AFC South: DeRon Jenkins
The 2001 Tennessee Titans hold sixth place.
Here’s what he says:
"The Titans went 26-6 in 1999-2000. They were particularly unbeatable at home, winning 16 of their first 17 games played in (then) Adelphia Coliseum. But a shocking 24-14 loss to the Ravens in the playoffs took the shine off their new digs, as Tennessee would go on to lose five home games in 2001 on its way to a disappointing 7-9 record. Injuries to star running back Eddie George were a major culprit, as he managed only 3 yards per carry while playing through toe and ankle injuries. An even bigger culprit was a defense that couldn't get to the quarterback and couldn't cover receivers … any receivers. The Titans' defensive DVOA ranked 30th against No. 1 receivers, 28th against No. 2 receivers and 30th against all other receivers. The bright spot was Steve McNair, who turned in his best season to date and whose development ensured that Tennessee wouldn't stay down for long."
The missing context here is that the pass defense was so bad when compared to the two previous seasons because of a changing of the guard in the secondary that failed badly.
Of the four top guys in the defensive backfield from the two big seasons, free safety Marcus Robertson and cornerback Denard Walker had moved on as free agents and strong safety Blaine Bishop played in only five games because of injury.
Guys who filled in those spots -- corners Andre Dyson, DeRon Jenkins, Michael Booker and safeties Aric Morris, Bobby Myers (one game before injury), Perry Phenix , Joe Walker and Daryl Porter -- simply didn’t make for a good enough collection to support the one holdover who played regularly, corner Samari Rolle.
Most Titans fans regard the team’s inability to pull out Super Bowl XXXIV when it got there and, more so, the divisional-round playoff loss to Baltimore at the conclusion of the 2000 season as the things that are hardest to swallow.
Even before the team’s 0-3 start on the way to their 7-9 record, it was clear the franchise wasn’t the same caliber in 2001. It’s hard for me to imagine those Titans ranking among the 10 biggest disappointments of the last quarter century.
Jon in silver spring writes: Paul, love the blog...have a question about the Texans draft needs. Im an old school Houston guy, and have been watching this team since they been in existence and one MAJOR aspect thats lacking is secondary...yet all i hear is them picking another LB or DL...when Malcolm Jenkins is out there, the guy from Mizzou is out there...what gives? Thanks.
Paul Kuharsky: I think it's that the linebackers are perceived to be more worth the 15th pick than the corners -- this corner class is getting middling reviews. I agree it's a need, especially when there is no guarantee of Dunta Robinson beyond this year. And they could well take a corner at No. 15. Really, it's too bad there is no first-round caliber safety. That would be a real solution, but this draft doesn't appear to have one. "The guy from Mizzou," I presume, is safety William Moore. He's rated as a second- or third-rounder and they could go for him there.
Chris Kirk from parts unknown writes: I've been waiting to see what you had to say about Rhodes leaving for Buffalo but I decided to go ahead and e-mail you for your thoughts. This move has to move Running Back up on the list of the Colts priorities to address in the draft right? I'm as big an Addai-hater as you'll find among Colts fans so I've been hoping for them to address that position anyway. That being said I could have seen Polian standing pat(no matter how much I disagree) since between Rhodes, Addai, and Ball/Simpson we would have had a nice mix of youth and vets in our Running Back corps. Looking back at most of the Addai apologists from your column about replacing a Colt a lot of them brought up Rhodes potential presence in a two-back system as a reason to expect better production from Addai. With Rhodes gone our already anemic run game just went on life support leaving us with one barely proven runner. With a number of mock drafts having Wells and /or Moreno available at twenty-seven and two Receivers already on the roster good enough to start for most teams how can the Colts possibly put Receiver as a higher priority than Running Back?
Paul Kuharsky: I don't think they are crestfallen that Rhodes is off the market, but I think they would have loved to have retained the option of coming back to him after the draft as a low cost guy for sure. This is one of the toughest questions of the offseason -- how much was Joseph Addai responsible for the Colts' run struggles, how much was on the line and how much was it that both were banged up?
I think a third receiver still ranks as at least as big of a need as a second running back, if they still see Addai as the lead guy -- and I expect they do. Look at it this way -- in which situation would you be more confident:
A) Addai goes down and they have to make do with Mike Hart, Lance Ball, Chad Simpson, mid- to low-draft pick or undrafted rookie.
B) Reggie Wayne or Anthony Gonzalez goes down and they have to rely on Roy Hall, Pierre Garcon, mid- to low- draft pick or undrafted rookie.
I think they survive A better than B, which leads me to conclude they spend a value pick on a receiver over a back. Also I think this is a much better draft for receivers than backs and there will be more attractive wideouts at 27 than runnning backs..
Hey, we could see receiver and running back as two of the first three. Bill Polian may think he can fix defensive tackle and linebacker with less than premium picks.
Last week I posed this question: What one philosophical tendency, trend, tenet or practice would you like to see the Titans change, and why?
As opposed to some previous questions you've encountered here, I wasn't looking to reach any sort of consensus, just to stir some debate. Based on your responses, I think we got that.
So here's the best of what you had to say with some of my thoughts interspersed. Thanks for all the quality feedback.
Matt in New York: I know a lot of people would like to see a change in offensive philosophy, but the #1 thing I'd like to see the Titans change is the preference of under-performing vets over inconsistent rookies. I generally like the offensive philosophy, I think Heimerdinger has the right balance of sticking with the high-percentage plays but taking shots when it's right. I think for a team that is known as shying away from FAs, they've quietly built the core of their defense with some great free agents. I think moves like replacing Fowler with Tulloch are the types of moves the Titans need to do more often to get over the hump.
Nate in Burns: If I could change one thing about the Titans, I would make them more willing to play rookies. Think of some of the players that have come through that have sat for too long... I mean weren't you a little shocked when they started playing Chris Johnson? - The coaches consistently said Tulloch was always in the right spot... but they went out and paid for a free agent because they were scared to start him. - Vincent Fuller should've been on the field a year before he was. - I'm trying to remember a Titans WR that played significant time his rookie year... Kevin Dyson? - Kieth Bulluck sat for how long? - Micheal Griffin was a huge upgrade at safety... and yet he didn't see the field nearly enough. - David Stewart took over at right tackle a year to late. I know B-hop was still at left tackle, but Big Country should've started at guard. How infuriating is it that the one rookie they threw into the fire, was the one who needed the bench the most? Yes. I'm bitter.
Kannan in Pittsburgh: It would be nice for a change if the Titans were aggressive in their use of the younger players, especially rookies and not only on the running back position (Jeff's love for the running game means even if you are or I tried out, we would get a shot!!!). It is a mirror image to the policy Phil Fulmer had at UT with his freshmen!!Weird, how similar the philosophy of the two coaches are .... Rookies will make mistakes mental and physical, but have the potential to being a visible energy to the team. Veterans seem secure in the knowledge that they wont be pushed for another year or two by the rookies. The only exceptions as far as I can remember are CJ, VY, JK, maybe Bo ....
Paul Kuharsky: Matt, Nate and Kannan make excellent points here. While select rookies have played early -- Chris Johnson, Michael Roos, Tank Williams, Jevon Kearse -- far more often, the Titans choose to ease guys in or give them a year or more to get up to speed. That's understandable in some cases. In others, it shows Jeff Fisher and his staff to be overly loyal to a veteran who's proved effective but unspectacular when a rookie or youngster with more potential sits, viewed as an unknown and a risk.
Rookie receiver Lavelle Hawkins didn't know his stuff as well as he should have in 2008 and couldn't be relied upon to be in the right spots. So the Titans used him very little. But couldn't they have given him a very narrow package and found a way to try to use him? Wouldn't 10 snaps of that have been better than whatever the supposedly-reliable Justin McCareins wasn't doing on those plays? Reliable is great, but if you're reliably not explosive, it's not such a tremendous trait.
Another reader, anarklay, was talking mostly about the lack of chances for rookie receivers when he put it this way, which I really liked: "experiments with no tests yield no results."
Gunter: One tendency I'd like to see the titans change is to have a throwing QB for a long time. Steve wasn't ... VY isn't .. KC won't be around forever - we let Simms slip away.. We didn't get Jay Cutler.. I know we emphasis the run.. but .. the run works the best when complimented with a good passing game. We just can't keep people honest.
Philip in Bowling Green, KY: Apparently the Titans don't need to change much, 13-3 speaks for itself. Lots of Titans fans are looking for a WR first round this year, but I think if the Titans try to feature a receiver in their offense, it will hinder them in the long run. I would like to see them start building some depth at Linebacker, to replace those guys that are getting up there in years. I could be wrong, but if it aint broke dont fix it.
John in Toms River, NJ: Paul- i would love for the titans to make bigger splashes in F.A....we have a chance 2 get canty..but tennessee cancells the visit...dont get me wrong i love that they signed nate w. nd haye....but we could of had canty or houshmandza.
Erika in Nashville: I'd love to see the Titans be a bit more aggressive in getting some big names. Obviously, the no names aren't winning them Superbowls, and that is the goal, isn't it??
Paul Kuharsky: I disagree with you, John and Erika, for the most part. Please name all the teams and all the guys who've lived up to expectations after a big free-agent splash. Reggie White in Green Bay, Plaxico Burress in New York and who else? Far, far more misses than hits.
Would you prefer a big name to All-Pros like Cortland Finnegan and Michael Roos, or are you OK with them being on track to becoming big names? Guys like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Kevin Mawae are well known and consistently productive. How many running backs would you take ahead of Johnson? Not too many, I don't suspect.
Who is it they've missed out on that you think would put them over the hump?
Clark from Lexington: Titans Magic Wand... I would like to add some aggresion on defense... and by aggresion I mean, 99
Titans Defense, 85 bears, or just some 46 blitzing crazyiness. What is the good of with all our speed on Defense if we don't use it. Against the Ravens flacco's numbers were horrible WHEN we blitzed. I know we didn't have to blitz as much with Fat Al, but the raven's center Brown is getting a fat check from the Rams because of mainly his great games against Albert. I know swartz and his analytically statisticall analysis of defense never blitzed, but cecil is here... and with him, I HOPE, will come some of his famous aggresion. So... we have to blitz and trust our secondary, and if we do... I think we won't miss Albert as much as you think.
Paul Kuharsky: I do think we will see more blitzing with Cecil in place and Haynesworth gone. But you can be an aggressive defense even if you don't blitz a lot. I think the word still fits the style the Titans played last season.
Daniel in Boston, MA: I had to chime in with two thoughts. First, the philosophical tenet that I would change is their approach to wide receivers. I don't know where that change needs to come because I don't trust whoever they have evaluating wide receivers, and I don't know whether it's the same person from, say the Dyson draft (aka the oops-why-didn't-we-pick-Moss draft), or if it keeps changing, but this team needs a better wide receiver corps. I have no faith that Washington will work out because they've missed the boat so often in the past (McCareins, Calico, Dyson, etc.). Second, though, is that I actually like Fisher's loyalty. He seems like an actually decent human being who doesn't want to see this sport descend to mere business. You might argue that that's impractical, but some impracticalities are worth it just to be human. I try to support that in life, and I support it in sports too. Better Fisher's aggressive loyalty than Belichikian indifference.
Paul Kuharsky: Belichick certainly strikes me as loyal too, I just don't think he'd ever keep a dud like Lamont Thompson or DeRon Jenkins on the field just to prove it. As I've said about Fisher for years, if the worst complaints a city has about its coach are that he's overly loyal and too conservative -- well, a lot of other cities would love for that to be all they had to cry about on Monday talk radio.
I'm with you on receivers. They've made it clear they don't value the position like others do. But still, spending all the mid to late draft picks on the spot, the hit rate has to be better. A lot better.
Adam in Alexandria, VA: Hey Paul, I would like to see the Titans alter their approach to the draft. I would like to see more of a focus on college production as opposed to combine stats. Likewise I would like to see them take the best player available more often. I know that's easier said than done, and easier done when you don't have a lot of holes. They have a history of both throwing picks at a position of need, and reaching on players. This has happened under both Floyd Reese and Mike Reinfeldt. The way that they have filled in holes in free agency the past couple of years has given them the opportunity to draft BPA. Two years ago they still reached in the 2nd & 3rd. Last year they seemed to take a more solid approach. I hope they stick to it.
Michael Pablo: The Titans are simply too conservative in all aspects as a franchise. It would be nice if the front office stopped believing that every player on the roster is replaceable.
RocketsForever3: The Titans really need to add some deep routes to their mix. They are extremely strong on the run and fairly good with the short pass, but unless the wideouts make a move past the linebackers, they very rarely threaten opposing teams' long safeties. This could change with the excellent addition of Nate Washington and possibly Henderson, but at the moment, the Titans are way too predictable when it comes to play making, which in turn results in low offensive outputs and losses to solid passing teams (i.e. the Jets last year).
someone53927: I'd like to see the offense opened up more, it's an easy response to the question cause I think most Titans fans would like to see it...but look at some of the past Super Bowl winners/losers and you won't see many one-dimensional teams in there, and even the ones that you would consider one-dimensional lean towards the passing game (Cardinals, Colts).
I like Jeff Fisher, I like the approach to free agency and how they don't overspend, I like the emphasis on defense. I just wish they would open up the playbook and emphasize the passing game a little more. We all know Chris Johnson is a beast and is going to get the ball 20 times a game, but if you had a passing game that was more potent and emphasized by the coaching staff, that could do wonders towards causing opposing defenses to have to gameplan for an aerial attack, thus making Johnson all the more effective.
Maybe it goes back to that other entry talking about the Titans' lack of receiver development and whether it's poor drafting, scouting, coaching, whatever. I'm hopeful that with the addition of Nate Washington and the re-signing of Collins the passing game will be emphasized more. It was in those couple years when Heimerdinger was last coordinator, and look what happened then, Derrick Mason blossomed, Drew Bennett blossomed, and Steve McNair was co-MVP one year. I don't expect a Colts/Cardinals attack...just more emphasis on the passing game.
Paul Kuharsky: It took Eddie George's drop-off as he tried to come back from a toe injury for the Titans to really open things up with McNair. I think they want to do more in the passing game, but as long as it is Jeff Fisher's team, it's going to lean heavily to the run and on the defense.
Titanfan109: I feel like the front office is a place that needs to be changed. I like that the Titans give kids at small schools a chance to develop, but look at all the wasted draft picks we have had in the past 2 years. I think that if you can draft a player from a school that is more suited to the NFL than you should look there.
I love the run first offense philosophy and play tough straight up defense. However, I feel at times it is taken to the extreme. Some more blitz packages would be beneficial to our secondary. I will admit there were a few games that we let the ball fly on first down, which was good to mix up the defense.
Also, I'm hoping the Titans will find players in the draft to replace some of our mainstays this year. I love Bulluck but we need to start grooming a OLB. KVB and the Freak need to have some protege's behind them as well. As much as this pains me, the Titans front office should try and emulate the Steelers and Patriots. We had a huge drop off for about 4 seasons, and you never see that from those two teams.
I love you Titans and I
will be cleaning out the garage as usual come draft day to relieve stress!