller likely won't fall to the No. 11 pick.
But what a nice match it would be for a team switching to a 3-4 and in need of outside linebackers to add him.

“It would be great to play for the Houston Texans, an hour away from Aggieland,” Miller said at the combine Saturday. “It’s a strong Aggie following, all over the world but particularly in Houston. We’ve got a lot of fans out there. It’s an hour away from College Station. Houston and Dallas, they both have a lot of Aggies there. I think it would be great to play for the Aggies and the Houston Texans for … years to come.”

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay says Miller is one of the eight elite players in the draft and won’t be an option for the Texans, but that the space between him and the next top linebackers is big enough he’s certainly worth trading up to get. He said Miller is perfectly suited to be a strongside linebacker in a 4-3.

“The only question you have to answer is, is he a perfect fit for your 3-4?” McShay said. “Because he’s only 237 pounds, maybe you get him to 245 without jeopardizing his explosiveness. After that, there’s [North Carolina defensive end] Robert Quinn, he’s fluid and athletic enough, that’s a possibility. But after that, there is a drop-off. [UCLA’s] Akeem Ayers is a good player. He has experience dropping, he does a good job turning the edge and getting up on the quarterback, but he’s not as instinctive or as consistent against the run as Von Miller.”

The Texans initial plan for Wade Phillips’ 3-4 has DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing playing inside. They expect to convert Connor Barwin from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside backer. They need at least one more quality option.

Miller would love to be that guy, playing for a fellow Aggie in Gary Kubiak.

It’s hard to envision the tumble to 11, though, and I sure feel like Houston’s got too many needs -- at both safety slots, for another outside linebacker, for a nose tackle, and perhaps for a receiver -- to give up picks to go get him.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Coaches are a forgotten class in the context of lockout repercussions.

They aren’t management and they aren’t players. They have a big stake, however, in both sides.

Two of the 12 staffs that might have the most precarious situations are from the AFC South. Larry Kennan, executive director of the NFL Coaches Association, included Houston and Jacksonville on a list of teams that could be most harsh enacting contractual previsions that cut salaries after 30 days of a lockout, raise the percentage of those losses the longer an impasse lasts, and give teams the right to fire guys who usually have guaranteed contracts.

Jim Irsay, meanwhile, has said the Colts staff will find "business as usual."

Here’s a story fleshing some more of this from Ron Borges.

The possible scenarios have got to make for a very uncomfortable situation for guys working under Jack Del Rio and Gary Kubiak, but just because their teams are on Kennan’s danger list doesn’t mean other staffs can’t get hit.

One head coach told my AFC West colleague Bill Williamson: “The coaches are the ones who will be spilling blood during this thing."

While coordinators and position coaches would figure to be safe at least through the draft, they could still be losing salary. Low-level assistants who don’t have much input in evaluating players could be in real danger of losing a significant piece of salary -- or even their jobs.

How about a strength coach who’s got no players to train? Will a short-sighted owner worried about losing money see the benefit in having the guy around through a lockout, or see money saved by parting with him and worrying about player conditioning later, when there are players to be conditioned?

I’m completely sympathetic to these assistants. They are crucial to a team’s success, but might be marginalized during what’s to come. They could suffer worse fates than anyone else attached to this fight.

Cocky Mallett rebuffs tough questions

February, 26, 2011
2/26/11
3:31
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Many scouts and evaluators have indicated that Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett is kind of a dividing line for the draft class of quarterbacks.

I’ve talked to some who clearly have him behind Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker, but ahead of the second tier that could include Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder and Ricky Stanzi.

Hazy reports of Mallett having big red flags have surfaced, and he was confidently defensive about them at a well-attended podium session that wrapped up a bit ago, deflecting repeated questions.

“If people talk about them, they keep circulating or whatever, that’s nothing I can control,” he said. "Obviously somebody did it for a reason before the combine and the draft. I talk about it with teams and everything is good.”

Those conversations will go a long way toward influencing his draft-board standing with quarterback-needy teams, a list that includes the Titans and Jaguars.

He told people with questions about him to ask his coaches and people he worked with about him.

And to a question about scouts questioning his decision-making and accuracy, he kind of snapped: “Seven thousand-plus yards and 60-plus touchdowns in two seasons, that’s how I respond to that.”

After he’d dismissed multiple questions about the red-flag issues, one reporter took a final stab: You’re going to be asked about them until you address them, so why not address them now?

“I don’t want to,” he said. “I’m not going to talk about it. I talk about it with the teams.”

I don't know that "I don't want to" will suffice as an answer to tough questions from an offensive coordinator trying to coach Mallett once he's in the NFL. But I won't presume that coach will get the hard-line guy we just saw.

Williamson wants to see more from CJ

February, 26, 2011
2/26/11
3:27
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. sees plenty of room for improvement out of Chris Johnson for the Titans in 2011.

You’ll find his piece here.

One thing he hopes to see is Johnson more involved in the passing game, an outlet that could surely benefit whoever is playing quarterback for the Titans.
"If it is Kerry Collins or an early-draft-pick rookie behind center, using a dynamic safety-valve receiving threat such as Johnson could make the quarterback's job much easier -- and maturation more rapid, in the case of a rookie QB. Further developing and using Johnson's pass-catching skills should be a high priority for [Mike] Munchak and company. But Johnson needs to pay more attention to his blitz pickup and pass-blocking as a whole to further develop into the all-around threat that he can be."

Williamson’s assessment of the Titans' interior offensive line and fullback Ahmard Hall from last season are harsh.

Munchak has indicated he expects the interior issues to be solved with the group that played last season, left guard Leroy Harris (who's not under contract for 2011), center Eugene Amano and right guard Jake Scott. Hall is also not under contract, but is a smart guy and hard worker I’d expect to be resigned and bounce back in a strong way.

The Titans will remain a run-centric team. Johnson needs to find his balance -- combining the break-away threat ability with an instinct for taking what’s there when a home run can't be hit. He can also do better fitting into a team concept rather than making declarations about running for 2,500 yards that make him seem somewhat self-absorbed.

He’s the team’s most dangerous weapon. He’ll be featured. And the Titans will have a chance to be a better team if they get a guy determined to play efficiently.
INDIANAPOLIS -- As I filmed this, I had three things I wanted to say. I wanted to call it a Zapruder film, a Blair Witch Project tape, and I wanted to sign off saying I was sight unseen.

Of course I botched one of the three key elements, but that I used Blair White Project only shows you how focused I am on the Colts while in their hometown with none of them saying anything.

Onward. Be grateful I gave you a three minute, rather than three hour, tour.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Bill Polian’s been Colts president since 1998.

He’s got a new title now, reports Mike Chappell: vice chairman.

What’s it mean?

Perhaps not a great deal.
"From an outsider's eye, it won't be noticeable," owner Jim Irsay told Chappell. "It's the natural progression with Chris [Polian] taking on more of a role.

"But Bill's not clearing out his office and he's not going to be gone. He'll be around slightly -- slightly -- less. But he's still significantly involved with the (NFL's) competition committee and us in every way, shape and form."

"…I don't really have a date where Bill would be at a much greater distance and be a consultant," Irsay said. "But Bill and I have talked it through, and that won't be for another two or three years."

Polian used to be a marquee guy for the media at the combine, offering great assessments of the draft class on Sunday. It’s been a loss that he’s chosen to disappear in recent years. The Colts are one of the few teams that don’t have an official podium session where the head coach or GM or both take questions.

The team has indicated Polian doesn’t want to talk about Peyton Manning’s contract status or the labor issue.

I think Polian could make that clear in 10 seconds and then offer 14:50 of quality conversation. It's disappointing he and the team have decided otherwise.

For Titans, worst need at worst time

February, 26, 2011
2/26/11
10:28
AM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jake Locker declared it a great time to be a quarterback coming out of college and he’s right.

At least 11 teams need one.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireJake Locker is among the QB prospects the Titans will be evaluating as they look for a new starter.
No one’s need is bigger than the Tennessee Titans. They have blanks at No. 1 and No. 2 and intend to find a veteran and a rookie.

As there is no better time to be a quarterback coming out, there is no worse time to have holes at the spot. A prolonged lockout would mean it’ll be a long time before new coordinator Chris Palmer gets to work with the additions. And whatever sort of player-organized work may go on won’t be organized by a quarterback for the Titans, unless second-year man Rusty Smith -- he of one failed start -- takes on an incredible leadership burden for a guy of his stature.

“We all know it’s a quarterback league, and that’s the No. 1 spot to have,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “We feel we have some great support staff around our quarterback who are very strong on our team, but there is no doubt we have uncertainty there. There are so many ways you can go. And you just have to wait until you find that person. Unfortunately, there is more than one team in that situation going into this season. That’s probably the toughest position to have to find.”

It’s so bad for the Titans that a perennially quarterback-starved team like Detroit that had the same 6-10 record is in a considerably better position than Tennessee -- though Matthew Stafford’s health remains a big question.

"[Drafting Stafford] allowed us to select personnel," Schwartz said. "You're not spinning your wheels. If you don't have a quarterback, you're drafting maybe a different kind of running back, maybe a different kind of offensive lineman, than if you have somebody. We had Calvin Johnson. But our ability to get Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson in free agency, to draft Brandon Pettigrew -- those pieces were because of the quarterback that we have. You're probably not going to run the ball 45 times per game when you have a quarterback that you want the ball in his hands.

"So in order to make progress, in order to fit guys to where they're going to be, in order to fit guys to a job description, you need to know what that job description is going to be. Having a quarterback settles a lot of that, knowing what that quarterback can do, knowing his ability to make throws, knowing his ability to process things, those kinds of things, it's all very important.

"The quarterback is the most important position on the team, and if you're strong at that position, you can overcome weaknesses at other positions."

Right now, it’s hard to envision the Titans being strong at the position, though they could hit a home run when they do bring guys in. That puts more strain on everyone else on offense -- a line that needs to return to form, an explosive back in Chris Johnson and an intriguing wide receiver in Kenny Britt who could be premier, a young tight end in Jared Cook who’s due to produce.

Schwartz, once a Titans assistant and then defensive coordinator, sounded sympathetic to his old colleague, Munchak.

“I’m sure that would be difficult,” he said. “I’m glad we’re not in that position.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES

AFC SOUTH SCOREBOARD