AFC South: Jim Washburn

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Brian Urlacher recently admitted members of the Bears faked injuries to slow high-powered offenses.

Another linebacker from Urlacher's generation, Keith Bulluck, said that the Tennessee Titans used to do the same.

“You kidding me? Yeah of course,” Bulluck said in his weekly appearance on The Midday 180 in Nashville, of which I am a part. “It’s one of the things if the offense is going too fast. Offenses do that for many different reasons. I know for us they would do that, the Colts were legendary at doing that, go hurry-up offense either when Albert (Haynesworth) was on the field to get him tired or when he was off the field do hurry-up offense so he couldn’t get back on the field.

“Those 300-pounder, they’re in shape for their size, but to go seven, eight snaps in a row at a rapid pace, they might as well not even be out there. So yeah, it happens, it’s been happening, it’s nothing new and I don’t even know why people are surprised.”

Bulluck said the Titans sometimes got a signal from the sideline and sometimes it came from him.

“Look man, somebody needs to go down. I remember Robaire Smith used to hate doing that. If he had to be the guy, he was like, ‘I’m not going down,” Bulluck said. “Because at the end of the day, it looks weak. It does look week. You’re out there, ‘Ohh, ahh I’m hurt.' Then you walk off the field and you’re back in in a few plays.

“I remember Robaire Smith cussed me out in the middle of a game because I told him he had to take a dive. Then he got to the sideline and then cussed (defensive line coach Jim) Washburn out too. So it’s not always a favorable tactic. But you do what you’ve got to do sometimes.”

Guys who are past their playing days are fine talking about it now.

It’s a tough thing for the league to police as it’s happening.

I certainly think the NFL can do more to discourage it by issuing fines to teams and players if they spot a hand signal prompting an “injury.”

But we’re going to have to live with it, as we have in the past, and maybe laugh about it with the participants years later.
The Jaguars have claimed Jason Babin off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles, Adam Schefter reports.

Eight teams claimed him, but the Jaguars won his rights because they were second to Kansas City in the waiver order, which is based on current records.

I like it. I like it a lot.

Babin has been an effective 4-3 end in Tennessee and Philadelphia for high-energy, vinegary defensive line coach Jim Washburn.

The man who holds the same post in Jacksonville, Joe Cullen, is a lot like Washburn. He isn’t getting nearly the rush he needs out of the guys he has. Adding Babin to the mix should help.

Jacksonville is 32nd in the NFL in sacks per play and has taken the quarterback down just 13 times, tied with the Raiders for the fewest sacks in the league.

Originally drafted by Houston 27th overall in 2004 in to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, Babin didn’t pan out. After three seasons, he turned into a journeyman, with stops in Seattle, Kansas City and Philadelphia over the next three seasons.

The Titans took Babin on as a $1 million reclamation project in 2010, and spurred by Washburn, he produced 12.5 sacks.

But the team changed coaches and defensive schemes in 2011, looking to get bigger and asking ends to play over offensive tackles instead of way out wide. It didn’t bid to re-sign him, and he wound up following Washburn to Philadelphia for a second term with the Eagles.

After 18.5 sacks in 2011, he was part of a crumbling team this year, and the Eagles released him Monday to give some younger guys a chance.

If Cullen allows Babin to line up wide and use his speed to take on tackles, he should provide a pass-rush boost.
Keith Millard MPS/Getty ImagesKeith Millard, the Titans' new pass rush coach, collected 58 sacks over his eight-season career.

NASHVILLE -- After 15 minutes on the phone with Keith Millard, I was ready to rush the passer.

The newest addition to Titans coach Mike Munchak’s staff won’t oversee a position but a skill set. And although Millard will spend a lot of time with defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and his group, he’ll also rove and talk nuances of getting to the quarterback with linebackers, safeties and even cornerbacks.

His initial speech will go like this:

“Before you even start, you’ve got to pick a line and you’ve got to stay on that line. And that goes for every position, no matter what you are doing. It’s from wherever you start to the quarterback and that thing can’t vary. You know the old saying the shortest distance between two spots is a straight line? That’s as true in pass rush as there is. You stay on that line, get your blocker off it. Now how you do that is where it gets interesting, where technique and fundamentals come in.”

Tennessee needs to rush the passer better than it did last season, which was its first without Jim Washburn since 1998. The former defensive line coach, now in Philadelphia, pieced together an effective four-man rush most of the time.

After Munchak hired Jerry Gray as defensive coordinator, the team concluded that getting to the quarterback at all costs wasn’t the way to go because the run defense suffered.

In Year 1 of the new regime, the team sacked the quarterback less -- managing just 28 sacks, 31st in sacks per play in the NFL -- and was still just 24th against the run.

Both the personnel and the coaching need to be better.

[+] EnlargeKamerion Wimbley
Brett Davis/US PresswireThe Titans brought in former Raider Kamerion Wimbley to boost their pass rush.
Enter Kamerion Wimbley, the former Oakland Raider whom the Titans pounced on when he was released. Enter Millard.

Wimbley should be a boost for the pass rush. He’s worked a lot in his career as a 3-4 outside linebacker but in Tennessee he’ll be a 4-3 end. He can rush the passer well from there, but the team could put his durability to the test if he’s on the field for too many snaps.

Millard’s a big believer in a four-man rush, as the Titans have long been. But if they can’t get to the quality quarterbacks they are scheduled to face in 2012 with just four rushers, they should be better equipped to bring more blitzers than they have been in some time after Millard coaches them up.

“I’m thrilled about Millard,” Titans outside linebacker Gerald McRath said. “For me, I’ve never had someone who took time to teach me pass rush. You can fine tune a skill, and that’s a skill that makes you more valuable to your team. I think that will be great, that you can have someone who can focus on that.”

Munchak and Gray talked about the idea early on after the new staff was assembled. It didn’t come together during the initial staff assembly and the lockout. But then Millard came free after Raheem Morris and the Tampa Bay staff were let go.

Millard played nine seasons as an NFL defensive lineman, primarily with Minnesota. He coached in Denver and Oakland before spending 2011 in Tampa Bay.

Although he’s worked mostly as a defensive line coach, he was a pass rush coach at times with the Broncos and Raiders.

Specialized coaches are increasingly popular in the NFL. Many 3-4 teams have outside linebacker coaches. Some teams have cornerback and safety coaches in their secondary, or a coach who concentrates on the nickel defensive backs.

A coach like Millard qualifies as being outside the box for the Titans. He gets fired up talking about his office, and initially makes it sound big. Then you realize he means big enough to have three or maybe four guys in there at a time to go over pass-rush nuances.

“Not only is he going to be doing D-line, and that’s a good thing, we’re going to be sending him linebackers and safeties and things like that,” said Gray, who played nine seasons as a cover corner. “I’ll be honest and tell you I don’t know anything about blitzing. Beating a running back, I can tell you, but I’ve never felt that. So I really don’t know how it feels.

“He’ll be able to help us, more than saying ‘Hey, I’ve got a clear open spot for you to hit the quarterback.’ The best thing you can do is offer a one-on-one. Now show me how to win the one-on-one. That’s what he’s going to be doing.”

Warren Sapp, who’s widely regarded as an all-time great pass-rushing tackle, raved about Millard’s influence on him to The Tennessean after the Titans made the hire.

[+] EnlargeKeith Millard
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIKeith Millard has had coaching stints with the Broncos, Raiders and Buccaneers.
Gray still emphasizes the need for players to stop the run. Millard and Gray talk about earning the right to pass rush. And nothing does that more than stuffing a run play on first down to help create second- and third-and-long situations.

Millard calls himself a self-taught pass-rusher.

He’s eager to share what he knows, and says it will be a lot more about feet than hands for both blitzers and guys who make a living rushing the passer. For Millard, that second group generally falls into two styles, straight-liners (like Kyle Vanden Bosch or Jason Taylor) and basketball types (like Sapp and Derrick Burgess).

“I think doing it myself from different positions has given me a real edge at teaching the true fundamentals,” Millard said. “Being able to study blockers and find their weaknesses and how to take advantage of them. I’m really about teaching the concept of getting the blocker on your terms and how to do that. It’s not so much a repertoire with your hands as it is your footwork and trying to work a blocker’s weaknesses against him.

“Hands are really just kind of a second nature thing. When you really get down to it, it’s about feet. Getting blockers off balance and using your hands to keep them off balance. Whether you are bull-rushing, whether you are going from one edge to the other and back, it’s really got to be about balance and footwork and your approach -- getting to a point where you own that guy, you know where his weaknesses are and you just continually, constantly, work on those weaknesses. There is a lot that goes into that.”

Millard will spell out for a guy what his body has to do to counter the body trying to block him: flipping hips, making yourself small, understanding what blockers are doing with their hands. Get the guy in your way off balance and keep him off balance.

It seems uncertain just where and how Millard will fit into the regular practice schedule, but he’s certain to work with specific guys before and after practices and outside of regular meeting times.

Those office sessions will be kept small -- he'll rarely work with more than two linebackers or two defensive backs at a time.

If he’s what Munchak and Gray expect, the Titans will do a far better job of getting from Point A to the quarterback and the defense will make big gains.

Millard’s motivated me. I’m heading outside right now to see about making myself small and finding the best way to stay on my straight line.

Titans' regret: Moving Jason Jones

January, 11, 2012
1/11/12
12:08
PM ET
Regrets? Everybody’s got a few. … We asked for some feedback on one thing you’d like to go back and change for each team in the AFC South.

I was thinking more of something before the season than during it, though I may reconsider in a few instances.

For the Tennessee Titans, your overwhelming response was regretting Chris Johnson's contract or the timing of it. Certainly that’s a legitimate entry, but it’s popular and obvious and we strive for a bit more nuance. So I’m going to steer away from it in favor of something I didn’t see mentioned.

Here’s my biggest second-guess about the 2011 Titans: Moving Jason Jones from defensive tackle to defensive end.

The Titans' defensive line was an overall disappointment in its first season after longtime position coach Jim Washburn left. Their top singular pass rush force, Jason Babin, was not counted as a free agent and went to Philadelphia.

Washburn was a staunch proponent of Jones as a tackle. With his big wingspan and excellent quickness he was a very good inside player. The issue was that he had a tendency to get injured and wear down. New coordinator Jerry Gray and new line coach Tracy Rocker decided Jones would fit their scheme. They looked to be more run-sound, get bigger up front and better as an end.

But Jones did not produce from the outside the way the Titans anticipated. He took one for the team with the move and it will cost him money, as he’s not as likely to get offers that are as good in upcoming free agency.

Gray was reluctant late in the season to talk about what the Titans would want to do with Jones going forward if they could keep him, and talked as if the team used him largely the same way as he was used under Washburn. But he was not inside as often. Matthew Willis of ESPN Stats and Info tells me Jones was a defensive end on 415 plays and a defensive tackle 233. On the 415 plays as an end, he managed two sacks.

I expect Jones will move on. If the Titans wanted to make a sales pitch, they’d best serve themselves to say he’s a better tackle than end and they’d like to get him back inside.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans severed ties with their coach and quarterback and set about for a fresh start.

They’ll suffer from time lost with the lockout, but in Mike Munchak, a largely new staff and a new combo of quarterbacks in Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, the franchise hasn’t just turned a page.

It’s opened a new book.

The early chapters could well be choppy and rough.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is looking for a bigger defense that will stop the run first, and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer is bringing a scholarly approach to a group used to being screamed at. The Titans have new signal-callers on offense and defense (middle linebacker Barrett Ruud was signed as a free agent from Tampa Bay), so there is a lot of new stuff to cover.

But external expectations are low. If the Titans can get their best player, Chris Johnson, on the field and make strides on defense, it’s not impossible to improve on last season's disastrous 6-10 record.

Munchak preaches the virtues of being a true professional -- know what to do and do it. The question is, does he have enough talented guys who can win football games following that mantra?

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Will Johnson be around?

It’s hard to imagine his sitting out the season. The flamboyant running back loves the NFL stage and is one of the league’s most dynamic players. He's certainly scheduled to be underpaid at $1.065 million, though. The Titans won’t negotiate if he’s not at camp, but he won’t come to camp without a new deal. There are no signs of any real movement.

Johnson is not fired up about a compromise that would have him join the team but not practice until a deal is reached. Someone will bend. But in the meantime, we’re likely to see a much less threatening offense.

“It’s tough to tell how long it takes to become an issue,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “Once he’s here he’s here, and we start working with him. We’ll be a different team without him. He's definitely one of the top two if not the best running back in the league. A special player, very dynamic. It makes for a different kind of offense when he’s not in there.

“The plays wouldn’t change. Just without having his speed in there, people would play us differently. I wouldn’t say it would necessarily be a worse offense. It would just be someone else running it, Javon Ringer or the rookie (Jamie Harper). It wouldn’t have CJ’s dynamic and people having to worry about his speed.”

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Chris Johnson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Titans will be a different team if they are without Chris Johnson, who rushed for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
If defenses aren't worrying about that speed, things will be far more difficult for Hasselbeck and the team’s other best weapons, receiver Kenny Britt and tight end Jared Cook.

2. How will Munchak’s style translate?

He’s a Hall of Fame player, and he’s been a top position coach for years. Odds are Munchak can coach a football team.

“He’s his own man,” linebacker Gerald McRath said. “Everybody is going to have to sit back and watch, but it’s definitely going to be different. He has that personality. He wants to establish something that’s his, something that he’s worked hard for. I feel like it’s a great opportunity. It’s a privilege just to be involved in that, to be able to put into some of that.”

The question really is about his CEO role. How does he deal with the late-night calls about DUIs or the overeating defensive lineman? How does he react to the city calling for the starting quarterback’s head or the player enduring stuff at home that’s hurting his play?

Munchak has talked about accountability and discipline and consequences, things that all had slipped at the end for Jeff Fisher. Can he enforce all that effectively?

One other thing: Fisher was great with rules and clock management. In Munchak’s first turn in the primary headset, it will be interesting to see how he fares in those departments.

3. Can the Titans stay healthy up front?

Part of the Titans’ push to be bigger up front on defense is about being better against the run. Part of it is about being more rugged deep into the season. Some of Tennessee’s speed rushers in recent years wore down late, and the Titans suffered for it.

Tracy Rocker has big shoes to fill as defensive line coach, where Jim Washburn had a great run of success. Can Gray and Rocker show the discipline to pace the linemen the way they are talking about doing now?

“I think we have to be real smart this year because our [defensive linemen], for some reason, get hurt quite a bit,” Munchak said. “We have to limit their plays not only in games but in practice so you don’t lose guys. ... We have to find a way to keep them healthy. You can’t control all that, but we have to be smart.”

BIGGEST SURPRISE

It’s early, of course. But the team is talking up Cook again, and this time, he seems prepared to live up to it. The tight end is running plenty of routes that take him deeper than most tight ends, and the quarterbacks are thrilled to have such a big target stretching the field. He seems to be responding better to Palmer's mellow approach than he did to Mike Heimerdinger's high intensity.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Britt’s offseason was filled with off-the-field issues. The Titans gave him a clean slate coming in, but hamstring problems have kept him out of camp so far. He said that he thought yoga was going to help him solve such problems but that his instructor apparently took the money and ran with it. The Titans are already without their most dynamic player in Johnson. With Britt sidelined, they are also missing No. 2.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • McRath is probably the odd man out in the linebacker shuffle unless he makes a charge to overtake Will Witherspoon on the weak side. McRath knows he didn’t make enough plays last year, but he’s saying the right things and carrying himself the right way. Maybe he’ll be a special-teams stud if he isn’t playing defense.
  • [+] EnlargeTennessee's Mike Munchak
    Don McPeak/US PRESSWIRENew coach Mike Munchak, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, will have high expectations for his interior line.
  • The pressure is on the Titans' interior offensive line. Munchak and O-line coach Bruce Matthews, both Hall of Fame linemen, expect Leroy Harris, Eugene Amano and Jake Scott to play better in their second season all together. If they don’t, we’ll call it part missed assessment and part blown confidence. Keeping Hasselbeck upright and healthy is a huge deal.
  • I’m not sure how the Titans will distribute their tight ends without tipping their intentions. Cook is the receiver and Craig Stevens is the blocker. Veteran addition Daniel Graham can do both but is more of a blocker.
  • Jordan Babineaux was lured to the Titans from Seattle largely because of his relationship with Gray when both were with the Seahawks. They shouldn’t do anything that entails Michael Griffin playing anything but center field. And Babineaux is more a free than a strong safety, but the Titans will blur the distinction. Can he challenge for Chris Hope’s job? If he does, will Hope take a pay cut to stay?
  • The Titans actually have reasonable depth at cornerback. Cortland Finnegan needs to produce big in a contract year, and Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty are up-and-comers. Ryan Mouton was lost for the year with an Achilles injury, but veteran addition Frank Walker made a nice early impression.
  • This team always has an undrafted receiver who creates buzz early. This time it looks to be Michael Preston out of Heidelberg. He has nice size and athleticism.
  • There’s not enough evidence to know whether seventh-round CB Tommie Campbell can play yet. But he certainly had physical attributes that make receivers take notice. Receiver Yamon Figurs recently went against him and came away muttering that Campbell was the biggest corner he’s seen. Figurs said Campbell, who is 6-foot-3, was “like a giraffe.”
  • Jake Locker has shown steady improvement and has been far better early on that I expected he would be.
  • If the Titans are going to be a lot better on defense, second-year end Derrick Morgan and second-round pick Akeem Ayers, a strongside linebacker, will have a lot to do with it. Morgan is a very good player, and Ayers brings the Titans size they’ve not had at linebacker since the franchise relocated.
  • Leadership was a giant issue last season. There was hardly any when things got tough. The Titans' additions could solve that. Hasselbeck, Graham, Ruud and Ayers are going to be big in that department.
  • Even if Justin Gage has a huge preseason, the Titans should consider moving on if everyone else is healthy. He’s simply not been a steady enough playmaker, and if his presence is going to keep the team from exploring the upside of someone like Damian Williams, it’s not the right move.
  • Where does recently added, versatile veteran offensive lineman Pat McQuistan fit in? The Titans have a lot of young linemen they like, but his case for edging somebody out will include his experience at every position but center. That could increase their flexibility on the bench.
We’ve not checked in on the NFL Network’s top 100 players countdown. It’s a good time now as Jeff Saturday will be one of the 10 players unveiled as ranked between No. 51-60 in the next installment.

Peyton Manning offers the commentary presenting Saturday, the second of six Colts who will be on the final list.

Saturday
The newest episode airs Sunday at 8 pm ET, 7 p.m. CT. An hour later there is a reaction show.

With six players on the list, the Colts are the second-most represented team along with the Baltimore Ravens and the Dallas Cowboys.

Here is the list that has been revealed so far, with their presenters in parentheses. AFC South players are in bold.

100. Donovan McNabbWashington Redskins (Brian Westbrook)

99. Chad CliftonGreen Bay Packers (Jon Gruden)

98. Darren McFaddenOakland Raiders (Maurice Jones-Drew)

97. Shaun PhillipsSan Diego Chargers (Kirk Morrison)

96. Nick Collins – Green Bay Packers (Dom Capers)

95. Jon BeasonCarolina Panthers (John Fox)

94. Frank GoreSan Francisco 49ers (Takeo Spikes)

93. Eric BerryKansas City Chiefs (Todd Haley)

92. Lance BriggsChicago Bears (Mike Martz)

91. Terrell OwensCincinnati Bengals (Brandon Marshall)

90. Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens (John Harbaugh)

89. Adrian WilsonArizona Cardinals (Ken Whisenhunt)

88. Vernon Davis – San Francisco 49ers (Takeo Spikes)

87. Jordan Gross – Carolina Panthers (John Fox)

86. Josh FreemanTampa Bay Buccaneers (John Abraham)

85. Jason BabinTennessee Titans (Jim Washburn)

84. Josh Cribbs- Cleveland Browns (Pat Shurmur)

83. Mike Williams – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Josh Freeman)

82. LaMarr WoodleyPittsburgh Steelers (Damien Woody)

81. B.J. Raji – Green Bay Packers (Shaun O’Hara)

80. Jared AllenMinnesota Vikings (Leslie Frazier)

79. D’Brickashaw Ferguson – New York Jets (Brian Schottenheimer)

78. Dallas ClarkIndianapolis Colts (Jon Gruden)

77. Chris SneeNew York Giants (Shaun O’Hara)

76. Santonio Holmes – New York Jets (Rex Ryan)

75. Jay Ratliff – Dallas Cowboys (Tom Coughlin)

74. Greg Jennings – Green Bay Packers (Mike McCarthy)

73. Trent ColePhiladelphia Eagles (Andy Reid)

72. Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys (Jason Garrett)

71. Mario WilliamsHouston Texans (Gary Kubiak)

70. Miles Austin – Dallas Cowboys (Jason Garrett)

69. John Abraham – Atlanta Falcons (Josh Freeman)

68. Antrel Rolle – New York Giants (Calais Campbell)

67. Brian Waters – Kansas City Chiefs (Takeo Spikes)

66. Richard Seymour – Oakland Raiders (Romeo Crennel)

65. Vonta Leach – Houston Texans (Kirk Morrison)

64. Tamba Hali – Kansas City Chiefs (Osi Umenyiora)

63. Cameron WakeMiami Dolphins (Tony Sparano)

62. Jerod MayoNew England Patriots (Bill Belichick)

61. Brandon Marshall – Miami Dolphins (Jon Gruden)

The list makes for good conversation. But that players deemed McNabb worthy of a spot in the top 100 automatically put into question their qualifications to vote effectively.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Players at the scouting combine know they’ll face the toughest questions on the toughest topics teams can find. So many come here well-prepped, with scripted replies at the ready.

That puts the onus back on the teams.

In the chess game, many of them try to get at an issue from a side avenue that can circumvent the script.

Jaguars general manager Gene Smith said his franchise actually uses some big resources to do so.

“Some guys just don’t interview well, some guys do,” Smith said. “Some guys are well-prepared, well-rehearsed with what they are going to say. In the interview situation you’ve got to know how to ask the question and how to interpret the response.

“We’ve done a lot of work with professionals working on how to interview best, the tactics involved. There are ways you can conduct business where you will get basically what you want and you’ll see how they respond to certain things you want them to address. There is a lot of value to doing that.

“But you’ve got to weigh it, you can’t read too much into meeting a player for 12 minutes and saying, ‘This is what he is.’ I think more times than not when you do that, you’re going to make mistakes.”

“Hopefully when they come in, regardless of how well they interview, we’ll get the authentic person before they walk out our door.”

Who the professionals the Jaguars use to help them with interview plans remains a secret. The info is clearly a valued element of this process for Smith and his staff. He said they get significant bang for their buck from the investment.

I always wondered just how much of a real impression teams can get out of the 60 15-minute interviews they are allowed here. But Malcolm Gladwell’s look at thin-slicing in the book “Blink,“ convinced me that people can get quite a bit out of a first impression, and that it’s usually accurate.

Jim Washburn, the former Titans defensive line coach now with the Eagles, once told me he only remembered one time where his initial impression from a meeting proved inaccurate.

And, of course, the Titans drafted Rien Long. Washburn changed his mind on Long, from dislike to like, in time.

Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz was funny when asked about interview techniques.

“Yeah, we water board a guy, we get some of these [big] lights that we use,” he said. “… If somebody wants to, in 15 minutes, they can probably stay away, they can just keep throwing jabs and stay away. A lot of people probably stay three minutes in the ring with the bear, they didn’t do it by going at the bear. They did it by getting on their bike and running away.

“I think when it’s all said and done, it’s just a piece. You have some other interaction with them. When it’s all said and done, I don’t know that you’re going on that instantaneous thing.”

RTC: Jaguars' Luke McCown a realist

February, 17, 2011
2/17/11
10:10
AM ET
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

It sounds like Brian Cushing is heading inside with DeMeco Ryans in the Texans’ 3-4, says Houston Diehards.

Indianapolis Colts

Peyton Manning shouldn’t be giving the Colts a hometown discount, says Bob Kravitz.

The Ron Turner-Frank Reich flip-flop is official, says Phil Richards.

Colts.com’s fourth-quarter review.

Anthony Schoettle doesn’t expect a long-term deal for Manning before a new CBA.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Luke McCown considers himself an NFL realist, says John Oehser.

There is no downside to franchise tagging Marcedes Lewis, says Oehser.

Tennessee Titans

Tracy Rocker hopes to pick up where Jim Washburn left off, says Jim Wyatt.

Frank Bush is the new linebackers coach for the Titans, says Wyatt.

Chris Palmer’s had mixed results as a coordinator, says John Glennon.
Jerry Gray is a far different guy and different coach as he comes to Nashville to be Mike Munchak’s defensive coordinator than he was when he left the franchise in 2000 after four years coaching as an assistant.

To what degree that’s a good thing is something we’ll find out in time.

He had a talented group in his two years as a position coach with the Titans. The franchise played strong safety Blaine Bishop as a hybrid corner/linebacker while asking its corners, keyed by Samari Rolle, to survive on an island in a high pressure 46.

Even if Munchak is looking for a defense to return to those roots, it’ll take time to find that sort of talent, something not easily done these days. Tennessee has evolved into much more of a cover-2 team since Williams and Gray left and Bishop’s time with the team ended.

In the team’s announcement of the hire, Gray said his scheme will fit his talent.

“I am looking forward to really getting to know our personnel on defense and creating a defense that takes advantage of our strengths,” he said. “I am an old school guy that likes to get after the opponent, but you also have to have the players to that -- you can’t force those things. Our defense will fit what we can do well. I also want to thank Coach Brown and University of Texas. I know the timing of this isn’t ideal, but this was something that I couldn’t turn down.”

Gray went with Gregg Williams to Buffalo in 2000, when the Titans’ coordinator got the head coaching gig and Gray became his defensive coordinator.

He outlasted Williams in Buffalo, serving as coordinator through 2005 and then reuniting with Williams, who was coordinating in Washington and coaching the Redskins secondary through 2009.

Last year he oversaw the secondary in Seattle but he had moved on to work for Mack Brown at his alma mater as the head of the University of Texas’ defense.

He was a four-time Pro Bowler as a player, including in his one season with the Houston Oilers in 1992.

“Jerry has a number of qualities that I think are assets for this role: he played the game, he coached a position group and he has coordinating experience,” said Titans head coach Mike Munchak. “I respected him as a player and coach and he was someone that I knew right away that I wanted to talk to about the position. It was evident to me during interview process that he will fit well with us – he is familiar with our system and the type of players that we have on the roster. He is a great teacher and a great person, and I think the players will respond well to his style.”

One side effect I anticipate is that Marcus Robertson, the current secondary coach who was Gray’s free safety in 1999 and 2000, is more likely to remain on the staff.

Gray will have a strong voice in choosing a replacement for defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who left to take the same job with the Eagles, and decided if linebackers coach Dave McGinnis will remain. Munchak has interviewed former Houston defensive coordinator Frank Bush, who could take over linebackers.

Mudd, Washburn talk as new Eagles

February, 9, 2011
2/09/11
5:24
PM ET
Former Indianapolis Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd and former Tennessee Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who built a close friendship working against each other in the AFC South, met the Philadelphia media Wednesday for the first time.

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles public relations staff, here are some highlights.

Mudd on why he ended his one-year retirement:

“Andy [Reid]. I have known Andy for 22 years. He was a young assistant coach for Bob Stull at University of Missouri. He came over [when I was with the Chiefs] and wanted to know about what I did and why I did it and stuff like that. We spent a lot of time that one year there. I went over and spoke at their spring clinic and got to know him. Then he ends up leaving and Marty Mornhinweg was then the offensive line coach. He asked me if I would spend time. [Reid] was in Green Bay and we maintained contact. He’s a really friendly guy and he liked what I did and would always ask me questions as we went through the years. We just maintained contact. When this thing shook down, I was kind of in a state of shock. I went, ‘What?’ He called me and said, ‘Would you consider coming out of retirement?’ He told me this whole story about the interview process with the defensive coordinator. I know Juan [Castillo] very well. He said this isn’t going to work if we make this move if you don’t come.”

Mudd on aiding Washburn as he decided to jump to Philadelphia, which happened before he came into the picture himself:

“I was really involved with Wash when he was making the decision to come here. This other thing shook down a little bit later. I didn’t really consult Wash because I didn’t want to say anything [until it was in place]. It only really took about 12 hours or something like that.”

Mudd on their friendship:

“We worked against one another for 12 years in Indianapolis and Tennessee. Our boys really fought hard against one another. They beat each other up quite a bit. We found this common ground of motorcycle, so we talked about that before every game. We ran a draw play and I would call him up maybe Friday before we played them and asked if they had a good week of practice. He would say 'yes.' I said, ‘Well did you work on the draw? Because if you worked on the draw, we’re not running it.’ We have this professional respect. There is no one who coaches that position better than Jim. The proof is in the people who have failed in other places and have distinguished themselves with their play. [Titans DE Jason] Babin is the last one, but it was Kyle Vanden Bosh [before him]. Those people who are kind of no-name people, but you better tape your ankles if you’re going to play against Washburn.”

Washburn on leaving the Titans:

"It was sort of like home and that was hard. But it was really a no-brainer between the other teams and this place because it’s got a quarterback. It’s about that simple no matter what anybody tells you, it’s got a quarterback. We’ve got two … I like [head coach] Andy Reid. I met him at the Pro Bowl when we coached the Pro Bowl one year and I’ve always liked him. The first time I ever saw him -- in my first Division I game coaching, he was playing left offensive tackle for BYU and I was at New Mexico. I’ll let him tell you how that went in that game.”

Washburn on his opportunity in Philadelphia:

"I haven’t got too much time left, I’m 61 years old. I’ve got my best coaching ahead of me, I feel like I’m just where I want to be. When [offensive line coach] Howard Mudd retired -- he is one of my best friends -- what a terrible thing that was. All that knowledge he has, I wish I could just take a chip out of his brain and put it mine. And it’s just so cool that he’s here. I’m okay, he’s really good and that’s the truth.”

Washburn on his friendship with Mudd:

“We worked against the Colts one camp. He came down and we worked against him. We started talking, he’s such a good guy and we started talking about motorcycles. We both like motorcycles, so he said let’s ride in the offseason and we did. We became friends and he’s sort of a different dude and I’m like a way different dude. We just have a good time and he’s just a good person.”
Howard Mudd’s retirement lasted a season.

A year ago, on the Tuesday before Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida last year he did his best to sound like he would not be a coach who couldn’t stay retired.
“I’ve watched other coaches, players. I’d like to walk away when I feel like I’ve got something left and still not have given everything I’ve got and they usher you out the door and say, ‘it’s about time you did something else.’ Maybe I beat them just by a year or two. Are there more things that I’d like to do? Sure.

“My wife [Shirley] and I talked. We’ve had a really good run, football’s been good to both of us. We can walk away from it knowing it’s been a good life. In Seattle we have all the grandchildren. I got good advice, someone said 'don’t do anything specific and let it come to me.'”

The Eagles announced today what’s coming now for Mudd is a term as their offensive line coach.

I’m certain a big part of the lure was Jim Washburn. Tennessee’s long-time defensive line coach who recently jumped to the Eagles, Washburn became dear friends with Mudd as their lines squared off twice a year. He raved about him in this piece about Mudd’s final game.

And you can find video of their African motorcycle adventure here.
In what has to rank as one of the sloppiest divorces in recent NFL history, Jeff Fisher and the Titans are parting ways after all.

"The Tennessee Titans and Jeff Fisher have agreed to part ways and Fisher will no longer be the head coach of the team," said a release just issued by the team.

The parting was initially reported by SI.com's Don Banks.

Banks reported it’s unclear whether it will be couched as a firing, a mutual separation or a resignation.

[+] EnlargeTennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerAccording to a release from the team, "The Tennessee Titans and Jeff Fisher have agreed to part ways."
Titans owner Bud Adams sounded every bit the 88-year-old owner to hear Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean tweet it before the announcement:

  • Just talked to #Titans owner Bud Adams about Jeff Fisher news "“Where did you hear that? I better check on that. I can’t talk about it now."
  • More Adams: " I really can’t talk about it now because I don’t know what’s been said. I want to see what is going on.’’ #titans

With Fisher’s remaining one-year salary of more than $6 million in play, Adams elected to retain his long-time coach earlier this month. That came after he announced the team would part ways with quarterback Vince Young, whose relationship with Fisher had become unmanageable.

I find it hard to believe Adams has changed his mind and will pay that salary to someone not working for him. My best guess is that they reached some sort of agreement in which Fisher will get some but not all of the money, and we will see him surface as a TV analyst for a season before becoming a candidate for open jobs in 2012.

Since the initial decision, Fisher has been operating as a lame duck. He lost highly regarded defensive line coach Jim Washburn to Philadelphia (though the Titans did offer him a three-year deal to remain) and running backs coach Craig Johnson to Minnesota.

Last week, Fisher surprisingly fired defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, his close friend who The Tennessean reported actually signed his one-year contract offer late in a disastrous 2010 season.

Now what?

Fisher has two NFL disciples who’ve gone on to success. Jim Schwartz is under contract as Detroit’s head coach. Gregg Williams is currently defensive coordinator in New Orleans, and while his stint as head coach in Buffalo was a failure, some strong coaches have fared better in their second chances.

But if Adams has a clean slate, he’d be wise to go a new direction as he looks for someone to take hold of a team in disarray, with no starting quarterback and, as far as we know, only offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger under contract in terms of a coaching staff. Heimerdinger was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment late in the season.

When the Titans let general manager Floyd Reese’s contract run out in January 2007, the team’s top executive, Steve Underwood, created a list of GM candidates and helped Adams sift through them. I suspect the winner of that job, one-time NFL defensive player of the year Mike Reinfeldt, who played for the Houston Oilers, likely would be asked to run a similar coaching search.

A top candidate could be someone he overlapped with during his stints as an executive in Green Bay and Seattle.

RTC: Quick trip around the division

January, 25, 2011
1/25/11
11:24
AM ET
Reading the coverage …

Houston Texans

Bruce Matthews signed a deal and stays with the Texans’ coaching staff, says John McClain.

The Texans have had a chance to heal and to start focusing on the excitement ahead instead of one of those crushing playoff defeats, says Richard Justice. (Sarcasm.)

Indianapolis Colts

Jeff Saturday was added to the Pro Bowl team, says Mike Chappell.

A review of Bill Polian’s season, from Nate Dunlevy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Gene Smith continues to hunt for small-school treasures, says Tania Ganguli.

Gene Frenette on Maurice Jones-Drew: “You want to be loud and proud in the Twitter world? Fine. Just don’t complain, or worse, go silent when those of us who do this for a living call you out for prematurely calling someone else out.”

Tennessee Titans

Late on this, but it’s significant: The Titans are not going to a 3-4, says Jim Wyatt.

Tracking Jim Washburn’s influence on the Titans' defensive line, with David Boclair.

RTC: Herring a Texan; Shula searching

January, 21, 2011
1/21/11
11:54
AM ET
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Reggie Herring is the Texans new linebackers coach, says John McClain.

Brian Cushing had right knee surgery.

Indianapolis Colts

PSX’s unit-by-unit look at the Colts.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Mike Shula isn’t under contract with the Jaguars and interviewed with the Panthers, says Tania Ganguli.

Tennessee Titans

Jim Washburn says he enjoyed it all, says Jim Wyatt.

Craig Johnson will endorse Vince Young in Minnesota if his new bosses ask, writes Wyatt.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher either completely butchered the Chuck Cecil situation or completely manipulated it.

Whichever it was, Fisher looks horrible today and has some very tough questions to answer when he finally has his staff together.

[+] EnlargeTennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliJeff Fisher has vacancies to fill at defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.
Fisher fired Cecil, his defensive coordinator the past two seasons, Thursday.

Originally we thought Fisher merely declined to retain Cecil. But Jim Wyatt reports that Cecil was offered and signed a one-year extension late in the season. That means he’s getting paid by Bud Adams in 2011 while not working for the team. And Adams is an owner who absolutely hates to pay people who are no longer around. It likely takes money from the pool Fisher has available to pay other assistants as he signs them to one-year deals that line up with his.

I believe one of two scenarios panned out regarding Cecil:

  • Fisher finally realized the extent of the team’s discontent with Cecil after hearing from Jim Washburn, the defensive line coach who bolted for Philadelphia Wednesday. Though several players had told the head coach they would be disinclined to return if Cecil remained, Fisher didn’t take such talk as seriously as he should have. Thursday, the switch finally flipped.
  • Fisher knew he was going to have to part ways with his good friend even as he gave him the extension. Leaving Cecil out of the loop, Fisher put as large a time period between a new contract and the firing as he could, ensuring his pal has a 2011 salary if not a job.

It's a sad development, either way. Cecil deserves blame, but he didn’t draft underachieving players such as Gerald McRath or Sen’Derrick Marks and he didn’t underperform like Will Witherspoon and Tony Brown did.

Who can Fisher get? Dave McGinnis could be promoted from linebackers coach. Maybe Dick Jauron or Jim Mora would buy into a year with Fisher providing a payoff. Or maybe we see something David Climer smartly proposed: Fisher captaining the defense himself.

If the ship is sinking, the top guy might as well be at the wheel.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider