AFC South: Kevin Dyson

Mike Jones, Kevin DysonMike Zarrilli/Getty Images
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. We’ve already looked at Mike Renfro's non-catch catch for the Houston Oilers in the 1979 AFC championship game and the "Music City Miracle" that won the Tennessee Titans a 1999 playoff game against the Bills. Please vote for your choice as the Oilers/Titans’ most memorable play.

Score: Rams 23, Titans 16
Date: January 30, 2000 Site: Georgia Dome

The St. Louis Rams, The Greatest Show on Turf, had run out of gas.

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Which is the most memorable play in Titans' history?

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Discuss (Total votes: 28,050)

The Tennessee Titans had poured it on with a second-half rally but gave up a Kurt Warner-to-Isaac Bruce late bomb that allowed the Rams to take the lead in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Steve McNair guided the Titans to the Rams’ 10-yard line, where they stopped the clock with six seconds remaining. Six seconds to score a touchdown and kick an extra point to force overtime for the Super Bowl XXXIV championship.

The play call wasn’t a bad one. McNair’s favorite target, Frank Wycheck, ran a route into the end zone, and if he wasn’t open, it would mean he’d drawn attention to leave some room underneath. That’s what happened, so McNair threw to his other option, receiver Kevin Dyson, who caught the ball with a man to beat to barge into the end zone for a score.

Only that man was linebacker Mike Jones, who read the play beautifully and broke off of Wycheck and toward Dyson as the play unfolded. Jones made an excellent form tackle that left Dyson twisting and reaching fruitlessly for the plane of the end zone, just short of glory and the first overtime in Super Bowl history.

“I doubt if they'll ever be a greater play made on the final play of a Super Bowl with one second left on the clock,” Rams coach Dick Vermeil said. “It just isn't possible."

The play is certainly a memorable one for the Rams, and it’s a candidate in their three-play poll.

It’s a Titans candidate, too, and illustrates the frequent fate of the Oilers/Titans, who even in their best moments -- AFC title games in Pittsburgh in the late '70s, the playoff collapse in Buffalo and now their lone Super Bowl appearance -- came up short.

Video: Music City Miracle Reunion

February, 20, 2010
2/20/10
3:47
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Frank Wycheck and Kevin Dyson, both Nashvillians after football, have answered question about the Music City Miracle for more than 10 years now.

But the guy who got the play started, Lorenzo Neal, has always been a missing piece here.

Until today.

At "SPORTSFEST," an event hosted by 104.5 The Zone (the radio station I do some work for on Wycheck’s show), the three took the stage together and discussed the play for an hour. And Neal’s take was what an excited crowd wanted most to hear about.

Dyson said he was sick of taking calls from people looking for Neal, and was the first of the three to note how “the other eight guys on the field did their job to make the thing work.” It was a nice nod to guys like Terry Killens, Greg Favors and Perry Phenix, who were all eventually mentioned.

Here’s Neal on fielding the kick. The lighting wasn’t great and my hand wasn’t steady, but I thought Titans fans would like to see this snippet even so:


A few other notes:

  • Neal was heartfelt talking about his feelings concerning the impact of the play and how it still brings people together. He was the star of the show, and fairly so. He was an immensely popular player in 1999 and 2000 when he was with the Titans. Wycheck joked about how many people attended just in hopes of landing “the third autograph” on their memorabilia.
  • Wycheck talked about how the Titans never kicked the ball to Neal when they practiced the tricky kickoff return.
  • Dyson said he had no idea what all the fuss was about after the play in terms of Wycheck’s lateral. The way he moved to get the ball he thought it was clear cut. Only when he got home and saw replays did he realize how close it was.
Only one play involving an AFC South team made John Clayton’s list of the 10 most memorable Super Bowl moments, and it didn’t have a good result: St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones stopped the Titans Kevin Dyson just short of a tying touchdown on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV.

Adam Vinatieri, then a Patriot, now an injured Colt also makes an appearance.

Disagree with Clayton?

Well here’s one of those drag and drop features I love. Counter his list with one of your own.

Happy Anniversary

January, 8, 2010
1/08/10
12:56
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A year ago, a bit confused about which anniversary it was, I wrote something about the meaning of the Music City Miracle.

When I realized it was the ninth anniversary, not the 10th, I stashed it. An easy post in a year, I told myself. Just working ahead. (Yes, I have trouble counting sometimes.)


AP Photo/Wade PayneFriday marks the 10-year anniversary of Kevin Dyson's touchdown and the Music City Miracle.
Then a few months ago it disappeared when my hard drive fizzled. (Yes, I know, I now have Mozy.)

I can’t reconstruct the magic for you, the second version of a lost file is never as the first good for me.

But here’s the gist:

Two years ago I spent a significant amount of time piecing together a book pitch, and I’m realizing now as I start to look for it that it also disappeared with that hard drive. I did email myself a copy, so thankfully it lives on for posterity.

"Makings of a Miracle: How one historic, game-winning play transformed a team and tied together a town" didn’t really take off. The one publisher I had look at the proposal, which was good, and a sample chapter, which didn’t match the quality, passed.

And as other things -- like a certain job at ESPN.com came about -- I didn’t pursue it further.

Part of the reason, too, was that as I researched things to write the proposal, and I looked back on the 1999 Titans and the Music City Miracle, I concluded that a big piece of my premise was probably off.

The play was an incredible thing for everyone involved and everyone who was invested in that team.

It was transformative for the franchise, and it did tie together a town.

It would have been very interesting for that audience, and perhaps to one extending beyond, to learn how exactly it came together and played out, and how it impacted the lives of those involved in it.

But it didn’t hardly turn into the Immaculate Reception or Christian Laettner-to-Grant Hill, or Bobby Thompson off Ralph Branca.

And it didn’t have to.

While people here still talk of where they were when it unfolded and how they reacted, it wasn’t a necessary ingredient for a place to become a “legit” NFL city.

While it certainly served as an accelerant, Nashville would be just fine without it. Ten years later, I am not sure I really believe that much would have changed had it not happened.

That said, it’s hard to imagine I’ll ever be in such close proximity to a sports moment that tops it. I was at the 10-yard line as Kevin Dyson slowed and entered the end zone, sharing my disbelief with an entire city and most of a state.

Book or not, we’ll always have that.

So cheers today to Lorenzo Neal, who fielded Steve Christie’s kickoff and handed it back to Frank Wycheck, to Wycheck who threw the lateral, to Dyson who caught it and took it 75-yards for an incomprehensible last-minute touchdown that pushed the Titans into the divisional round of the playoffs. Here’s to Perry Phenix, Greg Favors and Terry Killens, who led the blocking caravan. Here’s to Alan Lowry, the assistant who drew up the play, and Jeff Fisher, who had his team ready to run it.

You’re all officially old.

Getty ImagesThere's no love lost between Philip Rivers' San Diego Chargers and Vince Young's Tennessee Titans.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Most teams have a historical trouble spot, and for the Titans’ entire life in Tennessee it’s been receiver.

They’ve struck out with high draft picks. They’ve failed to develop mid- and low- round guys they’ve selected in droves. They’ve missed on free agents. They’ve been unlucky with injuries.

In 2005 they liked Vincent Jackson, but watched him go late in the second round to San Diego, where he’s developed into a consistent threat. Eight picks later they took Courtney Roby in their third round. He’s now returning kicks in New Orleans while the Titans will have to defend Jackson Christmas night in a crucial game at LP Field.

ESPN Stats & Information says Jackson has been the targeted on more throws that have been in the air for at least 15 yards than any other receiver in the NFL. On those 52 chances, he had 27 catches for 715 yards, a 26.5 average and four scores.

The Titans try to spread it out and veteran Justin Gage has missed time with a back injury. Still, they don't have a pass-catcher close to Jackson in terms of long-pass situational production, let alone overall output (63 catches, 1,097 yards, 9 touchdowns). Rookie receiver Kenny Britt leads the Titans wideouts in both receptions (40) and receiving yards (674).

The hit rate’s been low, but Tennessee has produced some receivers, Derrick Mason most notable among them. And Mike Heimerdinger thinks a trio of Mason, Kevin Dyson and Drew Bennett at their peak together might have been his best group in his two terms as the Titans coordinator.

His trio now is productive with upside and seems to have a bright future with quarterback Vince Young, who replaced Kerry Collins as starter eight games ago.

Britt appears to be worth every bit of the first-round pick they spent on him; the inconsistent Gage has made more plays since the quarterback switch but has only caught 45 percent of the passes thrown his way according to ESPN Stats & Information; and though drops are a significant issue as well for free-agent addition Nate Washington, he has produced a team-best six touchdown catches. (Gage and Britt are tied for second on the team with three touchdown receptions each.)

In the eight games with Young as the starter, the Titans have the second-most prolific offense in the NFL. Their 398 yards-per-game average trails only the Saints (413.9). Tennessee's 29.5 points-per-game average is tied with Philadelphia for second behind New Orleans (30.6).

When those receivers have made plays for Young, it’s opened things up for the team’s featured player, Chris Johnson. That’s the goal No. 1 for the Titans, who are 7-7 and need to win out and get help to keep their AFC wild-card playoff hopes alive.

San Diego’s starting corners Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer have three picks apiece for the league’s 13th-rated pass defense. They’re both 6-feet tall, but the Titans' three primary wideouts are bigger. Britt and Gage are certainly capable of going up over them to get passes.

A nationally televised game is a good place for Britt, Gage and Washington to perform if they want a broad audience to believe the Titans are figuring things out at the position.

Four other things I’ll be watching or wondering about Christmas night as Chargers-Titans unfolds:

Bad blood: Shawne Merriman is still, um, annoyed about a play in a 2007 game where he felt Kevin Mawae and David Stewart teamed up to try to hurt him. Two physical fronts here hardly have a love affair from their two games that season, Chargers wins in the regular season and the first round of the playoffs.

Mawae doesn’t mind when opponents are worrying about him, and he will use it to try to use psychology as an aid on at least a couple plays.

Controlling Gates: Chargers tight end Antonio Gates causes a matchup problem for everyone. He can run over DBs and past linebackers. The Titans best coverage linebacker, Keith Bulluck, is out for the season. The Titans would be nuts to ask Gerald McRath or Colin Allred to handle him much. Nickel back Vincent Fuller’s physical, tough and responsible, but he gives up 70 pounds and three inches to Gates. I expect he will spend a lot of time on Gates, doing what he can to hold him up. Help better arrive quickly for gang tackling.

Making it hard for Rivers: Philip Rivers is gaining traction as the quarterback who should be talked about right after Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. How might the Titans have their best chance to limit the league’s third-rated passer who carries a league-high 8.76 average gain into the game?

Get him out of situations where he’s excelled. Rivers is gettable -- the Chargers have given up 24 sacks, which puts them in the bottom half of the league. The Titans need to rush well with their front four, because with the two kid backers on the field they can’t afford to bring any help.

Other pieces of the recipe for potential success against a good quarterback are hardly unpredictable: Get Rivers in third and long, because he’s got a 91.9 rating on third down. And don’t allow him to work with a lead in the fourth quarter. His passer rating in the fourth period is 98.8.

Punting contest: Brett Kern’s been a wonderful find for Tennessee, and his punts have helped out a great deal with field position. His 37.8 yard net isn’t among the league’s best numbers, but he’s been timely. His counterpart, Mike Scifres, is capable of controlling a game, as he did in the Chargers’ win over the Colts in the playoffs last season. The Titans' return game has been an abomination this year, so don’t expect it to handle Scifres' boomers very well. Remember, every fair catch amounts to a play that wasn’t a turnover. Chargers punt returner Darren Sproles, meanwhile, can be a major threat.

AFC South draft rewind

December, 23, 2009
12/23/09
3:03
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NFC Draft Rewind: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft class lists: Indianapolis | Jacksonville | Houston | Tennessee

Houston Texans
Cushing
Cushing

Best get: Not everyone was sold on Brian Cushing coming out of USC, often because of his injury history at USC. He missed most of camp hurt and has missed a lot of practices, but none of it has gotten in the way of his being an impact player every Sunday. The Texans need more defenders and more players in his mold. He’s a legitimate defensive player of the year candidate.

Worst unaddressed spot: The Texans had plenty of reason to expect they had a feature back in Steve Slaton, but completely misread their situation after that. Interior line injuries and a second-year slump for Slaton have made a second back even more important, and Chris Brown, Ryan Moats and Arian Foster all have proved incapable of handling the pressures of the work. A second running back ranks as one of the team’s highest priorities in free agency or the 2010 draft.

Still uninvolved: Tight end James Casey came in as a versatile fifth-rounder who was going to be a unique weapon for head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to tinker with. He’s got six catches for 64 yards in 11 games. He needs to have more of an impact, given that the Texans lost top-flight tight end Owen Daniels to a season-ending knee injury.

Indianapolis Colts
Brown
Brown

Still to be determined: First-rounder Donald Brown has shown he will be a good NFL player. But he’s missed five games with injuries, including the last three. He’s more capable than Joseph Addai of breaking off a big run. The question: Does Brown understand that looking for the big gain isn’t worth risking a play resulting in second-and-12. If Brown is healthy, he could see a lot of touches in the last two games. The Colts are 14-0 with just 59 carries, 263 yards and two TDs from their top pick. (They haven’t gotten much out of second-round defensive tackle Fili Moala, either.)

A perfect fit: Fourth-round receiver Austin Collie, not Minnesota’s Percy Harvin, leads all rookie receivers in catches. Collie's nabbed 53 passes for 567 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s a perfect fit for the Colts' system, and adopted the necessary work ethic to win over and work with Peyton Manning. Whether Anthony Gonzalez re-emerges for the post season push or not, Collie’s crucial to it.

Best special teams addition: The Colts had eight touchbacks in 2008. With rookie punter Pat McAfee taking over kickoffs from Adam Vinatieri, they have 18 with two games remaining. Better kickoffs are a big factor in coverage improvements under new special teams coach Ray Rychleski. McAfee’s also got a net punting average of 38.0 yards, less than a yard off former Colts' veteran Hunter Smith’s number from last season.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Monroe
Monroe

Long-term solutions: Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton were the top two picks and have played the bulk of the season at left and right tackle, respectively. They have not been consistent, but the team loves their skill sets and upside. And early work means they’ll get to the levels the team projected when spending such high picks on them sooner rather than later.

Eighth-rounders: First-year general manager Gene Smith needed additions beyond his draft class and found a couple: Cornerback William Middleton out of Furman and linebacker Russell Allen from San Diego State are undrafted free agents who made the team and have been contributors. In the nationally televised Week 15 Thursday night loss to the Colts, Allen led the team with 12 tackles. Smith is down a second and seventh rounder in 2010 because of trades, and he hopes to hit on some undrafteds again, and annually.

Three is key: Smith did great work in the third round, landing two small school players who’ve established themselves as productive starters with upside. Cornerback Derek Cox from William & Mary has not been intimidated by anything or anyone. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton from Temple has been a stout and reliable run stopper.

Tennessee Titans
Monroe
Britt

Biggest breakthrough: Since 1998, the Titans have spent draft picks in the top three rounds on Kevin Dyson, Tyrone Calico, Courtney Roby, Brandon Jones and Paul Williams. Dyson was involved in two of the franchise’s biggest plays in 1999 and did OK otherwise, but none of them solved the team's long-standing woes at receiver. First-rounder Kenny Britt is a great combination of size, power and speed who goes and gets the ball. Britt seems like he can be a consistently productive weapon.

Disappearing act: The Titans gave away a second-rounder to draft tight end Jared Cook in the third, and in camp he seemed like a great addition. Then he suffered an ankle injury, faded and never really re-emerged. Long-term he’s still very compelling. But the Titans sure could have used a jolt from him during their 0-6 start.

An heir: Gerald McRath seems comfortable and been effective as an outside linebacker when needed. He will start the rest of the way and, after bulking up in the offseason, stands to inherit the spot of either David Thornton (breaking down) or Keith Bulluck (free agent who tore an ACL in Week 15) next year. If both veterans are gone (a likely scenario), the second replacement needs to be a free agent or a draft pick.
Tony Dungy’s Super Bowl win and Kevin Dyson’s desperate lunge make Don Banks' list of the 10 signature moments of the decade.

Bill Polian is the GM of Peter King’s all decade team, which also features Howard Mudd as an assistant coach, Peyton Manning taking snaps from Kevin Mawae and Adam Vinatieri lining up for field goals.

Houston Texans

Andre Johnson is the team’s only Pro Bowl lock, says John McClain.

The Texans haven’t won since Owen Daniels was lost to injury, says Dale Robertson.

Bob McNair’s been named to the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.

Gary Kubiak has plenty of supporters, says McClain.

Kubiak declines to defend himself, says Richard Justice.

Breaking down a DeMeco Ryans blitz, with Lance Zierlein.

Matt Schaub could break several Texans’ single-season passing records on Sunday, says Alan Burge.

Kubiak should stay, says Battle Red Blog.

Indianapolis Colts

Third-quarter defense has been especially good, says Phillip. B. Wilson.

The Colts still need Anthony Gonzalez, says John Oehser.

Indy consistently wins more than it should, says Deshawn Zombie.

Jacksonville Jaguars

A Q&A with Eugene Monroe with Michael C. Wright.

David Garrard needs to play better in the fourth quarter, says Vic Ketchman.

A look at the Jaguars with and without Rashean Mathis, from Adam Stites.

A look at the Jaguars’ competition for a wild-card slot, from Jay Gray.

Tennessee Titans

Chuck Cecil was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Five things Jim Wyatt knows about the Titans including that they need to create some turnovers.

Considering the Titans' long-shot playoff chances with Terry McCormick.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky


Jim Irsay is seventh, Bob McNair sixth in the second installment of Mike Silver’s annual owner rankings.

Pete Prisco assesses the division and likes the Colts to win it.

Houston Texans

Rex Grossman sparkled in the Texans’ preseason finale, says John McClain.

Jerome Solomon believes Grossman should back up Matt Schaub.

Jacoby Jones had a big night after hearing speculation he could be in trouble, writes McClain.

Eugene Wilson’s agent doesn’t think $10,000 fine for Brett Favre’s crack back block was big enough, reports Mark Berman.

Indianapolis Colts

Dante Hughes was among the first Colts to be notified he was cut, reports Mike Chappell.

John Oehser takes one last stab at predicting the final 53 and says linebacker may be the toughest call.

What Deshawn Zombie learned in the preseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars face tough choices on the line at receiver and started cuts with long-time long snapper Joe Zelenka, says Michael C. Wright.

Zelenka was a rock of dependability, says Gene Frenette.

Wayne Weaver: “I want to be realistic -- we won't have a full stadium this year. We will not. This economy has just affected too many families.” Kevin Turner’s story.

How the practice squad works, for Vic Ketchman of jaguars.com.

Tennessee Titans

Jim Wyatt reports on a big share of the Titans' cuts.

Chris Henry is getting $420,000 whether he is on the team or not, reports Wyatt. If they let that be a factor for a guy who’s time is up they are making a mistake, opines Paul Kuharsky.

Casey Cramer handles the bad news, says Gary Estwick.

Mike Heimerdinger is safe, says Joe Biddle.

Kevin Dyson and Blaine Bishop preview the Pittsburgh game, from Titans Radio. (Audio.)

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

  • Rookie punter Pat McAfee is preparing for work as a holder, a job that's taken for granted until it doesn't go well, writes Mike Chappell.
  • The Colts ran out of patience with Roy Hall. Here's Chappell on roster moves.
  • The offensive line wants to see progress in the preseason opener, says John Oehser.
  • Five things to watch in Colts-Vikings on offense and on defense, from Oehser.
  • Jim Caldwell expects some butterflies before he walks the sidelines as an NFL head coach for the first time, says Tom James.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Linebacker Russell Allen has a chance to make the roster, says Vito Stellino.
  • The Jaguars are sponsoring a photo contest in conjuction with their "Support the movement" theme.

Tennessee Titans

  • Kevin Dyson encouraged Kenny Britt to study receivers of the same build, writes Gary Estwick.
  • Vince Young says he isn't worried about potential boo-birds at LP Field, write Jim Wyatt and Estwick.
  • Keith Bulluck passed on a day off, says Jim Wyatt.
  • A Thursday practice report from Wyatt.
  • A check-in on Kevin Mawae from Terry McCormick.
  • A convicted felon accused of selling the gun used to kill ex-NFL quarterback Steve McNair has been indicted on a firearm charge.
  • If you're interested in how Jim Schwartz is doing in Detroit, here's a look from Matt Crossman.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

In a study of the best and worst all-time seasons for field goal kickers, Chase Stewart hits Cary Blanchard, Mike Vanderjagt, Dean Biasucci, Al Del Greco and Tony Fritch on the good list and Seth Marler on the bad one.

Before I left Houston, I visited the Oilers' old training facility.

Houston Texans

  • Jerome Solomon likes what he's seen of Arian Foster so far.
  • Jeremiah Johnson is trying to catch up, writes John McClain.
  • Kris Brown gets an extension and rookie fourth-round pick Anthony Hill signed, says McClain.
  • "There's always been a very high sense of duty to protect the integrity of the game, but I think society has softened its moral concerns about gambling, by virtue of the proliferation of it," Bob McNair told Hannah Karp. "The horse is out of the barn on that one." (Hat tip to Battle Red Blog for the link).
  • Gary Kubiak spoke at a Touchdown Club event and Alan Burge was there.

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Thomas from parts unknown writes: Kuharsky how do you know that other teams had Derek Cox rated lower on their draft boards. Did you see any teams actual draft boards? Or did you think teams had him rated lower because ESPN Faux-Scouts Kiper and Mcshay figured he was a late round selection because he wasn't invited to the combine. And that they might have overlooked him all together because he was from a small school. You should maybe get off the whole Derek Cox could have been had in a later round shtick, because in reality you aren't a scout and you don't know.

Paul Kuharsky: Here's how I know: I know people with other teams whom I trust and who help set their teams' draft boards.

So I said to them, "Hey, where did you have Cox that Jacksonville spent the 2010 second to take in the third?" And two different people with two different teams said, "Oh, sixth or seventh."

The days when teams don't pay attention to small-school guys and non-combine guys are largely over. People knew who this guy was. And he could turn out to be great. We'll have to wait and see -- the Jaguars will certainly have the last word. But we do have some context for where Cox was valued by other teams and it's hardly unreasonable to say so.


Larry in Washington, D.C., writes: I know the Colts are going to miss Howard Mudd tremendously, but with the rumors that Tom Moore may follow him into retirement scares me more. What are your thoughts on the transition should he actually retire? We know Peyton had more input in playcalling than most, if not all, QB's in the league. Do you see him actually taking over the full play-calling as opposed to choosing between the 2 or 3 plays Moore would "suggest"? Thanks, and I hope the offseason is treating you well.

Paul Kuharsky: Well, the retirements are official now, though the possibility of some sort of return as consultants hasn't been erased.

I would expect Clyde Christensen (or maybe Jim Caldwell himself) to work with Peyton Manning the same way Moore has. Manning will still need some additional, outside perspective.


Ross in Brentwood writes: I'm surprised you haven't addressed the Titans bringing in Drew Bennett for a physical yet Paul, I'd be curious to know your thoughts on them potentially bringing him back, especially in the wake of this "weakness" article on their passing game. I do agree with parts of that article, but I do think there's actually going to be improvement this year, and as I've said in my "mythbuster" response, they don't need an air-it-out offense to succeed. I do, however, think Bennett is not the missing piece here. They already tried bringing back a veteran wideout who began with the Titans, and that didn't work out too well for Justin McCareins. At this point they don't need to break the bank and/or trade away multiple draft picks (high ones at least) for a Boldin or Edwards, but Drew Bennett will just be another veteran presence who won't be a game-changer...although with the youngsters now at the position, maybe that is what they need.

Paul Kuharsky: I was away for two days when Bennett passed through Nashville.

If he's the fourth/fifth guy in case Hawkins still can't do anything or someone gets hurt, I could live with that. If he takes any opportunity away from Britt or Hawkins, then no thanks.

He's certainly not the playmaker or speedster they want, but at this stage Washington and Britt are those guys and it's unlikely they will be able to add any more. The question really is, do you want Bennett now as the fifth, or will you take your chances with what will come free at the end of training camps around the league?


Josh in Memphis writes: Wouldn't the Titans be better off signing Malcolm Floyd RFA S. Diego than Drew Bennett? The two are the same size, Malcolm's younger 27 vs. 30-31, Malcolm's healthier, caught as many balls in SD last year than Bennett in STL in 2 years. Malcolm brother player WR for the Oilers back in the 94-97 years.

Paul Kuharsky: The period for signing restricted free agents to offer sheets ended April 17. Floyd had a second-round pick attached as compensation. Between that and the contract it would have taken to assure the Chargers didn't match the offer, he would have been a lot more expensive. Friday, Floyd signed his one-year deal with the Chargers.

As for where his brother was over 10 years ago, do you really think something like that would factor in to a team's personnel decision? Why?


Mauricio in Houston writes: If I may, three questions in one. Is the need for help at running back of my Texans real? If it is, would it be worth pursuing Jones from the jets and if so, what would be a reasanoble trade value in draft picks.

Paul Kuharsky: Absolutely it's real. They need someone to complement Slaton and to turn to if he's hurt.

Maybe Jeremiah Johnson or Arian Foster surprise -- I'm in Tennessee so have seen and heard a lot of Foster and don't have high expectations for him. Maybe Chris Brown can stay healthy for a stretch. Maybe they eventually add Ryan Torain or another outsider to the mix.

Thomas Jones from the Jets, I would expect, would be too expensive. If the Texans didn't spend a second-, third- or fourth-rounder on a running back in the draft, would they part with one for a back who will be 31 in August? I suspect not. Running backs over 30 are viewed as huge question marks by most teams.


Evan in Chattanooga, Tenn., writes: Paul, I enjoy the blog, keep it up. My question is about the Titans defensive line this upcoming season. With the loss of Haynesworth, will the line still have the same potency it had last year, or do you see the Titans having to start blitzing linebackers to keep the pressure on the qb? Kearse and KVB are getting older, do you see any of the Titans young DE's having the potential to be of the same caliber as these guys? I think Tony Brown is a great DT and will be starting this year, will Jovan Haye or Jason Jones be starting as the other DT? Thanks, Evan

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks, pal.

I wouldn't say the same potency. They'll miss automatic double teams and Haynesworth's size.

But a year ago they lost Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy in free agency -- a tandem that combined fo
r 14 sacks the year before. And I can't remember once in 2007 watching the Titans and saying, "They are really missing Odom and LaBoy." I still expect them to rush the passer effectively with the front four.

I expect Brown and Jones will be the starters, but there is room and time for that to change.

They may blitz more, but I don't think it will be a lot more.


Weller Ross in Knoxville, Tenn., writes: I was wondering what your thoughts were on Tom Moore and Howard Mudd retiring. How big of a hit do you think this will be to the Colts offense if at all? Thanks, Weller PS: I also blogged about it and thought you might find it interesting.

Paul Kuharsky: I've done several posts on it. I think no matter how ready they were with guys to promote, that this could be a big hit, particularly from an offensive line perspective. Does Tony Ugoh, for example, get better without Mudd? I suspect not.


Dash in Nashville writes: Paul...love the blog. Who do you think will take the #3 RB roster spot for the Titans? A. Javon Ringer B. Chris Henry C. Rafael Little

Paul Kuharsky: A. I think it would take an upset for Ringer not to be on the roster. Little is an intriguing guy. Henry, in my eyes, has no chance to stick.


Farris in Nashville, Tenn., writes: Great blog Paul! I wanted to get your opinion on something. With the Titans finally giving Dinger a decent set of WR's that could possibly be a solid 4 deep, that he will open up the passing game and give Collins more opportunities to throw more vertical routes? I've got a gut feeling that Collins could possibly be in store for a 3,000 plus yard season and 20 plus TD's. It could possibly resemble the Co-MVP season of McNair. Dinger loves the deep routes and he finally has the speed to get it done. Thanks and I LOVE the blog and your segment on 104.5 The Zone!

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks very much, Farris.

Better and more open? Yes. Dramatically? I'd say no. The one big difference here is that in 2003 the Titans' 3.3 yards per carry was the worst for the franchise since 1974. Barring major injuries, this year's run game will be far better than that, reducing the need for Tennessee to open things up too, too much.


Pokerfitz in Jacksonville writes: Im not sure why you dont understand the reason they Jags love Greg Jones so much. When he gets the ball the guy has been productive. Including rushing for over a 100 yards in Pittsburgh when he was subbing for an injured Fred Taylor. He gets tough yards, Breaks tackles and can catch the ball. His only knock has been his health, not his ability.

Paul Kuharsky: Huge scouting bromide -- the best ability a player has is availability.

You know a guy who's even more proven? (And by proven I mean has more than 64 carries a year.) Taylor.

Jones has a 3.4-yard average. For comparison's sake, let's look around the division at secondary running backs: Houston's Chris Brown has a 4.3 average (but has bigger health issues than Jones); Tennessee's LenDale White has a 3.9 average (and gets the ball in extremely favorable situations); Former Colts running back Dominic Rhodes has a 4.0 average (and is now with the Bills).

That's not the be-all end-all, of course. But I'm not, or wasn't, really excited about them either. It's hardly unreasonable to say Jones is unproven as an every game, No. 2 commodity like they plan to make him. I will be interested to see him work.


Taylor in Murfreesboro writes: Hey Paul, I love the blog! But all I hear about Vince Young is the money the titans will have to be paying him for a back up QB is going to be way too much! So, why not try putting him on the field as a wide receiver, he has the skills, (6'5", athletic, fast) to be a great No. 1 wr if he were trained properly and was willing to "contribute" to the teams success instead of riding the bench, or he could run some Ohio State kinda of sets (Pryor and Boeckman in the fiesta bowl). What do you think about all of this?

Paul Kuharsky: I think it's crazy talk, really.

They spent good money on a free agent in Nate Washington and their top draft pick on Kenny Britt. Why not try to develop actual receivers? I am against anything that would take even a snap away from those two guys.

I can't understand the line of thinking that because Young is a good athlete he'd have to be a good wide receiver. You say he "has the skills" to be a great wide receiver -- then the first thing you list isn't a skill, it's his height, and the second and third things are "athletic" and "fast," qualities a ton of bad receivers possess, too.

Young's a good athlete and he's not a very good quarterback at this point -- and he's been focused on that position for his entire adult football life. But he's going to be a successful receiver?


cameron from parts unknown writes: Firstly, I want to say i am a huge fan of your blog and i am a constant reader. My question to you is that the texans are ready to make a run to the playoffs, i feel, but do you think trying to add a Plaxico Burress would to far of a reach to compliment andre johnson. Also do you think they should go after a chris mcallister because of his playoff experience and his career numbers.

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks and please keep clicking.

Burress still has legal issues to resolve and from what I've read and seen, he is unlikely to be immediately available. Complementing Andre Johnson isn't a huge issue for Houston. Kevin Walter had 60 catches and eight touchdowns last year.

You fall into a familiar trap with McAlister. He's recognizable so you think he'd help. The Texans, and every team, evaluate a guy like that based more on what he can do going forward than than "playoff experience and career numbers." I don't love their secondary, but I don't feel like McAlister would qualify as an addition that could fix their issues. He only played in six games last year and he's about to turn 32.


Paul in Iowa City writes: As far as Titans myths go, one I'd like to discuss is something of a non-myth. Its the whitewashing of the 99 draft, where we picked Kevin Dyson over Randy Moss. Dyson of course has a mythical position within the organization because of the MSM, but without that play the refusal to draft Moss stands out as a colossal mistake (which it still should). By and large though, the Titans draft well.

Paul Kuharsky: The posts with responses to AFC South myths are coming soon. This one wouldn't fit there, but seemed good for the mailbag.

By and large they draft well. Unless, of course, botching No. 6 and No. 3 overall picks in consecutive years counts against them.

Did they choose the wrong guy talent-wise for the receiver position at No. 16 in 1998? Absolutely.

But taking your logic and extending it, then I expect you'd absolutely defend their choice of Pacman Jones in 2006. He was, after all, a superior football talent to Antrel Rolle. (As then-Titans GM Floyd Reese predicted at the time, Rolle didn't even stay a corner.)

Now Jones turned out to be far more of a headache and troublemaker than Moss and couldn't keep himself eligible to play.

But if you rip the Titans for not taking Moss, by the same logic you would have had to applaud them for taking Jones.

So how's that stance working out for you?


Sam in Nashville writes: 2 comments. First, does anyone else but me think that Haynesworth isn't really that important to our defense? While he is a very good player, he is injured often and has a tendency to be unmotivated. Also, Washburn seems to turn everyone into a star DT. Second, Vince has shown that he is not the quarterback of the future through his skills. His skill set does not include good footwork or accuracy. Because of this, do you see the Titans drafting another quarterback soon? And since we'll probably be in the 20-30 pick range, who would you see as a possible fit next year?

Paul Kuharsky: I'm sure there are others who think as you do. I think you are overreaching on Haynesworth not being that important. He was very important, often the best player they had on the field and made life easier for the other 10 guys.

If he took plays off, as a Titans beat guy named Terry McCormick has pointed out, the defenses assigning double teams to him didn't know which ones they would be. Haynesworth looked plenty motivated to me over the last two years. That doesn't make him worth the contract he got, and it doesn't mean he's irreplaceable.

The Titans are now a smallish interior D, at least among their best guys.

Washburn turns a lot of guys into good players, absolutely. You might be overstating just a little to say he turns "everyone into a star DT." Randy Starks ring a bell? Antonio Johnson? Jesse Mahelona? Jared Clauss?

I would expect the Titans will be looking to draft a QB next year. He doesn't have to be a first-rounder, and I can't pretend to know who would fit.


Nathan in N.Y. writes: How are the Texans going to break .500 if glass-jawed Matt Schaub can't manage to start 16 games and they replaced maligned but halfway decent Sage Rosenfels with a guy last seen running out the back of his own endzone?

Paul Kuharsky: Schaub staying healthy is a must for the Texans. I wasn't big on the Dan Orlovsky signing either -- even if you love him, you overpaid and messed up the backup quarterback market. But ...

The "halfway decent" Rosenfels you mentioned wasn't regarded as much when he arrived in Houston, either. Gary Kubiak is pretty good with signal-callers, and gets the benefit of the doubt here that he will be able to turn Orlovsky into something better and the Texans will still have a chance to win a game if Schaub can't go.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

I'll see the Titans' rookies on the field late this afternoon and bring you some observations from their orientation practice.

Pete Prisco re-grades the 2006 draft and joins the applause for Charley Casserly's work.

Alex Marvez spells out the seven deadly sins for an NFL rookie.

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Torry Holt is a willing mentor, but also has to focus on his job, writes Michael C. Wright.
  • Holt gives Cole Pepper the finger.
  • What Pepper will be looking for at minicamp.
  • Gene Frenette says the Jags are hoping Holt's at least a one-year solution.
  • Big Cat Country has changed its mind about the Eben Britton pick.

Tennessee Titans

  • Kevin Dyson offers some advice to Kenny Britt, from Jim Wyatt.
  • Britt was a remarkable high school athlete, writes Terry McCormick.
  • Defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil is a College Football Hall of Famer, writes Gary Estwick.
  • Javon Ringer puts Chris Henry even more at risk, blogs Wyatt.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE -- Kenny Britt's not going to face Matthew Stafford style scrutiny, don't get me wrong.

But this is a city where the last first-round receiver selected was when the team was still called the Tennessee Oilers -- Kevin Dyson in 1998. And this is a place where fans have asked for constant progress reports, hoping for something, anything, regarding prospects like Paul Williams and Courtney Roby and Tyrone Calico.

The expectations of Titans' fans for Britt may exceed the expectation of the Titans themselves, and based on what the Titans brass just told us, that's saying something.

Jeff Fisher, Mike Heimerdinger and Richard Shelton just talked about Britt, emphasizing his tough and physical qualities and praising his ability to beat bump and run coverage -- something they said is often the toughest thing for a receiver coming into the league to learn to handle.

"We're going to try to get him on the field as quick as we can and catch passes for us and make big plays for us," Fisher said. "We feel like he's what we've been missing in our passing game."

At 6-3, 215 pounds, Britt is a physical specimen who should boost the Titans prospects for passing touchdowns in the red zone.

Heimerdinger, in the second year of his second stint in the post, has now been given a first-round weapon in consecutive years -- running back Chris Johnson was a revelation last season and the Titans have similar hopes for Britt.

"It's different than the first time around," Heimerdinger said with a laugh of 2000-04, when the Titans took two offensive skill position players in nine picks in the first and second rounds.

 
  Getty Images
  Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Reggie Williams: the Reggie that worked and the Reggie that didn't.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Colts have an all-time great at quarterback. The Jaguars and Titans do not.

No. of WRs Drafted Since 1997, By Team
Team No. of WRs drafted Avg. overall draft choice
Green Bay 19 144.5
Tennessee 17 121.1
Atlanta 16 143.6
Denver 16 127.6
Chicago 15 121.5
Cincinnati 15 125.0
Pittsburgh 15 111.4
Baltimore 14 123.9
Buffalo 14 141.3
N.Y. Giants 14 118.7
Kansas City 13 120.9
New Orleans 13 151.9
Tampa Bay 13 140.8
Minnesota 12 137.5
Oakland 12 166.6
Philadelphia 12 106.5
San Francisco 12 142.9
Seattle 12 153.7
St. Louis 12 119.7
Arizona 12 116.3
Cleveland 11 102.0
Jacksonville 11 137.9
Detroit 10 102.2
N.Y. Jets 10 135.6
Washington 10 113.7
Carolina 9 116.6
Dallas 9 153.3
Miami 9 109.1
New England 9 133.4
San Diego 8 107.1
Indianapolis 7 98.4
Houston 6 114.2
Source: Keith Hawkins of ESPN Research
The Colts drafted a Hall of Fame receiver in 1996. The Jaguars and Titans did not.

Look at the history of those three teams in the AFC South at wide receiver over the last dozen years, and Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison have done a lot to skew the comparison.

Even so, just over a month before the 2009 draft, it's hard not to try to sort through the different approaches at receiver by the division's three receiver-needy teams.

Harrison was in Indy before Manning, but the Colts have made it a priority to provide weapons for their quarterback. The Jaguars and Titans, meanwhile, are run-based teams that have failed to find the downfield threats that would open things up.

Jacksonville and Tennessee have missed in different ways.

The Jaguars swung and missed three times when they spent first-round picks on receivers -- R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones all busted -- while the Titans spent high picks on other positions while managing to develop only one Pro Bowler, Derrick Mason, out of 17 drafted wideouts.

We're leaving the Texans mostly out of this conversation for two reasons -- they don't have as much of a draft history to examine and receiver doesn't rank as one of their big needs heading into this draft.

But Houston is included in these capsules, in order of the number of receivers drafted since 1997, for context:

Tennessee:
Receivers drafted: 17 (Second in NFL)
Average overall pick: 121.1 (15th)
Average round: 4.06
Average draft value pick: 86th
First-rounders: 1
Passing offense since 1997: 17th
Philosophical summation: The Titans haven't spent a first-rounder on a receiver since they passed on Randy Moss for Kevin Dyson in 1998. They've thrown a lot of mid- and late-round picks at the position and hope to make things work with willing blockers in a run-first offense that has not consistently stretched the field on the outside under Jeff Fisher. They won't usually play kids who don't know the entire offense early on and like to talk about how they don't need an All-Pro caliber No. 1 guy to succeed.

Jacksonville:
Receivers drafted: 11 (Tied for 21st)
Average overall pick: 137.9 (23rd)
Average round: 4.55
Average draft value pick: 62nd
First-rounders: 3
Passing offense since 1997: 14th
Philosophical summation: They've not been afraid to spend first-round picks on receivers and haven't found a star in three stabs with R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones. Indications are, however, they aren't afraid to swing again. They want a big-time weapon for David Garrard to be the quarterback they envision and may well grab Michael Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin at No. 8 in the first round if one of them is available. Veteran Torry Holt, a free agent, is visiting the team Thursday.

Indianapolis:
Receivers drafted
: 7 (28th in the league)
Average overall pick: 98.4 (First)
Average round: 3.29
Average draft value pick: 60th
First rounders: 2
Passing offense since 1997: First
Philosophical summation: Surrounding Manning with weapons is always a priority. The Colts got an all-time great in 1996 with Marvin Harrison, and rather than thinking they could supplement him with bit players, they spent more resources to surround him -- with Reggie Wayne in round one of the 2001 draft, with free agent Brandon Stokley in 2003 and by drafting Anthony Gonzalez in round one in 2007. They could well grab another at No. 27 in this draft.

Houston:*
Receivers drafted
: 6 (32nd)
Average overall pick: 114.2 (Ninth)
Average round: 4.00
Average draft value pick: 39th
First rounders: 1
Passing offense since 2002: 28th
Philosophical summation: They hit a home run with Andre Johnson in the first round in 2003 and have worked to build an offense around an unassuming, hard-working talent. The Texans have done r
easonably well developing Johnson's supporting cast with free agent additions Kevin Walter and Andre Davis and 2006 seventh-rounder David Anderson. With an improved line and run game, if quarterback Matt Schaub stays healthy, Johnson will remain one of the league's most feared weapons.
*--Since 2002

In the graphic below, Aaron Schatz from footballoutsiders.com suggested I look at the differences in approach at wide receiver by using a "draft value chart." A general average of draft position assumes the difference between each draft spot is the same, while the sort of value chart teams use for trading picks takes into account just how different the value is between a first-rounder and a sixth-rounder.

Average Value of WRs Drafted Since 1997 By AFC South Teams
Team WRs drafted Total points value AVG Draft value of AVG
Houston 6 3079.65 513.3 39th pick
Indianapolis 7 2101.7 300.2 60th pick
Jacksonville 11 3095 281.4 62nd pick
Tennessee 17 2701.5 158.9 86th pick

Two assessments of what this all means:

Schatz of footballoutsiders.com:

"It's a different issue with each team. The Colts have hit on their first-round receivers, the Jaguars have not. Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez. Honestly, what else have the Colts had to do to find receivers? Those three play so well that everything else they look for is slot guys and depth.

"On the other hand, the Jags have blown first-rounders on Reggie Williams, R. Jay Soward, and Matt Jones. Williams is sort of a good second guy, Soward sucked, and Jones is a mess who was totally overdrafted."

"I don't think the Titans have spent a first on a receiver since Kevin Dyson. They did a great job of drafting Derrick Mason, and have been stumbling along otherwise with lower picks that didn't work out and free agents. That's different from the Colts, though -- the Colts didn't have a chance to have lower picks not work out because their first-rounders are so good. And the starter before Wayne was drafted was [Jerome] Pathon, who was a second-rounder who had a career that was about equal to what you would expect from a guy taken with an early pick in the second round."

ESPN analyst Herm Edwards former coach of the Jets and Chiefs:

"It depends on what your philosophy is on offense, it has a lot to do with what you are trying to do. Receivers, it's always a tough deal when you draft those guys, especially high. Because the expectations on them are so enormous. It sometimes takes those guys two or three years to really get going into the system.

"If you look at Indy, they've got a system with a quarterback where all they have to do it fit the pieces they want, like the kid Gonzalez they drafted from Ohio State. You look at him now, they used him a lot in the slot, so they kind of brought him along. I think now with Marvin being gone Gonzalez will probably replace Marvin outside. When they moved him to the slot, they really took away Dallas Clark, because Clark is really their slot guy in three wideouts, they put him in the slot a lot. Now they've got a speed guy in Gonzalez, they can move him back outside and now what they'll probably do is look for another guy. They are always a year or two ahead of what they want to do.

"Tennessee, in my opinion, is more of a team that's going to try to run the ball and play physical on defense, do it that way. So their receivers are a little bit different than the guys in Indianapolis. Those guys have got to be able to block. If you look at Tennessee's receivers, they're pretty big. Jacksonville has the same kind of guys. They're more of a play-action team, they're going to try to hit the home runs. Those teams are going to pound you with their running games, try to get eight guys in the box, get one on one outside, and then from there try to hit you with the home run.

"Jacksonville, they've had some guy but none of them have really turned out. But that's a lot of teams, though. They are so hard to figure out. This year in this class is kind of unique. Five or six of the top guys are juniors. That's what makes the class so good... Now you're talking about bringing a young guy in that's going to take a little time to develop.

"The Colts, if they miss on a guy it's almost not on the radar screen, because when you think about it, he ain't going to play anyway, he's not pressed to play right now. It's been the same starters every year. Now they need one."

On the Clock: Tennessee Titans

March, 17, 2009
3/17/09
9:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Team needs: Receiver, cornerback, outside linebacker, offensive tackle

 
  Charles Sonnenblick/Getty Images
  The Titans could take a wide receiver like Florida's Percy Harvin if he falls to them at No. 30.
Dream scenario: This is a team that could be poised for a first round like 2000, when Keith Bulluck fell to them at No. 30 when they weren't hunting for linebackers. The good player who falls could be their man, regardless of position.

The Titans have a long history of holding off on receivers; they have not drafted one in the first round since Kevin Dyson in 1998. But here is a draft in which they are not desperate for help at any spot, so the best-case scenario would be they are enamored with one of the receivers who could still be around at No. 30 -- Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina, Kenny Britt of Rutgers or Percy Harvin of Florida. Tennessee doesn't traditionally give rookie receivers a lot of work, and if the Titans go against tradition and pick one here, they'd likely give him the time he needs to develop while counting on Justin Gage, free-agent addition Nate Washington and second-year man Lavelle Hawkins in 2009. Whether a first-round receiver would be in line to help now or later, the goal is to threaten down the field and keep teams honest, opening some room for running back Chris Johnson.

Plan B: The Titans are run by a couple of former NFL defensive backs in GM Mike Reinfeldt and coach Jeff Fisher and are of the belief they can never have enough quality cornerbacks. Cortland Finnegan should be a fixture for years and Vincent Fuller is a solid nickel back. But Nick Harper is getting older and having a quality replacement on board for beyond 2009 would be a sound move. Prospects such as Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith, Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore and Connecticut's Darius Butler all lack height, but may be possibilities as quality cover guys.

Scouts Inc. take: "While they have long-term questions at the quarterback position, the Titans need to take a win-now approach to this draft and have to find a wideout with both short-term and long-term potential on the edge. Signing Nate Washington wasn't a bad maneuver, but they still very much lack anyone resembling a No. 1 wideout. Finding someone of that caliber will not be easy with the 30th overall selection, but a player like Rutgers' Kenny Britt or North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks would be a great addition. Losing Albert Haynesworth will not be easy to overcome, so it wouldn't be out of the question for Tennessee to look at a defensive tackle like Boston College's Ron Brace or Missouri's Ziggy Hood if a suitable wideout isn't available. The Titans' goal will be to find one top playmaker on offense and some players to contribute and compete for playing time along the defensive line, at middle linebacker and cornerback on defense."  -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: Fisher isn't going to find himself with draft picks he didn't want, but Reinfeldt runs the draft room. 

Now on the clock: New York Giants, March 18.

Previous On the Clock: Arizona Cardinals. The team-by-team series.

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