AFC South: LenDale White

Friday is D-Day for CJ

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
1:39
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Chris JohnsonAP Photo/Joe HowellThe Titans' Chris Johnson finished with 1,243 rushing yards and six touchdowns last season.
If the Titans want out from under Chris Johnson and his $10 million base salary for 2013, they have to release him by the end of Friday.

Of that salary, $9 million locks in as a guarantee if he’s on the roster past the fifth day of the waiver period, which began Monday.

A report by The Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt before the season ended said the team had no plans to cut Johnson. Since then, coach Mike Munchak has been making moves that indicate if he’s going to go down in his third year at the helm, he’s going to go down his way. That left me wondering if things might have changed.

Then Wyatt wrote this morning that Johnson was feeling good after a recent half-hour chat with Munchak.

“I am more excited about this year than any other year after talking to coach,” Johnson said today. “I feel better about some of the things we’re going to do, and I want to be a part of it. I feel like coach Munchak wants to put the team back to some winning ways and get things going in the right direction. I feel good about it.”

The most likely scenario is that the Titans look to add a big back and return to the shared-workload system they ran with Johnson and LenDale White in 2008.

But a case could have been made for moving on from Johnson, and I think there was a time Munchak would probably have liked to do so.

They can afford that salary. Ultimately, it should be framed as more of a philosophical debate than a financial one.

The Munchak-Johnson conversation indicates the decision has been made.

But it's worth considering what needed to be considered:

Home run threat: Johnson can break off huge runs, and that’s where his big value comes from. He has six career touchdowns of 80 yards or more. No other player in league history has more than three. That’s incredible, and those runs do a lot for a team. Still, if the rest of his runs are attempts to find that home run and don’t put the Titans in an advantageous down and distance, is that a sufficient trade-off? I tend to say no.

Now if Johnson is changing it up with a more physical guy who can convert third-and-2 more regularly and do more to ensure the Titans aren’t in second-and-12, that changes. Johnson is largely a boom-or-bust guy. Five years of featuring a boom-or-bust back has produced just one playoff team -- not that it’s the lone factor.

Consider that the team’s primary back in its prime years since the move to Tennessee was Eddie George, and the frequent lament was that he couldn’t break away for a big play. Now the lament with Johnson is that he isn’t productive enough down to down. See how a team can wind up in a no-win situation?

You’re rarely going to get the best of both worlds, and you don’t need a guy who can give you both to win.

So given a choice between a home run threat who’s going to strikeout more often or the style they had with George where, in his prime, he was pretty good at getting a couple yards, what do they prefer?

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireIf the Titans keep Chris Johnson, they might ask him to share carries with backup Javon Ringer or another back who isn't on the roster yet.
Replacement possibilities: Javon Ringer is coming off a knee injury, hasn’t proved himself and is a pending free agent. Jamie Harper has shown little. If the Titans moved away from CJ, the guy who would take his carries isn’t on the roster.

It’s easy to say it’s easy to find a back, that the Titans should just go get the next Arian Foster (undrafted), Alfred Morris (sixth-rounder) or Vick Ballard (fifth-rounder).

But you’d have to have an awful lot of faith in your ability to find that guy. The Titans are a team full of holes. Cutting Johnson would have created another big one, and they don’t exactly have the record of hole-filling that suggests it wouldn’t be an issue.

The scheme: Johnson did run for 2,000 yards in Mike Heimerdinger’s scheme that featured zone-running principles. Under Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator, the Titans will be more intent on returning to a similar philosophy.

It’s not the best fit for Johnson, at least not as the singular, primary ball carrier. Johnson looks to be creative in searching for room. Zone schemes call for a guy to make a cut and go, not consider and reconsider the path.

“CJ would be decent in that scheme but far from ideal,” said ESPN's Matt Williamson. “You need to be decisive and, when you see it, really hit it. And generally, that fits a bigger back. CJ can certainly hit it at times when he sees it and can take it the distance, but he is far from an Alfred Morris type that consistently churns out yardage, albeit in smaller chunks, run after run.”

If the Titans put Johnson in a timeshare, how will he react to it? My guess is not well. Will that disrupt the locker room and create a headache for coaches and management? Will it lead him to mope? It sure could.

The contract: When he was holding out in 2011, I said they needed to sign him. Most fans did, too. For a long time, the conversation was about a lack of playmakers. Well, they finally had one, and while he wasn’t at what ranks as a premium position anymore, he was the best they'd had in terms of big plays in a long time.

He got four more years worth $53.5 million with $30 million guaranteed tacked onto the two years he had remaining on his rookie deal.

There is a misperception that the Titans don’t spend. They sure spent with Johnson, and now they take heat for it. In hindsight, it wasn’t a good deal. But it hasn’t destroyed them. Keep him as is and they are fine financially, with enough room to get the other parts they need.

While he has said money didn’t change him, Johnson has been a lot more tentative since he signed that deal than he was while he was trying to position himself for that new contract.

The expectations: As Johnson campaigned for a new contract in 2011, he sold himself as not just a back but a playmaker who transcended the position. That was good for selling himself. Predicting 2,000-yard seasons consistently gets him headlines.

But what he does when he says those things is set the bar unreasonably high. He didn’t say, “I’m a playmaker, not just a running back, so long as my line is playing great or so long as I have consistency with a running backs coach.” When it circles back after the fact to those sorts of issues, they come across as excuses.

He doesn’t seem real invested. Last week as a guest on Nashville's The Midday 180 from radio row at the Super Bowl, he said there would be no bad blood if the Titans let him go. Some heard that and almost felt like he was wishing to be released. What would have come across better was, “I want to be back. I’m worth it, and I can be a big part of a big turnaround.”

For the $10 million that’s coming, it’s hardly unreasonable to want to hear that.

So do we have a verdict?

“I assume he is untradeable, but I think I would let him go,” Williamson said. “That is just so much to pay a guy that isn’t perfect for what you do at the position. Use that money on a safety or interior OL and draft a bigger RB.”

Said former Colts president and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian: “CJ cannot carry the load by himself simply because of size. … Rather than focus on system, I would focus on Javon Ringer’s health. If he can take some load off CJ as he has in the past, they become far more efficient. If his injury prevents that, then they must find an adequate replacement for Ringer.”

I’m torn about what they should have done. But I tend to think it wouldn't have been wise to create another hole. Cut him and watch him land in Detroit or somewhere else, and when he makes big plays, you’re going to take grief -- and maybe feel some, too.

I’d plan to find a guy to pair him with.

But I’m glad it wasn't my decision, or money.
Chris JohnsonGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesChris Johnson's yards per carry for the season is now two yards fewer than his career average.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With apologies to Chris Johnson, I’ve grown tired of all the apologies for Chris Johnson.

The Tennessee Titans got to celebrate a win at LP Field on Sunday, a 27-10 handling of the winless Indianapolis Colts.

But Johnson was completely ineffective again: Against the league's second-worst run defense, he turned 14 carries into 34 yards. The effort dropped his yards-per-carry average for the season from 2.9 to 2.8.

The consensus remains that everyone involved shares in the blame, and certainly they do. But I simply didn’t see the sort of determination you expect from an NFL lead back, better yet one of the six who’s topped 2,000 yards in a season and one who entered the season with a 5.0 career average.

In the other locker room, it was no surprise that the Colts said Johnson is the same guy he’s always been. It makes them look good to say it, because they just stopped him. And they aren’t about to give him any fodder to get going for the rematch on Dec. 18 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

But a bit of what came from Johnson’s teammates bordered on excuse making.

“Honestly, a lot of times it’s not his fault why runs don’t happen for him,” said the team’s second running back, Javon Ringer." ... Of course fans are going to see just Chris Johnson, the name. They’re not seeing how things develop for him to be able to have those big runs. The most important part of our offense is our offensive line.”

“I guess everybody would feel different if they came in and watched film with us and literally saw why things happen.”

Great, I accept on behalf of the AFC South blog readers. What time should I be at the facility? Will we actually name names on each play? When I see Johnson get hit early and stop trying, will I suddenly see how that’s not on him?

Ringer tiptoed like Johnson on a stretch play when asked how he fared better turning his 14 carries into 60 yards, 26 more than Johnson managed with the same workload. Ringer too doesn’t want to offend.

A defense lets down when Ringer is in the game because he’s not earned the respect Johnson has, he explained.

Maybe the Titans will be trendsetters. Maybe soon we’ll see offensive strategy shift across the league: Dynamic playmakers will head for the bench so defenses will relax in order for second-stringers with less talent, shorter résumés and smaller contracts to take advantage.

Also in the Titans’ locker room I heard that Johnson split carries in his 2,006-yard season with LenDale White (when Johnson actually had 294 more). I heard that it’s still relatively early (yes, we’re only 43.8 percent into the Titans’ season). I heard about the strain of expectations and even about the benefits of a reduced workload.

“I know for me you can try to do too much when people get on you,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “When things aren’t going well, you can try to do a little too much … I know that’s gotten me, but I didn’t see that.”

When guard Jake Scott was told coach Mike Munchak intends to split the carries 50-50 going forward -- which was not actually what Munchak said -- Scott suggested that could help Johnson.

So a guy who just got a $53 million contract with $30 million guaranteed by selling himself as a playmaker would do well to be reduced to a part-time player, I asked?

“If he can be better doing that, that’s fine,” Scott said. “If that works out better, it might be better for him ... We have two good backs, we actually have three good backs. There is no reason to put the whole load on one person.”

How the standards have fallen. I don’t propose Johnson take every handoff, but he’s supposed to be a singular back. He should be expected to be a singular back. He got the contract of a singular back. And a singular back gets the lion’s share of the work.

Hasselbeck and Munchak ultimately had better reasons to explain Johnson's recent decline.

Hasselbeck played with Shaun Alexander in Seattle, a running back whose career dropped precipitously after he got a big contract.

“When you’re so successful and you produce in such a major way with fantasy football and all of that stuff, people are just expecting it just to happen,” Hasselbeck said. “There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s hard to be that elite all the time, so people got on him real quick, real easy. He probably got a little too much credit when things were good and definitely got too much blame when things were bad.”

Scott said Sunday’s win featured the Titans’ best run effort of the season.

It was the best day in terms of carries (31) and apologies made on Johnson’s behalf. It was the second-best in terms of yards (96). But only twice have the Titans fared worse per carry than the 3.1 average.

As for the effort question, Munchak offered the best explanation of the day and said he’s got no complaints in that department.

“To me, he’s running like he’s done here, like the type of runner he is,” Munchak said. “He’s never been known to be a guy who’s going to break two or three tackles at the line of scrimmage. That’s not his type of thing.

"... I don’t think people are apologizing for him.”

The coach said everyone is taking accountability for it: the back, the line, the fullback, the playcallers, the coaches.

“No one’s protecting him,” Munchak said. “… It’s just hard for our team. I coached the offensive line for 14 years, we’ve never been last in rushing. When you are all of a sudden, in something that you’ve prided yourself on, obviously it gets a lot of attention.”

We’re here to serve.

Matt Maiocco combed through the last five drafts and formulaically broke them down to rank them.

Unsurprisingly, he found the last two Super Bowl winners have fared the best in the last five years of assessing college prospects.

The AFC South results:
  • Colts, third
  • Texans, 14th
  • Titans, 17th
  • Jaguars, 23rd

I have no huge dispute with those placements.

Maiocco is on the mark that Houston’s done some good work, but it hasn’t been enough to get the Texans into the playoffs.

Chris Henry was a worse second-round running back than LenDale White, who got Maiocco’s nod as the franchise’s worst pick during the five-year span.

Derrick Harvey isn’t the only draft failure from the previous regime that’s still hurting the Jaguars, who appear primed to shoot up this list with Gene Smith at the helm.

Dig in, it’s a quality read.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

The Texans are closing in on a new deal for Andre Johnson.

Houston and Aaron Schobel have a mutual interest, says John McClain.

Out with a hamstring injury, Trindon Holliday found a pink tricycle instead of a stationary bike, says McClain and Jordan Godwin.

Mike Brisiel is trying to make sure he’s got a diversified portfolio.

Bernard Pollard is embracing his leadership role.

There is a place for all five running backs, says Anna-Megan Raley.

Players are doing desperate things to beat the heat, reports Raley.

On training camp pranks and Brisiel taking on another interior line position.

Indianapolis Colts

A storm shifted the Colts’ schedule.

DeShea Townsend adds veteran experience at corner, says Mike Chappell.

Jerry Hughes may have to be patient, says John Oehser.

Bob Sanders can’t shake the injury questions, writes Pete Prisco.

What Prisco loves and hates about the Colts.

Tony Ugoh is happier at guard, says Larry Hawley.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have things to sort out at defensive tackle, says Vito Stellino.

The Hawaiian battle in the Oklahoma was a draw, writes Stellino. (I didn't think so.)

Mark Long goes deeper into the Terrance Knighton weight story.

David Johnson just bought season tickets.

Vic Ketchman defends Joe Cullen.

Tennessee Titans

David Thornton is sure he will be ready, writes Wyatt.

Night practice was a hit, says John Glennon.

Jovan Haye is looking good and feisty, writes Wyatt.

The Titans are pulling for LenDale White, says Wyatt.

Even with a suspension looming, Gerald McRath is holding his head high, says David Boclair.

On the radar: LeGarrette Blount

June, 17, 2010
6/17/10
1:02
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» NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

LeGarrette Blount
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyLeGarrette Blount could be the back the Titans need for short-yardage situations and a change of pace.
Any talk of Titans running backs right now starts with Chris Johnson's absence. Without him at OTAs, the group has looked pedestrian at times.

The Titans love the versatility of their No. 2, Javon Ringer, and Jeff Fisher has compared him to a popular former running back in Nashville, Robert Holcombe. But Ringer has very little experience and is hard to get too excited about right now.

Presuming Johnson is back, how to lighten his workload will be a major issue for Tennessee and I fear doing so could mess with the Titans' rhythm and pacing.

While Ringer doesn’t look to be much of a change-up, undrafted rookie LeGarrette Blount can be. He was smart to choose the Titans over the 49ers -- another team that pursued him heavily. In San Francisco, he’d look a lot like Frank Gore and Glen Coffee. In Tennessee, he stands out as different than anyone.

Blount missed May workouts because Oregon wasn’t finished with classes, so he’s heading into only his third practice with the team on Thursday.

It’s too soon for Tennessee to have much of a feel for him. I saw him streak down a sideline to gather a deep ball in a rookie period. This team won’t necessarily be looking to him for explosive plays like that. But he’s going to get every chance to show he can reliably convert short-yardage and goal-line situations.

I don’t expect the Titans to lean on a bigger back as much in those situations this season the way they did with LenDale White in 2008. But they need to do it some. And at 6-feet and 241 pounds, Blount is the biggest back on the team by an inch and 26 pounds.

If he’s not the guy for that role, then the guy for that role isn’t in Nashville yet.
After taking no questions about his contract during a short chat with the media during his football camp, Chris Johnson got around to it later.

And when he talked to Jim Wyatt he said the most yet about his dissatisfaction with his contract, which we’ve sketched out as a five-year, $10.83 million package that included $6.885 million in guarantees.

Johnson’s made $7.27 million so far and can make $3.56 million over the next three years including a base salary of $550,000 this fall.
“I can’t play for $550,000. The money that I am playing for, I am getting paid less than the starting 11 (on offense) and I’m one of the lowest paid starting running backs in the league.’’

Johnson’s agent, Joel Segal, was on hand for the camp but declined to comment. It’s not known if he met with or has plans to meet with the Titans.

“This is a business, and at the end of the day I am the player and he is the business man. He advises me,’’ Johnson said. “I handle what happens on the field, and he handles everything else and he is working to take care of me.

“But it is my decision at the end of the day. Right now, I am not sure what is going to happen. I just hope they pay me, but I don’t know.’’

Johnson's former partner in Smash and Dash, LenDale White, also had some interesting things to say about his past few months, his use of marijuana and his old USC coach.

RTC: Reggie Wayne says $93K stolen

June, 1, 2010
6/01/10
10:40
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Reading the coverage:

Indianapolis Colts

Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne told Indianapolis police that an ex-girlfriend may have used his credit card number to make more than $93,000 in online purchases.

Three key Colts -- Wayne, Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea -- were absent from the team's OTA.

Houston Texans

According to coach Gary Kubiak, Texans receiver Trindon Holliday has "got a long way to go to prove to this team that he knows what the hell he's doing."

Jacksonville Jaguars

A look at undrafted free agent Kyle Bosworth, the nephew of former NFL player Brian Bosworth.

Tennessee Titans

Peter King gives a good take on why former Titans' running back LenDale White didn't work out in Seattle either.
Jason in Indianapolis writes: Are there any interesting cornerbacks that were "cut" from their team (in which case they wouldn’t qualify as an unrestricted free agent under the CBA) still out there on the market? After losing their third-rounder to a season-ending injury, the Colts are quite thin at CB now and I was wondering what some of their options might be.

Paul Kuharsky: Define “interesting.”

I would think one of the unknowns they have in house has as good a chance to help as any one available to them on the open market right now.


Mark Froehlich in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Wow Paul, Jacksonville didn't qualify? Raleigh did? lol I didn't think you were a hater. Definitely will color my take on your writing in the future.

Paul Kuharsky: Mark, you might want to take another look at the item in question.
a) I was pointing people to a link to someone else’s work/ratings

b) I spelled out that by HIS criteria, you had to have three major league teams or two and a major college program within an hour’s drive to qualify.

Thus Jacksonville didn’t qualify.


Henry Milton from parts unknown writes: This is on an item from your chat, which I missed. OK, so you get 1 point for suggesting that Vince Young should hire Tom Condon. But you lose 2 points for predicting that Vince Young would be beaten out by Patrick Ramsey. You lose 2 more for claiming that the Titans should stick with Kerry Collins no matter what, and the only reason to play Young was to let him fail spectacularly and silence his supporters. You lose 2 more for your steady drumbeat of "Vince Young will be released after the season, if not sooner" articles and op-eds. You lose 1 more for your incredulous article ripping Mack Brown for not joining the "trash Vince Young" bandwagon despite knowing full well that college coaches NEVER publicly turn on their former players for anything other than breaking the law. And you lose 3 more for your all but crowning the Colts Super Bowl champions based on Peyton Manning's transcendent greatness, especially when compared to Drew Brees. So, where does that leave you?

Paul Kuharsky: I said he could have been beaten out by Ramsey, which was true in the eyes of the decision-makers at the time. I said they would stick with Collins because I knew their coach wanted to before he was overruled by his boss. I certainly came back and wrote extensively about Young’s success during the Titans' 8-2 run. The Mack Brown thing was a bigger deal to you than anyone else I’ve crossed paths with, though I believe he tends to turn out immature starts primed for struggles in the NFL. And boy was I out on a limb thinking Manning’s Colts would beat Brees’ Saints in the Super Bowl.

I think I regularly fess up when I’ve been wrong in the blog. I think the Vince Young verdict is far from in. And I think I appreciate that you are keeping such an “accurate” score.


Arne Wilson from parts unknown writes: Your fascination with the Atlanta Falcons - whom you picked to make the NFC title game last year and mentioned as a Super Bowl contender in the chat today - is unfounded. The Falcons have a mediocre secondary, no pass rush, and a LB corps that needs their #1 pick to pan out to rate as average. On offense, their OL is pedestrian, and they have no one catching the ball that scares anyone other than Roddy White (Tony Gonzalez can't get down the field like he used to). But they have Matt Ryan, right? Well Ryan is a 59.7% passer, and you have to wonder how much a guy who spent 4 years in a pro-style offense for a major, winning college program is going to improve on that, because there isn't a whole lot of room for things that influence his accuracy like his footwork and mechanics to get better. Pick another dark horse.

Paul Kuharsky: Fascination is a bit strong. I thought they’d make a jump last year, and I think it again. (I picked the Saints to go to the Super Bowl two years ago. Should have stuck with them twice, no?) I like their coach and their quarterback, and those are two big ingredients. I do think we’ll see Ryan improve. I also think the Saints dip, the Bucs still stink and Carolina is overrated.


Ida Clark from parts unknown writes: Why is Jeff Fisher taking a much harder line with Kenny Britt's conditioning and work ethic than he ever did with LenDale White? Leaning on White to get into shape so that he would be more explosive, durable and average more than 3.5 yards per carry would have really helped the Titans in 2007, when they had nothing but third-stringers and practice squad players at receiver. I can't help but thinking that Fisher was mindful of how he lobbied for White when Floyd Reese wanted Pro Bowler Devin Hester instead, had a stake in White panning out, so he didn't want to create a controversy. I agree with what Fisher is doing with Britt; I am just wondering why he didn't do the same with White, the guy that he lobbied hard to get, back when the Titans badly needed better production out of him.

Paul Kuharsky: Different strokes for different folks, to a degree. Fisher figures out which buttons to push for which guys. Britt’s hardly the first guy to get a hard time in public at OTAs. It used to be an annual occurrence and hit not only a bad player like Jason Layman, but Eddie George and Samari Rolle too.

But I give you credit for raising an interesting point. LenDale casts a long, wide, shadow. Gone, but still a topic.

Why do you love the Devin Hester idea? The Titans had just drafted Pacman Jones and had Bobby Wade. The return jobs were filled, no?


Nick in Indianapolis writes: Hey Paul, keep up the good work. Your coverage on the Cushing ordeal was great. If -- big if -- Bob Sanders can remain healthy, is defensive coordinator Larry Coyer looking to utilize Sanders' speed and burst in various blitz packages? When Sanders has been healthy (before Coyer) he was mostly in 2-deep coverage or sagging in the box for run support. Wouldn't dialing up blitzes for Sanders help improve the pass-rush and overall success in 3rd-and-long situations? (Of course considering that means Bethea is on his own covering the deep zones, something he should be capable of, right?)

Paul Kuharsky: Coyer had them blitz a lot more than they did (never) under Ron Meeks. So with an impact guy like Sanders at his disposal, I would certainly think he would be sent after the quarterback once in a while. It should be something to see.


Ryan Johnson in Brownstown, Jamaica writes: Hey PK, I am a big fan. You do a great job with the blog. I have been in the Peace Corps for nearly two years and counted on your blog to keep me updated on the Texans and VY. ESPN doesn’t always do the best job of being unbiased but I cannot say the same about your articles. They are always well written and your mailbag responses are usually funny. It is a pleasure to read your stuff. From reading your article on Chris Johnson; I understand that CJ is the man and he will be back at some point, but why would they not bring in a veteran like Brian Westbrook to speed this process up. It sounds like the power is already in organizations hand but why would they not pressure CJ back by bringing in someone who may take 3rd down snaps away or something?

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks for the kind words, Ryan.

Westbrook would be no threat to Johnson, so signing him would do nothing to the situation. And Westbrook is a great pass-catcher, and the Titans are a team that doesn’t screen much, or well. If he was a Titan, there is zero chance he’d get any third-down snaps over CJ if CJ is healthy.

Not a fit to me.

If they decide they need better depth that Javon Ringer and LeGarrette Blount, they’ll shop later for a better fit.


Contract Match in Indianapolis writes: How much of that did you write yourself? The transitions from "This person said this" to "That person said that". You are worthless, how do you still have a job. I feel like my girl in High School can write a more exploratorative piece with the same information.

Paul Kuharsky: Please leave your email address next time so I can write you back and see if I can’t get some tips from her!


Pink Slip from Nashville, Tenn., writes: I have come calling. How do you still have a job? That MJD article is worthless. As are most of your articles, is it apathy or sloth?

Paul Kuharsky: It’s slothpathy. Or apasloth. You seem like a nice fellow. You choose.

Pondering undrafted rookies

May, 17, 2010
5/17/10
12:54
PM ET
Tom Gower of Football Outsiders revisited a recent ESPN.com Insiders piece looking at the remaining holes in the AFC South. More interesting were his new thoughts on each teams' undrafted rookie pool, which gave me one thing to ponder for each of our teams.

Houston

Gower suggests one of two undrafted fullbacks, Jack Corcoran or Isaiah Greenhouse, could push Vonta Leach at fullback. We’ve focused almost exclusively on the running backs and the interior offensive line in discussing the Texans' run woes, and we presume second-rounder back Ben Tate and a healthier interior line that added free agent Wade Smith will be the cure. But was Leach, in fact, part of the problem as Gower suggests? I’ll be interested to see if Corcoran or Greenhouse has a chance to press for action over Leach, who’s been very popular with coaches, teammates and fans.

Indianapolis

Say Gower: “Western Michigan's Tim Hiller could also potentially unseat Curtis Painter for the job of Colts’ preseason quarterback.” I’ve said repeatedly that people make too much too soon about finding Peyton Manning’s successor. It is a preseason and end-of-regular-season job. If Manning goes down somewhere between the two, the Colts' season goes down as well. Hiller has some very good reviews as he joins the team. While they invested a sixth-rounder in Painter a year ago, Hiller certainly has a chance to win the reserve role.

Jacksonville

Cecil Newton could be challenged for the role as young up-and-comer in the interior offensive line mix by John Estes. While the presumption is the team wants to improve inside by replacing Brad Meester, he could hold on and the change could come with Uche Nwaneri. If Meester or Nwaneri continue to give the team reason to look to alter things, we could see veteran Kynan Forney win the left guard job. A big push by Estes or Newton could also have a bearing on how things shake out.

Tennessee

There is room for a No. 3 back after the dumping of LenDale White moved Javon Ringer into the backup role behind Chris Johnson. That means undrafted rookies LeGarrette Blount and Stafon Johnson will garner a great deal of attention in camp. Seems to me Ringer is more like Johnson, and the bigger, more physical Blount is the guy the Titans would like to see step forward.
» NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

Alvin Pearman, RB, Titans and Mark Jones, WR, Titans: Pearman didn’t have much standing heading into the offseason. The backup running back, who ended the season as the Titans' kick and punt returner, lost major standing with the draft and undrafted rookie signings.

Third-round pick Damian Williams is expected to be the leader in the return games, which need a reliable player with some big-play potential after a miserable year where successful fair catches were often an accomplishment.

And while LenDale White was dealt away, Pearman ranks fifth at the position behind Chris Johnson, Javon Ringer, LeGarrette Blount and Stafon Johnson.

Jones ranks even further down the receivers list. He can make the team only if he absolutely lights it up as a returner while others underachieve. It’s a scenario I don’t see panning out.

Rising

Antoine Bethea, S, Colts: It’s not a big deal yet or a big surprise. But Bill Polian told the Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell that the Colts have talked to Bethea, a restricted free agent, about a long-term deal.

The steady, poised Bethea probably doesn’t get enough credit for being the settling force in the secondary, but he’s a key cog in the Colts' defense. That they’re acknowledging interest in locking him up long term seems like a good sign to me, as I think he’s a guy they’ve got to hold onto.

He had a team-high four picks and beat out middle linebacker Gary Brackett for the team’s tackle lead with 120.
Asked if the offensive system of his new team, Seattle, is similar to that of his old team, Tennessee, here’s what LenDale White told Fox Sports Radio:
“You know what is crazy is that it is the same stuff that we have in Tennessee. It is the same exact things. I think what happened was in Tennessee they probably got a little too carried away with the Chris Johnson thing. The year before that we were 13-3 when I had two-hundred carries and we split the rock. Chris went to the Pro Bowl and we had the first round bye, they did things different the next year and we struggled to make the playoffs. It is what it is. It is the same offense down here in Seattle. I am very familiar. I know how to pick up pass protection and stuff like that. The playbook is not what I am worried about. I am just worried about the opportunity and I think that Pete [Carroll] is going to give me a chance.”

Yeah, sorry LenDale, but on the list of things that took the Titans to 0-6, 8-8 and out of the playoffs, the carry distribution in the backfield doesn't even earn a spot.

Try limited pass rush, shoddy pass defense, special teams fiascos, Chuck Cecil's adjustment period, a bad start by Kerry Collins and his receivers, injuries, the Colts…

Hear White’s interview through this link to sportsradiointerviews.com.

Ringer takes lead at Titans' OTA

April, 29, 2010
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With Chris Johnson among a handful of absent Titans, LenDale White traded and the rookies not with the team yet, Javon Ringer worked as the lone tailback at the Titans’ first OTA session of the offseason open to the press.

He held up fine under the workload, despite one bad drop and one rocket he caught with the help of his facemask.

When White was traded on the third day of the draft, Ringer said he first thought of his friend’s opportunity in Seattle, then about himself.

“Now this is my opportunity to make sure I step up to be able to contribute a lot more to the team,” said Ringer, a fifth-round pick out of Michigan State last year.

Said Vince Young: “Big Ring, Pinball, he’s doing a good job out there. He’s doing a good job. I try to slow it down in the huddle when he gets back so he can get a little breather and things like that. From the looks of it right now, he’s doing a phenomenal job. He’s in the right place, he’s continued getting the small details from his coaches and I think he’s going to be an outstanding player for us.”

A couple notes of interest:

  • Eugene Amano was at center with Leroy Harris at left guard, while Mike Otto worked at left tackle for the excused Michael Roos.
  • Jason McCourty worked with the front line defense as the second cornerback opposite Cortland Finnegan.
  • Fisher said the center and second corner spot could still be subject to change.
  • Receiver Kenny Britt has not been around a lot, and rather than risk a muscle pull, he was put with rehabbing players. The way Fisher said it, it sounded like a punishment/ wake-up call situation to me.

Blount worth a look for Titans

April, 26, 2010
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Following a draft that featured a Rhodes Scholar, a math whiz and an Ivy Leaguer, the Titans added a more controversial figure with the addition of undrafted rookie running back LeGarrette Blount from Oregon.

As Jim Wyatt points out, Blount is best known for a postgame punch of a Boise State player and the resulting suspension. He’d been suspended from the team before.

Blount initially agreed to terms with San Francisco, but changed his mind.

The Titans are looking for a third running back after dealing LenDale White to Seattle during the third day of the draft. Javon Ringer is set to back up Chris Johnson.

I have no issue with the team adding Blount. I’m certain they’ve spelled out their expectations for him and any signs of trouble will result in a quick release.

Among the Titans' other undrafted rookies is Stafon Johnson, the USC runner who suffered a serious throat injury in a weightlifting accident last year.

Scouts Inc. gave Blount a 59 grade, judging him an "adequate prospect." Johnson got a 33, which means a "borderline draft prospect."

UPDATE, 11:21 a.m.: For comments form Mike Reinfeldt on Blount, please see this story.

AFC South draft analysis

April, 24, 2010
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» NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

We had big names (Jerry Hughes, Myron Rolle) and no names (Scotty McGee, Shelley Smith) in 32 draft picks in the AFC South.

We also had an incoming veteran (Kirk Morrison to Jacksonville) and outgoing underachievers (LenDale White and Kevin Vickerson out of Tennessee).

Everyone’s on the phone hoping to land more in the form of undrafted free agents, but they’re feeling good too. Needs they had on Thursday have been washed away over three days, and minicamps where rookies will be fitted for uniforms and yelled at by position coaches for the first time will soon arrive.

Best moves

The Titans and Colts both wanted a productive defensive end, both sat still at their first round pick and both had a talented player who fits them fall in their laps.

Derrick Morgan’s got multiple connections with defensive line coach Jim Washburn, and the love fest is on. After losing the high-motor, classy Kyle Vanden Bosch as a free agent, the Titans look to have landed a young version of KVB.

Bill Polian said the Colts have been looking for an extra end for seven years. First-rounder Hughes from TCU looks almost too good to be true in terms of matching up a skill set with a Colts’ model for a position. He couldn’t have landed in a better spot, playing with and learning from Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Riskiest move

Tyson Alualu at No. 10 caused a big stir and raised questions about the Jaguars’ inability to move down. The defensive tackle would likely have still been available later, and the 11th, 12th and 13th picks all got deals right after their selection.

Gene Smith went very heavy on small schools and low profile programs -- Central Arkansas, Murray State, Southern Illinois and James Madison. But it’s Alualu, more than anyone, that will make or break his regime’s reputation. Will the scouts who shook their heads and dropped their jaws at the pick be surprised and revise their opinion or be proven right?

[+] EnlargeKareem Jackson
Chris Williams/Icon SMIJackson didn't miss any time with injuries as a three-year starter for Alabama.
Most surprising move

They are touting the championship pedigree of first-round cornerback Kareem Jackson from Alabama, but Kyle Wilson and Devin McCourty were still on the board. If Jackson doesn’t pan out well for a team thin on talent at corner, they could regret the decision.

I think the Texans had really settled on Ryan Mathews being the guy and may not have recovered after San Diego jumped all the way up to 12 to get him. They had plenty of time to recover and re-examine, but went with Jackson, who was rising on a lot of boards as they draft drew near. There is a gaping hole he needs to help fill, and there will be a lot of second guessing if he doesn’t -- particularly if Wilson and/or McCourty play big.

File it away

Based on their conference call media conversations and the inclusion of a math whiz from UCLA (Alterraun Verner), a Rhodes Scholar from Florida State (Rolle) and an Ivy League defensive tackle from Brown (David Howard), the Titans drafted a smart class.

It’ll be a wonderful thing in meeting rooms and interview sessions. And there shouldn’t be a lot of kids confused when they first dig into the playbook. But if the brains don’t translate into the games, it won’t matter.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Seattle Seahawks just got a running back who has had a 15-touchdown season and a big defensive tackle who can be part of a rotation.

Vickerson
Vickerson
White
White
And the Titans gave them LenDale White and Kevin Vickerson for very little.

The Titans moved up from 111th in the fourth round to 104th and also swapped sixth-rounders, moving up to 176th from 185th in the sixth round.

They spent 104 on UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner.

So they gained seven spots in the fourth, nine spots in the sixth in exchange for two veterans.

That doesn’t amount to enough for me, even as White and Vickerson are only under contract for one more year after signing RFA tenders. Both are represented by Drew Rosenhaus.

But I guess you take what you can get.

I know a lot of people weren’t fans of White, and he could be a difficult guy to get a read on. I always thought of him as Anakin Skywalker -- I could see the good in him.

But after playing the role of a good soldier last year, odds are he was going to head for the dark side in another year with very limited touches playing behind Chris Johnson.

I didn’t think he had much trade value, and the Titans certainly didn’t get much out of dealing him. They are thinking addition by subtraction.

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