AFC South: Sammie Hill

Titans Camp Report: Day 19

August, 13, 2014
8/13/14
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:

  • Receiver Justin Hunter continued to make things difficult on cornerbacks on jump balls. He went up and got one over Coty Sensabaugh from Jake Locker. He jumped over rookie Marqueston Huff for another. He skied to the crossbar in the back of the end zone to pluck another with Sensabaugh nearby.
  • Charlie Whitehurst had to call “ball” on one throw up the right side for Michael Preston, who turned but wasn’t ready and watched it sail through his hands, though he had some room on Micah Pellerin.
  • Locker threw a duck that found the ground quickly when it looked like he was aiming for Nate Washington with Blidi Wreh-Wilson in coverage. Locker seemed to be trying to stop himself from throwing it, but the motion was well underway and it came out of his hand. Wound up harmless.
  • Other red-zone TD catches besides Hunter’s: Marc Mariani from Whitehurst and Chase Coffman stretching at the back line from Zach Mettenberger.
  • Linebacker Zaviar Gooden didn’t get his head around on a Whitehurst throw for Taylor Thompson, but Gooden got his arm up to hit the ball for a breakup.
  • While the Titans have been very reserved with their kickers, Brett Kern punted for the second day in a row.
  • Whitehurst was "sacked" when the he dashed left and ended up swallowing the ball. It looked like the play was supposed to be a handoff to Bishop Sankey but was unclear who made the mistake. Sankey made some nifty moves on a couple of carries.
  • Whitehurst threw an interception to Huff in a ball intended for Isaiah Williams.
  • DaQuan Jones is working as the second nose tackle, and Al Woods is also in the loop there behind starter Sammie Hill. Antonio Johnson has been out for a while in recovering from a knee scope. Jones and Woods can play inside or out, while Johnson doesn’t bring the same versatility. He’s likely in trouble.
  • Travis Coons hit field goals of 38 and 44 yards at the conclusion of two-minute drill work by the offense. Whisenhunt said Maikon Bonani's groin was bothering him a little bit. Coons hit both field goals on a better trajectory with room to spare. He told me he was hitting the ball a bit lower than usual as he worked with snapper Beau Brinkley and holder Kern to speed up the snap, hold, kick process. Now that they’ve made progress on that he’s getting his natural swing back and getting more height on his kicks.
  • Whisenhunt said he will allow players to go home after they return from their trip to New Orleans for Friday night’s game. That ends camp in one way. But Whisenhunt said while the Titans will structure next week like a normal practice week, that they will still work ones against ones and rotate people in competitions. For him, camp really ends when the first round of cuts come and as the team focuses on planning for an opponent.
  • That likely means the practice rules change next week and you won’t be seeing any more of these practice reports. Hope you enjoyed them and they gave you some insight.
A guy has to be rated to be overrated, which makes sorting through overrated guys a very subjective and dangerous exercise.

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports rates Tennessee Titans tackle Michael Oher as the most overrated member of the team.

SportsNation

Who is the most overrated Tennessee Titan?

  •  
    23%
  •  
    32%
  •  
    11%
  •  
    9%
  •  
    25%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,272)

The case for Oher: Some scouts and evaluators feel his game was best when he was a rookie in Baltimore and gradually faded, and the Titans went and handed him a four-year, $20 million contract. They do have an out after one year and $6 million.

So who else is a candidate?

Running back Shonn Greene was 2013’s Oher, a debatable signing that got more money than he seemed to be worth: $10 million for three years. He can be good in short-yardage situations, but as the running back market was starting to fade the Titans jumped out and gave a limited guy a lot. His knee injury limited him in his first season.

Defensive tackle Sammie Hill wasn’t as big an impact guy as the Titans had to be expecting when they signed him in 2013 to a three-year deal worth over $11 million. He was an element of the team's push to get bigger and stop the run better. He's not working as a nose tackle in the new 3-4.

Outside linebacker Akeem Ayers has dealt with some injuries in his first three years. The old coaching staff never had a great feel for how to use the 2011 second-round pick. He should be better suited to the 3-4, but he’s going to have to rush better and play better in space when he’s asked to.

Free safety Michael Griffin was better in 2013 than he had been the few years before. I often say he needs to be surrounded by talent to be good, and he asks me who is that not the case for? But a guy with his contract -- he’s in year three of a five-year, $35 million deal -- should be a guy making others better, not needing others to help make him better.

The next big thing: Titans

January, 22, 2014
1/22/14
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What’s next for the Tennessee Titans?

Once Ken Whisenhunt fills out his staff, the Titans need to assess their roster and decide who fits at his scheduled price and who doesn’t.

The biggest question is Jake Locker at quarterback. Indications are Locker will have every chance to be the Titans’ guy in 2014, but the team could still look to add another QB.

But more broadly, the team needs to sort out its defensive front.

A shift to a hybrid front that will feature plenty of 3-4 is coming.

I’m sure they see defensive tackle Jurrell Casey as a fit for the scheme, and he’ll likely be an end in the 3-4. Akeem Ayers came into the league projected by many as an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Beyond those guys, who do the ends and outside linebackers sort out? Does Sammie Hill project as the nose tackle? How badly does a team that often didn’t have a quality middle linebacker need to add in order to field two quality inside linebackers?

Those are among the big questions the Titans have to answer as they plot what to do in free agency and the draft.

Survey says: Favorite road trips

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans are about to embark on the NFL’s toughest road trip.

It’s a long way to Seattle, and the raucous crowd in an exceptionally loud CenturyLink Field will be waiting.

I wondered what ranks as the favorite road trip for the Tennessee Titans, so I strolled the locker room asking guys.

So wanted to know specific criteria -- was I asking more about the stadium experience or the city itself? I told them it was for them to decide, I just wanted to know what ranked as their favorite road trip.

Here’s what they told me:

Fitzpatrick
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: “My favorite road trip is Arizona, just cause I’ve got a lot of family there, that’s where I’m from. The stadium is really cool. It’s an awesome stadium. Last year when I played for the Bills, we played San Fran and then we played Arizona the next week. So we stayed in Arizona for that week. Which was awesome, I got five, six days to do my work, but then also get some family time, which you never get during the season.”

Defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill: “I’d have to say New Orleans. That’s the best I’ve ever been to when you’re playing somebody in a dome, it’s loud, their fans, it’s their fans but they still get you cranked and ready to play. That and Dallas, those are my two favorite places to play.”

Running back Jackie Battle: “I guess it would have to be Kansas City, just because I played there and that’s an unbelievable environment. It’s like a college atmosphere in Kansas City.”

Safety George Wilson: “When I was in Buffalo, we played at the Redskins. They have I think about 90,000 people and a real passionate fan base. I like the Redskins.”

Receiver Damian Williams: “I like playing in Seattle for a couple reasons. It’s one of the tougher places to play. Also, my whole college coaching staff is there. I enjoy going up there and playing against those guys.”

Linebacker Zach Brown: “I don’t have one, man. I have no favorite road trip. I like playing at home. I like playing in Houston just to shut the crowd up. And Pittsburgh, they were so quiet up there when we were winning, I just thrive off really shutting the crowd up. That’s motivation.”

Receiver Nate Washington: “It’d probably be Houston, because that’s where I’ve got the most family. My grandmother is there. Anywhere between 15 and 25 people will come to the game. I know a lot of people around there, it’s a great town to go get you some dinner. I really don’t like the stadium, it feels dark in there. But I do like the atmosphere, I like playing in a hostile environment like that.”

McCourty
Cornerback Jason McCourty: “I don’t have any in particular, but any team with a guy I played with in college, it’s pretty cool. You get a chance to see a guy maybe you haven’t see in a while, maybe get a chance to go out and eat or something like that. So New England where my brother is, Tiquan Underwood on Tampa Bay was my college roommate, Jeremy Zuttah in Tampa Bay. You know Greg Schiano has a ton of Rutgers guys.”

Center Rob Turner: “If anything, it’s going back to Texas, because that’s home for me. Dallas or Houston. When I go back to Texas, generally I have 20 or 30 people that come down. I get to see my family.”

Linebacker coach Chet Parlavecchio: “Indianapolis. There is a great cigar place there. I don’t know the name of it, I just know where it is. Right by that statue, I know it’s next to the Starbucks. (Laughs.) Last time I got La Flor Dominicanas, excellent, great cigar. I enjoy my cigar, ask anyone here. Every night going home in my car and then on my deck.”

Tight end Delanie Walker: “Probably New Orleans. It’s got some great food, Bourbon Street, it don’t get no better than that. And a Saints game is always a good atmosphere, and it’s indoors, you don’t have to worry about the weather.”

Wimbley
Defensive end Kamerion Wimbley: “I like going to Oakland. For some reason I just have good luck when I play in the Bay Area. When I was with Cleveland, I was able to get a couple two-sack games out there. I love it, because they hate the teams that come in, of course the Black hole when you see it and they boo you and they’re dressed up all crazy, it just adds excitement to the game.”

Guard Andy Levitre: “Bay Area, San Francisco or Oakland, so I can see my family. A lot of my family and friends might not get a chance to come out here during the season, so it’s one of those games where all of them can come see.”

Free safety Michael Griffin: “Houston. Go back home, play in front of friends, family. Stadium-wise, I’ve never played in San Francisco’s stadium, but going to watch a friend, Tarell Brown, play in a playoff game last year, it was a very tough environment to play in.”
A look at the snap report from the NFL for the Titans in their win over Pittsburgh.

Offense, 67 total snaps
LT Michael Roos, 67
LG Andy Levitre, 67
C Rob Turner, 67
RG Chance Warmack, 67
RT David Stewart, 67
QB Jake Locker, 67

TE Delanie Walker, 51
TE Craig Stevens, 49
RB Chris Johnson, 43
WR Kenny Britt, 43
WR Nate Washington, 38
WR Damian Williams, 27
TE Taylor Thompson, 25
RB Jackie Battle, 19
WR Kendall Wright, 19
FB Collin Mooney, 17
RB Shonn Greene, 4

Greene got hurt early or would likely have had most of Battle’s snaps. The team said Wright’s preseason knee injury wasn’t going to be an issue, but he should get more than that if he’s fine -- especially when Britt is ineffective.

Defense, 53 total snaps
CB Jason McCourty, 53
LB Moise Fokou, 53
LB Zach Brown, 53
FS Michael Griffin, 53

CB Alterraun Verner, 52
SS Bernard Pollard. 51
DE Derrick Morgan, 49
DT Jurrell Casey, 45
CB Coty Sensabaugh, 36
LB-DE Akeem Ayers, 29
DE Kamerion Wimbley, 27
DL Karl Klug, 23
DE Ropati Pitoitua, 19
DT Mike Martin, 17
DT Sammie Hill, 17
S George Wilson, 3
DT Antonio Johnson, 3

The Titans are supposed to be reducing Morgan’s snaps, but Ayers is coming off an ankle injury and they were clearly measuring his work. He wasn’t very effective. Pitoitua showed well. Hill was a big free-agent addition. He had an elbow injury in the preseason and I would expect more action from him.

Four Titans played 18 special-teams snaps: Patrick Bailey, Tommie Campbell, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Daimion Stafford.

Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was the only active player who didn't take the field.

The return of the Twitter mailbag

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
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Not a shocker: Bud Adams wants payoff

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s a traditional pattern in professional sports. Team has a bad season. Its general manager and coach say they need to upgrade the talent. Owner signs big checks. Owner says he expects a payoff.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean spoke to Titans owner Bud Adams Thursday, and Adams fulfilled the final step.

“I didn’t spend that money for nothing,” Adams told Wyatt with a chuckle.

“We have the talent in there, and now we have to put it to work. I think we’re going to have a good team, and I’ll be real unhappy if we don’t. We put out a lot of money to get what we got and I think we have some people who can get us in the championship.”

It’s paint-by-numbers owner talk.

Earlier in a conversation with several of us who cover the team, coach Mike Munchak said he has talked to Adams during the preseason and anticipated talking with him Friday.

"He just wants success," Munchak said. "He just wants us to win and be playing in January, which I assume all of us want. We all know what the expectations are for all of us. That's something we won't talk a whole lot about."

They may not talk about it, but Munchak’s future will be a primary theme in Nashville and among Titans fans if the Titans don’t make a big improvement on last year’s 6-10 record. The team starts with difficult road games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the defending AFC South champion Houston Texans.

The Titans spent more than $100 million on free agents, including guard Andy Levitre, tight end Delanie Walker, defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill and safety Bernard Pollard.

At the first public practice of training camp, Munchak took a microphone and told the crowd, “Believe me, we will not disappoint you this year.”

There is nothing else he could say or think.

Like a lot of other people, his boss now needs to see it.
Troy Polamalu and Jake Locker Getty ImagesJake Locker will have to face a fresh Troy Polamalu and one of the league's top defenses.
Pittsburgh is a tough place to play. The Pittsburgh Steelers don't often stay down long. The Tennessee Titans will bring a lot of unknowns to Heinz Field.

It’s an intriguing opening day matchup for two teams looking to bounce back from seasons that didn’t meet standards and fell short of expectations.

ESPN.com Steelers' blogger Scott Brown joins me for his first edition of Double Coverage, and I know he’ll understand if we skip the pleasantries and dive right in.

The Titans' rebuild is centered around their offensive line. They’ll be way more physical with a new interior of Andy Levitre, Rob Turner and Chance Warmack.

Scott, I know the offensive line has been an issue in Pittsburgh, too. What’s the status of things there, and how much better can we expect the Steelers to be up front?

Scott Brown: Paul, that is one of the biggest questions facing the Steelers. The offensive line is one of the youngest and most inexperienced the Steelers have assembled in decades. But the group is athletic and has plenty of what coach Mike Tomlin likes to call "pedigree."

Two of the starters are first-round draft picks. Two others are second-round selections. The Steelers have clearly made a big investment in the offensive line, and they need a major return on that investment for this team to return to the playoffs.

I think the interior of the line with Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster has a chance to be really good. I'm not as sold on tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams, who will protect Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.

The Titans, I'm sure, will test that line with plenty of blitzes, as the first-team offensive line struggled with pass-blocking in the preseason.

Speaking of blitzes, Titans quarterback Jake Locker will see his share with the ageless wonder Dick LeBeau still calling defenses in Pittsburgh.

How is Locker progressing, and is he the long-term answer at quarterback in Tennessee?

Paul Kuharsky: The verdict on whether Locker is the guy for the long haul won’t come until after we see this season.

He steadily improved in camp and the preseason and has reason to feel good about the state of things. I don’t think he’s going to have many games in his career in which he throws for 300 yards, but the Titans aren’t built to ask that of him. They’ll get him on the move to make simple throws and decisions, especially early, when he often needs to settle down and find a rhythm.

That line will give him time and be far better at creating space for Chris Johnson and newcomer Shonn Greene. If the Titans run effectively -- and the preseason suggested that’s one thing they are definitely good at -- they can build play-action off that and Locker will be in a perfect setting to succeed.

The two big questions are about his accuracy and how he will react to new, unforeseen circumstances. You know, the kind of stuff Lebeau has designed for this game especially for him.

Does LeBeau have the pieces to do the sort of things to confuse a young quarterback?

Brown: He has one of the most valuable pieces of all in Troy Polamalu. The dynamic strong safety allows LeBeau to do so much because he plays all over the field and opposing quarterbacks don't know where he is going to be from snap to snap.

Polamalu missed nine games last season because of a recurring calf injury, but he looked like his old self in training camp and the preseason. In that sense, the timing isn't good for the Titans to play the Steelers because Polamalu is at full strength. Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley also seems poised to bounce back from an injury-plagued season in which he registered just four sacks.

With those two and other players such as inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, LeBeau won't hold back -- particularly against a relatively inexperienced quarterback who is still finding his way in the NFL.

Paul, the Steelers have never lost at Heinz Field in September under Tomlin. My question for you is what will it take for the Titans to pull off the upset on Sunday?

Kuharsky: I think it’s possible. They’d have to show poise, withstand the bad moments, minimize mistakes. You know the drill.

This is a team that has been run on by lesser running backs in the recent past, so it can’t take Isaac Redman lightly, and we’ll find out fast if Sammie Hill and Ropati Pitoitua are going to help answer the run-defense deficiencies.

The Titans must get Roethlisberger to the ground when they have the chance. After an offseason talking of press coverage, they haven’t changed at all at cornerback, and I imagine Roethlisberger will find things to attack. He knows Titans strong safety Bernard Pollard from his time in Baltimore. I won’t be surprised if the Steelers plot to get Pollard in coverage situations they feel they can exploit.

The other big question here, the elephant in the room: Your first game for ESPN.com? You ready?

Brown: To help myself to some Tomlinisms: This is where the rubber meets the road, but this is not my first rodeo. I believe I have sharpened my pen (does that still apply in the dot.com world?) for battle, but I will have to pay attention to detail. Ultimately, it comes down to making plays (or deadline in this case) inside stadiums with the lights on (yes, I know it is a 1 p.m. start, but gray days in Pittsburgh are as noteworthy as grass on a golf course). Such is life in the National Football League (and ESPN.com), and I embrace the challenge.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What’s the most important step you take on any given play.

I recently toured the Titans locker room asking that question. A lot of guys said it’s the first step, and that didn’t surprise me. But in getting the same answer from guys at different positions, I got different rationale.

Let’s run through the replies.

Running back Chris Johnson: “The step is once you see the hole, you’ve got to hit it. You can’t really hesitate. In the whole game you might have two maybe three big home run plays where it’s going to open up for you and you can’t hesitate, you have to hit it. Once you see the hole, that step, you’ve got to hit it. Your mind is making a decision with your feet.”

[+] EnlargeCraig Stevens
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesTight End Craig Stevens says he has to be set by his second step to be ready to make contact.
Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh: “Your eyes tell you which step to take, the first step. It’s having your eyes on the receiver and going off of the right thing. It really just depends on what the receiver does. I mean we’re basing everything on the receiver. Your eyes tell you everything.”

Receiver Kenny Britt: “It depends on what route it is. Most of it is being precise all the time with the quarterback. Depending on whether they are blitzing and what the coverage is, you’ve to be in the right place at the right time. You’re starting point is everything to your route, you have to get off the line of scrimmage. You’ve got to know if he’s going to press you, if he’s going to ball on you. It’s about getting off the line clean.”

Safety George Wilson: “A lot of time it’s that first one. You’re trying to get that run-pass key. If it’s pass and you step up in the hard play action sometime that’ll take you out of position for where you are supposed to be to defend the pass. It’s important that you have your eyes in the right place every place so that your first step is the right step.”

Defensive tackle Sammie Hill: “The first step. Get off the ball first. If I beat my man, nine times out of 10 I’ll cause disruption in the backfield. …Now my man is back to defense and I’m on offense, he’s got to figure out what we’re doing. If he’s first, you’ve got to work like hell to get back in position.”

Left tackle Michael Roos: “The first one. It’s the one that starts all your other steps. If your first one is too wide, you’re going to compensate, try to make up for it. It might be wider, you might cross over. On a pass set if your foot’s not square, perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, that means your body is turned, now you get an inside move, you can’t turn, correct yourself as fast. You’ve got to gain the right amount of ground otherwise everything falls apart after that.”

Fullback Quinn Johnson: “It’s pretty much the same thing as the offensive line, it’s the first step. It’s like Coach [Sylvester] Croom tells me, if I take the wrong first step, everything else moves downhill. I’m off course and everything goes off timing. I watch it on film. When I take the wrong first step, everything else goes bad. When I take the right step, everything else goes good.”

Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy: “First step. Obviously, downhill. As a linebacker you’re playing run first, pass second. Getting your run-pass key and reacting as fast as you can off of that.”

Tight end Craig Stevens: “You’ve got to get off the ball as quick as you can and make that first play-side step. But then really my most important step is my second step, because it brings your whole body with it and that’s where your power is. Whenever I’m run blocking, I’m always making contact on my second step. Short, quick step. Get your two feet on the ground as quick as you can.”

Kicker Rob Bironas: “Has to be the first step, yeah. If the first step’s wrong, the next step’s wrong, the whole thing’s wrong. If you step off the wrong direction or over-stride, then you are trying to make up for that the whole way. In my case, it’s a jab step and then two steps to the ball. I just roll into or fall into my jab step. It’s just five, six inches with my left foot.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The game book from Week 3 told us quite a bit.

While the "did not play" list isn’t ironclad -- even professional stat crews miss guys when there are 90 a side -- it tends to be pretty telling.

Of healthy guys who didn’t play, four of the six were part of the cuts that got the Titans from 90 to 75. Defensive end Nigel Nicholas was listed a not having played, but he actually played five snaps.

The Tennessee-Minnesota game book doesn’t offer such hints, though plenty of the coming cuts to get the Titans down to 53 are obvious.

The Titans sat a slew of veterans, both dinged and healthy. The team granted preseason action to plenty of guys who won’t be on their team, and a number who won’t be on any team.

Here’s the list of guys who didn't play:

WR Kendall Wright
WR Kenny Britt
RB Shonn Greene
RB Chris Johnson
CB Jason McCourty
S Bernard Pollard
FB Quinn Johnson
LB Zaviar Gooden
LB Zach Brown
LB Akeem Ayers
TE Brandon Barden
WR Marc Mariani
WR Nate Washington
DE Derrick Morgan
DE Ropati Pitoitua
DT Sammie Lee Hill
DT Jurrell Casey

Barden is the only guy on that list who is a likely cut, and he tweaked a knee during the preparation week. The injured Johnson could lose out to Collin Mooney. Mariani (shoulder) is in a fight for the return job.

Otherwise, everyone on that list is on the team. Ten of them will be starters. Wright is the third receiver. Greene is the second running back.

So we get no hints.

One more game book note: It’s preseason for the stat guys, too. They gave credit for Daimion Stafford's third interception to Al Afalava.

Observation deck: Titans-Vikings

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
11:51
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Observations and thoughts on the Tennessee Titans' 24-23 loss Thursday to the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field:
  • Running backs Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene didn’t play, which allowed for Jackie Battle to carry the load with the first-team offense. He was prominent in a game-opening drive that covered 70 yards and 18 plays, eating up 8:59 of the clock. Battle had 10 carries for 38 yards on the march, including a fourth-and-1 conversion where left guard Andy Levitre pulled and opened a hole on the right side of the line. Tennessee got only a field goal out of it all, but it did well to keep building the offensive-line-centered identity. That was it for the first-teamers on offense.
  • A couple other key players beside CJ did not play: receiver Nate Washington, cornerback Jason McCourty and defensive end Derrick Morgan. Nine others with at least minor injuries didn’t play, either, including receivers Kendall Wright and Kenny Britt, running back Greene, linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown, defensive tackles Jurrell Casey and Sammie Hill, and safety Bernard Pollard.
  • Tommie Campbell's missed tackle on a third-down play inside the 5-yard line was a 4-point play, as running back Joe Banyard turned a screen pass into an 11-yard touchdown. Campbell also gave up a red zone catch to Rodney Smith and was flagged for defensive holding, which was declined. Nothing there gave Campbell any better claim to the starting job he has spent camp and the preseason trying to take away from Alterraun Verner.
  • Tight end John Carlson made a nice, 19-yard catch on the Vikings’ first touchdown drive on the kind of play that gives the Titans trouble. Linebackers sucked up on a play-action fake, and Carlson found room between middle linebacker Moise Fokou and free safety Michael Griffin.
  • The second-team offensive line was, left to right, Byron Stingily, Fernando Velasco, Brian Schwenke, Chris Spencer and Mike Otto. At least one of those guys will be cut by Saturday evening. It’s not going to be Schwenke or Otto, and it’s probably not going to be Velasco.
  • Blidi Wreh-Wilson's had a pretty quiet preseason, but the third-round rookie cornerback showed something on the 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Minnesota’s Marcus Sherels. Wilson did well in late pursuit, and his dive for Sherels’ feet just missed.
  • Jack Doyle had a bad third-down drop two weeks ago and was more sure-handed in this game in terms of being certain he had the ball before he even thought about running. He caught a sliding 2-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone from Ryan Fitzpatrick. But he also got nailed early in the second half as he ran with a pass and coughed up a fumble. He’s a promising guy, but the Titans are going to be stretched with players they’d like to keep at receiver, on the offensive line and by their desire to keep a third quarterback. Doyle seems more like a practice-squad guy to me.
  • We’ve thought for a good while that if Darius Reynaud makes the team it will be as a returner, not as a running back/returner. His 11 carries for 56 yards look better than they were. It all came in the second half, against guys at the very back of Minnesota’s depth chart. Battle and Jalen Parmele are looking better ahead of him, as they have throughout the preseason.
  • The Titans have depth issues after their top three safeties. Seventh-round safety Daimion Stafford collected two turnovers in the third quarter. He intercepted a really bad pass from McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Later, as two defenders jarred the ball free from tight end Chase Ford, Stafford scooped it up and ran with it for 39 yards.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While the Tennessee Titans played far better and more effective defense Saturday night in a preseason win over Atlanta, they are not yet where they have to be.

The effort against the Falcons came minus four starters on the front seven who are recovering from injuries: linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown, end Ropati Pitoitua and tackle Sammie Hill.

[+] EnlargeJurrell Casey
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsTitans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey has made an impression in the preseason with plays like this forced fumble from Cincinnati's Andy Dalton.
While the team looks for defensive leaders and steady producers to appear, one guy who’s standing out is defensive tackle Jurrell Casey.

A year ago Casey suffered an elbow injury in the third preseason game. He still started all 16 games in the regular season, but he was never fully himself, also dealing with shoulder and ankle injuries.

"I think it is his health," coach Mike Munchak said. "I thought he was playing real well. Like he is right now, then. And it definitely set him back last year somewhat."

Said Casey: "I had multiple injuries last year that help me back. But his year I am fully healthy and I am ready to go. I’m just bringing everything I got and do big things to help out my team."

A healthy Casey’s been quite good to this point: seven tackles and 2.5 sacks, one of which he turned into a strip and takeaway of Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton.

The question is whether in his third year the big tackle will be able to avoid injuries or play better through them should they arise.

That’s tough to predict. If healthy, or healthier, he should be a force. And the Titans are in dire need of forces.

I asked ESPN.com’s resident scout Matt Williamson for his impression of and expectations for Casey.

"I like him quite a bit and think he is one of Tennessee's best defensive players, which isn't saying a lot," Williamson said. "But Casey has great size and is getting consistently better. He is a premium interior run-stuffer that must be accounted for in the inside run game and gets a little push as a pass-rusher."

Munchak said Casey’s been a big factor in the early growth of rookie guard Chance Warmack.

"He’s got a great attitude." Munchak said. "I think that’s why Chance is getting better and better, because he’s playing against him every day in practice. I think he’s helped Chance improve a lot since they’ve been working against each other.

"[Casey] has got great quickness, does a great job with his hands. And that leverage thing, that’s when it comes in handy, he gets some natural leverage on offensive linemen and that helps him too. Hopefully we keep him healthy and he has a big year."

Jerry Gray can't win

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
12:29
PM ET
Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is in a tough spot.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean nails it in this piece: If the Tennessee Titans' defense gets better the credit is bound to go to the newcomer, senior defensive assistant Gregg Williams.
If the Titans defense makes great strides a season after setting the franchise record for most points allowed, the popular conclusion will be that defensive assistant Gregg Williams righted the ship and saved the day.

If the Titans defense struggles, as it did last year in giving up the most points in the NFL, the blame will be aimed at Gray.

Gray says the right things about not caring where the credit lands, and that’s all he can do.

If the Titans are better to the degree they expect, it will be easier for him to not care, because in-house his contribution will be apparent.

But if it goes the other way, it could be ugly if he listens to talk radio or reads columnists.

With Williams on the coaching roster, there are a lot of questions about who will call the defense on Sundays. The Titans have a practice at LP Field on Saturday, and head coach Mike Munchak will have his coaches in the spots he’s planning for them to be in for games.

At the start, that will mean Williams on the sideline and Gray in the coaching box.

That allows for Williams to be more hands-on and look players in the eye. But the bird’s eye view will belong to Gray, who will have a better picture of the offense the Titans are trying to stop.

Munchak says Gray was handcuffed last year. He couldn’t do the things he wanted to because the team was lacking personnel.

That points to another big question, of course: Why?

But in evaluating how to fix it, the Titans brought in much more than Williams. Among the new players are defensive tackle Sammie Hill, defensive end Ropati Pitoitua, safeties Bernard Pollard and George Wilson, linebacker Moise Fokou and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson.

Williams adds another veteran set of coaching eyes, and, his bounty suspension aside, he has a history of connecting with players and positively influencing their performances.

Gray had a hand in all those additions.

If the defense makes a jump, Gray’s going to deserve some credit. The pledge here is to not aim all of it at Williams.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Young players who will need to offer the Texans depth are one concern as camp approaches, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

McClain is amazed over how much heat Matt Schaub has taken for the Texans' late-season struggles and playoff failure in New England.

Sorting through outside linebackers with Patrick Starr of State of the Texans.

Indianapolis Colts

Five questions facing the Colts as training camp approaches, from Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Offensive tackle Ben Ijalana has a healthy left knee and, like his bosses and fans of the team, is eager to see what he’s got to offer, says Chappell.

Assessing the running backs on the Colts with Marcus Dugan of Colts Authority.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Depth behind Marcedes Lewis at tight end is a concern for the Jacksonville Jaguars, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

Front office executive Mark Lamping has been a major addition, says John Oehser of the team’s website.

Lamping has already been named to the board of Shad Khan's newest franchise, Fulham of the English Premiere League, says Cole Pepper on his blog.

Tennessee Titans

Damian Williams and Alterraun Verner recently visited Guatemala, a perspective-changing trip for the two Titans, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Previewing the cornerbacks heading into camp with Wyatt.

Some thoughts about new defensive tackle Sammie Hill from Tom Gower of Total Titans.
As the league year started, Ryan Grigson and Ruston Webster found themselves walking through the doorway of their team's vaults.

As they signed stacks of players, the general managers of the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans, respectively, thumbed through stacks of bills.

Fans were thrilled at the action that brought guys like Gosder Cherilus, LaRon Landry and Ricky Jean Francois to the Colts and Andy Levitre, Delanie Walker and Sammie Hill to the Titans.

But as exciting as all the action was, the lessons from recent free-agent history hovered over both teams: The winners in free agency, the biggest spenders of the offseason, rarely see the anticipated improvement.

In May, John Clayton ran through teams that spent $100 million or more (the total value of deals on paper) in each offseason going back to 2007.

The average result for the last 10 teams to spend at the $100 million level: no additional wins.

No team wants to be in position where it feels it needs to add so much. Both the Colts and Titans can spell out reasons why it’ll be different for them.

“You can spend it, but there are no guarantees,” Webster said. “That’s obvious through the years. We had a rebuilding plan that we felt like we had to do. There were certain areas, like offensive line, where we felt like we had to make an effort to improve; we’d gotten older, had all the injuries.

“We had to bring in some veteran players, and what you hope is you bring in the right kind to help your team.”

Grigson and Webster made plans, targeted players and crafted deals. Both feel confident their teams will be more like the 2012 Rams (5½ more wins) and 2008 Jets (5 more, and the lone winning record on the list) than like the 2012 Saints (six fewer wins in difficult circumstances) or the 2011 Jaguars (three fewer).

The Colts and Titans spread out their spending more than many of the teams on the list, and more than this offseason's biggest spender, the Miami Dolphins, who gave receiver Mike Wallace five years and $60 million.

The 2012 Saints re-signed Drew Brees -- their own guy -- for $100 million. The 2012 Bills committed $96 million to Mario Williams. The 2012 Buccaneers spent more than $100 million on two players -- receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Carl Nicks. The 2007 49ers gave Nate Clements an $80 million deal. The 2011 Eagles negotiated a $60 million deal with Nnamdi Asomugha. The 2012 Rams gave Cortland Finnegan a $50 million contract. All of these players made far more than the other free agents added to those teams.

In the AFC South this year, the two big spenders appear to be more like the 2011 Jaguars, 2011 Seahawks, 2009 Broncos and 2009 Jets. They spread their big expenditures among a larger group of players.

The Colts signed six players to deals that, on paper, are worth between $14 million and $34.5 million apiece, with Cherilus as the top dog.

The Titans gave Levitre a $46.8 million deal, with three others getting contracts worth between $10 million and $17.5 million.

Both teams spent a lot on their offensive and defensive lines instead of acquiring flashy players. Many big-spending teams before them went for more star power: pass-rusher like Williams, corners like Asomugha and Clements or a receiver like Jackson.

“I think it’s having a plan for what you’re doing and knowing exactly what you need and what you are doing scheme-wise. Hopefully, that’s what we did and it helps us get over the hump,” Webster said.

“We’re trying to retool the roster, and it wasn’t two guys or three guys; we signed a lot of players. Many of them are not even big salaries.”

Can it work? Sure, though they’ll have to buck history to do it.

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