AFC South: Alan Lowry

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 11

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
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A review of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 30-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at LP Field:

Foku
Missing Fokou: When linebacker Moise Fokou hurt his knee Oct. 13 at Seattle, some of us believed the Titans might be better off with Colin McCarthy plugged in at middle linebacker. It’s not as though McCarthy’s been terrible, but three of the four games without Fokou have been run-defense disasters -- 153 yards to San Francisco, 160 to St. Louis and 137 to Indianapolis. (There was a 54-yard game against Jacksonville, too.) Getting Fokou back might not be the answer, but this was a better defense when he was running it.

Special teams: Of all the moves Mike Munchak made, firing Alan Lowry might have been the biggest. Current special teams coach Nate Kaczor isn't making the mistakes, and his units have been hard-hit by the injuries, but the Titans have been far more likely to commit a gaffe on special teams than produce a play. Every team in the league should have a guy they can call up from the practice squad who can field kicks and punts and secure the ball. Devon Wylie's kick return fumble -- which was the result of him bumping into a teammate -- was an absolute killer.

Fitzpatrick
Third and short: I’m fine with the Titans’ willingness to throw in an unconventional situation. They converted an early third-and-1 with a 12-yard pass to Delanie Walker. But the second time they faced third-and-1, when they were running the ball well, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw incomplete for Kendall Wright to stall a drive after just three plays. Shouldn't a team trying to create a we-can-run-when-we-want MO at least allow for the possibility of running it by not going with the empty backfield? They went empty on a third-and-2 a bit later, and converted thanks to a roughing call against Robert Mathis.

Covering Coby Fleener: The tight end wound up with eight catches for 107 yards and was a key to the Colts’ win. The Titans have been far better against tight ends this season than the past couple years, mostly because safety George Wilson's been part of the dime and three-safety nickel packages. Wilson played one snap on defense, and the Titans defended Fleener with base and regular nickel personnel. The three top cornerbacks, free safety Michael Griffin and strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers were all involved in tackling him.

Testing out our Titans' hindsight

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- My 20-20 hindsight is the only good vision I have.

So it’s time for a big round of second-guessing. Six games into the 2013 season, the Titans are a lot better team than they were a year ago, but they don’t have a ton to show for it at 3-3.

Five things worth some consideration after the fact, if not a full second-guess:

[+] EnlargeDarius Reynaud
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTitans return man Darius Reynaud isn't impressing anyone on special teams.
Special teams: Mike Munchak fired long-time special teams coach Alan Lowry, moving up assistant Nate Kaczor. The result through six games has been largely bad. The team got a great, long touchdown return from special teams in Seattle. But the group makes the same mistakes on a regular basis, highlighted by return man Darius Reynaud’s willingness to let punts bounce and his determination to bring kickoffs out from deep in the end zone. (I won't even mention he took the first kickoff of the season back into the end zone for a safety. Actually, I just did.) Munchak thought the team was starting to tune out Lowry. But he was pretty good at having his group ready for anything. It’s a far bigger adventure now.

Which begs the question: Was firing Lowry a mistake?

Marc Mariani: While we’re on the subject of Reynaud... At cut down day, the Titans put Mariani on injured-reserve with a shoulder injury that would have only cost him a few more weeks. Their roster wasn’t so drenched with talent that they couldn’t have found space for him until he was healthy. Defensive end Keyunta Dawson stuck, but was cut weeks later when Jake Locker got hurt and they needed space to add Rusty Smith. It turns out Mariani is a way better decision-maker than Reynaud.

Which begs the question: Do they privately regret that they didn’t create a way to have access to Mariani this year?

Sorting out center: Rob Turner won the center completion in the preseason, that was pretty clear. But did the Titans project what he could do correctly? They don’t want to single him out and he’s hardly the only guy having trouble. But they are invested in the other four in a big way and they all have higher ceilings. Turner brings a nastiness, but the attitude doesn’t matter if people are regularly getting past him.

Which begs the questions: Should they have stuck with Fernando Velasco, who’s now with the Steelers? Should they be turning to rookie Brian Schwenke now?

The tackles: All the focus has been on the interior offensive line. But the issues aren’t only with the middle three. Right guard David Stewart has a calf/leg issue having broken that leg less than a year ago. On a good week he practices twice, on a bad week just once. And Michael Roos isn’t run-blocking as well as he has in the past, particularly near the goal line.

Which begs the question: Did they err in taking it for granted that they were fine on the edges?

Paying Chris Johnson: The extension he got in 2011 included a provision that if he was on the roster five days after the Super Bowl in 2013, $9 million of his $10 million salary for this year would be guaranteed. I endorsed the $55 million extension when he got it. The Titans had long lacked an explosive playmaker, and at that point he definitely was one. But since he got it, he’s certainly not proved worth it. Only a knee injury to Shonn Greene has prevented a role reduction so far this season. They could have found a primary back who could do better than CJ’s 3.1-yard average for far less money.

Which begs the question: Is this going to be his final season with the Titans? He’s due $23 million more over the next three years. Unless his production spikes, it will be hard to justify it if they measure cost per yard.
PITTSBURGH -- Every theme the Tennessee Titans hit, and hit, and hit again through the offseason and the preseason was on display in their season-opening win at Heinz field Sunday.

Let’s run through their core beliefs and how they translated into the 16-9 victory.

Brown
Brown
Be physical on both sides of the ball: The Titans didn’t run the ball great, but they ran it well enough to hand it off 37 times. Jake Locker's runs, including two kneel-downs made for a total of 42 rush attempts for 112 yards. Sure they’d like more than 2.7 yards a carry. But against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is typically stout against the run, being able to run it that much is a win.

The defense managed to sack Ben Roethlisberger, who’s a tough guy to drag down, five times. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and weakside linebacker Zach Brown had two sacks apiece. A couple new players -- end Ropati Pitoitua and middle linebacker Moise Fokou -- made significant contributions to the effort.

The Steelers suffered several injuries. Center Maurkice Pouncey's wasn’t from anything Tennessee did, he got hit by linemate David DeCastro. But the physical game certainly had a role in injuries to LaRod Stephens-Howling (knee), cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) and inside linebacker Larry Foote (biceps). The Titans weren’t nearly as banged up.

Withstand adversity: Things couldn’t have started any worse. Return man Darius Reynaud inexplicably decided that despite some room, he wanted to turn a bouncing kickoff into a touchback. The trouble was he picked up the ball just across the goal line and pulled it back in to take a knee.

He’s got to make a better decision in such circumstances, and his failure to do so is on him. He was able to have a sense of humor about it since the Titans overcame it.

An aside. One thing he said postgame bothered me a bit.

Asked what sort of rules he’s to follow in such circumstances, he said. “I set back seven deep, if the ball is kicked five yards deep I can run up on it. But on that type of play, we never practiced that play. I’m going to get that in practice this week just to get a good look on it. … Next time we’ll get that right.”

Mike Munchak fired Alan Lowry, a coach who had a reputation for his special teams being prepared for anything and everything, after last season.

Don’t put Locker in bad situations: Locker was sacked only once. He ran the offense efficiently, and his teammates said he was confidently in command in the huddle. He ran for a nice 5-yard gain on one option play with Chris Johnson. He was 11 for 20 for 125 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and a long of 25 yards.

He threw a couple off-target passes, but never appeared flustered by a defense that’s got the capacity to make young quarterbacks panicky.

A key to putting him in good spots was productive first downs. In the first half, the Titans averaged second-and-5.2. For the game, nine of 21 second downs were second-and-6 or less.

Stop the run to make opponents one-dimensional: The Steelers turned 15 carries into 32 yards. And their long run was eight yards by Isaac Redman, who also coughed up a fumble as the Steelers were about to score to go up 9-0.

***

All in all, it was a great day for creating a feeling that work and points of emphasis have paid off.

“Overall, we were exactly what we were trying to work towards in the preseason,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “I think that one drive we had 13 straight run plays or something like that. (Actually 12 of 13 plays.) That’s what we’ve been trying to get to. Impose our will on them and keep drives alive.”

Gray survives Titans' staff changes

January, 17, 2013
1/17/13
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For a good while I’ve said I wasn’t sure defensive coordinator Jerry Gray was safe.

Now I’m pretty sure he is.

The Titans announced their staff changes this evening and Gray isn’t among them.
  • In are: Shawn Jefferson as wide receivers coach, George Henshaw as tight ends coach and Sylvester Croom as running backs coach.
  • Solidified is: Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator
  • Moving are: Dave Ragone to quarterbacks from wide receivers, Nate Kaczor to special teams coach from assistant offensive line and Chet Parlavecchio to linebackers from special teams assistant.
  • Gone as previously reported by Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean are: Frank Bush (linebackers), Alan Lowry (special teams), Jim Skipper (running backs) and John Zernhelt (tight ends).

“Over the last two weeks I have spent my time reviewing our coaching staff and interviewing numerous candidates from the college and pro ranks at a variety of positions in order to improve our coaching staff,” said Titans coach Mike Munchak in a statement. “The goal in every decision I have made has been to do whatever I believe puts us in the best position to win this year. I believe with the new coaches that we have added and some shuffling of the current coaches, we have made our staff better. We were able to add proven coaches and by moving others around, it will change the dynamic in the meeting rooms and on the field. We still have some spots remaining to fill and I am always looking to improve our staff, so it is still a work in progress.”

Notes on a few of the guys involved in the changes:
  • Ragone was one of the big surprises on Munchak’s initial staff. He came with fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer from Hartford of the UFL and deserves a great deal of responsibility for the maturation and production of Nate Washington. Now he’ll shift to the position he played and work with Jake Locker, making room for Jefferson, who’s been with the Lions the past five seasons where Calvin Johnson set a new single-season record for receiving yardage in 2012.
  • Henshaw returns to the Titans coaching staff where he spent nine seasons working with the tight ends from 1997-2005. Jeff Fisher pushed him off the staff over issues not related to the play of the tight ends.
  • Croom has been head coach at Mississippi State and has worked as an offensive coordinator and running back coach in the NFL. He was part of the Jacksonville staff last season coaching backs.
  • The fiery Parlavecchio spent the past two seasons with the Titans as the Assistant Special Teams coach. He coached linebackers at Temple from 1992-93 but after that worked as a high school coach before his Penn State teammates Munchak brought him into the NFL.

The biggest move, however, is one not made with Gray. While Munchak was quick to point out after the season that not all the points scored against the Titans were scored against the defense, the Titans gave up a franchise-record 471 points, most in the NFL.

If Munchak felt Gray did a good enough job to remain defensive coordinator, then Munchak must really feel the Titans had insufficient personnel on that side of the ball. The team needs an infusion of talent there and it can’t come strictly from the draft.

They need a free-agent class like they signed in 2006, when safety Chris Hope and linebacker David Thornton joined Tennessee from successful franchises and brought heavy doses of leadership and production.

Munchak has two years remaining on his contract. Presumably the Titans have to make the playoffs in 2013 for him to get an extension and see that last year.

He now has assembled the coaching crew with which he wants to try to meet that goal.

I suspect he’s going to be left with regret over now taking larger chances on defense.
We see an assistant coach fired and, if the move comes as a surprise, we tend to see fall guys, scapegoats, victims.

While the Jaguars are likely to have close to an entirely new staff under a yet-to-be-determined head coach, and while Marwan Maalouf is out as special teams coach in Indianapolis, the big AFC South turnover so far has come in Tennessee.

Mike Munchak fired Chris Palmer as his offensive coordinator with five games left in the season. Since the 6-10 campaign came to an end and Munchak got a vote of confidence from owner Bud Adams, Munchak has also parted ways with running backs coach Jim Skipper, tight ends coach John Zernhelt, linebackers coach Frank Bush and special teams coach Alan Lowry.

To reach many of you have said, “Yeah, that’ll fix it.”

We need to see not only who’s out, but who’s in to start to judge the moves.

I wasn’t a big fan of Bush, but as I wrote, his was one position where the Titans actually had an up arrow.

That doesn’t automatically mean he was doing a good job or that it was unfair to dismiss him.

After all, isn’t it possible Munchak evaluated the position and thought things could have been even better? Couldn't there have been something the group wasn’t doing that Bush wasn’t sufficiently correcting? Might he have developed philosophical differences that conflicted with his bosses?

I don’t know why he’s out.

But I do know Munchak is unlikely to have fired him on a whim. I do know that while there is a degree of covering one’s own behind with any move made on a staff, NFL coaches don’t make most moves lightly. After all, they were all position coaches once.

I do know that because of the way Munchak operates, we’re probably not going to get the real reason he parted ways with these guys, not in specifics. He’ll see no reason to advertise those publicly, even if many of us will jump to incorrect conclusions as a result.

I’ve never been in position to hire.

But I don’t think it’s very easy to put together a staff of 15 or so and hit on every one of them the first time. A coaching staff, as I’ve written before, is a sort of an evolving organism.

I suspect Titans fans would feel better about the guys who are gone if defensive coordinator Jerry Gray was with them. It’s not a certainty, yet, that Gray has survived this purge.

If he does, there is an inside reason for that, too, and it’s something more than loyalty.

In time maybe we’ll learn more about why Coach X stayed and Coach Y was cast aside.

In the meantime, let’s not simplify it to where if a position is good that means the position coach is good or vice versa.

RTC: Schaub wasn't good enough

January, 14, 2013
1/14/13
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Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

“The Texans were eliminated in the divisional round because they didn’t make enough plays when they needed them, made too many mistakes at the worst time, failed to take advantage of opportunities, and consistently failed on third down,” says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

The way Matt Schaub played in December and January will not get it done, says Jerome Solomon of the Chronicle.

Given the limited choices of Super Bowl or bust, the Texans wound up with B, says Randy Harvey of the Chronicle.

The lack of third-quarter execution stopped the Texans from completing a momentum shift, says Dale Robertson of the Chronicle.

Even without Rob Gronkowski again, the Patriots offense steamrolled the Texans, says Don Banks of SI.com.

The Patriots reminded the Texans who the boss is in the AFC, says Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com.

The gap between the Patriots and Texans only widened, says Nancy Gay of Fox Sports.

The Chronicle’s notebook: Danieal Manning did well returning kicks, Rick Dennison thought his meeting with the Bears went well, inconsistency plagued the Texans offense and other notes from the Chronicle.

Owner Bob McNair thinks the Texans need more depth to take the next step, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

Receiver DeVier Posey’s got a torn Achilles, says Ganguli.

J.J. Watt explains his pregame spitting “controversy,” from Ganguli.

Wes Welker let his play speak for him, says Seth Lakso for the Chronicle.

Indianapolis Colts

Jim Irsay’s decisions to change things proved awfully smart, says Michael Marot of the Associated Press.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars will have to wait on the 49ers playoff run to talk to offensive coordinator Greg Roman about their head coaching job, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

CFL quarterback Mike Reilly recently worked out for the Jaguars, says O’Halloran.

Tennessee Titans

New Jersey police want to talk to Kenny Britt about an incident in which a close friend was stabbed, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Wyatt says Mike Munchak wants to lure Sherman Smith back to Tennessee to coach running backs.

Alan Lowry may have lost his job as special teams coach because of a perception that players had begun tuning him out, says Wyatt.
Mike Munchak's staff cuts are growing increasingly surprising.

Special teams were up and down this year, but the ups didn’t count for enough.

Alan Lowry, who penned the franchise’s most famous play, the Music City Miracle kickoff return that beat Buffalo in a 1999 playoff game, is out, reports Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

“It’s been a great run for me,” Lowry told Wyatt. “I’ve enjoyed my time with the Titans. To me, it wasn’t about production on the field.”

Among coaches who ran meeting rooms, Lowry was the longest tenured coach with the team. He joined the Oilers in 1996. (Strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson’s been with the franchise since 1986.)

That’s four assistants out since the season so far for Munchak -- running back coach Jim Skipper, tight end coach John Zernhelt, linebacker coach Frank Bush and Lowry.

Munchak has those four spots plus quarterback coach position to fill. Dowell Loggains was promoted from quarterback coach to coordinator with five games left when offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was fired. Indications are Loggains will remain in the coordinator role.

No names of potential incomers have surfaced yet except for John Shoop, who interviewed for the quarterback coach job.

Munchak got a vote of confidence from owner Bud Adams the day after a 6-10 regular season ended. He has two years left on the deal he signed when he replaced Jeff Fisher in 2011. That transition came late and he didn’t necessarily get to shop for assistants while the market was at its peak.

There are plenty of possibilities out there for him now.

We need to see who comes in to have a fuller feel for what Munchak is doing, and I'm not certain he's done showing people the door.

I always remember talking with a coach in his first couple years who said one of the best pieces of advice he got from a veteran mentor was not to think of his initial staff as anything close to permanent. While loyalty is important, it is trumped by performance and working relationships, and the odds of everyone proving to be the fit a coach needs on his staff are small. As a team evolves, staff needs can change.

Munchak is very likely heading toward a season where he needs to make the playoffs or be fired.

Significant turnover on the staff clearly is part of what he’s expecting to help improve the Titans’ fortunes.

Fraying Titans overmatched by Bears

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
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Mike MunchakAP Photo/Wade PayneMike Munchak and the Titans have a lot of work to do after Sunday's blowout loss to the Bears.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans coaches warned players all week about how Charles Tillman strips the ball, offering specifics of his techniques.

Then four Titans went out and got stripped by the Bears cornerback, including Kenny Britt on the game’s first play from scrimmage.

What does that say about the quality of players on Tennessee’s roster and their ability to absorb and execute a coaching message?

Not anything good.

Tennessee unraveled quickly and thoroughly en route to its 51-20 loss to the Bears on Sunday at LP Field. It would have been hard to play a worse first quarter had the Titans prepared a game plan for it. And some of their gaffes made it hard to see anything but an undisciplined, unprepared and ineffective cast of characters that isn’t the nucleus for a resurgence but a core lacking the sort of central DNA necessary to create a contender.

It also created more questions in my mind than I’ve ever had before about the job security of coach Mike Munchak and his staff.

“If a team underperforms, I’m the first guy you should look at for that, not anybody else, not assistant coaches, it starts with me,” Munchak said. “If we don’t finish the season the way it should, then what needs to happen will happen. ...

“We’ve got seven games to play. If we win all seven, all of a sudden this would be kind of a wasted argument.”

Yes, on the heels of this debacle, let’s dream of seven-game winning streaks.

But first, how about cleaning up things like illegal-formation penalties on consecutive first-quarter plays, where a receiver covered up the tight end?

“We had those plays in our hands days ago and had a meeting about it [Saturday] night and had a meeting about it [Sunday] morning,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I don’t know what to say. That’s not good.”

Rookie receiver Kendall Wright said he thought he was responsible for at least one of the calls.

“It hurt the team a lot,” he said. “But what I did at practice all week, I thought I was on the ball. I screwed it up. It’s my fault all the way.”

He thought he was on the ball all week, but he was supposed to be off the ball and no one spotted it or corrected it until the officiating crew got a look on Sunday? Sorry, but that is some major evidence in a case against the people running things for this team right now.

“We just have to pay attention more and know the right things to do, know where to line up,” Chris Johnson said. “These coaches all week gave us the right formula and we had a good week of practice. It makes it even worse when you have a good week of practice and do everything right during the week, get to the game and mess up.”

The Titans were out of this game in a flash, trailing 28-2 at the end of an atrocious first quarter.

“We screwed up from the get-go,” guard Steve Hutchinson said.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesChicago's Charles Tillman made an impact right from the start of Sunday's game.
The log for the first 15 minutes:
“That first quarter is horrible,” Wright said. “We can’t spot anybody 28 points and expect to come back and win.”

Jordan Babineaux was the one Titans player I talked to who didn’t offer an immediate defense of the coaches and the plan.

“You got any questions, you’ve got to ask the defensive coordinator,” he said, referring to Jerry Gray.

I asked about the blocked punt, where he was lined up as the personal protector, but where he didn’t offer protection, running to the right and cutting out of the backfield entirely. He said I’d need to ask the special-teams coach, Alan Lowry.

The Titans’ margin for error is obviously small against a good team. They didn’t have room for this brand of clunker.

“Sometimes what is said is that wasn’t us and we’ll just sweep it under the rug and get back to being us,” Hasselbeck said. “But those are good teams that built a cushion for themselves that are up front in their division and playoffs are probably on the way anyway. ... We can’t have a stinker. We can’t just lay an egg like that. So that’s what’s disappointing. It’s hard to say that just wasn’t us.”

“It’s a bad loss,” McCourty said. “When you go out and it’s as embarrassing as that is, it just sucks to be a part of it.”

Where do they go from here?

A year ago, they were 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs. This year it looks like that record could earn a spot in the postseason field. There are a couple of teams every year that weren’t looking good at the halfway point and finish big.

Munchak will sell the Titans that they can be that team.

What degree of belief will he get back? What degree of belief does he deserve back?

Down 31-5 at the half, he challenged his team to go out and do something special, something unexpected.

That didn’t happen.

After it was over, he preached about how everyone is in this together, how they’ve got to stick together, that they can’t split.

Munchak may be able to glue players together and the roster may be composed of guys who will stay unified. The sad truth is such solidarity may ultimately not mean a thing when it comes to altering the Titans’ fortunes.

RTC: Where has that mouthpiece been?

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
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Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

The Ravens are as vulnerable as they will ever be, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Johnathan Joseph and Gary Kubiak are both optimistic the cornerback will play on Sunday, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

To which I say: The question isn’t really about whether he will play. The question is about how well he will play. The last two weeks he’s been well below his standard.

Dale Robertson of the Chronicle considers what’s going wrong in the Texans’ secondary.

An inability to play well from behind is one thing that could hold the Texans back, says ESPN.com’s John Clayton.

Texans merchandise is moving, says David Barron of the Chronicle.

Indianapolis Colts

Mouthguards are exposed to all sorts of nasty stuff during the course of a football game. Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star takes a thorough look at one of the NFL’s dirty, little secrets. “The unpleasant and self-evident truth is this: if a player removes and reinserts his mouth guard, he might as well be sticking his fingers or gloves in his mouth.”

The Colts defense needs to be ready for a full dose of rookie running back Trent Richardson, says Mike Chappell of the Star.

To which I say: Richardson is a lot better than Shonn Greene, so the Colts have to play a lot better run defense than they did against the Jets.

Previewing Browns-Colts with Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Jacksonville Jaguars

As the Jaguars prepare for a game at Oakland, they know they’ve played their best football away from home, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

To which I say: But their work on the West Coast in recent years has been bad.

Jacksonville is seeking a boost in the punt return game from Aaron Ross, writes O’Halloran.

More info on how exactly the Jaguars stand to cash in on being the team that plays multiple years in a row in London, from ESPN.com’s Kristi Dosh.

Tennessee Titans

Alan Lowry “remains persistent in devising ways to outsmart and defeat opponents,” writes Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean of the Titans special teams coach.

To which I say: To this point, the Titans have gotten more big plays out of special teams than is fair to expect.

The Titans take the NFL’s worst rushing offense to Buffalo to face the league’s worst rushing defense. Wyatt wonders what will unfold.

CBS analyst Phil Simms is picking the Titans to beat the Bills, knowing Matt Hasselbeck can catch and/or pass his career TD total of 199, says Wyatt.

A breakdown of Titans-Bills from Dunlevy.

 
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Nearly every team has a preseason underdog emerge.

With the Titans, it’s Darius Reynaud. As a return man and running back playing after starters were out, he did impressive work in the Titans' first two preseason games.

This has generated four big questions:

  • Could the Titans keep four running backs?
  • Could the Titans create room for Reynaud by using No. 3 back Jamie Harper as a fullback once in a while, and not keep a fullback?
  • Could he beat out Javon Ringer, the incumbent No. 2 running back?
  • Could he unseat Marc Mariani as the team’s return man?
[+] EnlargeDarius Reynaud
Douglas Jones/US PRESSWIREHas Darius Reynaud has played well enough to force himself onto the Titans' roster?
I doubt Reynaud unseats Ringer, though I’d have no issue with it. Titans coaches and brass seem to love Ringer.

I doubt they'll abandon fullback, though it’s such a narrow, situational role I’d have no complaint about leaning on a two-tight end package more often.

I doubt he takes Mariani’s job, though I wouldn’t argue against that either, as I think Mariani is a bit overrated. (Mike Munchak said this week that Reynaud has made it a legit competition.)

The four-running back scenario may be most likely, but to keep a fourth back that player will have to be able to contribute on special teams as a non-returner.

We’ll get a taste of whether Reynaud can do that Thursday night, when the Titans host the Cardinals at LP Field.

Special teams coach Alan Lowry said he will use Reynaud on the kickoff coverage and punt coverage teams against Arizona as the Titans get their first sampling of what Reynaud can do in that capacity.

“My sense is he can do whatever he wants,” Lowry said. “He’s a good football player. He’s got speed and strength. I hope we have enough plays; I don’t know.”

Reynaud was with the Vikings and Giants previously.

“Reynaud is interesting and I am not quite sure why he has never stuck anywhere,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “He is kind of like a Percy Harvin Lite. He’s real good with the ball in his hands, a running back/receiver tweener type who also can be an effective returner.”

Reynaud is not worried about all these scenarios. He still has a good, positive attitude and knows he can play, and he’s just glad he's created them.

“My job is to make their job as hard as possible,” he said of the Titans' decision-makers.

He worked in the sort of jobs he’ll have tonight on special teams when he was with the Giants. As for the return man debate, Lowry said he thought a race between Mariani and Reynaud would be close and Reynaud agreed, though of course he said he’d win.

Who would Williamson start as his return man if these were his two choices?

“I would say that is a pretty good competition,” Williamson said. “Reynaud runs lower and with more power. He might be shiftier laterally too. But Mariani has really good vision, is quick to get upfield and probably is the faster of the two. Edge to Mariani, who is also more reliable.”
Fisher/YoungKirby Lee/US PresswireFor Bud Adams, the choice won't be as simple as picking Vince Young or Jeff Fisher.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Vince Young-Jeff Fisher showdown and its spillover has many observers thinking Bud Adams will ultimately have to choose one or the other.

But the math in the equation is off, and this is not a simple, one-against-one situation.

If the love-struck Adams chooses his favorite quarterback, he’s not only going to lose Fisher, he’s going to lose all, or most, of Fisher’s staff.

While Adams would be making a poor choice, even he’d have to admit that Young at his best isn’t going to do much to offset the loss of some excellent assistant coaches.

All but one Titans assistant coach is working with an expiring contract, according to a Titans source. Fisher’s contract runs through 2011.

In a typical scenario, Fisher would get an extension and then line up his assistants with deals of the same length.

“We are in the process of extending contracts for the entire staff," Fisher said after practice Friday. “I don’t comment on negotiations other than to say we’re in the process.”

But there has been no word on any talks about a new deal for Fisher, and now it’s a safe bet there will not be one before the Young issues are resolved. If they come to fruition, those staff extensions could be for only one season.

And the uncertain labor situation gives Adams the potential to hold off on anything new until after things are settled between the league and the players, in case he has to withstand a lockout.

Whenever it comes around, the staff issue is more significant now given the battle between Fisher and Young and Adams’ comments to The Tennessean saying he expects the two to find a way to co-exist next season.

I think we’re past the point where that’s a possibility and Adams is going to have to make a choice. Hopefully it’s a well-reasoned one.

[+] EnlargeMike Munchak
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellThe Titans' solid pass protection and good run blocking are due to efforts by coach Mike Munchak.
Pick Young, and you probably sacrifice Mike Munchak.

Munchak is one of eight members of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s a steady teacher who recognizes talent and has consistently groomed quality guys. The Titans have regularly had good pass protection and solid run blocking in large part because of Munchak’s exhaustive work.

Pick Young, and you probably sacrifice Jim Washburn.

The Titans’ defense is tied for second in the NFL with 30 sacks. They’ve come from players Washburn has rebuilt such as Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Tony Brown or guys he encouraged the front office to draft, such as Jason Jones. A large number of franchises in the league would love to add a high-energy defensive line coach who can get production from such reclamation projects and draft picks.

Those two are key coaches on a staff that’s widely regarded around the league as one of the best. A staff Fisher has been able to shape and hold onto because of his stability and the loyalty he shows -- occasionally to a fault.

His staff also includes offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who has been mentioned as a candidate for head-coaching jobs and once interviewed with San Francisco for its top post; defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil; veteran linebackers coach Dave McGinnis, who has been head coach of two teams; defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson, who had an excellent career as a safety for the franchise; special teams coach Alan Lowry, who scripted the Music City Miracle; strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson; receivers coach Fred Graves; tight ends coach John Zernhelt; running backs coach Craig Johnson; and quarterback coach Dowell Loggains.

They are not all irreplaceable superstars, of course. And with expiring contracts, some of them could be moving on even if Fisher is firmly in place.

Washburn is a Nashville fixture who appreciates the second-chance Fisher gave him in 1999. But if he becomes a coaching free agent, perhaps a team with a bad defensive line would make him an offer too good to refuse.

Still, the chances he stays in Tennessee are far higher if Fisher is in the big office. I'd be willing to bet the same would be true for all the assistants.

If Adams chooses to stick with Young and Fisher negotiates out of his contract, or if another team strikes a deal to give the Titans picks to get Fisher out of his last year, I predict all the assistants would be totally turned off by Adams’ choice.

Some might have to stay if they could to ensure themselves of a job. But given any sort of choice, I believe they’d be unlikely to sign new deals with Tennessee to work under Fisher’ replacement.

More likely, these assistants would rejoin Fisher with a new team if he is able to move on for 2011. If not, they would find jobs elsewhere. The older guys might ponder retirement or take a year off with assurances from Fisher that they’d have a job with him once he re-enters the league.

The top in-house candidate to replace Fisher with the Titans would have to be Heimerdinger, and I believe his loyalty to Fisher would mean he wouldn’t even allow his representative to talk to Adams about the post.

Even Fisher’s harshest critics have to appreciate assistants like Munchak and Washburn and acknowledge they’d be difficult to replace. (You can make a case against Fisher, sure. But in a head-to-head against Young there is no way not to choose the coach.)

If Adams makes his move against Fisher, Fisher could have solidarity from his staff of 16.

If Young is the one shown the door, he’d be walking through it alone.

Happy Anniversary

January, 8, 2010
1/08/10
12:56
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A year ago, a bit confused about which anniversary it was, I wrote something about the meaning of the Music City Miracle.

When I realized it was the ninth anniversary, not the 10th, I stashed it. An easy post in a year, I told myself. Just working ahead. (Yes, I have trouble counting sometimes.)


AP Photo/Wade PayneFriday marks the 10-year anniversary of Kevin Dyson's touchdown and the Music City Miracle.
Then a few months ago it disappeared when my hard drive fizzled. (Yes, I know, I now have Mozy.)

I can’t reconstruct the magic for you, the second version of a lost file is never as the first good for me.

But here’s the gist:

Two years ago I spent a significant amount of time piecing together a book pitch, and I’m realizing now as I start to look for it that it also disappeared with that hard drive. I did email myself a copy, so thankfully it lives on for posterity.

"Makings of a Miracle: How one historic, game-winning play transformed a team and tied together a town" didn’t really take off. The one publisher I had look at the proposal, which was good, and a sample chapter, which didn’t match the quality, passed.

And as other things -- like a certain job at ESPN.com came about -- I didn’t pursue it further.

Part of the reason, too, was that as I researched things to write the proposal, and I looked back on the 1999 Titans and the Music City Miracle, I concluded that a big piece of my premise was probably off.

The play was an incredible thing for everyone involved and everyone who was invested in that team.

It was transformative for the franchise, and it did tie together a town.

It would have been very interesting for that audience, and perhaps to one extending beyond, to learn how exactly it came together and played out, and how it impacted the lives of those involved in it.

But it didn’t hardly turn into the Immaculate Reception or Christian Laettner-to-Grant Hill, or Bobby Thompson off Ralph Branca.

And it didn’t have to.

While people here still talk of where they were when it unfolded and how they reacted, it wasn’t a necessary ingredient for a place to become a “legit” NFL city.

While it certainly served as an accelerant, Nashville would be just fine without it. Ten years later, I am not sure I really believe that much would have changed had it not happened.

That said, it’s hard to imagine I’ll ever be in such close proximity to a sports moment that tops it. I was at the 10-yard line as Kevin Dyson slowed and entered the end zone, sharing my disbelief with an entire city and most of a state.

Book or not, we’ll always have that.

So cheers today to Lorenzo Neal, who fielded Steve Christie’s kickoff and handed it back to Frank Wycheck, to Wycheck who threw the lateral, to Dyson who caught it and took it 75-yards for an incomprehensible last-minute touchdown that pushed the Titans into the divisional round of the playoffs. Here’s to Perry Phenix, Greg Favors and Terry Killens, who led the blocking caravan. Here’s to Alan Lowry, the assistant who drew up the play, and Jeff Fisher, who had his team ready to run it.

You’re all officially old.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

It can be too easy to go with the position coach of the first-round pick as the guy who's got to do good work to help a draftee have some instant impact.

But the Titans are returning 11 of 12 starters on offense and defense and adding an explosive playmaker on offense was a priority. Enter Kenny Britt out of Rutgers with pick No. 30.

Wide receiver coaches for the Titans are regularly subject to criticism, but I think it's tough to pin the lack of development of players at the position on them. After all, we've seen Alan Lowry, Steve Walters, Ray Sherman and now Fred Graves all hold the job. Have all five of them been bad at polishing young talent into AFL-caliber weapons?

I argue the failures at the spot fall more on Jeff Fisher for philosophically de-emphasizing the position and the front office for what they've provided those assistants to work with in that environment.

Graves has been given a first-round talent now. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger raved about how Britt comes into the league already able to get off press coverage, something most rookies struggle to figure out.

Graves is occasionally unconventional -- his guys regularly catch bricks to work on their hands.

If Britt's able to contribute early, Graves will get some of the credit. If Britt's not one of the team's top three receivers early on, Graves will get a share of the blame.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE -- Maybe some of St. Louis' short throws would have turned into big gains in a game situation.

But in a joint-practice situation, those completions that are such a big part of what the Rams do were hardly the highlight.

I thought Tennessee's defense manhandled the Rams for the most part, and the Titans set the tone in that side of practice Wednesday morning. They got the better of most of the fights, too.

A run down out of my notebook:

  • Torry Holt caught a pass over the middle and got leveled by Calvin Lowry, who popped his helmet off. The official nearby told Holt: "If you buckled your chin strap, that wouldn't happen."
  • Reserve defensive back Chris Carr had a good morning running as the second-team left corner, getting his hands on multiple balls and delivering a few nice hits, including one in run support on back Travis Minor.
  • Corner Cortland Finnegan went for a sideline kill shot on Holt on a short ball and missed, flying by.
  • DB Vincent Fuller pulled in two interceptions, both of Brock Berlin. On the first, Fuller timed it up beautifully, jumping a short pass for Shaine Smith on the sideline in the red zone. It would have a touchdown return for sure.
  • During a field goal period, Titans special teams coach Alan Lowry pointed out to an official that Rams long snapper Chris Massey was flinching and tensing his arms before the snap to try to prompt someone to jump.
  • Vanden Bosch was frustrated after he worked part of a two-man rush in the one-on-one period, as guard Roy Schuening pushed him back and forced him to take a lengthy looping route to the quarterback.

On to the fights:

  • Finnegan wrapped receiver Reche Caldwell in his arms and wrestled him to the ground for a scrap. Finnegan has scratches above and below his right eye.
  • After Michael Griffin crushed Dane Looker, Bulluck and Caldwell went at it. Bulluck's one-two swipe took off Caldwell's helmet. "It's his third team in two years, that's what I told him," Bulluck said.
  • After Joe Klopfenstein ran under a deep ball down the middle and into the end zone on a play where the Titans busted coverage, a big bout broke out near the sideline at the line of scrimmage -- Vanden Bosch and Goldberg's fight spilled into a full-team melee. Both teams were huddled up as their coaches tried to calm things down.
  • Rams tackle Mark LeVoir and Titans end Sean Conover weren't finished, however, and went at it with LeVoir getting the upper hand. Vanden Bosch, who wasn't in the play and didn't have his helmet on, came flying in as support staff.

Holt's take on all the extracurriculars:

"As excessive as that got, it does take away from the work," he said. "Now you're totally getting away from your technique and what you're trying to do as a football team. But as far as the mixing it up and the physicality, I think it's great for both football teams. Your macho comes out and you see where you are. There is some give and take there, but we were able to settle those differences and finish up on a good note."

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