AFC South: Damian Williams

Drops are surely subjective. You and I might look at a play and you’d say Phil should have caught it and I’d say he couldn’t have.

ESPN tracks drops and applies a strong benefit of the doubt standard. A drop has to be something quite obvious.

Pro Football Focus breaks down targets into catchable balls, and judges drops more harshly.

Both ESPN and PFF then compute drop rates -- ESPN simply by dividing drops by targets, PRR by dividing drops by catchable balls.

Britt
Britt
By any standard, Kenny Britt had a terrible 2013. ESPN says he dropped four passes, PFF counted seven.

Britt is a free agent, and the Tennessee Titans have no interest in bringing him back. He’s drawn a decent amount of interest and will be a reclamation project somewhere.

Another Titans receiver, Damian Williams, is on the market and looks unlikely to return unless his price drops.

No coach or player is going to say anything more than none is an acceptable drop total. But everyone drops some. Let’s sample three top guys at random just for some context on their ESPN drop rates from 2013: Detroit’s Calvin Johnson was at 5.2, Andre Johnson at 3.4 and Larry Fitzgerald 0.7.

I was spurred to look at the Titans’ drops as PFF has put out stories recently on receiver drops, running back drops and tight end drops.

Here’s how last year’s top pass catchers fared for Tennessee.

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Free-agency primer: Titans

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: CB Alterraun Verner, DE Ropati Pitoitua, KR Leon Washington, WR Damian Williams, DT Antonio Johnson, WR Kenny Britt.

Where they stand: The Titans re-signed outspoken, thumping strong safety Bernard Pollard, one of their most important free agents, with a two-year deal. He has spoken glowingly about the direction the team will head under coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton. "We're going to be 11 dogs without leashes running around biting people," Pollard told a Nashville radio station 3HL. They also re-signed third-string running back Jackie Battle, who’s a staple special-teamer. It’s hard to know how other people project into the new systems that come along with a new coaching regime. The Titans have indicated to everyone on that list, beside Britt, that they are interested. But will the interest translate into new contracts?

What to expect: The Titans will wind up with a couple of their own guys back, though they are not desperate to keep anyone on the list. Verner is very likely to hit the market and find a team that puts a higher price tag on him than the Titans will. I believe Pitoitua can be a valuable piece of the new hybrid front, particularly in the run-stopping effort. Washington can bring a secure feeling to the return game. Williams is a smart and versatile fourth wide receiver, but there is a giant pool of free-agent wideouts and a quality draft class, so he'll need to settle for minimal money if he wants to stay and they want to have him. The team won't spend $100 million in free agency, as it did last year, but will make several key additions.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- We've awaited indications about the Tennessee Titans' interest level in some of their unrestricted free agents to-be.

Via Jim Wyatt we get the first signals about what Tennessee would like to do.

They are talking to Alterraun Verner, who may prove too expensive.

Per Wyatt:
The Titans also have talked with the agents for safety Bernard Pollard and defensive end Ropati Pitoitua, who are scheduled to become free agents.

Indications are the Titans have either talked with or plan to talk with the agents for running back Jackie Battle, wide receivers Damian Williams and Marc Mariani, return man Leon Washington and offensive lineman Chris Spencer as well.

“A lot of those guys have had a positive impact on our team, so we're going to try and keep as many of those guys as we can,” (Ruston) Webster said.

Now we don't know if they are hell-bent on re-signing some of those guys or if their contact is more on a check-in level.

Ranking the guys from that group, Pollard is most important and Pitoitua is probably second. I'd put Washington third, and Williams fourth.

Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson is also a player they will consider bringing back.

Not on Wyatt's list of guys coming free who the Titans will talk to, at least at this point: Receiver Kenny Britt (no surprise at all), interior offensive lineman Rob Turner, receiver Kevin Walter and offensive tackle Michael Otto.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner is allowing room for sentiment on Sunday.

As he takes the field for the Tennessee Titans against the Houston Texans, it will creep into his head that it could be the last time.

Verner has a great feel for the game and a knack for being around the ball and breaking things up.

“Definitely that thought has occurred to me, but it’s not overriding where I am letting that emotionally distress me or get me away from the game,” Verner said. "It’s definitely crossed my mind that this could be [it]. Could be.”

[+] EnlargeTennessee Titans' Alterraun Verner
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderThe price tag looks to be high for defensive backs Alterraun Verner, No. 20, and Bernard Pollard, both free agents at season's end.
He’s timed things up well. After such a solid season, his price may be at an all-time high. I’m sure the Titans would like to keep him. But they’ve spent two recent offseasons trying to give his job away to Tommie Campbell and clearly see Verner's speed as a deficiency in an otherwise solid game.

Future: They should certainly try to keep him. But at this stage, there is no reason for him not to wait for free agency and check out the market. And I’ll bet a team that thinks it’s a corner away will offer him something bigger than the Titans will.

A look at other guys for whom Sunday could be The Last Time.

Running back Chris Johnson

We’ve written frequently about the cost-versus-production equation for Johnson, most recently here. St. Louis fifth-round pick Zac Stacy has a few more yards and a slightly bigger yards per carry average this season. Stacy made $581,500 in 2013. CJ made $10 million.

Future: It’s not working, as Johnson hasn’t been the playmaker he sold himself as when he got the big contract after three years. He won’t take less money – or sufficient responsibility, for that matter. They should move on.

Right tackle David Stewart

He broke his leg late in the 2012 season and has never returned to form, with all sorts of nagging injuries slowing him down this year. He’s questionable for this game with a shoulder injury. He’s been a tough, physical presence for the team for a long time. But he’s due $6.4 million in 2014.

Future: The Titans cannot pay him that much next year.

Strong safety Bernard Pollard

He’s delivered on what the Titans asked when they signed him for one year, providing attitude and toughness to go with solid play. They’ve used him smartly and if he’s not back they will have a hole that will be difficult to fill in both production and leadership.

Future: They should try to keep him, but it’s unclear what the market will offer. Surely there will be a multi-year deal to be had. Will the Titans offer one?

Defensive end Kamerion Wimbley

He’s not been a fit for the Titans, who grabbed him in 2011 after their failed pursuit of Peyton Manning. When they focused solely on him meant Mario Williams went to Buffalo. Even if there's a new staff and it wants to run a 3-4 that’s more suited to Wimbley, he’s not worth $6 million in 2014.

Future: It’s long been presumed he will be cut.

Wide receiver Damian Williams

He got benched for the Arizona game because of a violation of team rules, but such a slip was totally uncharacteristic. He’s a bright guy who can play every receiver spot. He’s ideal as a fourth with potential to be a solid third.

Future: They should re-sign him.

Wide receiver Kenny Britt

The last year of his initial contract has been a disaster during which he lost confidence and was unable to catch the ball consistently. He’ll likely be inactive again Sunday. In a new setting, perhaps he can recover. But he’ll get a minimum contract or something close to it, when a big season would have set him up as a free-agent prize.

Future: It’s elsewhere.

Quarterback Rusty Smith

He’s been the team’s developmental quarterback for four years, and he could never work his way to a place where the team wanted him to be the No. 2. He ended up in that spot only because of injury.

Future: If he’s not a No. 2 by now, it’s time to move on. Tyler Wilson was a late signing, and should take over the Smith spot as the developmental quarterback.

Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua

Started very strong but hasn’t been as good down the stretch. He gives the Titans good size in their run-down front and would benefit from better linebacker play.

Future: Worth keeping at the right price and contract length.

Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson

He’s a workmanlike run-down defender who’s a good piece as a role player.

Future: Shouldn’t be hard to keep.

Also with expiring contracts: Returner Leon Washington, returner Marc Mariani, running back Jackie Battle, wide receiver Kevin Walter, offensive tackle Mike Otto, interior offensive linemen Rob Turner and Chris Spencer.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter are very much the future of the Titans at wide receiver.

Sunday in a win at Jacksonville, Nate Washington showed he’s very much part of the present. He pulled in six catches for 117 yards and the game-winning touchdown.

He’s the team’s third leading receiver with 56 receptions, and second in receiving yards with 880.

[+] EnlargeNate Washington
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Nate Washington is second on the Titans with 880 receiving yards.
When the head of the team’s new ownership group, Tommy Smith, listed some young players he considers the Titans’ core, he also mentioned Washington and his leadership.

Washington has been an important influence on Wright and Hunter.

“It’s brothers, man,” Washington said of the receivers room. "It’s a room that I think the organization has been working to put together for a long time. I think they can really sit down right now with our room and be satisfied with all the hard work they’ve put in.”

Washington would certainly like to see things kept intact next season, though Kenny Britt is heading for free agency and certainly won’t be back. He’s hardly contributed this season. Damian Williams is also in line to be a free agent, and he’s a versatile piece I believe the team should try hard to keep.

Whether the Titans make a coaching change or not, there is potential they could choose to move away from Washington, who is 30. Heading into the final year of his deal, he’s due $4.8 million in 2014. It would be the final year of a six-year deal, and it’s pretty rare for a player to play out a long second deal with high cap numbers.

If they came to him and said they wanted to keep him at a reduced price, he wouldn’t be upset, but he wouldn’t negotiate either, he said.

“All I can do is play football,” he said. “If I’m in Tennessee next year, I will be very gracious. I love Tennessee, I love the people, I love the organization. If I’m here next year it’d be awesome. But I understand it’s a business ..."

If they wanted to reduce his salary?

“It’s time to move on, man,” he said. “If that’s the way they have to approach it, I understand.”

I agree with Washington that the receivers room is one of the best things the Titans have going for them. He has a big salary scheduled, but the team is not in line to be cap-strapped. If they are going to overpay someone, why not him? Yes, you want to get rid of a guy a year too early rather than a year too late, but I wouldn’t mess with a position where things seem to be in good order.

Replacement receivers hardly practiced

December, 15, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans were without receivers Justin Hunter and Damian Williams Sunday because of a violation of team rules.

I credit Mike Munchak for making them inactive. He could have kept it quiet and played Hunter, who would have helped the team as the coach fights for his job.

Tennessee lost, 37-34, to Arizona in overtime.

Without Hunter and Williams, the Titans turned to Kenny Britt and Michael Preston as their receivers behind Kendall Wright and Nate Washington.

Britt caught three of six passes thrown his way, for 29 yards. He let a late touchdown pass go through his hands. Preston caught three of five passes targeting him for 27 yards and the Titans' two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Britt said he had not played a snap of offense all week in practice. Wright said that was the case for Preston too, but Preston corrected him and said his offensive snaps were "sparse" -- five to 10.

It was a solid combined performance from two guys who were not in the plan. But things would have likely been better with the guys who were in the plan.

"They broke some team rules," Munchak said. "The consequence was that they didn't suit up today."

A couple of us caught up to Williams as he left the locker room.

"It definitely lets the team down and I definitely am ashamed that I let my team down," he said.

He left open the idea that things we're so cut and dried, however.

I asked if it was more complicated than people might guess.

"Possibly," he said. "[But] the situation is that we violated team rules and that's it."

Damian Williams as a decision-maker

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Decision-making was the issue with Darius Reynaud as the Tennessee Titans' return man.

His decisions were bad, so the Titans decided to get rid of him.

Williams
The guy replacing Reynaud, receiver Damian Williams, could be as good a decision-maker as the Titans have. He’s smart and he’s football smart.

While he’s never returned a kickoff in a meaningful pro or college game, I’ll feel a lot more comfortable watching him collect a ball in the end zone than I did watching Reynaud.

He’s got plenty of punt return experience from USC, and he’s worked on both every day in practice as the backup.

“I’d like to say I’m a pretty decent decision-maker,” Williams said. “I think a lot of times I’ll take a chance, but when it comes to making a decision, I’ll try to make the best decision based on everything, not just how I feel or whatever the case may be.”

Protecting the team is the top priority, he said.

He hopes return work doesn’t hurt his opportunity as a receiver, where he 13 catches, fifth most on the team.

“You never know, you go out there and make some plays, they might say, ‘We need to get this guy the ball a little more,’” Williams said.

Time for Titans to change return man

October, 20, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have two weeks to consider a change at return man.

It’s a decision that should take two seconds.

From the first play of the team’s season, when Darius Reynaud pulled a kickoff back from the field of play into the end zone to down it and gave Pittsburgh a safety, he’s been a suspect decision-maker.

In Sunday’s 31-17 loss to San Francisco, he touched the ball seven times and five of them had bad results.

His string of bad decisions as the return man this season inexplicably earned him some early chances as a receiver on offense in this game. Sure enough, he dropped a third-down pass to end the Titans first possession.

He also spun and circled back on a punt return that netted him a negative return, allowed a kickoff to bounce over his head, fair caught a lined punt he might have had a chance to do something with, and muffed a late punt when the Titans were threatening to make it a game that instead produced a 49ers special teams touchdown.

“It’s on me, I’ve got to make better judgments on the ball and better decisions on going to get the ball,” he said.

Mike Munchak indicated the Titans will consider a change.

The Titans have to make a better decision on whom they send to field the ball.

The best in-house option is Damian Williams, who has some experience and is the team’s smartest receiver.

He’s Reynaud’s backup at on both punt and kickoff returns. Starting the next practice where the Titans work on special teams, he should be fielding the bulk of the kicks.

How Titans will combat Seahawks' CBs

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When the Seattle Seahawks extra-large cornerbacks get their hands on a receiver at the line of scrimmage, they hope to squash the chance the player becomes a viable target on that play.

“You want receivers trying to get away from you, doing things other than watching the football coming out,” said Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, who was part of the Seahawks staff as they started adopting their current defensive philosophy.

This week, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains emphasized that his receivers need to have a plan and need to know how they will react to Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.

“If the receivers don’t have a plan and they get jammed up, (Ryan Fitzpatrick) is on to the next progression,” Loggains said. “It messes up the timing and the distribution of the passing concept. You have to come out with a plan, that’s one area where we have to make a huge improvement off of last week to this week.”

The plan is for how to get back in sync with the play and the quarterback. If the corner throws me inside, I’m going to do this to catch back up.

“Patience,” receiver Damian Williams said when I asked about the approach against the Seahawks. “You’ve got to be very detailed about what you do. A lot of times as a receiver we have a clock in our head. A lot of time when we run our routes, we feel like we got jammed up a little and the clock goes off, we try to get in and out of our breaks and sometimes we don’t get our depths and sometime we don’t give enough time to get the DB running…

“If by chance they do knock you off, that means when you get to the top of your break, you’ve got to come out faster. It’s compensation. The best way is the detail at the top of the route, making sure you get their hands off of you, making sure that you are coming back to the ball to cut the flight time off, making sure that you’re efficient with your feet in and out of your break, making sure that you are spend as little time in your break and coming out. You can’t rush your route.”

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 4

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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An examination of four hot issues from the Titans' 38-13 win over the Jets:

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderDespite being knocked out with a hip injury in Week 4, Jake Locker is among the top five NFL quarterbacks in passer rating (99.0).
Is anyone actually watching? It’s time to start giving Jake Locker his due. He was superb against the Jets, with three touchdown throws in the first half. Yet a national overnight radio host put him in the same category as Tim Tebow and another national personality compared him to Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor. Sure, Locker has had issues with his game before this season. But if you've actually watched him through four games, you see a guy making good decisions and good throws. The Titans are 3-1 largely because of Locker, not despite him. Now they have to see how long he’ll be out with a hip injury and how well they can survive with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm.

Michael Griffin wavers: A week ago against the Chargers, the Titans free safety went low on a pass-catcher on a play he could have blown up with a high hit, or might have even intercepted. He admitted the reason he approached the play as he did was because of the way the NFL is fining players for high hits. Against the Jets, as Alterraun Verner intercepted a Geno Smith pass on the second play from scrimmage, Griffin hit the receiver, Stephen Hill, in the chin with his helmet. Hill wound up with a concussion, and odds are Griffin will end up with a fine.

Receiver depth showing: Kenny Britt was out because he’s got an injured rib and neck. Set aside any conspiracy theories. The Titans may lack a superstar receiver, but all along we’ve spoken of their good depth. They showed it off against the Jets. Nate Washington was big again. Justin Hunter had a TD catch that was better than the game winner against the Chargers. Damian Williams chipped in with five catches for 53 yards. With or without a functioning and focused Britt, the Titans have guys who can make plays.

Swarming: The Titans don’t have a singular pass-rusher, but if the group effort is like this, they don’t need one. Ropati Pitoitua, a run-stopping defensive end, had two sacks of Geno Smith. Linebacker Zach Brown and defensive tackles Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug also had sacks. He Titans hit Smith an additional six times. He dropped back 34 times and the Titans hit him on just under a third of them.
Jake LockerAP Photo/Wade PayneTitans QB Jake Locker had shown steady improvement before suffering a hip injury against the Jets.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jake Locker was on his back and his hand was on his right hip. A shot from Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson put the Tennessee Titans' young quarterback in that spot. Something awkward happened as Locker went to the ground, something bad enough that he would be quickly carted off the field.

But as receiver Kendall Wright and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains arrived to check in, a grimacing Locker asked them: “Did Nate catch the pass?”

No, Nate Washington did not catch the pass.

It was the least of the Titans’ worries on a day when they moved to 3-1 with a 38-13 stomping of the Jets. Locker threw three touchdown passes in two quarters and continues an impressive improvement curve.

The Titans still have not turned the ball over this season.

But Sunday night they didn’t know Locker’s status. X-rays at the stadium were negative. After those, he was taken by ambulance to St. Thomas Hospital for an MRI and further testing. The Titans had no idea what was wrong and when, or if, they will have him back.

“No turnovers for the offense is a direct correlation to his play,” Loggains said. “I was really excited where he was going. Hopefully this thing isn’t long for us. In the game, it deflated us, it took the energy out of us, it took the energy out of me. I need to do a better job, but when you lose your guy, lose the leader of your offense, it’s tough.”

The game was in hand when Locker went out, with the Titans ahead 24-6.

The Titans were flat for a good stretch after the injury, but still managed to build the blowout.

Defensive lineman Karl Klug forced a Geno Smith fumble -- as the rookie quarterback inexplicably tried to pass the ball from one hand to another behind his back -- and recovered it in the end zone for additional cushion. Washington caught a deep ball from No. 2 quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick over cornerback Antonio Cromartie, bounced off back judge Billy Smith and went 77 yards for his second touchdown.

The Titans are confident they can be effective if they need to rely on Fitzpatrick.

It will not be the same, however, if he’s the quarterback. We’ve seen his ceiling, and he stopped reaching it often enough that the Bills gave up on him not long after giving him a giant contract. Locker’s ascent is ongoing.

“Jake’s grown a lot,” said Washington, who caught two touchdown passes. “He’s able to do a lot of things now that he wasn’t able to do in the past. He understands the offense, he understands the game, it’s kind of slowed down for him.”

The postgame locker room featured a mixture of emotions. The Titans were happy with a win that boosted their record to 3-1 and established them as one of the league’s surprises through the first quarter of the season. But they were clearly concerned, too, about the way Locker left the field and the potential to be without him.

“You lose your general, you lose your captain, it’s going to hit you a little bit,” receiver Damian Williams said. “At the same time, we’re a team. Not one person does it for us. That one person is a very important piece of this puzzle, but we’ve got to keep going. We can’t let the season stop if one person gets hurt.”

Said tight end Delanie Walker, “Jake was playing awesome. ... He got the feel, he got that buzz, he was moving. It’s just sad for something like that to happen to him while he was having a great game.”

When Locker was hurt, center Rob Turner hustled over to Fitzpatrick to fire off some snaps to help him get ready.

Turner didn’t mean to sound harsh, but hit on the cold realities of the business. If the Titans are without Locker, they won’t have time to really mourn it.

“That’s what we have to do, that’s part of being a team, it’s not a one-man show,” he said. “Absolutely Jake’s improved each and every week. But it’s one of those things we have to do, just like we have a 24-hour rule with wins and losses. It’s not like we’re going to forget about Jake, cause we’re not. But we really have to step up and focus, refocus, and whoever is in there executes.”

While Locker and the Titans have yet to turn the ball over, the Titans took the ball away from the Jets four times and scored touchdowns off of each. Tennessee hit Smith 11 times with five sacks. Locker had much better protection, taking two sacks and a third hit, the one from Wilkerson that ended his afternoon.

“I knew as soon as he was down [that it was serious],” Loggains said. “This kid is as tough a kid as there is. When he stayed on the ground, I knew he was in a lot of pain. It’s an act of God to get him to come off the field”

Loggains left Locker a voice mail as soon as the game was over and talked to Locker’s father, Scott, who was at the game and accompanied him to the hospital.

“He said Jake was doing good, waiting to see, at the hospital getting an MRI,” Loggains said.

Now things might fall on Fitzpatrick. The Titans parted ways with Matt Hasselbeck in March, partly over price, partly over performance, and quickly brought in Fitzpatrick. They considered it an upgraded insurance plan.

When he got in the huddle against the Jets, he brought dry humor to the huddle that helped defuse a tough situation and was important for a team trying to get back to work, Williams said.

Fitzpatrick said given the circumstances his job amounted to, “just go in there and don’t screw it up.” It’s a mindset that obviously changes if Fitzpatrick is the guy next week.

“We signed him for a reason, he’s a good player, he’s thrown for a lot of yards,” Loggains said. “He’s been a big part of this offense. We’re going to have to tweak some things and tailor some things to his strengths, obviously. ... Once we get the word that Jake’s not available this week, we’ll start that part of the process.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While Kendall Wright says he doesn't have a concussion, the Tennessee Titans wide receiver also said he doesn't have a medical degree.

Wright
The Titans' injury report lists him with a concussion. Team officials say it's not been an obvious diagnosis, but based on symptoms that surfaced Tuesday they've treated him as if he is concussed.

Friday he will see a doctor before practice, the Titans expect him to be cleared and participate, then to play Sunday against the Chargers.

Wright said he's never had a concussion before, which allows for the question about how he can judge whether this is one. He took a big head shot from Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson Sunday and bounced right up.

"I'm not a trainer, but I know I don't have a concussion," he said.

If Wright isn't cleared and doesn't return, the Titans would use Damian Williams as their third receiver and Justin Hunter fourth. Williams missed last week with a hamstring injury.
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.”

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:14
PM ET
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

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