AFC South: Craig Stevens

Titans Camp Report: Day 12

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
1:41
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:
  • Defensive linemen Mike Martin (hamstring) and Antonio Johnson (knee) remain out. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt said Martin could miss Saturday’s preseason opener against Green Bay and that Johnson has more of a chance to play.
  • Taylor Lewan's No. 77 jersey was missing his last name. He said he was not in trouble or anything. Fifteen minutes before practice he discovered his jersey was missing.
  • Cornerback Tommie Campbell has struggled throughout camp, but he had a much better day. He ran deep with receiver Nate Washington on one play and was close enough to cause an incompletion. He batted away another pass by Jake Locker for Washington in the end zone during red-zone work.
  • Tight end Craig Stevens does a lot of unnoticed dirty work as a blocker. He had some nice opportunities in the passing game and took advantage. He caught a throw in the red zone from Locker at the goalpost and had a leaping catch in the end zone.
  • I watched Locker closely in one red-zone period. He hit Washington, dropped a snap for a fumble that killed a play, hit Washington in the end zone, hit Stevens for that leaping touchdown and saw Campbell bat that pass away from Washington.
  • The Titans went live (with tackling) for a goal-line snap and running back Shonn Greene plowed forward and got into the end zone from the 2-yard line. On the next snap, not live, Bishop Sankey was going straight ahead, made a sharp cut right and slid around the one guy with a chance of keeping him out of the end zone. Very nice.
  • We saw some kickoffs. Maikon Bonani put one through the end zone and had another high one come down halfway into the end zone. Travis Coons took one and hit a liner that landed at the goal line and looked like a long squib kick.
  • All 2-minute drive work ended with field goals: Bonani hit from 40, Coons hit from 49 (with a low liner), Bonani hit from 48.
  • Whisenhunt missed Ri'Shard Anderson swinging his helmet at a member of the Falcons during a scrap Monday. The coach said if he had seen it, Anderson would have been pulled.
  • The Titans practice at 2:50 local time Thursday. It is closed to the public.

The Titans' tight end dilemma

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have two tight ends coming off concussions. Though they could both be healthy enough to play in Denver, playing them both would be a big risk.

Walker
Craig Stevens was cleared to return, and practiced on a limited basis Thursday. Delanie Walker was still out, but had a rigorous workout away from practice and will have tests that could clear him Friday.

If all that goes well, can the Titans afford to dress them both in Denver? Maybe, but only if they find an avenue to also suit up the tight end they just added, Visanthe Shiancoe.

Because if they go in with their usual three -- Walker, Stevens and Taylor Thompson -- and Walker or Stevens is sidelined by an early hit, they will be in a tough spot for a game where they will likely want to use two tight ends often.

“We may have to think about (four active) and see how that would affect another position,” Munchak said. “(Stevens and Walker) would have to both be doing really well in our mind, and not take a chance to lose both of them in the first quarter and be without someone we feel can help us in the passing game.

“If you see them both suit up, then we feel really confident about both of them, as good as you can. If we’re not, then we would probably put one of them down and keep the other kid (Shiancoe) up.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As the Tennessee Titans told us about the revamped offense they'd run in 2013, they consistently mentioned play-action.

They'd be a run-first team that would build off it with play-action passing to keep defenses off kilter.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesJake Locker and the Titans have run very few play-action plays this season.
But the 4-6 Titans have run only 43 play-action snaps out of a 623 plays, according the ESPN Stats & Information. That works out to be not quite seven percent of the plays. By comparison, the NFL's top play-action quarterbacks, Washington's Robert Griffin III and Denver's Peyton Manning, have run 18.7 and 16.8 percent play-action snaps respectively.

Twenty-nine quarterbacks have dropped back for more play-action attempts than Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick combined.

On their play-action snaps, the Titans have completed 51 percent of their passes with one touchdown, two interceptions, five sacks and a 56.3 passer rating.

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said the Titans have been close to 50-50 run-pass on first-and-10, and that of those passes, roughly half have been play-action.

"I don't know what's defined as play-action from the statistics that you guys have," Loggains said. "It's something we have done, I think it's something we will continue to do. The other things is, early on in a couple games when the running game's struggled, you get away from it a little more."

How about the quarterback perspective on it?

"I think part of it is you've got to go with what's working, what we're good at and what we've kind of had some success with," Fitzpatrick said of the league's No. 21 offense. "We worked on [play-action] a lot this offseason. That's still a big part of what we do in terms of going into games. Some of that is just feeling a game out. We've had some big plays, there were a couple big plays in the St. Louis game with the play-action and throwing some balls to Kendall [Wright] and things.

"As that run game goes, those play-action passes get even better."

Several players were surprised when I told them about the play-action numbers.

"If we're ranked 30th as far as play-action, it's a low number, yeah," tight end Craig Stevens said. "That stat speaks for itself, right? It seems like it would be good to try to get some more in there, just to diversify."

There is some conventional, and flawed, thinking that a team has to run well in order for play-action to work. Defenders read keys, and whether Chris Johnson is breaking off five yards a run or one, those keys don't change.

"Obviously a defense has to honor their keys," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "They're reading the guard. Is he selling run? Is it play action? There is also the human element of, ‘Hey, we're getting gashed in the run game, we've got to sell out and stop the run game.'"

Mike Munchak circled back to the high number of 3-4 defenses the Titans have played against as part of the reason. Some of those teams did well to take it away.

But surely other teams run play-action against those defenses. The Titans have used the number of 3-4 defenses they've faced as an explanation for several offensive failures, but they did know through the offseason than many of their opponents would use it. So I wonder a bit about how they mapped things out, considering.

"In these next six weeks as far as play-action and things like that, we have to do a better job," Munchak said. "I'm surprised by [the low numbers]. We thought it'd be a lot different, we thought the season would play out differently that way. But again, this league is about making adjustments. I thought we did that the first part for the season when we ended up coming out 3-1, I thought Jake did a really good job with that.

"Now you start changing [with Fitzpatrick], you saw us last week go a little more empty, hurry up offense, no-huddle. When you do some of that it takes away from some of the play-action."

Survey says: Worst pain ever

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For this installment of “Survey Says” I asked Titans, “What’s the worst pain you’ve ever felt?”

Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson: “My ACL injury, I would say. In 2007, my rookie year. It was excruciating. It felt like hell. Painful, very painful, I would say the first couple days coming out of surgery, when they have to bend it, fresh out of surgery, The bending of the knee trying to get the flexion back, that’s the most painful thing I ever felt. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Coming out of surgery it was just that throbbing feeling, like it’s got a heart in it.”

Guard Chance Warmack: “I dislocated the ring finger on my left hand in the Auburn game. I had to play with it for two games, the Georgia game and the Notre Dame game. It never had a chance to heal properly. I buddy-taped it. I remember the Georgia game, it kept popping out, we had to keep popping it back in. It felt like my finger was going to fall off. I was blocking with four fingers.”

Wide receiver Nate Washington: “I was playing basketball and I got hit in the eye and my eye was open so the guy actually moved my eyeball a little bit. I had a patch on my eye for about two weeks. I was 20, 21 years old. It was excruciating pain. I did not know it would hurt like that, I couldn’t open my eye for about two weeks. Black eye, eyeball was red. Worst football injury was a hip pointer, because you can do absolutely nothing. No loud talking, no sudden movements, no sneezing, no coughing. I’ve broken bones before but hip pointer is the most immobilizing nagging thing. But the eye was worse.”

Linebacker Akeem Ayers: “My appendix, this year, right before the season started. That s--- was terrible. It was kind of like a sharp, endless pain type of deal. This was there for about 12 hours, just non-stop until it was taken out. It was like a knife and some punches at the same time.

[+] EnlargeCraig Stevens
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsCraig Stevens said his broken rib was "the most excruciating pain I've ever felt."
Guard Andy Levitre: Getting pleurisy. It’s an inflamed lung, so every time you breath, it feels like you are getting stabbed in your chest, but it’s your lung rubbing up against your rib cage. I feel like that’s the most painful thing I ever had, it was in college. I had it for a few days and it bough me to tears, it was that bad. It was insane. I couldn’t take full breaths. That was bad. I ended up going to the ER. I tried to tough it out for a few days and then I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Tight end Craig Stevens: “When I broke my rib, by far the most pain ever. Two years ago we were playing Cleveland and Eugene Amano came and landed with his knee right here (points to left side of his torso.) I couldn’t get up or anything and then it kind of clicked back in and I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s not so bad.’ Then I ran down there and I actually made a tackle and fell on the ground. I couldn’t get up. For about a week, it was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt. I couldn’t move. I would lay down and I couldn’t get up, I needed help to get up, that’s how bad it was. It eventually healed. It would heal and I would play with it and re-break it before it had a chance to really heal up. Every time I re-broke it, it was like I’d go back to square one with that pain. After about four weeks of re-breaking it, I took a game off, then I started feeling better."

Tight end Delanie Walker: “Probably when I broke my jaw two years ago against Seattle. Dec. 24. After the morphine wore off, that’s when it was worse. The flight was two hours, and that’s about when it wore off. That’s when I felt it. It just felt like someone was kicking me in the mouth nonstop, over and over. Took me three weeks to recover. I played in the NFC Championship Game.”

Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh: “Probably when I broke my leg in high school. I broke my fibula, I had to have surgery. It was a 10 on a scale of 1-10.”

Defensive tackle Mike Martin: “When my shoulder came out. Kind of came in, came out, slipped a little bit in college, my senior year against Illinois. I was going to tackle Juice Williams, get a sack and my linebacker came and hit the back of my shoulder, slipped it out, it was horrible. It reverberated all through my body, it felt like it was going through all my limbs, that’s how bad it was initially.”

Survey says: The Titans' bad habits

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
2:06
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Coaches want to instill habits.

In many ways, that’s what coaching is. Most coaches don’t want players thinking too much during a play, they want them reacting to things according to a plan, using techniques that have become habit.

But most things involving habits also include bad habits.

I asked Tennessee Titans middle linebacker Moise Fokou what bad habit he’s had to overcome in his football life, and how overcoming it and retraining himself has paid off.

“Even in college I was guilty of moving too fast,” the fifth-year pro said. “A lot of times you want to react fast and diagnose the play quickly, and get to it before the play gets there, almost. I’ve always been one of those guys who’s pretty quick. And when I diagnose, I kind of get to the play before.

“Sometimes that habit will get me in trouble, because what I thought I saw wasn’t exactly what was happening. I’ve learned to use my quickness as an asset, but also kind of to play it slower. Diagnose a play, then react as quickly as possible -- instead of reacting as soon as you see it. You still get there, but make sure it is what you are seeing.”

[+] EnlargeMoise Fokou
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsTitans linebacker Moise Fokou said learning to slow himself down has paid huge dividends.
Fokou is in the middle for the Titans, but came to Nashville with NFL experience at the Will and Sam linebacker spots. According to Fokou, at those positions, seeing what's happening and getting there immediately is more pressing.

“At the Mike, you kind of have to be the top-off, make sure everything is safe,” he said. “So I’m doing more reading and reacting than reacting and reading right now.”

I toured the Titans locker room to talk bad habits with many others, trying to get an answer from someone at every position. I like doing surveys like this because I always get unexpected answers. I figured most answers would relate to technique, but many didn’t.

Here's what I learned:

Jurrell Casey, defensive tackle: “I would say finishing. A lot of times you get into a situation where you get beat, pinned at the line of scrimmage or whatnot and you think there is no way out of it. You’ll kind of just sit there and let the quarterback move around. On your first move, you have to learn how to convert into that second move. Now my biggest thing is converting into that second move and not letting a guy win after the first move.”

Craig Stevens, tight end: “Not getting off on the snap count. It's an advantage that offensive players have. I try to focus on that. Sometime I didn’t pay attention to it like I should. You’ve got to focus on it. It helps a lot. You can get off before [defensive players] can.”

Jason McCourty, cornerback: “I don’t know what to say, I don’t want to put anything out there and people go, ‘That’s his habit, let’s attack him doing that.’ [Then 30 seconds about how reps at press coverage have helped the secondary play it better, followed by me asking if he was going to give me a habit.] I’m not going to give you a habit, I’m going to talk around the question.”

Shonn Greene, running back: “Maybe in pass pro(tection). Grabbing a guy outside his shoulder pads instead of keeping my hands in. If you do it, it’s a lot easier to get called for a hold, and it’s not the right technique to use. You’ve got to keep them inside. … That’s a habit I’ve had that I’ve been trying to correct. I’m better at it now, but it’s just one of those things that sometimes it slips.”

Derrick Morgan, defensive end: “Not sticking to my rush plan. Sometimes I would kind of abandon it and start trying new stuff. Now I don’t get discouraged, I just stay with the plan. You can’t get discouraged if something doesn’t work the first time. Stay with it, with what I’ve been practicing.”

Nate Washington, wide receiver: “Making a move before I get the ball, taking my eye off the ball, not looking it all the way in. Especially now with coach (Shawn) Jefferson here, that’s his main thing -- eyes, eyes, eyes. Making sure you’re looking the ball all the way in. A lot of times, if you look at a receiver if he drops the ball, nine times out of 10 it’s going to be because he turned his head too fast, looking to make a move without the ball.”

Rob Turner, center: “I think as an offensive lineman, you’re always working on your hands. You get caught in positions, defensive linemen move, they are running a game, they are working to get off a block, arm-over. And it’s something you constantly fight, to improve your hand placement. You may have them in a good spot to begin with, and a guy makes a move and you have to replace it or pull it out. That’s something I’ve constantly worked at, is getting better with my hands. You get away with stuff in college -- not to speak bad of every college player, but not every college player is an elite player. So I think you get away with more stuff because a guy isn’t as strong or doesn’t take great footwork. There is more room for mistakes at that level. Once you make a move to the next level, every one of those attention-to-detail things becomes more important.”

Darius Reynaud, return man: “For me, it would be on punt returns. Judging the ball and judging those guys, for me as a punt returner, I tend to stop to see where everyone is at before I go. That’s my bad habit. Against Pittsburgh, when I caught it, I just hit it and ran and got a 27-yard average on it. I need to catch the ball and go forward with it.”

Coty Sensabaugh, nickelback: “Eyes looking at the wrong thing. Say you’re in man-to-man coverage, you’re guarding the receiver really well. Then instead of looking at him when he breaks, you’re looking at the quarterback. He can separate from you. I’ve gotten a whole lot better at it. I had a bad habit of it in college. My college coach used to correct me on that and really get on me about that, so I got out of the habit pretty well.”
A look at the snap report from the NFL for the Titans in their win over Pittsburgh.

Offense, 67 total snaps
LT Michael Roos, 67
LG Andy Levitre, 67
C Rob Turner, 67
RG Chance Warmack, 67
RT David Stewart, 67
QB Jake Locker, 67

TE Delanie Walker, 51
TE Craig Stevens, 49
RB Chris Johnson, 43
WR Kenny Britt, 43
WR Nate Washington, 38
WR Damian Williams, 27
TE Taylor Thompson, 25
RB Jackie Battle, 19
WR Kendall Wright, 19
FB Collin Mooney, 17
RB Shonn Greene, 4

Greene got hurt early or would likely have had most of Battle’s snaps. The team said Wright’s preseason knee injury wasn’t going to be an issue, but he should get more than that if he’s fine -- especially when Britt is ineffective.

Defense, 53 total snaps
CB Jason McCourty, 53
LB Moise Fokou, 53
LB Zach Brown, 53
FS Michael Griffin, 53

CB Alterraun Verner, 52
SS Bernard Pollard. 51
DE Derrick Morgan, 49
DT Jurrell Casey, 45
CB Coty Sensabaugh, 36
LB-DE Akeem Ayers, 29
DE Kamerion Wimbley, 27
DL Karl Klug, 23
DE Ropati Pitoitua, 19
DT Mike Martin, 17
DT Sammie Hill, 17
S George Wilson, 3
DT Antonio Johnson, 3

The Titans are supposed to be reducing Morgan’s snaps, but Ayers is coming off an ankle injury and they were clearly measuring his work. He wasn’t very effective. Pitoitua showed well. Hill was a big free-agent addition. He had an elbow injury in the preseason and I would expect more action from him.

Four Titans played 18 special-teams snaps: Patrick Bailey, Tommie Campbell, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Daimion Stafford.

Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was the only active player who didn't take the field.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 1

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
12:00
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An examination of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 16-9 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers:

The defensive mentality: As the 2012 season ended, the Titans were already talking about the need to be more aggressive. Then Mike Munchak brought in Gregg Williams as a senior assistant/defense.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJurrell Casey and the Titans sacked Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger five times in Week 1.
Munchak emphasized that defensive coordinator Jerry Gray called the Pittsburgh game. And the Titans didn’t go crazy with blitzing the way Williams’s defenses have in the past.

But the defense was well-prepared to keep Ben Roethlisberger hemmed in the pocket. The Titans sacked him five times. Though the Steelers found some plays to Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Jericho Cotchery, the biggest pass play was 22 yards.

Williams' influence and the swagger he brings seemed to be at work, at least to a degree. As I’ve said before, Gray is in a no-win situation. We’ll look at improvements because of Williams, and if they are bad we’ll say it’s the same old stuff.

Jake Locker's poise: One of his biggest issues has been his desire to do too much. So one of the Titans' biggest goals has been to shape a team that can shape games where he doesn’t feel like he has to overreach. And he didn’t overreach in Pittsburgh.

He was calm and efficient. He misfired a few times. But we’ve said in the right sort of context he could be a bit like former Titans quarterback Steve McNair, where the numbers don’t always look as good as the quarterbacking.

That was the case here. Locker did his part.

I think his confidence grew through a preseason where he showed steady improvement. And I am sure it will grow some more from helping engineer a tough win in a tough place against a tough defense.

Three tight ends: The Titans used a three-tight-end formation quite a bit, mostly with Damian Williams on the field as the lone receiver and a running back behind Locker.

It was pretty effective, but going forward the Titans will have to do more to show they can be balanced when Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson are on the field together.

By the count of Terry McCormick of Titan Insider, the Titans gave up a sack and threw just twice in 17 snaps with three tight ends, some of which was with Williams and a back, and some of which was with two backs. Locker threw incomplete once and connected on a 13-yard pass to wide receiver Nate Washington.

Williams said it won’t be too predictable.

“Sometime in that formation, you’ve got three tight ends and a receiver, that’s four eligible receivers that are capable of catching the ball,” he said. “You do have to throw out of it to keep them honest.”

Third-down defense: The Titans gave up some third-and-long conversions in their preseason game in Cincinnati that were of particular concern. The Steelers converted third-and-8, third-and-9 and third-and-8, respectively, on their opening possession.

That left me thinking the Titans were going to have some serious issues. But they settled down and played really well on third down the rest of the way, allowing the Steelers to convert just one of 10 the rest of the game.

“We knew those weren’t good on our part and those third downs were long, we weren’t happy,” cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “We came back to the sideline and said, ‘We can’t have that happen.’ We were able to respond.”

The return of the Twitter mailbag

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
11:06
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What’s the most important step you take on any given play.

I recently toured the Titans locker room asking that question. A lot of guys said it’s the first step, and that didn’t surprise me. But in getting the same answer from guys at different positions, I got different rationale.

Let’s run through the replies.

Running back Chris Johnson: “The step is once you see the hole, you’ve got to hit it. You can’t really hesitate. In the whole game you might have two maybe three big home run plays where it’s going to open up for you and you can’t hesitate, you have to hit it. Once you see the hole, that step, you’ve got to hit it. Your mind is making a decision with your feet.”

[+] EnlargeCraig Stevens
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesTight End Craig Stevens says he has to be set by his second step to be ready to make contact.
Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh: “Your eyes tell you which step to take, the first step. It’s having your eyes on the receiver and going off of the right thing. It really just depends on what the receiver does. I mean we’re basing everything on the receiver. Your eyes tell you everything.”

Receiver Kenny Britt: “It depends on what route it is. Most of it is being precise all the time with the quarterback. Depending on whether they are blitzing and what the coverage is, you’ve to be in the right place at the right time. You’re starting point is everything to your route, you have to get off the line of scrimmage. You’ve got to know if he’s going to press you, if he’s going to ball on you. It’s about getting off the line clean.”

Safety George Wilson: “A lot of time it’s that first one. You’re trying to get that run-pass key. If it’s pass and you step up in the hard play action sometime that’ll take you out of position for where you are supposed to be to defend the pass. It’s important that you have your eyes in the right place every place so that your first step is the right step.”

Defensive tackle Sammie Hill: “The first step. Get off the ball first. If I beat my man, nine times out of 10 I’ll cause disruption in the backfield. …Now my man is back to defense and I’m on offense, he’s got to figure out what we’re doing. If he’s first, you’ve got to work like hell to get back in position.”

Left tackle Michael Roos: “The first one. It’s the one that starts all your other steps. If your first one is too wide, you’re going to compensate, try to make up for it. It might be wider, you might cross over. On a pass set if your foot’s not square, perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, that means your body is turned, now you get an inside move, you can’t turn, correct yourself as fast. You’ve got to gain the right amount of ground otherwise everything falls apart after that.”

Fullback Quinn Johnson: “It’s pretty much the same thing as the offensive line, it’s the first step. It’s like Coach [Sylvester] Croom tells me, if I take the wrong first step, everything else moves downhill. I’m off course and everything goes off timing. I watch it on film. When I take the wrong first step, everything else goes bad. When I take the right step, everything else goes good.”

Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy: “First step. Obviously, downhill. As a linebacker you’re playing run first, pass second. Getting your run-pass key and reacting as fast as you can off of that.”

Tight end Craig Stevens: “You’ve got to get off the ball as quick as you can and make that first play-side step. But then really my most important step is my second step, because it brings your whole body with it and that’s where your power is. Whenever I’m run blocking, I’m always making contact on my second step. Short, quick step. Get your two feet on the ground as quick as you can.”

Kicker Rob Bironas: “Has to be the first step, yeah. If the first step’s wrong, the next step’s wrong, the whole thing’s wrong. If you step off the wrong direction or over-stride, then you are trying to make up for that the whole way. In my case, it’s a jab step and then two steps to the ball. I just roll into or fall into my jab step. It’s just five, six inches with my left foot.”

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:14
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rather than tell you this is what’s going to happen, I’ll tell you this is what would happen if I had influence in the Tennessee Titans meeting room when final cuts will be decided.

Some cuts are already trickling out from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, so check his Twitter feed.

Quarterbacks: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick

There just is no room for Rusty Smith and there isn’t a need for a third quarterback unless things go incredibly wrong. The difference between a random third guy and Smith isn’t giant.

Running backs: Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Quinn Johnson (FB)

Battle has to contribute on special teams, but he was better than Jalen Parmele through the preseason. Wyatt says Parmele is already gone. Johnson’s been hurt and could lose out to Collin Mooney.

Wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Justin Hunter, Michael Preston, Marc Mariani (return specialist)

Preston is one of the best 53 players on the team. Even though he won’t be active on Sundays if everyone’s healthy, you keep extra quality depth at one spot if it’s better than weaker depth at another spot. Once he’s healthy, Mariani isn’t as explosive as a punt returner as Darius Reynaud, but will more regularly get 10 yards.

Tight ends: Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson

No need for a fourth on the 53. Sign Jack Doyle to the practice squad

Offensive linemen: Tackles Michael Roos, David Stewart, Mike Otto, Byron Stingily. Interior: Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack, Rob Turner, Brian Schwenke, Fernando Velasco

Velasco is guaranteed $2.02 million under his tender contract out of restricted free agency. I’m not sure he should stick over Scott Solomon at linebacker or Stefan Charles at defensive tackle. But the big push for revamping the line and the desire for depth after last year’s slew of injuries makes me feel like they will stay loaded.

Defensive ends: Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley, Lavar Edwards, Keyunta Dawson.

Dawson is a good guy to have. I can see him staying and the Titans going five ends as opposed to six tackles. But linebacker Akeem Ayers is a nickel end so he factors in here as well.

Defensive tackles: Jurrell Casey, Sammie Hill, Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson, Karl Klug (swing)

I’ve got Stefan Charles over DaJohn Harris but neither making it. If one of them sticks, it’s the last defensive line spot probably over Dawson. I see Charles on the practice squad.

Linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Moise Fokou, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy, Patrick Bailey

Scott Solomon is one of my last two cuts. I want to keep seven 'backers. The seventh guy would be a trade-off for Velasco, I think. Solomon is versatile, seems to be catching on to the position change and can still play end if needed. He’s not practice squad eligible. I just can’t fit him here. I might keep him over Bailey but I don’t think they rank him that way.

Safeties: Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, George Wilson, Daimion Stafford

The fourth spot isn’t strong and Stafford could probably go to the practice squad. But if they choose a veteran -- Al Afalava or Corey Lynch -- as the fourth I could see them trying to upgrade it with an outsider.

Cornerbacks: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

I’d expect Khalid Wooten on the practice squad.

Kicker: Rob Bironas

Punter: Brett Kern

Long-snapper: Beau Brinkley
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Who is the most indispensable Titan?

Not the presumptive team MVP. Not the guy they can least afford to lose.

Who’s the most distinct guy, the one who the team would have to alter its schemes without?

Here are the four I think qualify for the list, in the order of their distinctness:

Johnson
Johnson
RB Chris Johnson: There is one guy on the Titans who an opponent has to account for at all times, and it’s Johnson. He’s still got blazing speed, and if he gets free, he’s got as much potential to break off giant runs as anyone in the league. Having one guy with that speed is fortunate. It’s virtually impossible to have another. If the Titans were without Johnson, they’d still run the ball plenty. But it would be a lot more power-based with the stronger but much slower Shonn Greene taking the bulk of carries.

Walker
Walker
TE/F-back Delanie Walker: The Titans have yet to have him on the field for a preseason game, and they might leave him on the sideline this week to be extra cautious, and to keep him a bit of a mystery for Pittsburgh. As a “move tight end," he can line up in the backfield, on the line, in the slot, and even out wide. The Titans don’t have another guy anything like him in terms of being able to shift around and create mismatches. Craig Stevens is a more traditional blocking tight end. Taylor Thompson is more of a receiver. The Titans' offense is a lot different with Walker involved than without him.

Ayers
Ayers
LB-DE Akeem Ayers: At 6-foot-3, 253 pounds, Ayers is one of the biggest starting linebackers the Titans have had. He’s very much a strongside guy, and now he will almost exclusively be coming forward to be part of the rush. When the Titans go to nickel, he’ll often put his hand down and function as the right defensive end. Patrick Bailey played in Ayers' linebacker spot against the Falcons, but he can’t step up to be the defensive end. Scott Solomon is a defensive end who has been converted to strongside linebacker, and while his progress has been good, he’s not a natural.

Wright
WR Kendall Wright: At 5-foot-10 (and 191 pounds) he’s the shortest receiver among the guys who will be around. Shifty and quick, Wright has a knack for not taking a big hit in the middle of the field. The Titans don’t really have another guy in the same mold. Damian Williams is working in the slot as Wright recovers from a knee injury. Williams is a quality player and a bigger target. He’s a versatile guy who is technique-sound and a quality route-runner. But he’s not the same style or caliber of playmaker.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some of what I noticed at Tennessee Titans practice Sunday night:

The Oklahoma Drill -- I cringe when I see it because I think of how Jacksonville defensive lineman Tyson Alualu suffered an unnecessary knee injury as part of Jack Del Rio's version. What the Titans did here wasn't nearly as extensive and Mike Munchak emphasized how he doesn't believe it's risky.

They did some work with linebackers and offensive linemen Saturday and then looked for coaches to request matchups today. They intend to do something like that, something competitive in practice, on the nights they are in pads.

"It's a safe thing, there not a whole lot that can go wrong there," Munchak said. "There are only a couple bodies in the way, it's low impact."

I'm not sure about the low impact part.

Michael Roos won against Kamerion Wimbley, Fernando Velasco beat Colin McCarthy, Taylor Thompson got the decision over Michael Griffin, and the timing on a Quinn Johnson-Bernard Pollard snap was messed up so it was hard to judge fairly.

Jake Locker -- The quarterback performed better than he did during Friday's practice. The offense as a whole, which got beaten pretty badly Saturday afternoon, bounced back nicely.

I saw him throw a dart in red zone work to Damian Williams in the back left of the end zone, a ball Williams caught with Tommie Campbell practically draped over him.

One sequence was particularly good.

Locker hit Kendall Wright on a midrange pass at the right sideline. Wright dove, pulled it in, and his shoulder landed in bounds. The next play Locker found Nate Washington in stride well down the right sideline for a big play on Jason McCourty.

Locker also took off a couple times on plays that would have produced real headaches for a defense in live action.

Drops or fumbles -- Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains isn't standing for them.

When Darius Reynaud fumbled, it might have been the result of a botched handoff, but it didn't matter. "Give me a new running back," Loggains shouted, motioning to the rest of the offense. "That can't happen."

Craig Stevens and receiver Roberto Wallace got similar requests to leave the offense after drops.

Fitzpatrick's block -- On a play where Reynaud started to run right but then cut back, backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick joined the blocking caravan and kept Alterraun Verner out of the play.

The crowd ate it up.

"I think he knew that, that he's wearing the red jersey and no one was going to hurt him," Munchak said. "You can see the energy it brings, I think quarterbacks realize that. They can get involved in a play like that when someone reverses fields, they can maybe get a cheap block and not get hurt on it. It brought a lot of energy to the practice for sure."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some observations from Friday evening’s Tennessee Titans training camp, the first open to fans...

In 7-on-7 work with no linemen:

Tight end Taylor Thompson angled away from a defender and was open about 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, but Jake Locker missed him with a wobbly ball that sailed too long.

Undrafted rookie receiver Rashad Ross was well-covered by corner Tommie Campbell, but quarterback Rusty Smith zipped a short pass completion to him anyway.

From his own 15-yard line, Locker looked for receiver Michael Preston but his terrible pass found cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick on Thursday.

In team periods:

Locker rolled left, against his arm, a few times by design. On one, he did very well to square his shoulders and hit Craig Stevens. On another he hit Justin Hunter, but cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson had it so well sniffed out he would have leveled the rookie receiver if allowed.

Locker threw a deep ball over Nate Washington's head up the right sideline. After he bounced one to Kenny Britt, Locker hit Damian Williams on a very nice pass down the middle for roughly 20 yards.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey showed great lateral movement and got nearly to the sideline to end one breakout running play by Jalen Parmele. Later Casey managed to knock the wind out of Shonn Greene after tracking him on a dump off pass closer to the line of scrimmage and the center of the field.

You can already see stretches where the Titans are working to mimic the sort of no-huddle, high-speed offense they will sometime have to defend. With a new batch of offensive players quickly taking over for the group that just ran routes and blocked, the defense had to race to get back into position for a snap.

On a “now” pass, the quarterback throws immediately to a receiver split wide who hasn’t really moved off the line of scrimmage. The ball has to arrive in a way that the receiver can run with it immediately. Locker threw one left to Kendall Wright, but Wright had to bend at the waste to pull it in from too low. That doesn’t lend itself to the play working.

Line of the day, from Britt to safety Bernard Pollard: “Your name’s Bernard, you ain’t THAT tough.”

Receiver Marc Mariani let a Fitzpatrick pass bounce off his hands that was picked off by linebacker Tim Shaw.

Campbell does look very confident and was in good position a lot. On another play, where Locker had someone in his face as he checked down short over the middle, Campbell closed and batted down a pass thrown for Hunter.

Backup kicker Maikon Bonani has a gigantic leg. But during the field goal period he had one atrocious miss, shanking his ball low and left and missing the wide screen set up well behind the goal posts.

I wanted to note one play in particular: Fitzpatrick lined up in the shotgun and the defense couldn’t get lined up. Multiple players were shouting calls, waving each other around and didn’t know what to do or where to line up. It’s a play where Fitzpatrick has to get his guys set -- maybe one was late, but I didn’t see it -- snap it quickly and take advantage of the defensive confusion. Instead, however, Fitzpatrick waited a long time and the defense found some semblance of organization. He wound up throwing a short incompletion that may have been a throwaway. The defense can’t win that play but did.

“Yes, we’d want him to snap it,” Mike Munchak said afterwards. “I don’t know if he was waiting for the defense or waiting for one of our guys. Generally, in a game we’d go. In a practice, I think he was making sure, because we weren’t in a hurry-up mode. The offense should have an advantage there, yes.”
We pick up our series in which ESPN.com’s resident scout, Matt Williamson, ranks the AFC South position-by-position.

Today, we examine tight ends.

Williamson’s AFC South tight end rankings:
1) Colts (Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Justice Cunningham)
2) Titans (Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson)
3) Texans (Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin)
4) Jaguars (Marcedes Lewis, Isaiah Stanback)

I love the Colts' pair of young tight ends as well. I’ve not seen a lot of Walker yet, but if he turns out to be the player the Titans expect, I think Tennessee could be No. 1 here. But as of right now, my order would be the same.

My questions for Williamson based off of his list:

What was your overall thinking on tight ends? The Colts being first indicates you really like Fleener and Allen. Any doubts about them under Pep Hamilton and in their second years?

“Another pretty decent-and young-position group in the division overall, but I think the Colts stand alone. I am smitten with Allen and already believe he is the best tight end in this division and Fleener obviously has a lot of ability in the passing game. It’s way too early to write him off in any way. Zero doubts about Allen, minimal doubts about Fleener.”

SportsNation

Matt Williamson's ranking of AFC South tight end units is:

  •  
    51%
  •  
    26%
  •  
    23%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,069)

Can you rank the team in the order of what you expect in terms of tight end-reliance and usage?

“The Colts have a lot of weapons, but should be predominantly a two-tight end base offense, so they are first and have the best players at the position. Lewis is the clear No. 3 option for Jacksonville and is a pretty quarterback-friendly target, so I will put them second. Like the Colts, Houston runs a ton of multiple tight end sets, but I can see Daniels taking a small step backwards, so they are third. I really like the young collection of tight ends in Tennessee, but they are last for reliance and usage."

How much is the rationale for the Jaguars being fourth their poor depth behind Lewis? How much is it about Lewis?

"The lack of depth at tight end in Jacksonville is glaring and is a huge reason for them being fourth."

Who's the best pass-catching tight end in the division?

“Allen is probably the best pass-catching TE in the division, but it is debatable. There is a strong argument still for Daniels and Fleener's potential in this area is obvious.”

Who's the best blocking tight end in the division?

“Allen is also an excellent blocker, but the Titans have some serious blocking tight ends. Walker is exceptional in this department and can do so from all over the formation (will Tennessee utilize this skill like San Francisco did?) and Stevens is one of the best inline blockers in the game, while Thompson might have more overall upside as a receiver, but especially as a blocker -- as much as anyone in the division.”

As for me…

I fully expect the Jaguars to sort though tight ends who come free around the league to add better depth.

The Titans have the receivers to go three-wide a lot, but I think they will be two-tight plenty with Walker and Stevens on the field together. I’d rank them higher than the Jaguars in reliance on the position because it’s hard to see Jacksonville using much two-tight ends when we don’t know who the second tight end will be yet.

Fleener and Allen will be featured more and have increased production in Pep Hamilton’s offense. The Colts will run more, which means the two will also do more blocking.

I think it’s a bit dangerous to expect a drop-off from Daniels. With DeVier Posey out for at least the first half of the season, the Texans' No. 2 wide receiver is a rookie (DeAndre Hopkins). Daniels and running back Arian Foster will continue to be key pieces of the passing game.

Reassessing the Titans' needs

April, 2, 2013
4/02/13
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We need to reserve judgment on just how well the Titans did with their free-agent haul. Several of their key additions -- like tight end Delanie Walker and defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill -- are expected to graduate into bigger roles with their new team.

The Titans project they can handle that and excel with it. We’ll have to wait and see.

What I like most about what they’ve done is this: A team with a ton of needs as the 2013 NFL year began has far fewer now.

That creates a certain draft freedom. While there are still things they need, they need them far less desperately. If a guy they really want in the draft goes off the board a couple picks before they are up, it will be less tragic.

[+] EnlargeBernard Pollard
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsThe Titans signed safety Bernard Pollard, hoping the former Raven can add fire and veteran leadership.
A review of what they needed as free agency opened, and some thoughts on what they need now.

Safety: Like it or not they are locked into Michael Griffin. So what they needed was a serious upgrade with regard to an in-the-box presence at the position who will allow Griffin to play as a center fielding free safety. Enter George Wilson and Bernard Pollard. They are veterans who are better than the options the Titans had in 2012, plus they bring leadership -- Wilson of a quieter variety, Pollard with a loud swagger. If they draft a kid to develop behind this group, that’d be fine, but it’s not a pressing need.

Guard: Andy Levitre was the best option on the market. Rob Turner and Chris Spencer are far better options than interior guys like Kevin Matthews or Deuce Lutui, who wound up playing last year. Ideally the Titans find a young stud to play right guard long term. But if the can’t get, or decide to pass on, Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper or Larry Warford they could still be OK.

Defensive end: Internally, it’s not been rated the need it was externally. They did add super-sized Ropati Pitoitua, but he doesn’t appear to be a guy who will spur the pass rush. I think they feel good about Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley, and will use Akeem Ayers more as a rusher. But I’d still rank an end that can boost the pass rush as a need.

Running back: They needed a short-yardage guy to serve in a complementary role with Chris Johnson, and found a guy they liked in Shonn Greene. Darius Reynaud is back, though he’s primarily a returner. A mid- or late-round back would make sense to increase their options if Johnson’s money is an issue next year and/or to compete with Jamie Harper for a role.

Defensive tackle: They showed no interest in bringing back Sen'Derrick Marks and found the size they wanted in Hill. With Jurrell Casey and Mike Martin, that’s a nice three-pack. Karl Klug is a question mark. This is a spot where they can definitely continue to add, even if they have high hopes for Klug and DaJohn Harris.

Cornerback: The one name that surfaced as a guy they courted was Keenan Lewis, the Steeler-turned-Saint. Depth at this position is shaky. Coty Sensabaugh did OK as a rookie nickel back. But ideally the Titans would get Alterraun Verner into the slot, even if he’s starting outside in the base defense. They need a better candidate that Tommie Campbell to play outside as the second or third guy. This could now rate as one of the top needs.

Tight end: Following the breakdown in talks with Jared Cook, the team decided against using the franchise tag on him. Walker is more equipped to shift around from the backfield to the line to the slot, and the Titans want to get back to using a guy like that. No remaining need with Craig Stevens, a solid blocker, and Taylor Thompson, a second-year project, in place.

Linebacker: Depth is the issue here, especially in the middle where Colin McCarthy gets hurt. Moise Fokou might help, and ideally the main addition would be a veteran upgrade over outgoing free agent Will Witherspoon. If Ayers moves forward to rush some as a defensive end, they’ll need a quality outside guy who can cover. A need, still, for sure.

Receiver -- I wasn’t thinking it was a spot they needed to address before the draft, but they looked at a lot of guys and signed Kevin Walter. He’s a reliable route runner who can work underneath and do well against zones for quarterback Jake Locker. But Walter isn’t explosive. I expect they’d like to add a draft pick who’s a smart, quality route runner with a little more ability for yards after the catch.

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