AFC South: Jason Michael

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The players aren't around for a good while still.

The playbook should be ready for them when they return to team headquarters.

Titans coaches are on combine duty for the next couple of days, but they will continue to work on the playbook when they return from Indy.

While some of what they draw up will be crafted to who they know they will have on their team and what those players can do, it’ll be broader than that.

Later they can scratch sections of it they aren’t suited for, enhance sections they are suited for and add new elements they see as needed.

“The offseason program starts April 7, by that point we hope as a staff to have been through the playbook, to have been through the bulk of everything,” offensive coordinator Jason Michael told The Midday 180 this week. “Once we get that in we will tinker with things, we’ll build our packages off of those plays.

“Once we get a chance to spend some time with the guys here and get a better feel for the current roster and get a chance to build the roster through free agency and the draft, we’ll get a better feel for maybe leaning one way or the other.”

As I wrote earlier Wednesday, the playbook will come on a team-issued iPad. Changes made at team headquarters by coaches will immediately get sent to everyone’s iPad, and the system will allow players to easily watch film anywhere.

Now all I need is a way to get one of those iPads on April 7. Not that I'd understand much of it.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ken Whisenhunt is down to two position coaching vacancies.

While they are all important, these may be the two most important: The offensive and defensive lines.

Offensive line was supposed to be rebuilt into a strength last season as the Titans signed veteran guard Andy Levitre, drafted guard Chance Warmack 10th overall and drafted center Brian Schwenke in the fourth round.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Ken Whisenhunt
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyOffensive line coach and defensive line coach will be two of Ken Whisenhunt's most critical hires.
But a rebuilt interior didn't jell quickly or play consistently even with mentoring from two Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive linemen, head coach Mike Munchak and line coach Bruce Matthews.

One of the criticism of Whisenhunt during his six years as head coach in Arizona was the Cardinals' failure to develop young offensive lineman. Another Hall of Famer, Russ Grimm, was Whisenhunt's line coach for his entire tenure in Arizona.

Grimm didn't coach in 2013, but I do not expect he will be joining the Titans' staff.

Offensive line was generally a strength for the Titans when Munchak was the position coach before he was elevated to the top job in 2011.

The Titans used to thrive on defense because they developed pass-rushers, Jevon Kearse and Albert Haynesworth, both first-round draft picks, head that list, but it also includes Kyle Vanden Bosch, a huge hit as a reclamation project.

Jim Washburn, recently retained by Detroit as the Lions' line coach, was a big part of that. Tracy Rocker followed him as Munchak's line coach, and for two years he had the assistance of Keith Millard, the team's pass-rushing coach.

The Titans really developed just one pass-rusher in that time, and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is the sort of player who I think would play well under anyone.

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will run a hybrid front that will feature 3-4 and 4-3 elements. The Titans have been a 4-3 since before the franchise relocated to Tennessee in 1997.

Whisenhunt, Horton and a new line coach will have a voice in drafting a guy – or a couple – who fit what they are looking for up front. It's imperative the team adds a quality edge pass-rusher, and the line coach Whisenhunt hires will be largely responsible for developing him.

Ron Aiken was Whisenhunt's defensive line coach for all six years in Arizona. He is now coaching the line at Oregon.

Whisenhunt is at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where he is likely interviewing candidates for his remaining staff positions.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reported Tuesday evening that the Titans will hire John McNulty as quarterbacks coach.

I reported early on that McNulty had an inside track on the offensive coordinator post, which wound up going to Jason Michael.

Whisenhunt's staff at this point, with holdovers in italics.

Offensive coordinator: Jason Michael
Quarterbacks: John McNulty
Running backs: Sylvester Croom
Tight ends: Mike Mularkey
Wide receivers: Shawn Jefferson

Defensive coordinator: Ray Horton
Linebackers: Lou Spanos
Secondary: Sigismondo “Louie” Cioffi
Assistant secondary: Steve Brown

Special teams: Nate Kaczor
Assistant special teams: Steve Hoffman

Strength and conditioning: Steve Watterson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The first significant person in coaching circles Jason Michael got the attention of was former University of Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer.

Michael, the new Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, started out as a graduate assistant for Fulmer in 2003-04 and returned as an assistant in 2008.

The "Wake Up Zone" in Nashville asked Fulmer about Michael Tuesday morning:
"To call Jason Michael a bright young man would be grossly understating," Fulmer said. "He's a brilliant young man. I had some friends in Bowling Green initially and they were telling me about Jason working for them some in the offseason. And I had a chance to just meet him, by chance almost, and was super impressed by him.

"He was the quarterback for a national championship team there at Western Kentucky and we had a chance to visit. Almost immediately, I said, 'You know, we'll find a way to get you involved with our program some way.' So he came as a graduate assistant and did a great job.

"I always prided myself in turning the lights out when everybody else was gone. And he turned them off. He was a guy that was the last one there and making coffee in the morning during a great run that we had. Then when I had a chance to bring him back I brought him back as a full-time coach. He's really, really bright, a great communicator, I think the players will enjoy being around him. He's also a very tough-minded guy."

Fulmer also said Matthews had the right persona to work as a coordinator for a head coach in Ken Whisenhunt, who will be calling the plays.

"The head coach gets pulled away some," Fulmer said. "You have to have that guy that you trust that's basically an extension of you. During the game you can call the plays because there has been that continuity in the insertion and in the system."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Getting permission to interview an assistant who is under contract is difficult business in the NFL.

Maybe San Diego wants to run away from tight ends coach Jason Michael. Maybe Pittsburgh wants to run away from linebackers coach Keith Butler.

I doubt it.

While those teams might want to keep those coaches, perhaps they are also doing a nice thing for quality employees and giving them a chance to look into a promotion, even if it comes elsewhere.

Perhaps part of it is that the Chargers and Steelers hold new Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt in high regard, and that makes them more inclined to say yes. Perhaps in Butler's case, the Steelers feel badly about denying permission in the past and grant it.

For whatever reason, Ruston Webster and Whisenhunt got permission from San Diego and Pittsburgh, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

So for offensive coordinator, it looks like Michael or John McNulty, the former Tampa Bay quarterbacks coach.

And for defensive coordinator, it looks like Butler or Ray Horton, who has been granted broad permission by the Cleveland Browns to explore other opportunities.

UPDATE, 3:40 ET: Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says Butler will remain with the Steelers.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tuesday I reported former Buccaneers quarterback coach John McNulty was close to becoming Ken Whisenhunt’s offensive coordinator.

Wednesday Chris Mortensen reports that Chargers tight ends coach Jason Michael is in line for the post.

McNulty is not under contract, so the Titans can get him without anyone else’s permission. San Diego doesn't have to allow Michael to move on, and such permission is the exception, not the rule in the NFL.

A bit on both of them:

Michael: Quarterbacked a national championship team in 2002 at Division I-AA Western Kentucky and began his coaching career at the University of Tennessee as a graduate assistant in 2003-04. He also coached at the school in 2008.

His resume as an NFL coach: Oakland Raiders, quality control, 2005; New York Jets, quality control, quarterbacks, tight ends, 2006-07; San Francisco 49ers, quarterbacks, 2009-10, San Diego Chargers, tight ends, 2011-present.

A bio from the Chargers.

McNulty: Coached receivers for three years and quarterbacks for one under Whisenhunt in Arizona. In addition to Larry Fitzgerald, he coached Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell in Jacksonville. He was a quality control coach for the Jaguars in 1999, when the Jaguars lost three games all season, all to Tennessee.

His resume as an NFL coach: Jacksonville Jaguars, quality control, receiver, 1998-2002; Dallas Cowboys, wide receivers, 2003; Arizona Cardinals, quarterbacks, receivers, 2009-12; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterbacks, 2013.

A bio from when he was with the Cardinals.