AFC South: Blaine Bishop

Titans lacking 'the guy' on defense

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
2:56
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Not every good or great defense in the NFL has a signpost guy who’s the big issue for the competition.

The best defenses for the Tennessee Titans have, however.

Defensive end Jevon Kearse arrived in 1999 and proved to be the missing ingredient, booting the Titans defense to a Super Bowl level with his explosive edge rush. He notched 36 sacks in his first three seasons. The 2000 team was the NFL’s No. 1 defense.

Albert Haynesworth was an incredible defensive tackle for the Titans in 2007 and 2008, with 14.5 sacks from defensive tackle. Tennessee was fifth in defense the first year and seventh the second.

Like Kearse, Haynesworth created panic and forced offenses to account for him at all times.

Perhaps these Titans have upgraded and will be collectively successful. They lack a singular, dominant player who dictates double teams or constant concern.

“We’d hope that there is more than just that guy,” senior assistant/defense Gregg Williams said recently. “Kearse here was that guy. But when I went other places and had top defenses in the league, we had a multitude of just really good guys. Maybe not a dominant, take-over-the-game guy, maybe not a lot of Pro Bowlers on those teams, but top-ranked defenses.

“We’ve got to have more than just one guy. We’ve got to have several guys that people have to account for and/or know because they can be threats.”

The better scenario, of course, is having the one guy, and having him surrounded by the kind of really good guys Williams speaks about.

Kearse played with solid defenders like cornerback Samari Rolle, safety Blaine Bishop (for two of those years) and linebacker Randall Godfrey. Haynesworth had end Kyle Vanden Bosch, linebackers Keith Bulluck and David Thornton and cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

The Titans have a lot guys who can potentially be high-quality defenders: tackle Jurrell Casey, end Derrick Morgan and linebacker/end Akeem Ayers head my list. It’s hard to imagine any of them jumping the Kearse-Haynesworth level of production.

Casey got a big compliment from Jerricho Cotchery, the Steelers receiver, on Wednesday.

“I'm supposed to be looking at DBs, but you can't help but see No. 99 up front, big Casey," Cotchery told my Pittsburgh colleague, Scott Brown. "He's everywhere, especially when you look at the Atlanta game in the preseason. He's just all over the place. He stands out even when you're watching the back end of it.”

Maybe Casey will wind up being a singular force for the Titans.

They don't intend to worry about it as they get to work.

“I say we go to work with the guys that we have,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “We can’t really worry about what we don’t have, but we can worry about how effective we can be with what we do have.”
The Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans “had a player-organized performance incentives pool to reward big plays” with money, reports Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Gregg Williams coached for 11 years with the franchise including a term as defensive coordinator from 1997-2000.

But the players who spoke to Wyatt said that Williams, now at the center of the NFL revelation that the Saints ran a bounty program while he was coordinator there, was not involved.

Current and former Oilers and Titans, including some who played for Williams, said the practice is common in NFL locker rooms. They said their coaches were aware of the incentive pools and didn’t discourage them, but they didn’t organize bonus programs or hand out money for deliberately injuring an opponent.
“That stuff has been going on since Buddy Ryan, and long before that,” said former Oilers linebacker Al Smith, who played for Ryan (Oilers defensive coordinator in 1993) and later for Williams. “Buddy used to put it simple: If you take the other team’s best player out, your chance of winning increases dramatically.

“Gregg felt the same way, but that’s the theme across the league. It was never ‘Go blow this guy’s knee out and you’ll get paid.’ It was just football. It was a defensive mentality thing.”

Wyatt talked to 12 players. Former Oilers/Titans safety Blaine Bishop strongly denied that Williams had any sort of program like the one the league found in New Orleans. (Disclosure: Bishop and I work for the same radio Nashville radio station.)

Former linebacker Keith Bulluck did a good job putting into perspective the whole idea of chasing a quarterback with a financial incentive to injure him.
“No coach that I ever played for ever asked me or any of my teammates to deliberately take someone out either on purpose or for any amount of money. It is football, and at the end of the day it is a strategic game, and as a defender I am trying to get to the ball as fast as possible with a bad attitude and hit the ball carrier as hard as I can within the structure of the game,” he said.

“But you don’t try and inflict injury on somebody. And as far as us going out there to take Peyton Manning out — it is hard enough to get to him, so to take him out in a way in which he wouldn’t be able to come back into the game would be pretty noticeable and pretty absurd. We had a hard enough time just hitting him.’’

It’s a fast game. Guys are paid big dollars to hit hard. What level of extra motivation would be added by pools that might award them a couple hundred or a couple thousand dollars for especially big hits?

I question the professionalism of a guy who needs that sort of boost to do his job well.

But maybe later I will be reaching out to the other seven members of the blog network to see if we want to set up something where we all toss in some bucks and the big entry of the week gets something a little extra.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

The Texans expect Brian Cushing to be great, says Richard Justice.

Bucky Brooks wonders if the team that lands Nnamdi Asomugha will ultimately have buyer’s remorse.

Three guys at NFL.com say Vonta Leach didn’t deserve a spot in the Top 100 players list.

Indianapolis Colts

Who’s more likely to get another contract with the Colts, Reggie Wayne or Robert Mathis? Bucky Brooks considers. They need them both beyond this season. I don’t know what Wayne’s future is. I’d be very surprised if this is Mathis’ last season in Indy.

Super Bowl XLVI gear is on sale in downtown Indianapolis. The league ruined it for me by taking all the personality out of the Super Bowl logos.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Maurice Jones-Drew’s knee is fine and he’s anxious to prove it, says Tania Ganguli.

Dirk Koetter was in close range of player workouts held in his neighborhood, says Ganguli.

Considering key training camp battles with John Oehser.

Tennessee Titans

Kenny Britt now faces a civil suit, says John Glennon.

Blaine Bishop wants to see potential Titans’ leaders assert themselves, says Glennon.
Sean McCormick of Football Outsiders has picked his 10 most disappointing teams Insider of the last 25 years.

The 2001 Tennessee Titans hold sixth place.

Here’s what he says:
"The Titans went 26-6 in 1999-2000. They were particularly unbeatable at home, winning 16 of their first 17 games played in (then) Adelphia Coliseum. But a shocking 24-14 loss to the Ravens in the playoffs took the shine off their new digs, as Tennessee would go on to lose five home games in 2001 on its way to a disappointing 7-9 record. Injuries to star running back Eddie George were a major culprit, as he managed only 3 yards per carry while playing through toe and ankle injuries. An even bigger culprit was a defense that couldn't get to the quarterback and couldn't cover receivers … any receivers. The Titans' defensive DVOA ranked 30th against No. 1 receivers, 28th against No. 2 receivers and 30th against all other receivers. The bright spot was Steve McNair, who turned in his best season to date and whose development ensured that Tennessee wouldn't stay down for long."

The missing context here is that the pass defense was so bad when compared to the two previous seasons because of a changing of the guard in the secondary that failed badly.

Of the four top guys in the defensive backfield from the two big seasons, free safety Marcus Robertson and cornerback Denard Walker had moved on as free agents and strong safety Blaine Bishop played in only five games because of injury.

Guys who filled in those spots -- corners Andre Dyson, DeRon Jenkins, Michael Booker and safeties Aric Morris, Bobby Myers (one game before injury), Perry Phenix , Joe Walker and Daryl Porter -- simply didn’t make for a good enough collection to support the one holdover who played regularly, corner Samari Rolle.

Most Titans fans regard the team’s inability to pull out Super Bowl XXXIV when it got there and, more so, the divisional-round playoff loss to Baltimore at the conclusion of the 2000 season as the things that are hardest to swallow.

Even before the team’s 0-3 start on the way to their 7-9 record, it was clear the franchise wasn’t the same caliber in 2001. It’s hard for me to imagine those Titans ranking among the 10 biggest disappointments of the last quarter century.
When it first came out that Cortland Finnegan would be spearheading efforts to organize off-site workouts for the Titans during the lockout, I saw a very good sign.

The Titans cornerback played OK in 2010, but his personality had changed a great deal from when he became a fan favorite by turning from a seventh-rounder into an All-Pro. He got caught up in talk of being dirty and bristled at even slight criticism, a tough stance to take as a corner.

Taking on a leadership role during the labor impasse looked like a very positive development.

Even better were his comments to John Glennon:
“It’s the last year of my contract and I’ve got to be on my 'ones and twos.' A leader needs to step up for this team. I feel like last year, due to certain circumstances, I wasn’t that guy. So I need to be that way now -- to the reporters, to everyone, man. I need to be more accountable.”

“… No, for whatever reason, sometimes we can get selfish, and sometimes humility and talking to the right people (who have that) is good. So I apologize to the media and all of that. I just need to be ready for the good times and the bad times.”

There is a new regime coaching the team now. The new defensive coordinator, Jerry Gray, was defensive backs coach back when the Tennessee secondary was especially good.

That group was headlined by safeties Blaine Bishop and Marcus Robertson (now defensive backs coach) and cornerback Samari Rolle. Their hallmark was accountability.

If Finnegan is leading a charge back to that mentality, leading kids like Jason McCourty and Alterraun Vener, it will be a healthy alteration for a defense that needs a major makeover.
Jerry Gray is a far different guy and different coach as he comes to Nashville to be Mike Munchak’s defensive coordinator than he was when he left the franchise in 2000 after four years coaching as an assistant.

To what degree that’s a good thing is something we’ll find out in time.

He had a talented group in his two years as a position coach with the Titans. The franchise played strong safety Blaine Bishop as a hybrid corner/linebacker while asking its corners, keyed by Samari Rolle, to survive on an island in a high pressure 46.

Even if Munchak is looking for a defense to return to those roots, it’ll take time to find that sort of talent, something not easily done these days. Tennessee has evolved into much more of a cover-2 team since Williams and Gray left and Bishop’s time with the team ended.

In the team’s announcement of the hire, Gray said his scheme will fit his talent.

“I am looking forward to really getting to know our personnel on defense and creating a defense that takes advantage of our strengths,” he said. “I am an old school guy that likes to get after the opponent, but you also have to have the players to that -- you can’t force those things. Our defense will fit what we can do well. I also want to thank Coach Brown and University of Texas. I know the timing of this isn’t ideal, but this was something that I couldn’t turn down.”

Gray went with Gregg Williams to Buffalo in 2000, when the Titans’ coordinator got the head coaching gig and Gray became his defensive coordinator.

He outlasted Williams in Buffalo, serving as coordinator through 2005 and then reuniting with Williams, who was coordinating in Washington and coaching the Redskins secondary through 2009.

Last year he oversaw the secondary in Seattle but he had moved on to work for Mack Brown at his alma mater as the head of the University of Texas’ defense.

He was a four-time Pro Bowler as a player, including in his one season with the Houston Oilers in 1992.

“Jerry has a number of qualities that I think are assets for this role: he played the game, he coached a position group and he has coordinating experience,” said Titans head coach Mike Munchak. “I respected him as a player and coach and he was someone that I knew right away that I wanted to talk to about the position. It was evident to me during interview process that he will fit well with us – he is familiar with our system and the type of players that we have on the roster. He is a great teacher and a great person, and I think the players will respond well to his style.”

One side effect I anticipate is that Marcus Robertson, the current secondary coach who was Gray’s free safety in 1999 and 2000, is more likely to remain on the staff.

Gray will have a strong voice in choosing a replacement for defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who left to take the same job with the Eagles, and decided if linebackers coach Dave McGinnis will remain. Munchak has interviewed former Houston defensive coordinator Frank Bush, who could take over linebackers.
Notable players: LG Bruce Matthews, QB Steve McNair, RB Eddie George, DE Jevon Kearse, CB Samari Rolle, WR Derrick Mason, S Blaine Bishop, TE Frank Wycheck

Eddie George
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesEddie George rushed for 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2000. He also caught 50 passes for 453 yards and two scores.
Analysis: While the Titans were transformed by reaching the franchise’s first Super Bowl during an improbable run in 1999, most insiders -- and this observer -- believe the follow-up team was better.

Fred Miller wasn’t as good as Jon Runyan at right tackle, but Randall Godfrey was a significant upgrade over Barron Wortham at middle linebacker. The defense allowed 133 fewer regular-season points than the year before. The addition of offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger also qualified as an improvement. These Titans weren’t discovering they were good, they knew they were good, rolling to a 13-3 season.

An opening-night loss at Buffalo was a grudge match over the Music City Miracle, but Tennessee responded with an eight-game winning streak. The Titans won in a variety of ways. They beat the Giants 28-14 and the Steelers 9-7, adapting to what a certain Sunday may have demanded.

They also lost close games to Baltimore and at Jacksonville. The total margin of their three losses was seven points.

With the NFL’s best record and as the No. 1 seed, the Titans felt primed to return to the Super Bowl and win it. But they were undone by the rival Ravens, who upset the Titans in Nashville with big defensive and special-teams performances that sparked a run to a championship. Jeff Fisher says the 2000 Titans are the best team he’s coached, which made the loss to the Ravens all the harder to swallow.

Most impressive win: The Giants were ranked as the NFC’s best team in 2000, and the Titans beat them by two touchdowns on Oct. 1.

Research room: While it was the Ravens’ year, and they are regarded as an all-time defense, it was the Titans who finished the year as the NFL’s No. 1-rated defense.

Honorable mentions:

1993: This edition of the Houston Oilers, which had two Hall of Fame offensive linemen in Mike Munchak and Matthews and a Hall of Fame quarterback in Warren Moon, rattled off 11 consecutive wins to conclude the regular season and finished 12-4. But they lost their first playoff game to Kansas City.

1961: The Houston Oilers were 10-3-1 and won their second AFL championship in a row with 13 players who were in the AFL All-Star Game.

1999: The Music City Miracle came to define a gritty, prepared, never-say-die team. They won their first playoff game thanks to the last-second trick play and came a yard short of forcing overtime on the final play of the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance.
MIAMI -- Gregg Williams drew a load of attention last week for comments he made on a new Nashville radio show co-hosted by Blaine Bishop attacking Peyton Manning. Williams coached Bishop with the Titans.

At media day, the former Tennessee coordinator took more time to salute his roots.

"I'm really counting my blessings now," he said. "Jeff Fisher is my best friend in coaching. Sean Payton is special in the same way that Jeff is. I tease Jeff about it. I tell him I might be with a guy just as good as him in team meetings. I think Jeff in front of the team is spectacular. He has a tremendous feel for what the team needs to hear. Sean does too."

The next thing the Titans need to hear is who's staying and who's not out of the long list of free agents to be.

An aging defense may be about to get revamped. Both Kyle Vanden Boschand Keith Bulluck have said they don't expect to be back.

UPDATE, 7:13 p.m.: Jim Wyatt had an interesting conversation with Williams about the Titans open coordinator position after Jim Schwartz left for the top job in Detroit.

I know Fisher and Bud Adams will get hit for this and a lot of Titans' faithful will think it was a mistake not to lock up Williams as opposed to promoting Chuck Cecil, who wasn't great during the 0-6 start. But if Fisher and Adams truly passed because they didn't want to hire Blake Williams, I have no problem with that.

Hire one assistant's son and all of a sudden there is a line at the door.

Do you want a staff littered with next generation guys looking to get started? I don't. And I don't believe players respond to such guys on staff, because they know it's their birth certificate, not their resume, that got them in the building.

Nice parting shot by Fisher to his buddy Williams: " ... He needs to worry more about Peyton Manning and that offense than what led him to New Orleans."
My plan for the week includes a look at how Gregg Williams’ defenses have fared against Peyton Manning in the past.

Williams
Williams
But I couldn’t save this until then.

Williams visited with a new midday sports talk show called “3 Hour Lunch” in Nashville Tuesday afternoon. The connection? One of the hosts is Blaine Bishop, the former Titans safety who was a key to the first defense Williams coordinated. (Full disclosure, it’s on the same station, 104.5 The Zone, that I am on three mornings a week.)

Here’s what Williams had to say about Manning:

“This guy’s got a great clock in his head. The big thing is that he throws the ball so early that we’re going to have to do a good job of finding ways to get to him and when we do get to him we’re going to have to make sure he gets a couple ‘remember me’ shots when we get there ...”

“Every game is different and every series is different. I do believe that the more information you’re able to collect on styles of offenses, on people, and all those years of going against him [are] helpful for me. But more importantly, I can reduce the clutter for our players, because you don’t chase ghosts. Because I understand what he is and what he wants to do. It’s really pretty easy in theory; it’s hard in application.”

“He’s such a tremendous football player at how he throws the tight throws in, he makes you be exact. One of the real positives I’m going to have to say is that that’s our everyday routine down here. When you’re playing against, in practice, as good a quarterback in practice as Drew Brees is, it forces you to be more exact, it forces you to have to play at a higher level in practice ...”

“We’re going to have to mix up zone, we’re going to have to mix up pressure, we’re going to have to mix up man and we’re going to have to do as much as we can to make Peyton figure it out after the ball is snapped as before the ball is snapped. So it’s going to be an interesting chess match. Our guys are going to play hard, I know that ...”


And the capper:

Asked if after a game that included a couple of controversial hits on Brett Favre he would talk to his defense about the potential for calls protecting Manning, he said:

“Here’s the deal. When you put too much of that type of worry on a warrior’s mind, he doesn’t play all out. If it happens, it happens. And the only thing you’d like for me to say is that if it happens you hope he doesn’t get back up and play again.”


Find the whole interview here.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky


Jim Irsay is seventh, Bob McNair sixth in the second installment of Mike Silver’s annual owner rankings.

Pete Prisco assesses the division and likes the Colts to win it.

Houston Texans

Rex Grossman sparkled in the Texans’ preseason finale, says John McClain.

Jerome Solomon believes Grossman should back up Matt Schaub.

Jacoby Jones had a big night after hearing speculation he could be in trouble, writes McClain.

Eugene Wilson’s agent doesn’t think $10,000 fine for Brett Favre’s crack back block was big enough, reports Mark Berman.

Indianapolis Colts

Dante Hughes was among the first Colts to be notified he was cut, reports Mike Chappell.

John Oehser takes one last stab at predicting the final 53 and says linebacker may be the toughest call.

What Deshawn Zombie learned in the preseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars face tough choices on the line at receiver and started cuts with long-time long snapper Joe Zelenka, says Michael C. Wright.

Zelenka was a rock of dependability, says Gene Frenette.

Wayne Weaver: “I want to be realistic -- we won't have a full stadium this year. We will not. This economy has just affected too many families.” Kevin Turner’s story.

How the practice squad works, for Vic Ketchman of jaguars.com.

Tennessee Titans

Jim Wyatt reports on a big share of the Titans' cuts.

Chris Henry is getting $420,000 whether he is on the team or not, reports Wyatt. If they let that be a factor for a guy who’s time is up they are making a mistake, opines Paul Kuharsky.

Casey Cramer handles the bad news, says Gary Estwick.

Mike Heimerdinger is safe, says Joe Biddle.

Kevin Dyson and Blaine Bishop preview the Pittsburgh game, from Titans Radio. (Audio.)
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
 
  AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
  Eddie George, right, and Craig Hentrich were among the former teammates to attend Steve McNair's memorial.

WHITES CREEK, Tenn. -- Lance Schulters arrived at Steve McNair's memorial with another former teammate of the fallen Titans quarterback, Robaire Smith.

The two also saw Samari Rolle and Eddie George.

Those four friends always thought they'd be reunited with McNair for happier times.

"That's our seats right there, playing cards all day on the plane," Schulters said, gesturing the circle they'd comprise. "Steve always won the big hands. All the big pots he won. We just joked about that, like 'Man, this is crazy.'"

Instead, they gathered in this suburb north of Nashville, not to shuffle and deal, but to join more than 5,000 others to mourn McNair, who was shot and killed Saturday in a murder-suicide.

"We might feel indestructible and indispensable on the field, but the reality of it is we're all human, and we all have an end," said Kevin Mawae, Titans center and president of the NFL Players Association. "We just don't know when that end is going to come.

"It's a difficult thing to be here. But we're all NFL players and there are not very many of us and when one of us passes under these circumstances or any circumstances, you mourn the loss of that guy. He was a brother in the locker room to many of us."

More than 30 teammates -- Titans past and present -- attended the memorial, as did the franchise's owner, Bud Adams, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.

The list of current and former players also includes Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, Jevon Kearse, Kevin Carter, Frank Wycheck, Yancey Thigpen, Benji Olson, Blaine Bishop, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jon Runyan, Josh Evans, Justin Hartwig, Al Del Greco, Erron Kinney, Zach Piller, Craig Hentrich, Gary Walker, Joe Nedney, Chris Sanders, Al Smith, Chris Hope and Vincent Fuller.

Current Titans assistant coaches Dave McGinnis, Mike Munchak and Marcus Robertson (who was also a teammate) are also here, as is the team's starting quarterback, Kerry Collins. McNair was drafted third by the Oilers in 1995; Collins fifth by Carolina.

Jeff Fisher will speak during the memorial and is set to talk with the media after it's over.

George said he gathered with 15 or 20 former teammates to remember McNair Wednesday night at The Palm in downtown Nashville

McNair was killed on July 4, which led different players to different thoughts of future Independence Days.

"Here's an opportunity for us to get together every Fourth of July and celebrate his life," George said.

"I know from this point on, my July 4 will never be the same," Kearse said. "I may not even celebrate July 4 from this point on. Instead it will be on July 9 or something like that."

George wrote a poem -- entitled "Where Do Warriors Go?" -- in recent days as he tried to sort through his feelings about McNair's death.

"It was a great question, and based off of that question, these words just started coming out of me and I tried to put it into form," said George, who read the poem at the memorial service. "It was something that I wanted to send off to him, directly speak to him and send him off in the right way. Maybe one day I can recite it for you.

"It's a special place they go to. I don't know the exact place, and that was the question. In it all, he's done his best, right or wrong, and basically it was a message to say, 'You know what, you're free to go into that life, without any judgment. You've done the best you can do and we're going to hold it down here for you.'"

Posted by ESPN.com staff

Courtesy of the Tennessee Titans:

Titans quarterback Vince Young: "I'm still in shock since hearing the news yesterday. I spent all afternoon and night thinking about my life on and off the field with 'Pops.' Since I was a teenager, he was like a father to me. I hear his advice in my head with everything I do. Life will be very different without him.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Mechelle, the kids and the entire McNair family during this horrible time."

Former Titans safety Blaine Bishop: "Yesterday was a sad day for all of us as former teammates and for the Titans organization. Steve was an absolute warrior as a player and brought that mindset to the team. Whether he was hurt or not, he was going to give us everything he had. He was the toughest player that I ever played with during my time in the league and a great man off the field -- always giving. He was just a good country boy who was always laughing and smiling. Yesterday reinforced for me the fragility of life. My heart goes out to his family.

"The thing I will always remember about him was whether it was good or bad on the field, the whole team -- both offense and defense -- believed he would lead us to victory if we could just get the ball in his hands at the end of the game. His leadership skills spoke for themselves and you see everyone that has talked about him touched on that aspect of his game. He will be missed."

Former Oilers quarterback Warren Moon: "Steve and I had a mutually respected friendship. He was one of the great warriors to ever put on a football uniform at any position. His competitiveness and toughness were unparalleled. He was always a gentleman, and very giving off the field. One of the great people in our league was taken from us way to soon. My thoughts and prayers go out to the McNair family and all who knew him."

More reaction from Moon.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The AFC South is the most overrated division, says Dan Arkush.

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

  • Priority No. 1 for the Colts is fixing the run game, writes Mike Chappell.
  • Ryan Lilja is on track and eager for training camp to start, says Chappell.
  • Catching up on this one: Chappell talked to Jim Irsay, who said he expects Tom Moore and Howard Mudd back as consultants by training camp.
  • John Oehser says to expect Moore and Mudd to be in their same old roles. I agree that the idea of their return creating some sort of conflict or confusion is overplayed.
  • Bob Sanders didn't want to talk about injuries, writes Oehser. The best way for Sanders to avoid injury questions is to get on the field regularly.
  • Peyton Manning tells Peter King he does not have a Twitter account.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Sorry, but I came up empty.

Tennessee Titans

  • Jeff Fisher will join Tom Coughlin, Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and John Harbaugh on a trip later this month to visit with troops in the Persian Gulf, says Peter King. Also, Rodney Harrison talks about missing a Pro Bowl when Blaine Bishop went, using it as an example of the game being a popularity contest. It's a silly thing to say, because Bishop played on Oilers/Titans teams that got less attention than Harrison's and wasn't winning any popularity contests.
  • Five reasons to look forward to the Titans' season from Terry McCormick.
  • This list of five things to watch from Clifton Brown includes Vince Young's angst.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

NASHILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans will add three popular names to the new Ring of Honor at LP Field tonight at halftime -- Steve McNair, Eddie George and Frank Wycheck.

They played a collective 28 seasons for the Oilers-Titans franchise. I was in position to cover 26 of those and think all three are more than deserving of the honor. (The usual Wycheck disclaimer: I work with him on morning radio in Nashville.)

Still, when I think back to the two teams they were on that helped the franchise grab hold of this city, I think of the 1999 and 2000 versions. Those teams were 13th and 14th in total offense. One could argue that the 10th- and third-ranked defenses did more to give those teams their identities, and their success.

This afternoon at a Monday Night Football Chalk Talk luncheon, I asked those three guys who they'd like to see join them in the ring to represent the other side of the ball.

Four names surfaced: Safeties Blaine Bishop and Marcus Robertson, defensive end Jevon Kearse and cornerback Samari Rolle.

Bishop was the heart and soul of the Oilers-Titans defense. He left after 2001 and wasn't on the greatest terms with Jeff Fisher at the end because he was injured and spoke out about some questionable moves in a down year. He seems on good terms again now, and does some post-game radio in Nashville.

Robertson left after 2000, but came back to work in player development and is now an assistant secondary coach.

Kearse was a dynamic player in his first go-round, but departed after 2003. He returned as a free agent this year, and has been a steady but unspectacular player so far in his second tour.

Rolle has been a member of the Baltimore Ravens since 2005.

I wouldn't want to be a decision-maker in this matter. Things are far less clear on defense than they were on offense, where Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews is already part of the ring. But I do think ultimately a couple defenders of that era should join the three-pack that will be honored at halftime tonight.

"Once Jevon got here, that's when we were able to really excel as a team, and they knew what kind of offense we had," George said. "They kept us in games a lot. We were a slow methodical bunch that wasn't going to score a lot of touchdowns. They knew they had to play great defense for us, they're the ones that were the driving force behind us winning 13 ballgames. We scored enough points to help them out."

"You've got a lot of guys, especially Blaine Bishop and Marcus Robertson, who were along for the Oilers-slash-Titans days," McNair said. "I think those are a couple guys that contributed tremendously to this organization when they were playing. It's me Eddie and Frank's time. But there are plenty more years to come and I think those guys will be nominated and be on it in the future."

Wycheck has a tendency to want to over-honor -- I've joked with him on the morning airways in Nashville that he wants to refurbish Halls of Fame into Halls of Very Good. Once he started listing names he had trouble stopping, and he was only half-joking when he said, "I'd put that whole 1999 team up there."

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