AFC South: Ruston Webster

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Johnson had one primary characteristic.

Super speed.

He used it to run for more than 2,000 yards in 2009. He used it to get more 1,000 yards in six straight seasons. He used it to race a cheetah.

He's still very fast, but his home run hitting dropped off dramatically, his price was too high and the Titans parted ways with him.

Second-round pick Bishop Sankey should be the lead member of the committee that replaces Johnson. At pick No. 54, Sankey was the first running back drafted, and the Titans started a mini-run at the position. Jeremy Hill went to Cincinnati with the next pick and Carlos Hyde went to San Francisco with the 57th pick.

The buzzword for Sankey and the entire Titans backfield is now versatility.

Sankey's work won't hinge on one thing. The Titans see a runner who can go inside or out, has good vision and understanding of where he should go. He can catch and pass protect.

"I'm a guy that likes to use his eyes when I'm running," he said. "I feel like I'm patient enough to press the line of scrimmage and make the correct read and cut. I think that does work to my advantage as far as being a running back and running down the field and making guys miss in that second level."

While they can lean on Shonn Greene for short-yardage and pure power situations and turn to Dexter McCluster as a jitterbug pass catcher, they expect to lean on Sankey as a three-down back when they want to.

"Really, what he brings to us is a great deal of versatility: vision, feet, ability to catch the football," general manager Ruston Webster said. "The important thing for us in picking one of these backs was to get the right fit for the coaches' offense. Versatility and the ability to play on three downs was really one of the main criteria."

Said Titans West scout Marv Sunderland: "He has a great style. He is more than just kind of a speed guy. He can run inside and can run outside. He can get outside, he can run through guys, and he can break the long runs. He has great hands out of the backfield, and he is a good blocker."

Sankey said he's been compared to Giovani Bernard and LeSean McCoy. Bernard is just getting started with the Bengals but had a fine rookie year. McCoy is one of the league's best -- and most versatile -- backs.

Sunderland sees another fine NFL runner in Sankey.

"The guy that he most reminds me of is a guy from when I was with the Giants, we had Tiki Barber," he said. "He runs a lot like Tiki. Tiki put the ball on the ground, this kid doesn't."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans have had a couple quality mauling offensive tackles during their time in Tennessee.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesThe Titans' Mike Martin said he's confident that Taylor Lewan, his former teammate at Michigan, won't present the team with any off-field issues.
Jon Runyan and David Stewart were right tackles who didn’t have the feet and movement skills that make new first-round pick Taylor Lewan a left tackle.

The nasty streak in Lewan is akin to what Runyan and Stewart brought. And it’s something the Titans may need to monitor.

While it makes Lewan a quality offensive lineman, it may have also contributed to him allegedly threatening to rape a classmate at Michigan and face three misdemeanor charges stemming from a campus fight.

“You have to have a certain mentality on the field if you’re going to be that physical guy because people are going to challenge you,” said Runyan, now a United States Representative from New Jersey’s 3rd district.

Runyan knows Lewan as the two both played for the Wolverines. The second-term Congressman spoke to The Midday 180 in Nashville on Thursday.

“You’ve got to basically do your stuff, you’ve got to take your shots in there at them, and push them around a little bit and truly just be a jerk on the field. But you can’t live in society like that because you’ll wind up being locked up. So you’ve got to be able to have the ability to turn it on and off and I really think the really good players, the people who are going to ply, a lot of the time have that ability and I think Taylor has it.”

Lewan agreed with Runyon’s idea.

“There is no doubt about it, there is a way you need to act on the field and there is a way to act off the field,” he said. “There is a time and a place for everything. Personally, as far as my personality goes, it’s really easy to judge me as one of those guys based on how I play football, because that’s how most of the public sees me. As just a football player. But off the field, I’m not the guy I’m perceived to be.”

As a player, Lewan said he felt he had to walk a line at time where he made it clear he would protect his quarterback. He admits to overstepping it at times during his college career.

“Yeah, I’m going to do some things here and there,” Lewan said. “Obviously you never want to put the team in a position to lose or hurt us in any way but if I have to be that guy that steps in when a quarterback is getting hit and maybe tossed around a little more than he should, then I am definitely willing to be that guy.”

One of Lewan’s new teammates is an old Michigan teammate. Defensive lineman Mike Martin was drafted by the Titans out of Michigan in the third round in 2012.

“He’s a Grade A guy and you don’t have to worry about anything with him off the field, I can say that for sure,” Martin said. “I saw him grow and I know for sure firsthand.”

I also spoke to two NFL GMs about the Titans' selection of Lewan.

One said the he liked the tackle and the red flags were "not major."

Said the other: "That guy has so much value at that spot it was a no-brainer"
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In an old-school way, the Titans continued to concentrate on foundation building with their first-round pick of left tackle Taylor Lewan.

They did something else old school leading up to the start of the draft: They declined to participate in the sort of gamesmanship and outright lying some of their colleagues participate in.

I don’t believe there was nearly as much of that going on around the NFL as some would have us believe.

But certainly some teams engage in it, and with two extra weeks there was probably more than usual.

The smokescreens the Titans are party too are the sort where a quarterback throws right out of the snap to a receiver on the line of scrimmage, not the sort intended to somehow manipulate the draft.

Did GM Ruston Webster or coach Ken Whisenhunt or the guys on their respective staffs share much leading into this thing?

They did not.

But while they didn’t, they didn’t lie or attempt to manipulate or mislead, either. At least not from my vantage point.

“I think in the end the biggest thing you want to do is get the players right and make the best decisions for your team,” Webster said. “We may not tell you everything, but I try not to straight up lie to you, too.”

Said Whisenhunt: “I think more maybe not saying something about a position or a player, but not ever trying to create a situation where you get the benefit [with] a player by just telling you something false."

Tuesday, Webster visited with my Nashville radio show and said he needed to understand as he drafted “where you might be light in a year.”

“And there are certain positions where there is no guarantee you can get that guy every year," he said.

“Let me interpret that for everyone,” I chimed in. “That’s an offensive tackle statement.”

“You said that,” he replied with a laugh.

Look what an actual piece of ultimately telling banter cost him.

Derek CarrEthan Miller/Getty ImagesDrafting a QB like Derek Carr in the first round would have far-reaching implications for the Titans.
There are several reasons for the Tennessee Titans not to draft a quarterback at No. 11 or even after a trade down in the first round:

  • The top guys don’t look to be sure things, and the Titans are only three years removed from over-drafting Jake Locker eighth overall.
  • The Titans, and GM Ruston Webster in particular, feel Locker is deserving of one big final shot at proving he can be a quality NFL starter and want to facilitate that chance. A highly drafted quarterback wouldn’t help in that.
  • A first-round quarterback would be expected to start, if not from the beginning, somewhere along the way during the season. A team shouldn’t avoid a pick because of the questions it will bring. But if Tennessee drafts a quarterback first, the major theme from the outside all season will be about which quarterback plays.
  • As those top quarterback prospects come with question marks and/or holes, taking one would mean passing on a better player at another position.
  • Though every team and situation is different, the AFC South rival Jaguars had a new regime in place last season. GM Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley sort of received a redshirt year in their first season, because in a lot of ways the clock doesn’t start ticking on guys in those posts until they choose their quarterback.
The Titans have provided no indication that they will spend their top pick on a quarterback, but they have offered no real indication of anything. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean allows for the possibility of a trade down and the choice of Derek Carr. Subsequently, I’ve also heard that Webster is a giant fan of Carr.

“He’s a very bright quarterback,” Webster said Tuesday. “He’s played in multiple systems. He’s had to learn systems and learn them quickly, got a good arm, got a quick release and is pretty good at throwing the ball on time and is pretty accurate.”

While the Titans are loyal and patient and committed with regard to Locker, they also aren’t operating with blinders on.

They know he remains a question mark, they know he tends to get hurt, they must know Charlie Whitehurst isn’t equipped to carry the team to success if asked to start for a long stretch.

Setting Carr aside, we don’t know how they feel about Teddy Bridgewater, who could be there at No. 11. We also don’t know how they rate Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles, and they could have a crack at one or more of those guys.

When Webster fielded a question about Bortles on Tuesday, he brightened up in a way that I read to mean, I can speak freely about this guy because he’s someone who is not in our range.

“You know what I like about Bortles, is he’s big, he’s got a strong arm and he’s consistently brought his team from behind,” Webster said. “Last year, I think in multiple games, the Louisville game being one, they were down and he brought his team back. That’s something that we always look for, and sometimes you don’t get that with a quarterback if their team is so good they’re usually ahead so they don’t have to do it, but in his case, that’s been something that he’s done really well.”

The Titans have looked closely at Carr, Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray, and also have reportedly worked out Jimmy Garoppolo. They might have seen others and been able to keep it quiet.

If they draft a first-round quarterback, I’ll expect him to start, quickly, and mark the end of Locker's tenure as the guy.

It’s one thing to draft a kid and have him sit for a while behind a veteran -- the Titans had success with that when Locker sat behind Matt Hasselbeck.

Whitehurst doesn’t provide the same veteran quality. Young quarterbacks get plugged in and play all around the league now.

I still think the Titans wait and draft a quarterback. Ideally he would arrive before the end of the third round, and ideally the Titans would make a deal that would get them more than the two picks they currently have in that span.

Quarterbacks drafted later than that who pan out in a big way are exceedingly rare. Maybe Mettenberger or Murray slides some as they are coming off ACL injuries.

A first-round quarterback will surprise me, and many others who follow the team closely.

Should it?
An offensive lineman or a safety in the first round for the Tennessee Titans wouldn't solve an immediate problem for the team.

I've made a case they can't go that direction.

But general manager Ruston Webster said Tuesday on my Nashvile radio show that he has to weigh the strengths of this draft with pending needs.

A limited role for the first-round pick in his first year "would be a little hard to swallow, yes," Webster said. The Titans, after all, were 7-9, had a major coaching change and figure to have room for rookie impact.

"You always want those guys to come in and contribute early, you'd love for them to," Webster said. "More importantly you want him to have an impact over time …

"You've got to think a little bit about the future. And what next year brings. I think that's part of drafting, understanding where you might be light in a year. And there are certain positions where there is no guarantee you can get that guy every year."

As I said there, that means offensive tackle is in play, and Taylor Lewan or Zach Martin after a trade down is the possibility there. Michael Roos is in a contract year and though the team has high hopes for free-agent addition Michael Oher, the Ttians wrote a contract that would let them out of the deal after one year for a total of $6 million.

It can also mean safety, where George Wilson has only a year left, Bernard Pollard has two and Michael Griffin is due a $6.3 million salary and an $8.1 million salary-cap number in 2015. Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor have both visited the Titans during draft build-up.
Tennessee Titans general manager Ruston Webster visited with me, Chad Withrow and Jonathan Hutton on The Midday 180 this afternoon to talk about the team's decision to cut ties with Chris Johnson.

"There is some sense of relief that we're through it and we're moving forward and I am sure it's the same for him," he said.

He also said the team never got to the point where it offered a reduced deal.

I think it's safe to presume that between agent Joel Segal's tone in a meeting at the combine and Johnson's comments to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean about not taking a pay cut, the Titans figured it would have been fruitless. And I'm not sure they wanted him at even a reduced price.

"I don't know that we ever got into solid numbers on those things," Webster said.

Other topics:

On the timing: The Titans had to do their due diligence. Ultimately, they weren't able to make a trade.

"In the end I had told Chris and Joel that once we exhausted those options that we would move on and that's what we did," he said.

On evolving running back economics: "For whatever reason, the way offenses are going right now, the use of the multi-runner backfield as opposed to just having the one guy has changed the economics of things. And I think you can even look to the draft and see what's happened to the running back position in the draft. Very few, if any, will go in the first round this year. So that has changed.

"The league is a little different now in how they value the position. So I think those running backs that signed the big contracts are a little bit the victims of the circumstances at this day and time."

Will the Titans definitely be drafting a running back: "We will definitely look at that position in the draft."

On the interest level: Webster said there were points in time during the process where he thought the team had a chance to get a deal done that then didn't work out.

"There was a market and there were times I felt good about it," he said.

Johnson as a player now: "I think Chris still has a lot left … . I think Chris will have a some good years left in him.

On starting the offseason program Monday without Johnson: "I think it's important for the head coach to start new and be able to move forward. Saying that if we'd have felt that keeping him was the best thing for the franchise, we would have done it. I think it's good for Whiz to be able to start anew with everybody on board and heading the same direction."

On Johnson's health: Webster said Johnson passed his physical Friday and would have been able to participate in organized team activities.

On what they will look to bring in to go with Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster: "I think moving forward we're going to look for another back with just some all-around ability, with size and speed, some explosiveness and possibly one that could stay on the field all three downs.

On how the draft class rates: "I think it's good. I don't think there is necessarily that one, the Adrian Peterson of the group that's going to go in the top 10. But there's a lot of depth there, from probably the late first to the fifth."

On confidence he can find a back if they wait until the fourth or fifth round: "I am, yep."

Meanwhile, Johnson issued a statement that he also tweeted:

"I'd like to thank all of my teammates, the fans, the staff and the coaches who have supported me throughout my journey with the Titans. I have grown so much as an individual and as teammate over the past few years, and I am excited about the opportunity to bring my experience and talents to a new organization. I'm looking forward to the next chapter and can't wait to contribute to my new team."
There is a big gulf between a team or a few of them being interested in trading for Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson and a trade actually happening.

If the Titans can get a pick for him, that'd be great.

But it takes more than the Titans being willing to deal him and a team being willing to deal for him and the sides agreeing on compensation. (A fifth-rounder? A sixth? A sixth that could turn into a fifth?)

The team that would trade for him likely won't be willing to inherit base salaries of $8 million this year, $8 million in 2014 and $7 million in 2015.

They'd want permission from the Titans to talk to Joel Segal, Johnson’s agent, to negotiate a friendlier deal with Johnson.

Johnson would then agree to that contract with the Titans on the condition they trade that contract to the team in question.

All of that would require Johnson to move away from a very firm stance that he is not taking a paycut.

If he can force the Titans' hand and get released, he can then peddle his services to 31 other franchises. And that’s more appealing.

That’s a stronger stance on principle, and Johnson would be doing some serious backing down to negotiate down in order to facilitate a trade. (He should by the way -- it's time to acknowledge reality.)

Ruston Webster said Tuesday he’d like to get things resolved sooner rather than later, but that there is no ticking clock.

PFT has pointed out one thing that can create a deadline: April 7. That's the start date of the offseason program. If Johnson showed up and suffered a freak injury that cost him the season, the Titans would be on the hook for all $8 million.

Can Whisenhunt, Webster be rift-proof?

February, 26, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Reports of trade talks between the 49ers and Browns for San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh brought to light the extent of the strain between Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke.

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhun
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyKen Whisenhunt, left, and Titans GM Ruston Webster can form a common bond based on their competitive natures.
Every traditional coach-GM division of labor can be a delicate relationship. Great pairs work together with mutual respect, but others have succeeded despite tensions. In fact, those tensions, if reasonably managed, can be part of what actually makes a franchise work.

But the goal at the start is a strong working relationship that won't fracture.

And based on the personalities of Titans general manager Ruston Webster and the coach he hired, Ken Whisenhunt, it seems something crazy would have to happen for them to have some sort of strife.

Rich McKay was general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Webster worked in the front office there, and later held the same post in Atlanta, where he is now the Falcons president. McKay knows Whisenhunt from interviewing him in 2007 when Atlanta wound up replacing Jim Mora with Bobby Petrino and from time together on the NFL's competition committee in 2012.

"Ken is a very competitive guy, and that always showed up when you did the research on him, whether he was at Pittsburgh or Arizona or just being around him when we were on the competition committee," McKay said. "He is a very competitive guy. He does a great job of controlling his emotions, but by the same token, he's got an edge to him.

"Ruston is one of those guys that has that look and that appearance of being easy going, but he is likewise competitive. So I think they'll mesh very well. When you deal with them [as a reporter], you'll think they are somewhat easygoing, but that won't necessarily be what the feeling will be inside the organization, where I think they will drive it pretty good because of the way both guys are wired."

The sort of things that can unfold to create strain between a coach and GM need to be addressed and acknowledged quickly and not allowed to fester. Whisenhunt and Webster have both spoken of their desire to communicate well, and that can prevent a lot of potentially bad situations from percolating.

I wondered if they might be considered close to rift-proof at the start of their time working together.

"It all starts with two basic precepts," McKay said. "One is communication and the other is trust. Communication, you can't have enough. And the trust you must have. Those are the two things I've seen in successful situations and I've seen one or the other broken in unsuccessful ones."

On drafting quarterbacks regularly

February, 24, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jake Locker is in line to be the Titans' starting quarterback in 2014.

But he’s going to have competition and Tennessee hopes the group is better overall.

Right now it’s Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyler Wilson.

Expect a draft pick as well.

“I really think you probably should look at the quarterback position every year,” general manager Ruston Webster told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. “I’d like to take that philosophy moving forward.”

Ron Wolf, the former GM of the Green Bay Packers, believed in drafting a quarterback every year. Hit on them at any kind of decent rate, you develop the most important commodity in the league, give yourself options, make trades and upgrade draft picks.

The thing that makes it somewhat difficult is that to take an approach like that, a team without a clear-cut franchise signal-caller probably has to commit to carrying three quarterbacks.

In the Titans' case, it’d be the presumptive starter in Locker. It’d be the veteran backup in Fitzpatrick or someone like him who could play when needed but not require regular practice snaps. And it’d be the rookie or second-year kid like Wilson.

The loser of that last spot could be rated as a practice-squad talent, but there would be very little practice work for the third guy, let alone the fourth.

Here's some detail on drafting quarterbacks from Michael Bonzagni of ESPN Stats & Information:

In the last 10 drafts (2004-2013), there have been a total of 126 quarterbacks taken.

Most QBs taken in last 10 drafts:
  • Broncos: 7
  • Jets: 6
  • Eagles: 5
  • Packers: 5
  • Browns: 5
  • Ravens: 5
  • 49ers: 5
  • Redskins: 5

The Titans have drafted three in that span, tied for 24th most.

Two of the three quarterbacks the Titans have taken in that time frame have been first-round picks -- Vince Young, third overall in 2006, and Locker, eighth overall in 2011.

That's tied with four other teams (the Broncos, Browns, Bills, Redskins) for the most QBs taken with first-round picks.

Tennessee is the only team in the last 10 drafts to use two different top-10 picks on QBs.

There have been a total of 28 quarterbacks taken in the first round in the last 10 drafts, 16 with top-10 picks.

The Titans also took Rusty Smith with a sixth-round pick in 2010.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Five things to be conscious of as the Tennessee Titans get set to watch workouts at the combine Saturday through Tuesday:

It’s not the workouts: Of course they will watch workouts with interest, but those aren’t going to sway opinions much. The two most important things in Indianapolis are the medical checkups and the chance to interview guys. The Titans will come back to Nashville with a full medical file on every guy and they will have talked to a good percentage of the players they are interested in, either in the short formal sit-down or the more casual secondary setting.

Tweeners are big: For as long as they’ve been in Tennessee, the Titans have been a straightforward 4-3 defense. They made the right call in 1999 when they looked at Jevon Kearse, judged as a tweener who might be an end or might be a linebacker, drafted him, installed him at end and watched him become a difference-making pass-rushing force. But they steered away from a slew of other guys who weren’t clearly 4-3 ends or 4-3 outside linebackers. Now, with a hybrid defense on the horizon, the franchise will be looking at guys who are not clearly an end or an outside linebacker in a different way. A flexible guy able to rush from the edge in different ways could have a whole new appeal. Those guys work out on Monday.

The quarterback plan: The three most powerful football people in the organization are endorsing Jake Locker as the team’s quarterback. Still, the team needs quality alternatives if Locker doesn’t pan out in 2014 or if he gets hurt again. It will be hard for a rookie to find sufficient snaps to develop, but the team should be thinking it needs maximum options at the position. The Titans won’t be in range of the top three quarterbacks. But might they be in the process of falling in love with a lower-ranked guy like Jimmy Garoppolo, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray or David Fales? Meeting them could advance those feelings.

Same page: Ruston Webster’s scouting staff has watched these players for some time, but in-season they were picturing them in the scheme the team ran under Mike Munchak. In pre-combine meetings, they discussed altered thinking. Here is a chance for those scouts to mingle more switch with Ken Whisenhunt and the new staff. And in meetings to come, those coaches will further spell out what they feel they need and the scouts will continue to revise their thinking about who has the qualities the evolving scheme needs.

Planting seeds: I can't see the Titans moving up in this draft. They are already without a third-round pick and aren't going to get any compensatory picks. Odds are it will be difficult to resist a talent at No. 11. But if they can bump down a few spots, still get someone they love who can be an immediate impact guy and gain a pick or two, it’s surely an option they’d consider. Most teams will know that, but perhaps Webster will have a chance while standing alongside a colleague or two to plant a seed that grows into something in early May.

Messages on Locker, CJ quite different

February, 20, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One by one, they have faced the same questions.

One by one, they have given similar answers.

When the topic is Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith, general manager Ruston Webster and coach Ken Whisenhunt talk enthusiastically and optimistically.

When the topic is Chris Johnson, Smith, Webster and Whisenhunt are far more reserved, talking about how a decision has yet to be made, and not offering so much as a lukewarm endorsement.

I know the trio in power to varying degrees. But none of them has anything on his resume that I am familiar with to suggest he doesn't tell the truth.

Given that, I'm not finding it difficult to interpret things.

Money is not an issue with Locker this season. He’s got a cap hit of a little more than $4 million and a salary of $2.091 million, which is guaranteed. He remains an injury-prone unknown, but they want to give him every chance, and they don’t have a good alternative on the roster at this time.

Money is a huge issue with Johnson, who collected $10 million in each of the past two years and is scheduled to make $8 million more this year. That’s a high price for a self-proclaimed playmaker who averaged 3.9 yards a carry and maxed out with a 30-yard run in 2013. He has spent more time publicly assessing the offensive line and his coaches than being accountable himself.

If he’s cut, it won’t necessarily be in line with the start of the new league year on March 11. Per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, Thursday morning at the combine Webster said "we can be as patient as we want to be" regarding a decision on Johnson.

Said Whisenhunt of CJ: “He practiced every day from what I’ve seen when you look at the records from last year, and he played in a lot of games, and he’s been a good football player.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is not a coach doing a cartwheel about a player he’s inherited.

The Titans aren’t going to come right out and tell us much on hot-button issues when they don’t have to. Maybe they wait to make a move with CJ until they draft his replacement.

If the plan is to keep him and have him on the field in 2014, they’re doing him quite a disservice with their tepid answers. But that is not what they are doing. They are getting Johnson, his agent and his fans ready for a divorce.

They are endorsing Locker and avoiding saying anything substantive about Johnson.

Oftentimes I advise we shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

Here I am far more inclined to say, jump away.

Would the Titans draft Michael Sam?

February, 10, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The question of the day is about Missouri’s Michael Sam, who is preparing for the combine after publicly sharing that he is gay.

He’s a defensive end who played quite well at Missouri, where he was SEC Defensive Player of the Year along with Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley.

Aside from how he grades out as a draft prospect, will teams take into consideration that he will be a big news story -- as the first openly gay NFL player -- and let it influence if and when they’d draft him?

Odds are some teams will let it be a factor.

Would the Titans?

General manager Ruston Webster is an upstanding guy who’s well-connected and well-respected around the league. I think Webster and his scouts will evaluate Sam as they would any other player. If he’s the top-rated player on Tennessee’s board at a time when the Titans feel they need a defensive end, I don’t think they’d pass because he’d bring attention with him.

But reports from the Senior Bowl I’ve read said he didn’t look very comfortable playing in space as an outside linebacker. The Titans are going to be a hybrid front, not the traditional 4-3 they’ve been for their entire time in Tennessee.

If Sam is not a football fit, the Titans won’t be a team that really faces the question.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s a little too easy to look at the Tennessee Titans' hiring of Todd Toriscelli as their Director of Sports Medicine as Ruston Webster linking up with an old friend.

The Titans' GM and the team’s newest employee did work together in Tampa Bay. But Webster is a man of integrity who just watched coach Mike Munchak’s job come apart largely because of loyalty to friends on his staff who were not up to their jobs.

The Titans’ longtime head athletic trainer Brad Brown was let go last week. Toriscelli’s hiring was announced Friday.

“I have known Todd for nearly 20 years and have a great deal of respect for the work he has done through the years,” Webster said in the team’s announcement. “He is organized, professional and has a wide-range of knowledge from his years in the field. He also has respect within the athletic training world, as many of his former assistants have gone on to become head trainers in the NFL and college.”

Toriscelli joined the Buccaneers in 1997, after seven years as a head athletic trainer in the college ranks, split between Stanford, Miami (Fla.), and Kansas State.

The Titans have been talking of culture change, and while sports medicine might not jump to mind when considering that transformation, it’s actually an area where there might be room.

Sports science is becoming bigger and bigger, and there certainly are advances and new ideas that have come into play in injury prevention and treatment.

The Titans could be looking to Toriscelli to advance the organization in some of those areas. Increasingly we hear of players going away from team headquarters for treatment of injuries, particularly in the offseason.

Perhaps Toriscelli and a revamped department will fare better in giving the Titans a modern training room where players and their agents feel they are being best served.

Some highlights from Toriscelli’s time with the Bucs:
  • Participated in research projects on dehydration and exercise in the heat with scientists from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.
  • Completed a large research project on hamstring injuries and other injury-related topics among NFL players. He has published many articles and lectured on topics related to sports medicine.
  • Named to the NFL Health and Safety Panel.
  • During his Tampa Bay tenure, eight former Buccaneers assistants or intern athletic trainers have gone on to become head athletic trainers at the professional or major college level.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Getting permission to interview an assistant who is under contract is difficult business in the NFL.

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

I doubt it.

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE, 3:40 ET: Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says Butler will remain with the Steelers.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Sure, the Detroit Lions have some quality players on their roster.

Calvin Johnson is spectacular, Ndamukong Suh is intimidating and Matthew Stafford has a great arm.

Those guys have huge contracts, however, which means Detroit is a salary-cap challenged team.

I understand the Lions' roster is better, but when coaches have multiple suitors, since when do they choose teams based on the roster?

Relationships, personalities, power, facilities, geography and a lot of other things can factor in.

I asked general manager Ruston Webster on The Midday 180 Wednesday about why the prevailing assumption is that the Titans had to outmaneuver the Lions as opposed to the other way around.

"I don't quite understand it," Webster said before changing course. "I do understand it, I know where they are coming from with it. But I think people are probably taking it a little bit too far. And really we have a lot to offer here in Tennessee and here in Nashville especially. That's a big part of it.

"A lot of times with somebody part of it is a connection. Ken had a connection here [and] his wife is from Atlanta. That does play into decisions that we all make. So I think there was probably more to it than what people might have realized. They looked at it strictly from a football standpoint. And football was a big part of it, but there were other things as well."