AFC South: Leon Washington

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In Dexter McCluster, Tennessee gets a player who will be cast in a role for which many of us thought Darren Sproles would be a great fit.

I imagine he will be like Danny Woodhead was for Ken Whisenhunt last season in San Diego, when Whiz was offensive coordinator and Woodhead caught 76 passes for 605 yards and was very much an extension of the running game as a pass-catcher.

McCluster
McCluster
McCluster is a listed as receiver, not a running back. Like Woodhead, McCluster is 5-foot-8. At 170, he’s 30 pounds lighter than Woodhead.

In 2013 for the Chiefs, McCluster caught 53 passes for 511 yards and two touchdowns. He also had eight carries for 5 yards.

I spoke in a video earlier today about positional versatility for new pieces of the defensive front. McCluster brings the Titans that on offense.

From Bill Polian’s scouting report :
Versatility may be McCluster's best asset, as he can play RB, WR and return kicks. Speed and explosiveness should be his trademarks, but he doesn't make as many explosive plays as you might expect. As good as he can be in space he tends to dance too much. McCluster is well-built and if he can improve his receiving skills he could really help an offense. He has a head coach in Andy Reid who seems to like his skill set.

I think Titans fans should be excited about McCluster as part of a Whisenhunt offense. I think it also chops away at the room and idea for Chris Johnson to be back and to be used more in the passing game.

Jake Locker, or whoever is quarterbacking the Titans, will now be throwing to Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, McCluster and Nate Washington. That's a pretty diverse group of four top targets.

Tennessee is also re-signing returner Leon Washington, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. Between McCluster and Washington, the Titans should have little worry with the return game, which plagued the Titans last season before the late addition of Washington.

Free-agency primer: Titans

March, 7, 2014
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video
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: CB Alterraun Verner, DE Ropati Pitoitua, KR Leon Washington, WR Damian Williams, DT Antonio Johnson, WR Kenny Britt.

Where they stand: The Titans re-signed outspoken, thumping strong safety Bernard Pollard, one of their most important free agents, with a two-year deal. He has spoken glowingly about the direction the team will head under coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton. "We're going to be 11 dogs without leashes running around biting people," Pollard told a Nashville radio station 3HL. They also re-signed third-string running back Jackie Battle, who’s a staple special-teamer. It’s hard to know how other people project into the new systems that come along with a new coaching regime. The Titans have indicated to everyone on that list, beside Britt, that they are interested. But will the interest translate into new contracts?

What to expect: The Titans will wind up with a couple of their own guys back, though they are not desperate to keep anyone on the list. Verner is very likely to hit the market and find a team that puts a higher price tag on him than the Titans will. I believe Pitoitua can be a valuable piece of the new hybrid front, particularly in the run-stopping effort. Washington can bring a secure feeling to the return game. Williams is a smart and versatile fourth wide receiver, but there is a giant pool of free-agent wideouts and a quality draft class, so he'll need to settle for minimal money if he wants to stay and they want to have him. The team won't spend $100 million in free agency, as it did last year, but will make several key additions.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- We've awaited indications about the Tennessee Titans' interest level in some of their unrestricted free agents to-be.

Via Jim Wyatt we get the first signals about what Tennessee would like to do.

They are talking to Alterraun Verner, who may prove too expensive.

Per Wyatt:
The Titans also have talked with the agents for safety Bernard Pollard and defensive end Ropati Pitoitua, who are scheduled to become free agents.

Indications are the Titans have either talked with or plan to talk with the agents for running back Jackie Battle, wide receivers Damian Williams and Marc Mariani, return man Leon Washington and offensive lineman Chris Spencer as well.

“A lot of those guys have had a positive impact on our team, so we're going to try and keep as many of those guys as we can,” (Ruston) Webster said.

Now we don't know if they are hell-bent on re-signing some of those guys or if their contact is more on a check-in level.

Ranking the guys from that group, Pollard is most important and Pitoitua is probably second. I'd put Washington third, and Williams fourth.

Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson is also a player they will consider bringing back.

Not on Wyatt's list of guys coming free who the Titans will talk to, at least at this point: Receiver Kenny Britt (no surprise at all), interior offensive lineman Rob Turner, receiver Kevin Walter and offensive tackle Michael Otto.

Double Coverage: Titans at Colts

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
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Fitzpatrick/Jean FrancoisGetty ImagesRyan Fitzpatrick, left, and the Titans can tighten the AFC South race vs. Ricky Jean Francois' Colts.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts want to remove the bad taste in their mouths from their 29-point loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Tennessee Titans want to make the AFC South race intriguing.

Something will have to give when the teams meet Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts can basically lock up their first division title since 2010 with a victory, because they would have a three-game lead on the Titans with four remaining. A win by the Titans would cut Indianapolis' lead to one game.

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky break down the matchup.

Wells: The Titans made things in the division a little more interesting when they came from behind to beat Oakland last weekend. But they will be without a key player this weekend. How much will losing safety Michael Griffin impact the Titans' defense this weekend?

Kuharsky: They are OK without him, as George Wilson is a capable veteran safety who will start in his spot. Wilson played for an injured Griffin in St. Louis, which was a bad game for Tennessee, but not because of that switch. Wilson has covered tight ends in a heavy nickel set and the dime package for much of the season, and the Titans have been better against tight ends after having huge problems in 2012. The Titans didn’t use Wilson against Coby Fleener two weeks ago. Wilson played only one defensive snap in that game, and the Titans let their base defenders deal with Fleener. They didn’t fare well, as he caught eight passes for a game-high 107 yards. Using Wilson as they have against other teams is not an option now, since he’s in line to start.

Let’s stay in the secondary. Has Vontae Davis been consistent? And how is his health now?

Wells: Inconsistent is a better word to describe Davis. He looked like he was on his way to earning a nice offseason payday earlier this season. But he hasn’t been the same since Greg Toler, who starts opposite of him at cornerback, went down with a groin injury four games ago. It’s like Davis feeds off of Toler’s presence on the field. Houston's Andre Johnson, St. Louis' Tavon Austin, and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald all took turns getting the best of Davis at times in three of the past four weeks. Davis' groin injury isn’t severe, so he should be in the lineup this weekend. There is a chance that Toler could be back, too.

Running back Chris Johnson had a monster first half in the previous meeting against the Colts. But the Titans stopped handing the ball to him in the second half. Do you think the same thing will happen this weekend if Johnson has another strong first half?

Kuharsky: Well, the Colts came out and scored, collected Devon Wylie's kickoff fumble, and scored again, erasing the Titans' lead. I’m thinking Leon Washington, who was just signed to replace Wylie, will be more reliable, and the Titans won’t go so long without having the ball on offense. With Ryan Fitzpatrick finding a rhythm at quarterback, they are more likely to throw some short passes that function as runs. The Titans will certainly want to run it. But they don’t sustain it very well when they do manage to get it going some.

The Titans jumped out to that lead last time after the Colts were coming off getting blown out by 29. Now they draw the Colts after the Colts were blown out by Arizona. The Colts usually bounce back well, but I sense that the faith of those close to the team is waning. Is the team starting to doubt itself?

Wells: Faith better not start waning after owner Jim Irsay was, well, Jim Irsay and voiced his frustration Tuesday on Twitter about the team’s performance the past few weeks. The Colts have yet to lose back-to-back games with Andrew Luck as quarterback, but this was a different Colts’ team inside the locker room after the Arizona game. They normally talk among each other win or lose after the game. There was very little of that this time. Players showered and dressed rather quickly and headed toward the bus. The Colts are very vulnerable right now. The Titans have an excellent opportunity to come to Lucas Oil Stadium and win the game. All the pressure in the division race would shift to the Colts if that happens.

You mentioned that Fitzpatrick is finding his rhythm. Do you think this could lead to a quarterback controversy next season with him and Jake Locker?

Kuharsky: Well, we aren’t sure yet that the same coaching staff or regime will be in place. Presuming it is, and presuming Locker recovers fully and on schedule from his Lisfranc surgery, he’ll begin next year at the front of the line. The question isn’t so much about the possibility that Fitzpatrick surpasses him -- he’s very much a backup -- it’s about whether the Titans are compelled to deem Locker injury-prone and draft an alternative/possible replacement. Based on what they have seen so far, they can't execute a very expensive option in May for the 2015 season, so they also have to be looking ahead.

The Colts have had some serious injuries, too. Reggie Wayne was a terrible guy to lose. Would tight end Dwayne Allen rank a close second?

Wells: Don’t get me wrong, not having Allen is a significant blow to the Colts, but I’d say losing guard Donald Thomas is second on the list. The offensive line was abysmal last season, and the Colts went out and spent money to upgrade it during the offseason, with Thomas and tackle Gosdar Cherilus being the main pieces. The Colts went from starting Thomas, a veteran, to starting rookie Hugh Thornton. That’s a drastic drop-off, especially since Thornton shifted to left guard on the fly because he played right guard in college. The entire offensive line has been inconsistent with its run and pass protection this season.

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Washington brings confidence to Titans

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
5:51
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Leon Washington brings the Tennessee Titans an ingredient they have lacked at the return spot all season.

Confidence.

Darius Reynaud's confidence eroded quickly, and Mike Munchak said it was the reason the Titans cut him after seven games. Damian Williams didn't even have a game-and-a-half to establish any confidence. Devon Wylie appeared to lack it entirely.

As a two-time Pro Bowler, Washington walked into the building and brings a credibility to the return game that special teams simply haven't had this year.

Asked if he's still got it, he said: "Oh yeah, I got it."

"I'm a coachable player, I'll listen to Coach Nate [Kaczor], whatever he needs me to do I'll get it done," Washington said. "I've talked to some guys already and let them know how seriously I take special teams. I don't do special teams just to be in the game. We're trying to win the game on special teams."

Washington's 8,002 combined kickoff return and punt return yards rank fourth among active players, behind only Josh Cribbs, Darren Sproles and Devin Hester. Washington has a 556-yard lead on the fifth guy on that list, Ted Ginn Jr.

While Washington has returned eight kickoffs for touchdowns, he's never scored on a punt return.

The Titans don't need him to. Simple good decision-making will be a giant upgrade.

Mailbag: A key RFA detail

March, 5, 2010
3/05/10
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Elliott from Chattanooga, TN writes: The Jets put Leon Washington on a second-round tender. Does that mean since the Titans don’t have a second round pick this year they can’t make bid for him? If they could do you think they would be interested in him sense he was a Pro Bowl kick returner and that was a position they were looking to address this year, plus he would be someone to alternate with Chris Johnson.

Paul Kuharsky: Good question for the AFC South since neither the Titans nor the Jaguars have a second round pick.

If either of them wanted to sign a guy tendered at a second-round level to an offer sheet, they’d have to a) acquire a second rounder equal to what they would have had in the draft or one higher; or b) give up their first rounder instead. Basically, if you don’t have a pick in the right round and can’t get one commensurate to what you would have had, it gets rounded up a round. Nobody’s going to be doing the rounded up thing.

While Washington is intriguing as a return guy, the Titans have sufficient alternatives to Johnson as running back. A second rounder they’d have to trade for plus the kind of contract Washington would want are too high a price for the Titans, I’d say.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

A running back going against an unfamiliar team can be a surprise.

No matter how much film a defense has watched, a guy can be shiftier, more slippery, faster, stronger or tougher to bring down than he appears.

Division games are, of course, a different deal.

There are few such surprises between teams that face each other twice a year and often gear their personnel moves and roster construction to give themselves the best chance of conquering their most frequent foes.

So what does it say that the AFC South boasts the NFL’s three best running backs when we measure only division games?

This chart comes courtesy of the Titans supplemental weekly notes.

Highest rushing average in division games, 2008-09 (min. 40 attempts)
Player Games Att. Yds. Avg. Long TD
Chris Johnson, Tennessee 9 145915 6.31 91*5
Steve Slaton, Houston 8 1327385.59 71* 6
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville 10 138765 5.54 80* 10
Darren Sproles, San Diego 10 593275.54 37 2
DeAngelo Williams, Carolina 8 153843 5.51 416
Frank Gore, San Francisco 7 1306935.33 80* 7
Leon Washington, NY Jets 9 71377 5.31 47*2
*TD run


Is this a good thing that shows how good these three backs are? Is it a bad thing that shows how these defenses, even as familiar as they are with these backs, still can’t stop them?

I’m curious about your interpretations.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

Fresh off a giant rushing day in a loss to Tennessee, Maurice Jones-Drew graciously donated 20 minutes to the AFC South Blog to chat about the latest version edition of ESPN.com’s Power Rankings.
Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE
Maurice Jones-Drew weighed in with an opinion on every team in the league.

He wound up offering more of a team-by-team commentary on the league than on the rankings, which is just fine with us.

So here is a sampling of his thoughts:

"The Saints and Colts both struggled this week, I just don’t know how long those guys can last with those high-powered offenses. It seems like New Orleans, at least, has to have a shootout every week to win, you know. So I don’t know how long that’s going to last. The Colts survived a scare. So call them the Houdinis, they find a way to win."

"Minnesota I think is one of the best balanced teams with the running game, passing game, great defense and special teams. They’re firing on all cylinders right now."

"Denver at four, I don’t know how long they are going to last with just throwing the ball all the time. You’ve got to have a balanced offense in this league, and to run the ball just 10 times [actually 19] against the Ravens was not good."

"New England’s just sneaky, I haven’t heard too much about them yet. They ranked No. 5, so you all have your eye on them."

"Cincinnati is revived, new heart."

"Pittsburgh, great defense."

"Dallas was like on the bottom half of the league last week or two weeks ago, weren’t they? [They were 19 just two weeks ago, I tell him.] I just remember everyone saying Dallas is horrible, they aren’t going to be any good. Now all of a sudden they are up there. Nineteen two weeks ago, now eight? That’s a question mark how guys can jump up that far, this is not the BCS."

"I like Philadelphia. Donovan McNabb has multiple weapons, defense is playing solid right now. They are an opportunistic team."

"Baltimore is catching their stride right now which is going to be pretty dangerous for some people. They can run, they can throw, they play great defense, their special teams are starting to come on and their head coach is a special teams guy. I like them, I think they are going to be a good team and later on they’ll be higher than 10."

"Atlanta is going to be a team that sneaks up on people to. I think they should be a little bit higher. They lost their last two, but before that they were like No. 6 or something, weren’t they? They were high up there. I just don’t know how teams drop in this week-by-week deal."

"The Packers can’t beat the Vikings. They can’t win their division it seems like."

"Cardinals live by the pass die by the pass. It’s a risky way, but if that’s what you’re going to be, know who you are."

"Texans at 14, oh man. I don’t know…"

Blogger break in: Jones-Drew gets to the security gate of his neighborhood. “Hello,” he says. “Monroe, right?” the woman asks him. “No, Jones-Drew,” he says politely. “I’m sorry,” she says. Then turning back to me on the phone: “That’s crazy, my own neighborhood doesn’t even know me. I tell you what, I’ve still got a long way to go.”

"...Texans, Matt Schaub was struggling and Ryan Moats steps up big for them in that Buffalo Bills game. I have Matt Schaub on my fantasy team and he did not play well for me."

"The Giants were the No. 1 team probably three weeks ago and they lost three now, I guess they are on a skid. Now 15, they will probably be down where they Jaguars are next."

"San Diego? Slow start. They always start slow and they always pick it up towards the middle and the end of the season. So it’s kind of surprising, people have to realize that’s how they play the majority of the time. I think they will be higher."

"I don’t know about the Bears. They’re kind of inconsistent. Matt Forte, he’s on my fantasy team, I’m glad he had a big week against Cleveland. They are just inconsistent. I think now, 16, 17 on down you’re going to get to the teams that are just inconsistent."

"Injuries are what make the Jets so low at 18, to lose Kris Jenkins is a big hit for them on the defensive side. And then you lose Leon Washington, your kickoff returner and your backup running back, one of the most explosive guys in the league. That’s tough."

"I think the 49ers are catching their stride. They played Houston tough and almost beat Houston, they came back on them. They played Indy incredibly tough with the Joseph Addai touchdown. Whenever you can hold Peyton Manning with no touchdowns, it’s real big."

"Miami, I think they are undefeated in divisional play, right? You win your division you get to the playoffs. They are the head of their division but that can beat anyone else. Divisional bullies?"

"Jaguars at 21? That’s bull. We should be No. 1. [I chime in that I understand why he says so, but he knows how it sounds to people, right?] "If I didn’t say that, it wouldn’t be right. Everyone should say that about themselves. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?"

"Buffalo, injuries. They’d be higher if they didn’t have as many injuries."

"Carolina, give the ball to Steve Smith. Give him the rock, feed him. You have a running game, but no Steve Smith. That’s why they are ranked that low."

"Seattle: listen to Houshmandzadeh."

"Washington, 25th, they’re struggling. What Haynesworth said: When they want to win, they will."

"The Titans beat the Jaguars."

"Oakland: Off the field issues."

"Kansas City: Off the field issues."

"The Lions got their first victory."

"I think St. Louis should be ranked higher than Detroit, they should flip-flop spots 29 and 30. The Rams beat them didn’t they? If two teams are evenly matched like that, usually the team that beat the other one should be right ahead of them."

"Cleveland: internal bleeding. They are firing everybody in Cleveland right now. They just traded Braylon Edwards, now you’re going to fire your GM. Who’s next?"

"Tampa Bay? [Expletive]! I know how they feel, like anything and everything you do isn’t right. You can do all the hard work in the world and it still doesn’t pay off."

"I think you guys did pretty good. Denver I understand they are high up there, they beat New England which was a big win. Other than that, most of their wins were against opponents that aren’t up there. …I obviously think we’re way too low, we beat Houston. I think Houston could be a little bit higher. At 5-3 they are a little tougher than what people think."

"Fantasy-wise, I need Antonio Gates to step up. I need Philip Rivers to throw the ball to Antonio Gates more. We play two quarterbacks, I have Matt Cassel but I hope he does bad [in Jacksonville Sunday]. I might just play one quarterback."

How things get better for Titans' D

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
3:55
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Jason Bridge/US PRESSWIRE; AP Photo/Wade Payne
The Titans need Nick Harper, Kyle Vanden Bosch and the rest of the Titans' defense to step up their game for the team to avoid an 0-3 start.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The numbers hardly add up. A team with three Pro Bowlers in the secondary rates 32nd in pass defense and has two losses two weeks into the season.

The 34-31 loss to Houston, in which Matt Schaub shredded the secondary, skews the ranking against the pass. But at crucial moments, the max-protecting Steelers picked the Titans apart and the quick-throwing Texans found plenty of big plays.

A lot of pride is on the line as the Titans head to Giants Stadium to face the Jets, and they know an 0-3 hole could simply be too big to dig out of.

“I’m very confident that that was a one-time deal, it won’t happen again,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said of the Houston game. “We all were embarrassed by it on the defensive side of the ball …. We got it out of the way.”

First-year defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, who was previously the secondary coach, said he understands why passionate fans are distraught over the team’s results so far, but that he’s obligated to take emotion out of things, dissect what’s happened and plot what needs to be done.
AP Photo/Wade Payne
First-year Titans defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil said the defense's problems won't be difficult to fix.

“The biggest thing to me is to be objective about what’s happening and I feel very confident about what we are trying to get accomplished and what we’re doing,” he said. “I think what problems we might have had are easily rectified. …. The emotional part of it you have to step back and just go, ‘No, what happened, why did it happen, what do you need to do to fix it? And move on.”

Simply put, defensive backs need to cover better. As Jeff Fisher said Monday, “when a player gets beat one on one, it has nothing to do with the game plan or the calls or so on and so forth.”

That’s priority No. 1 for corners Nick Harper and Cortland Finnegan, safeties Chris Hope and Michael Griffin and nickelback Vincent Fuller.

“We’ve got some things going on right now, and we’re going to get them fixed,” Harper said. “For whatever reason we’re just not playing well right now. … Right now we feel like we’re letting the team down. The past two seasons we felt like we were the strongest unit. We feel like we’re the weakest unit right now.”

(Read full post)

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