AFC South: Tennessee Titans
It's a good shift. It indicates the dissipation of stereotypes which might have led some in the past to believe a gay man couldn't possibly be part of the uber-macho sport of football, and good enough to reach its highest level.
It also indicates personal acceptance, even if the idea of coming out to strangers and becoming a major news story might be daunting for such a personal moment.
There's plenty of anecdotal evidence that gay men have played in the NFL. One such piece comes today from a Houston Chronicle story in which members of the 1993 Houston Oilers said they had two gay teammates.
"Listen, those guys that we’re talking about were unbelievable teammates. And if you wanted to go to war with someone, you would get those guys first. Because I have never seen tougher guys than those guys,” said Pro Bowl linebacker Lamar Lathon, who starred at the University of Houston. “And everybody in the locker room, the consensus knew or had an idea that things were not exactly right. But guess what? When they strapped the pads on and got on the field, man, we were going to war with these guys because they were unbelievable.”
The headline of this story focuses on two aspects 1) that two members of that famous team were gay and 2) that the team as a whole didn't care.
Today's post is just part of a bigger project the Chronicle is working on for this weekend. In it, two players are quoted as saying they had no issue with their gay teammates. I'd be curious to know how true that second supposition is. Lathon used the phrase "not exactly right" in regard to his gay teammates, even while complimenting their toughness.
A football locker room is big. The opinions of two might not be the opinions of everybody, or even a majority. Even today, when homosexuality is more widely accepted than at any other time in American history, occasionally a player will reveal his antipathy for playing with a hypothetically gay teammate.
I'd like to know more about the dynamics of that locker room 20 years ago. Knowing that, even from so long ago, could offer a window into how a more public situation could unfold today.
Granted, Manning hasn't faced a Titans team with Mike Munchak as its head coach, but he has faced Tennessee 19 times previously in his career (including a playoff game in the 1999 season), all with the Indianapolis Colts. So, while this is the Titans' first look at Manning in a Broncos uniform, the quarterback is a familiar face as Denver tries to keep its grip on home-field advantage in the postseason.
Here, ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.
Legwold: Paul, you've been around the team since it arrived in Tennessee and, before we get to the on-field matchup, how would you say the team has dealt with franchise founder Bud Adams' death earlier this season? Who is making the decisions now and who will make them in the coming offseason, both on and off the field?
Kuharsky: It was a big loss, of course, for Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster and team employees who worked for Adams for a long time. Most of the players hardly knew him, as he was not around much in his final couple of years, when his health began to fail. So there is a lot of uncertainty now. Three branches of Adams' family share control of the franchise, and Bud's son-in-law, Tommy Smith, is the team president and CEO. He's apparently been paying close attention to things in anticipation of taking over. But we know very little about how he will operate going forward. That means there is some tension, because not every team employee knows if he's secure. That starts with the struggling head coach, Munchak.
Leadership in Denver appeared to remain strong as Jack Del Rio stepped in for John Fox. How much of a boost will Fox's return give the team?
Legwold: Del Rio, the team's defensive coordinator, earned praise from everyone in the organization, including Fox and the players, for how things were handled in the head coach's absence following open-heart surgery. His return has given the team an emotional boost, because after a month away, Fox came back feeling better than he had in some time and enthusiastic to see where this season can go. It should help the Broncos avoid a late-season stumble as they try to get home-field advantage for the playoffs again. Tactically speaking, not much will change. Coordinator Adam Gase is still calling the plays on offense -- Del Rio has said that, other than being a sounding board from time to time, he left the offense solely in Gase's hands during Fox's absence. Del Rio will continue to call the defense on game day as he has all season. Overall, though, it's likely Fox's return will keep the Broncos from hitting an emotional lull over the final month of the regular season.
On the field, the Titans have seen Manning plenty over the years. How do you think Tennessee will approach things on defense and does it see some differences in the Broncos' offense compared to what it saw from the Manning-led Colts?
Kuharsky: Well, it's a relief the Titans don't see Edgerrin James, I am sure. And while Denver's pass-catchers are a remarkable bunch, I'm not sure there is a Marvin Harrison in it yet. They know blitzing Manning can be fruitless no matter what matchups they like against offensive linemen. They'll try to be unpredictable and force him to throw to a certain spot a few times. But plenty of teams have that idea and fail with it. Under Gregg Williams' influence, the Titans have used an ever-shifting front, and we know that's a popular way to play against Manning in an attempt to minimize his ability to make pre-snap reads. The front is pretty good, especially Jurrell Casey, though there is no dominant edge rusher. The secondary has been quite good. It's the linebackers, particularly in pass coverage, who seem vulnerable to me, and I don't know what the Titans will do there to prevent abuse. Bernard Pollard's been a leader whose play has matched his talk, but the Titans have kept him out of tough coverage situations and I wonder whether Manning will find ways to try to go at him.
The Titans are rooting for freezing temperatures even though they've been awful themselves in their past two frigid games. I know some all-time great quarterbacks have excelled in the cold even if they haven't loved it. How much of an issue is it for Manning at this stage of his career?
Legwold: That is the elephant in the room with the Broncos given their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last January. Manning threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns in that game, even though the temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees. But folks seem to remember a wobbly incompletion here and there to go with an interception to close out the Broncos' final possession. Until Manning simply cranks it up on a cold day and the Broncos get a key victory, people are going to ask him about it. He had spots in the overtime loss to New England two weeks ago -- in frigid, windy conditions -- in which he threw as well as he ever has, particularly on a sideline pass to Demaryius Thomas and a touchdown throw to tight end Jacob Tamme. It's not so much his arm that has been an issue post-surgery, it's his grip when he throws. Overall, though, the Broncos push the pace more on offense at home. Manning has terrorized defenses that have played a lot of man coverages against the Broncos' offense, including his five-touchdown game last weekend in Kansas City. The Broncos like that matchup in any weather.
Denver has some injuries on defense that have affected how it plays, especially with the run defense. Where does Chris Johnson fit in the Titans' offense these days?
Kuharsky: He's really had one big game all season. Even when he seems to get going, the Titans can't find a rhythm or a way to stick with him. This was supposed to be a run-reliant, run-dominant team. It isn't. With Ryan Fitzpatrick now the quarterback, the Titans like to put him in an empty set and let him do his thing. It's been good at times, but it doesn't do much to enhance the chances of the running game. Johnson doesn't get yards after contact. So if he doesn't find a big hole, he's not going to do a lot of damage. Watch out on a screen or little flip pass -- that's where Johnson has been more threatening.
Denver's defense has dealt with quite a few injuries and Von Miller's suspension. How's his health and how is that group playing together?
Legwold: The Broncos have yet to play the 11 starters on defense in any game this season they expected to have coming out of training camp. They never will now that defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson has been moved to injured reserve. Vickerson was a big part of the plan on early downs -- and the Chiefs tested the middle of the defense plenty this past Sunday, so the Broncos are working through some adjustments there. Champ Bailey (left foot) has played in just three games this season -- just one from start to finish -- and safety Rahim Moore is on injured reserve/designated to return. (The Broncos hope Moore will be back for the postseason.) Toss in Derek Wolfe and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie not being in the lineup against the Chiefs and the Broncos are not nearly as consistent as they were last season, when they were a top-five defense. Miller has had moments of top-shelf play since his return, but hasn't been a consistent force like he was last season.
Quarterback Jake Locker is out for the Titans. Both starting tackles -- Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini -- are out for Seattle. Tight end Zach Miller could also sit.
The Seahawks have a 10-game home winning streak on the line, hoping to rebound after their first defeat of the season, 34-28 to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Titans hope to get a stagnant running game going and find some consistency with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Paul, it looked like Fitzpatrick had a rough first outing for the Titans subbing for an injured Locker. Do you think Fitzpatrick will improve, and how difficult will it be for Tennessee to have success on offense while Locker is out?
Kuharsky: Fitzpatrick is certainly capable of playing better than he did in the loss to Kansas City, when he had three very bad quarters and one good one. I'm not sure what the Titans can do to help him if they are unable to run the ball. If they can bring some balance with Chris Johnson (and maybe Shonn Greene, who's still trying to get back after knee surgery), it could be a lot less difficult. Fitzpatrick hardly has Locker's excellent speed, but he scrambled around pretty well against the Chiefs. With Locker in the first four games, the Titans didn't turn the ball over and overcame their deficiencies running the ball. Without him, they need Fitzpatrick to imitate the mistake-free youngster. But Fitzpatrick is more of a gunslinger than Locker and is streakier, and that's probably too much to ask.
Terry, the Titans pledged to be a great running team. It hasn't really panned out that way. Last time Johnson was in Seattle, he had a 2,000-yard season. What's the run defense going to be like?
Blount: It's been all but impossible to run up the middle on the Seahawks. Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is as strong a run stopper as there is the NFL, and it takes two blockers to handle 325-pound Red Bryant. If that fails, it's tough to get past middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. But Wagner probably won't play Sunday because of a high ankle sprain. Nevertheless, it's difficult to establish a running game on the Seahawks. Seattle is an aggressive outside pass-rushing team, so occasionally a back can get yardage outside, but not often.
Paul, Locker told us on the conference call Wednesday what a disappointment it is that he won't get to play this weekend in front of family, friends and University of Washington alumni who love him for all he did to help turn around the Huskies football program. He is a beloved guy here and a huge hero in this community. How is he viewed in Nashville?
Kuharsky: Nothing close to that yet. People who have given him a chance know he's an eminently likable guy, a hard worker and a well-respected leader, but plenty of fans called talk radio over the offseason talking about why Fitzpatrick would be a better choice or how it should at least be a camp competition. Even after Week 2's overtime loss in Houston, when he overthrew a wide-open Kenny Britt on a crucial third-and-1 late in the game, there were calls for change. (It's a throw he's got to make.) The game-winning drive against San Diego showed people what he can do. Locker also had a fantastic two-plus quarters against the Jets, which seems to have done a lot to win more people over. In playing style and development arc, I think he is a lot like Steve McNair so far. If that holds true, impatient fans will wind up happy.
Terry, home field is viewed as such a giant advantage for the Seahawks. Can you give us a tangible feel for just how loud and crazy the atmosphere is there?
Blount: In the San Francisco game, where the outdoor stadium decibel record was set at 131.9, it was so loud that it was difficult at times to even hear people talk in the enclosed press box. I know every team believes its stadium is one of the loudest, and I've been to most of them, but trust me, there is nothing like CenturyLink Field. It's deafening.
Paul, cornerback Alterraun Verner is off to an outstanding start this season with four interceptions and 11 passes defensed. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman is viewed by some as the best corner in the NFL, but is Verner the most underrated?
Kuharsky: He could have had another two picks last week on balls he didn't manage to haul in. Verner has been really good. The team wasn't sure what it had in him. The Titans knew they got a good football player out of UCLA three years ago. But as they revamped this offseason, with Gregg Williams joining the coaching staff and the Titans determined to get more aggressive, they figured a big increase in press-man coverage would move them away from Verner's strengths. They wanted Tommie Campbell, a faster and bigger guy to win the job. (Some wrote about how Campbell has some of what makes Sherman so good.) But Campbell didn't catch on and bombed in training camp, and Verner proved to be better. If Coty Sensabaugh hasn't recovered from his concussion for Sunday, Verner will start in base and move into the slot in nickel, with Campbell replacing him outside.
The Titans rush pretty well, and Verner is getting his hands on balls all over the field. Who has had the best success slowing Russell Wilson and how?
Blount: Even though Seattle came back and won the game, the Texans had the most success because of their talented defensive front and all-everything defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Both Houston and Indianapolis took advantage of Seattle missing starters on the offensive line and teed off on Wilson on third down. Nevertheless, Wilson is the best I've ever seen making the most of a bad situation and finding the opening the defense gives him. Anticipating when Wilson will roll out and cutting off his running lanes is the key, but it is far easier said than done.
Mike Munchak said at his Monday press conference that his team is going to resist doing anything on offense in order to prove something. I will certainly point out the Titans' limitations at times. I do like a team with a string identity that can, at least at times, do what it does best and challenge a defense to stop it.
They see themselves as a running team, for sure. But what I may see as limitations at times, they see more as selections in a given game, and at 2-1 it’s hard to find too much fault in what they’ve done.
“Coach (Dowell) Loggains has been saying that about the offense, ‘Hey, we’re going to be what we have to be on a Sunday to win, depending who we’re playing against, what the matchups are and what’s happening in the game,’” Munchak said. “We’re not going to just force plays because, 'Hey, we need to show that Jake (Locker) can do this or the receivers can do this’ or ‘Hey, we have to show we have a certain running game or we’re tough guys.’ It’s really finding a way every week.
“The stuff is in. It’s not like, ‘OK, we put a lot of passes in this week.’ The same amount of passes were in. Guys were getting open, guys were making plays, we were protecting well.”
The Titans are going to be a predominantly run-based offense, but if Locker is the guy we saw against San Diego they could have the ability to adjust to what a game dictates and that’s a nice approach to be able to take. It beats stubborn. It beats one-dimensional.
The second thing that begs some reflection is Loggains discussion of the difference between this team and last year’s -- there is better leadership, and better leadership is doing a lot to help the team overcome bad stuff.
“The biggest step this team has taken, once we eliminate these penalties is, dealing with adversity,” Loggains said. “Because we have better leadership, we’re stronger. Nate Washington is a leader. Jake, every time he has success, it’s just more and more, he’s going to come into his own as a leader. He is a leader anyway, but you have to eventually have success to become a leader.
“Mike Roos, Andy Levitre, Rob Turner, all those guys are leaders, they don’t flinch when we hit adversity. ... That’s the biggest difference between last year and this year. Now if we clean up the penalties, if we continue to get better every week executing and those three guy jell inside, I think we have a chance to be a good football team.”
Overcoming adversity has been a big theme since Munchak took over the Titans in 2011, and every team is going to hit spots it has to endure.
I did like heading into the opener when Munchak said he hoped the Titans started well and got to see how the Steelers dealt with rough development instead of the Titans. It didn’t go that way. The Titans handed the Steelers a safety on the opening kick.
They survived that and won. They played pretty well in Houston but lost. They certainly got good leadership and stuck with things during down moments against the Chargers and pulled out that win with 15 seconds left.
They have a lot of cause to feel good about themselves at this point.
Like the Titans, the Jets are better than a lot of people thought. Tennessee certainly can’t afford to feel like it’s accomplished anything yet.
Texans TV's Drew Dougherty interviewed general manager Rick Smith, discussing the combine, free agency and more. Here is the transcript.
Defensive end J.J. Watt has received an overwhelming amount of personal requests from fans, writes USA Today's Chris Chase.
A tweet by Vontae Davis about former Miami Dolphins teammate Sean Smith is causing a stir, writes Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.
The Jaguars have several important decisions to make as free agency nears, writes Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert deserves a shot to alter the negative perception surrounding him, writes Gene Frenette of the Times-Union (subscription required).
Titans tight end Brandon Barden was charged with traffic violations that include DUI on refusal after a single-car accident in Georgia over the weekend, writes Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean.
Following a 2-4 finish to the season, Texans chairman and CEO Bob McNair says the entire team needs to play better, not just quarterback Matt Schaub. Nick Scurfield of the team's website has more.
Running back Arian Foster tweeted an inspirational message for college football recruits, writes Justin Boyd of the Houston Chronicle.
The Colts, who are at least $44 million under the salary cap, have a lot of work to do before free agency opens March 12, writes Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star.
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is driven to succeed, writes Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.
New coach Gus Bradley has completed his coaching staff, writes Stellino.
The Titans need Gregg Williams to lose the bounties, but keep his aggressive, take-no-prisoners presence that will instill an attitude and a purpose to a defense that sorely needs a fresh start, writes David Climer of the Tennessean.
Defensive end Derrick Morgan discussed the addition of Williams on "NFL AM": "I'm hoping he brings that spark, just kind of more guidance and direction for our defense."
Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:25 p.m. ET. See you there.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Thoughts on the Texans’ 41-7 win against the Titans at LP Field.
What it means: The Texans are in first place in the AFC South at 4-3. They have a win over their top challenger, and they are 2-0 in the AFC South while the Titans are 0-2. With a dominant performance, Houston has re-established itself as the clear favorite to take the division and earn a playoff berth. If the Titans can recover, the Week 17 rematch at Reliant Stadium could be a big one. But with the directions these teams may be heading from here, perhaps not.
What I liked, Texans: The single best thing the Texans could have done for their banged-up quarterback, Matt Schaub, was to run effectively. Arian Foster took 25 carries for 115 yards and scored twice, while Ben Tate added 15 carries for 104 yards. It was a perfect scenario, and Schaub did nice work playing off of it, particularly on play-action rollouts and boots. The defense survived the loss of free safety Danieal Manning (lower left leg) and didn’t allow the Titans to find any rhythm. They forced the Titans to pass to play catch-up, and gave an inefficient group of receivers little space to do anything.
What I didn’t like, Titans: We’re not really overstating when we say everything. It was an exceptionally flat, uninspired performance coming off a bye. Tennessee was pushed around by the Texans all day, showing a great combination of no playmaking on offense and an inability to stop anything consistently on defense. Jake Locker was in the game at quarterback by the middle of the fourth quarter for training time. Chris Johnson was regularly booed, and deserved it for a lackluster effort.
The telling numbers: Houston ran the ball 47 times for 222 yards. Tennessee ran it 15 times for 53. The Texans had possession for 37:58.
What’s next: A couple more AFC South games. Houston hosts struggling Jacksonville. Tennessee gets a visit from the Colts.
Lots of spin from Vince Young here. If his jersey story is true, couldn't he have shared it Sunday? He's good at telling us how he wants to win and that he's frustrated. He's even better at running away when things get tough.
The Titans moved up from 111th in the fourth round to 104th and also swapped sixth-rounders, moving up to 176th from 185th in the sixth round.
They spent 104 on UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner.
So they gained seven spots in the fourth, nine spots in the sixth in exchange for two veterans.
That doesn’t amount to enough for me, even as White and Vickerson are only under contract for one more year after signing RFA tenders. Both are represented by Drew Rosenhaus.
But I guess you take what you can get.
I know a lot of people weren’t fans of White, and he could be a difficult guy to get a read on. I always thought of him as Anakin Skywalker -- I could see the good in him.
But after playing the role of a good soldier last year, odds are he was going to head for the dark side in another year with very limited touches playing behind Chris Johnson.
I didn’t think he had much trade value, and the Titans certainly didn’t get much out of dealing him. They are thinking addition by subtraction.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
- Starting jobs and roster spots are still there for the taking, writes John McClain.
- Chris Myers will play Monday night against the Vikings, but Brian Cushing won't, says McClain.
- Rookie tight end Anthony Hill has done well, writes Dale Robertson.
- Cato June is out for the season.
- Pregame tidbits from Alan Burge.
- Connor Barwin talked to the National Football Post.
- The Colts defense struggled to get off the field in Detroit, writes Mike Chappell.
- Bob Kravitz looks at what we know, what we think we know and what we don't know about the Colts.
- Ed Johnson didn't play as the Colts got ready for their opener, when he will be suspended, says Chappell.
- Jim Caldwell says the Lions controlled the line of scrimmage, writes John Oehser.
- Nine burning questions with answers from Vito Stellino.
- Jack Del Rio stuck with his plan and got what he wanted to evaluate in Philly, says Stellino.
- Gene Frenette says patience remains the key when considering the Jaguars.