AFC South: Chris Hawkins

Three things: Titans at Seahawks

August, 11, 2012
Three things to pay special attention to in Titans at Seahawks tonight:

The quarterbacks, of course: In my thinking, Matt Hasselbeck won’t alter his standing much unless he’s bad in his starting stint against his former team. It’s Jake Locker who has more to gain in this circumstance -- he needs to show huddle command, accuracy and move the team well if he finds the offense in the red zone or a two-minute drill situation. Watch if he’s able to deliver short stuff to maximize the chances of the pass-catcher to turn and go, and if he throws as well to the left as to the right.

Tommie Campbell: He’s kind of in place and unquestioned as the third cornerback so far, and it’s good that the team feels confident in him. But we need to see the Titans in nickel, with Alterraun Verner shifted inside and Campbell taking his place playing with confidence, making good decisions and sticking with receivers or following his zone rules. Tied to that, do we see any of the guys behind him -- Terrence Wheatley, Coty Sensabaugh, Chris Hawkins, Ryan Mouton -- play well enough to be considered to be putting pressure on him.

Who rushes well? Coaches have downplayed the meaning of Pannel Egboh working ahead of Derrick Morgan with the starters. Morgan needs to play well in preseason chances and show he should be an unquestioned starter. Egboh’s in good shape, but translating practice success into games is a significant jump. Dave Ball won’t play, so rookie Scott Solomon and veterans Leger Douzable and Keyunta Dawson have chances to separate themselves for the fourth spot at defensive end.
Nickel defenses are played more than ever in the NFL.

But the AFC South may be moving the other direction in games against each other.

The Texans are comfortable lining up with three wide receivers or splitting tight end Owen Daniels out into spread formations. The Jaguars and Titans figured to remain running back-centric. If the Titans get a bounce-back from Chris Johnson, they will likely run more. Of course those two teams can spread things out with the intent to run, of course.

[+] EnlargeGary Kubiak
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesTexans coach Gary Kubiak said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings that teams should prepare for their division when deciding on a nickel defense.
But two games when AFC South teams loaded up with nickel packages are likely to change.

The departure of Peyton Manning from the Colts means one team that dictated constant nickel defenses is being altered. New coach Chuck Pagano has talked about running and stopping the run and GM Ryan Grigson said Monday he expects the Colts to be a fullback team.

A linebacker is typically going to stay on the field against a two-back set. The lack of a precision passing offense and weapons like Dallas Clark and Pierre Garcon will make it tougher for the Colts to dictate a team's defensive personnel, or to take advantage of it.

"The third linebacker or the nickel corner?” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said at the owners meetings, repeating a question about what’s more important. “You look at your schedule and say, 'OK, what are we going to play this year? Are we going to be in nickel all year, or are we going to be trying to stop the run?' I think that's what things will come down to.

“One year you might be out there in nickel defense 60 or 70 percent of the time. The next year it could be 50. It all starts with your division. When Peyton was at Indy, if we didn't have three good corners we were in trouble every time we played them. So I think you've kind of got to build your roster to compete in your division, No. 1, and make that decision."

This means the Jaguars will have two more games where they can play more with their great linebacking trio of Paul Posluszny, Daryl Smith and Clint Session on the field together.

This means the Titans' new nickelback -- whether he's an outsider or Ryan Mouton, Chris Hawkins or Tommie Campbell -- isn't going to be as important against Indy as recent ones have been.

This means DeMeco Ryans' replacement in the Texans base defense, Darryl Sharpton, will get additional snaps.

Is that better or worse? As good as Andrew Luck will be coming out of Stanford, defenses are going to want to play the rebuilding Colts in 2012.

Cortland Finnegan's explanation

March, 6, 2012
In earlier times, when Jeff Fisher was a primary power broker, the Titans were constantly accused of a failure to communicate.

[+] EnlargeCortland Finnegan
Fernando Medina/US PresswireCB Cortland Finnegan brings an attitude, not just cover skills, to the St. Louis defense.
Players on their way out often had hurt feelings when they didn’t get a phone call returned, didn’t get a straightforward explanation about where they stood.

I leaned toward defending the team. What can you say, really? You don’t want to back yourself into a corner in case circumstances change.

But the Titans have changed.

A team now headed by general manager Ruston Webster and coach Mike Munchak chose to operate differently with cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

They told him their plan: They won’t be offering him a contract. They are letting him go.

And so, as is human nature, Finnegan wants the next step; he wants more; he wants to know why.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean spoke with him:
“It is bittersweet,” Finnegan said. “For six years I played in the Titans organization. I am grateful and humbled that the Titans took a chance on me and the way they matured me over the years.

“But they wanted to move on. … I don’t know why, and I don’t know what else a guy could do career-wise and in the community. But that’s part of the business, and you have to move on. I’ll have great memories of my time with the Titans. It just didn’t work out.”

Again, how would it benefit the Titans to spell it out for him?

Here’s why: They don’t think he’s a $10 million-a-year corner. Although he’s a very good and versatile defensive back, he’s not going to single-handedly erase a top receiver every week. Even had the Titans decided to give him the franchise tag, he would have hated it and griped. He’s a good guy at heart and did a lot for the team and the community, but his nasty streak, on and off the field, could show up at bad moments and be unhealthy. The last time he got money, he didn’t react to a fatter wallet well.

If you’re thinking the loss of Finnegan will hit the Titans the way the loss of Albert Haynesworth did, or even Jason Babin, I disagree with you.

Jason McCourty is a high-quality corner who will be the lead guy. Alterraun Verner is a smart player who will man the other side. Finnegan manned the nickel post well, but if the Titans are down to that, they’ll find an answer. It could be Ryan Mouton. It could be that Tommie Campbell or Chris Hawkins comes in to take Verner’s outside slot and he kicks inside.

The Titans will add an outsider or two from the lower tier of veterans, and they'll draft at least one.

And there is your explanation.

Titans talking patience in secondary

February, 23, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- Yes, last year was a particularly odd one because of the lockout.

But if any positional hole tested a team’s patience, it was what the Titans dealt with at quarterback.

[+] EnlargeCortland Finnegan
Jim Brown/US PresswireThe Titans might soon be searching for a replacement for cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
They had nothing and had no choice but to wait. They got Matt Hasselbeck three days into free agency. They drafted Jake Locker. And they wound up fine at quarterback.

This time, operating with a more traditional timetable, they could start the 2012 NFL year with three holes in the secondary: Starting cornerback Cortland Finnegan and starting safeties Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux are all heading for free agency. (So is safety Chris Hope, who the team doesn't figure to even attempt to re-sign.)

The Titans could move quickly on Babineaux, but it won’t be a surprise if they don’t move at all on Finnegan and Griffin.

And newly promoted general manager Ruston Webster said that while it would hardly be an ideal situation, it won’t create panic either.

“It would be unsettling, it would definitely be unsettling,” he said at the combine. “Not because we don’t trust our other guys. But because there is that transition and that unknown of what’s going to happen. Those guys have been pretty good players, so yeah, that would be a little unsettling.

“I think that’s the trick at this time of the year, is being patient, not panicking or anything like that. It’s very difficult to think of having those holes, and what are we going to do? But you always have to remember that you have a draft which will also help …

“I’m a pretty patient guy by nature in those type of deals, but you want to give yourself the best chance to win every year. But you don’t want to get caught, you can’t look at it like rebuilding. You’ve got to try to win every year. So it can keep you up at night.”

Webster and coach Mike Munchak said the Titans can be OK at cornerback if they move on without Finnegan, even without an addition.

Jason McCourty would be joined by Alterraun Verner in the starting lineup. Then Tommie Campbell or Chris Hawkins could win the third spot, coming onto the field as an outside corner with Verner moving inside.

Or Ryan Mouton, who missed 2011 hurt, could come in and play in the slot.
PITTSBURGH -- The Titans just learned just how the Steelers’ rejiggered lineup will look this afternoon.

Offensive line injuries mean Doug Legursky will flip from right guard to left and Ramon Foster will play right guard.

Injuries on defense mean Ziggy Hood will start at end for Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke will start at nose tackle for Casey Hampton, Lawrence Timmons will move from inside linebacker to outside linebacker on the right side and Larry Foote will step into Timmons' usual slot.

The Steelers kept their third quarterback, Dennis Dixon, active with Ben Roethlisberger dealing with a foot sprain. Running back Rashard Mendenhall has a hamstring injury but remains in the starting lineup. He’s expected to be limited with Isaac Redman taking most of the load.

The entire lists of inactives:


Can Babineaux impact Titans' secondary?

September, 18, 2011
NASHVILLE. Tenn. -- Will Chris Hope’s shoulder injury result in a permanent lineup change?

We don’t know Mike Munchak’s philosophy on starters losing jobs to injury, and the Titans decided to move forward and pay Hope a $6.5 million base salary this season.

But Jordan Babineaux will fill in for Hope today against the Ravens at LP Field. He’s got a history as a playmaker, and if he can provide the Titans with a jolt, Munchak and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray could have a tough call once Hope is healthy.

The inactive lists:


RTC: Wade Phillips won respect quickly

September, 6, 2011
Reading the coverage …

Houston Texans

The AFC South is the Texans' for the taking, writes Jerome Solomon.

The Texans are now preparing for Kerry Collins, says John McClain.

Wade Phillips’ reputation helped him get the team’s attention, says Jeffrey Martin.

Five key questions from McClain.

DeMeco Ryans is ready to go, says McClain.

McClain goes game-by-game and predicts the season.

Indianapolis Colts

Jim Tressel will start when the Colts get to their seventh game, says Phil Richards.

It will be strange to see someone other than Peyton Manning under center, says Mike Chappell.

Phillip. B. Wilson checked the obits and didn’t see the Colts.

Anthony Gonzalez and Blair While expect to be ready for the opener.

A defense of Donald Brown from Nick Pease.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton are handling the criticism, says Vito Stellino.

The Jaguars elected six captains, says Tania Ganguli.

Mike Lockley’s $20,000 fine will be taken out of his practice squad salary, says Tania Ganguli. To fine a guy making this little that much is ridiculous.

Tennessee Titans

Chris Johnson is now focused on football, says Jim Wyatt.

Undrafted corner Chris Hawkins got a late scare on cut day, says John Glennon.

Glennon looks at how the Titans schedule sets up early.

Tennessee Titans cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
Click here for a list of Titans' roster moves.

Surprise move: Ahmard Hall was suspended for the first four games of the season for a violation of the NFL’s policy against performance enhancers. The Titans traded an undisclosed draft pick to the Packers for Quinn Johnson, a fifth-rounder out of LSU in 2009. Johnson will serve as lead blocker for Chris Johnson while Hall is out. So the Titans have a running back and a fullback learning the team’s offense in a little over a week. Undrafted rookie corner Chris Hawkins made the team.

No-brainers: Time had come for receiver Justin Gage, a nice guy with good size who could block and be in the right spot, but dropped too many balls and was not enough of a threat. The entire nine-man draft class stuck, and it’s hard to say any one of them is around simply because of that status.

What’s next: Six defensive tackles is a luxury the team may not be able to afford for long, though one of them, Malcolm Sheppard, has been working at end. With only four true ends on the roster and Derrick Morgan out for the opener, the team either has faith in Sheppard or plans a move. The Titans’ fourth and fifth corners -- Tommie Campbell and Hawkins -- are rookies who were judged beter than Frank Walker.