AFC South: Sean McDermott
October, 24, 2010
By Paul Kuharsky | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Frederick BreedonKenny Britt now gives the Tennessee Titans a bona fide deep threat.NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have long searched for a dynamic downfield receiver. Sunday at LP Field, the Titans got the kind of game that says they finally have one.
Kenny Britt is big, physical and fast, but he’s also still growing up.
Early Friday morning, he was accused of throwing punches in a bar brawl at Karma Lounge on Broadway in downtown Nashville.
Late Sunday afternoon, his quarterback and coordinator were answering questions about how highly he ranks among the receivers they throw to and call plays for, respectively.
A seven-catch, 225-yard, three-touchdown game has a way of altering the focus of the conversation. Britt's performance keyed the Titans' 37-19 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
“There is not much better that I’ve played with,” said Kerry Collins, the 16th year quarterback who played for the injured Vince Young. “…[Britt is] going to do everything he can to get the ball, he’s aggressive going after it. The guy loves to play, love to make big plays. As a quarterback, it’s nice to know a guy like that is on your team because like you saw today, there were some throws that weren’t exactly perfect, but the guy did whatever he had to do to get the ball.
“You can have all the physical tools in the world but if you don’t have that, it doesn’t make you a special player. And I think Kenny has the ability to be a special player.”
I asked Mike Heimerdinger, who’s overseen the Titans' offense for eight seasons in two separate stints, where Britt ranks among the guys he’s coached in Nashville.
“Ability wise, he has the most of anybody,” Heimerdinger said. “Derrick Mason did more with less ability than Kenny has. I wouldn’t put him ahead of Mase yet.”
Britt had the Titans biggest receiving day since Drew Bennett had 233 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas City on Dec. 13, 2004. The Eagles had never given up so many receiving yards to one player.
For the Titans, now 5-2, it should amount to more than a big day.
It should delineate two shifts: One where the teams that choose to stack things up to stop running back Chris Johnson pay the price in deep passing production; another in how the Titans deploy their receivers.
Britt was used primarily as the team’s third receiver through the team’s first four games this season. He started the two games before this one with Justin Gage out with a hamstring injury.
With Gage still out, Britt would have started against the Eagles, but coach Jeff Fisher disciplined him for the Karma Lounge incident. Britt sat until the middle of the second quarter; Fisher is relying on the crutch of "gathering facts.”
Britt has now caught a touchdown pass in five consecutive games.
So now, when Gage is ready, he should remain in the background.
Nothing personal against a nice guy who’s been productive in spurts and is signed through 2011. But it’s time to move on, and to do so the Titans need to play Britt and Nate Washington as the starters, with rookie Damian Williams as the No. 3.
Gage can dress, but he shouldn’t be on the field unless something is wrong with one of those three guys. He could be used as the fourth receiver rotating in once in a while to offer a breather.
A year ago, after four starts, the Titans scratched a healthy defensive end Jevon Kearse. He got hurt in practice after that, but clearly the team decided amid a poor start to move forward without the veteran. The Titans turned things over to guys with more upside like William Hayes, Jacob Ford and Dave Ball. Kearse appeared in only two more games before his contract ran out and he disappeared.
It’s time now for them to “Jevon Kearse” Gage in order to create sufficient room for Britt and Williams, who’s played well in increased chances the last few weeks.
I asked general manager Mike Reinfeldt about Britt earning a starting role.
“I think as you go along, people do things that demand more play time and I’m not sure what more you can do than he’s done,” Reinfeldt said. “That’s how it should work. You earn play time.”
Defensive coordinators are going to have to spent additional time formulating better plans against Britt. They have to be able to make better, quicker adjustments to him than Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott did.
Britt worked mostly against cornerback Ellis Hobbs, though several of his big plays turned out to be against safety Nate Allen.
He got to the corner for his first touchdown. Britt circled a ball that was under thrown as Collins got his arm hit to take the second one 80 yards for a touchdown. Britt caught the third score among three defenders in the center of the end zone.
Did Collins expect the Eagles to make an adjustment away from that safety-centric coverage?
“I did,” he said. “And they didn’t.”
“A lot of that was just me,” Allen said.
Only near the very end was cornerback Asante Samuel on Britt’s side of the field.
“About six, seven minutes left I was going to go over and cover him,” Samuel said. “But we didn’t have enough time.”
Fullback Ahmard Hall said he still expects Britt to address the team this week, perhaps apologizing for causing a distraction. Many of the Titans won’t consider it necessary after he did so much to lift them in such a big win. Two of his touchdowns were part of the team’s 27-point fourth-quarter, the franchise's most productive final quarter ever.
I suspect Britt will be in before too late Sunday night. He said his fiancée gave him grief over being out late when trouble is more likely.
“Don’t go to places after 12,” he said when asked what he’d learned. “Stay in the house. My fiancée actually yelled at me and I was like, ‘OK, I’ll stay home for the rest of the season.’”
Britt’s friend Jason McCourty, a Titans cornerback who was part of the same draft class out of Rutgers, joked he might go the other way.
“I told Kenny now if he’s trying to back to Karma this Thursday night, I’m with him, if that’s the type of game you’re going to have,” McCourty said, laughing.