NFL Nation: Alan Lowry
According to ESPN’s John Clayton, Rich Bisaccia will interview with the Washington Redskins. Last year Joe DeCamillis interviewed with the Chicago Bears and eventually joined Marc Trestman’s staff as assistant head coach/special teams coordinator.
Bisaccia put together one of the better special teams’ units in the NFL last season, but he almost never got to the Cowboys. If things had not worked out, then he would be coaching in the BCS Championship game for Auburn. He was the school’s running backs, special teams and assistant head coach for 22 days before joining the Cowboys last winter.
Bisaccia and Redskins general manager Bruce Allen worked together for years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Bisaccia was Jason Garrett’s top choice last season, but he also interviewed Bruce DeHaven, a former Cowboys’ special teams coach, and Alan Lowry.
The Cowboys saw improvement in their kickoff and punt return averages, albeit minimally in the punt returns. The kickoff and punt coverage were also improved by fractions, and there were no major breakdowns.
In 2012, the Cowboys had a punt blocked, a punt returned for a touchdown, and a kickoff returned for a touchdown. This season, the longest punt return allowed was 26 yards, and the longest kickoff return was 45 yards.
With injuries on defense, Bisaccia had to mix and match his units, but they were able to hold up their end of the bargain.
Special teams: Of all the moves Mike Munchak made, firing Alan Lowry might have been the biggest. Current special teams coach Nate Kaczor isn't making the mistakes, and his units have been hard-hit by the injuries, but the Titans have been far more likely to commit a gaffe on special teams than produce a play. Every team in the league should have a guy they can call up from the practice squad who can field kicks and punts and secure the ball. Devon Wylie's kick return fumble -- which was the result of him bumping into a teammate -- was an absolute killer.
Covering Coby Fleener: The tight end wound up with eight catches for 107 yards and was a key to the Colts’ win. The Titans have been far better against tight ends this season than the past couple years, mostly because safety George Wilson's been part of the dime and three-safety nickel packages. Wilson played one snap on defense, and the Titans defended Fleener with base and regular nickel personnel. The three top cornerbacks, free safety Michael Griffin and strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers were all involved in tackling him.
Let’s run through their core beliefs and how they translated into the 16-9 victory.
The defense managed to sack Ben Roethlisberger, who’s a tough guy to drag down, five times. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and weakside linebacker Zach Brown had two sacks apiece. A couple new players -- end Ropati Pitoitua and middle linebacker Moise Fokou -- made significant contributions to the effort.
The Steelers suffered several injuries. Center Maurkice Pouncey's wasn’t from anything Tennessee did, he got hit by linemate David DeCastro. But the physical game certainly had a role in injuries to LaRod Stephens-Howling (knee), cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) and inside linebacker Larry Foote (biceps). The Titans weren’t nearly as banged up.
Withstand adversity: Things couldn’t have started any worse. Return man Darius Reynaud inexplicably decided that despite some room, he wanted to turn a bouncing kickoff into a touchback. The trouble was he picked up the ball just across the goal line and pulled it back in to take a knee.
He’s got to make a better decision in such circumstances, and his failure to do so is on him. He was able to have a sense of humor about it since the Titans overcame it.
An aside. One thing he said postgame bothered me a bit.
Asked what sort of rules he’s to follow in such circumstances, he said. “I set back seven deep, if the ball is kicked five yards deep I can run up on it. But on that type of play, we never practiced that play. I’m going to get that in practice this week just to get a good look on it. … Next time we’ll get that right.”
Mike Munchak fired Alan Lowry, a coach who had a reputation for his special teams being prepared for anything and everything, after last season.
Don’t put Locker in bad situations: Locker was sacked only once. He ran the offense efficiently, and his teammates said he was confidently in command in the huddle. He ran for a nice 5-yard gain on one option play with Chris Johnson. He was 11 for 20 for 125 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and a long of 25 yards.
He threw a couple off-target passes, but never appeared flustered by a defense that’s got the capacity to make young quarterbacks panicky.
A key to putting him in good spots was productive first downs. In the first half, the Titans averaged second-and-5.2. For the game, nine of 21 second downs were second-and-6 or less.
Stop the run to make opponents one-dimensional: The Steelers turned 15 carries into 32 yards. And their long run was eight yards by Isaac Redman, who also coughed up a fumble as the Steelers were about to score to go up 9-0.
All in all, it was a great day for creating a feeling that work and points of emphasis have paid off.
“Overall, we were exactly what we were trying to work towards in the preseason,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “I think that one drive we had 13 straight run plays or something like that. (Actually 12 of 13 plays.) That’s what we’ve been trying to get to. Impose our will on them and keep drives alive.”
Then four Titans went out and got stripped by the Bears cornerback, including Kenny Britt on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
What does that say about the quality of players on Tennessee’s roster and their ability to absorb and execute a coaching message?
Not anything good.
Tennessee unraveled quickly and thoroughly en route to its 51-20 loss to the Bears Sunday at LP Field. It would have been hard to play a worse first quarter had the Titans game-planned for it. And some of their gaffes made it hard to see anything but an undisciplined, unprepared and ineffective cast of characters that isn’t the nucleus for a resurgence but a core lacking the sort of central DNA necessary to create a contender.
It also created more questions in my mind than I’ve ever had before about the job security of coach Mike Munchak and his staff.
“If a team underperforms, I’m the first guy you should look at for that, not anybody else, not assistant coaches, it starts with me,” Munchak said. “If we don’t finish the season the way it should, then what needs to happen will happen. ...
“We’ve got seven games to play. If we win all seven, all of a sudden this would be kind of a wasted argument.”
Yes, on the heels of this debacle, let’s dream of seven-game winning streaks.
But first, how about cleaning up things like illegal formation penalties on consecutive first-quarter plays, where a receiver covered up the tight end?
“We had those plays in our hands days ago and had a meeting about it [Saturday] night and had a meeting about it [Sunday] morning,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I don’t know what to say. That’s not good.”
Rookie receiver Kendall Wright said he thought he was responsible for at least one of the calls.
“It hurt the team a lot,” he said. “But what I did at practice all week, I thought I was on the ball. I screwed it up. It’s my fault all the way.”
He thought he was on the ball all week, but he was supposed to be off the ball and no one spotted it or corrected it until the officiating crew got a look on Sunday? Sorry, but that is some major evidence in a case against the people running things for this team right now.
“We just have to pay attention more and know the right things to do, know where to line up,” Chris Johnson said. “These coaches all week gave us the right formula and we had a good week of practice. It makes it even worse when you have a good week of practice and do everything right during the week, get to the game and mess up.”
The Titans were out of this game in a flash, trailing 28-2 at the end of an atrocious first quarter.
“We screwed up from the get-go,” guard Steve Hutchinson said.
- Britt’s lost fumble after a 23-yard pass from Hasselbeck.
- What should have been a Titans interception of a Jay Cutler pass intended for Earl Bennett was dropped by cornerback Jason McCourty.
- The pair of illegal-formation penalties.
- A Brett Kern punt blocked by Sherrick McManis and returned for a 5-yard touchdown by Corey Wootton.
- An illegal block above the waist by Jamie Harper on a kickoff return.
- A false start by Al Afalava.
- An 8-yard touchdown run by Matt Forte on which his line helped him power at least four Titans -- Colin McCarthy, Michael Griffin, Afalava and Alterraun Verner -- into the end zone.
- An interception Hasselbeck thrown directly to Brian Urlacher, who returned it 46 yards for a touchdown.
- The first of two lost Johnson fumbles.
- The first of three Brandon Marshall touchdown catches.
“That first quarter is horrible,” Wright said. “We can’t spot anybody 28 points and expect to come back and win.”
Jordan Babineaux was the one Titans player I talked to who didn’t offer an immediate defense of the coaches and the plan.
“You got any questions, you’ve got to ask the defensive coordinator,” he said, referring to Jerry Gray.
I asked about the blocked punt, where he was lined up as the personal protector, but where he didn’t offer protection, running to the right and cutting out of the backfield entirely. He said I’d need to ask the special teams coach, Alan Lowry.
The Titans’ margin for error is obviously small against a good team. They didn’t have room for this brand of clunker.
“Sometimes what is said is that wasn’t us and we’ll just sweep it under the rug and get back to being us,” Hasselbeck said. “But those are good teams that built a cushion for themselves that are up front in their division and playoffs are probably on the way anyway. ... We can’t have a stinker. We can’t just lay an egg like that. So that’s what’s disappointing. It’s hard to say that just wasn’t us.”
“It’s a bad loss,” McCourty said. “When you go out and it’s as embarrassing as that is, it just sucks to be a part of it.”
Where do they go from here?
A year ago, they were 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs. This year it looks like that record could earn a spot in the postseason field. There are a couple teams every year that weren’t looking good at the halfway point and finish big.
Munchak will sell the Titans that they can be that team.
What degree of belief will he get back? What degree of belief does he deserve back?
Down 31-5 at the half, he challenged his team to go out and do something special, something unexpected.
That didn’t happen.
After it was over, he preached about how everyone is in this together, how they’ve got to stick together, that they can’t split.
Munchak may be able to glue players together and the roster may be composed of guys who will stay unified. The sad truth is such solidarity may ultimately not mean a thing when it comes to altering the Titans’ fortunes.
With the Titans, it’s Darius Reynaud. As a return man and running back working after starters were out, he’s done impressive work in the Titans first two preseason games.
This has generated four big questions:
- Could the Titans keep four running backs?
- Could the Titans create room for Reynaud by using No. 3 back Jamie Harper as a fullback once in a while, and not keep a fullback?
- Could he beat out Javon Ringer, the incumbent No. 2 running back?
- Could he unseat Marc Mariani as the team’s return man?
I doubt they abandon fullback, though it’s such a narrow, situational role I’d have no complaint about leaning on a two-tight end package more often.
I doubt he takes Mariani’s job, though I’d wouldn’t argue against that either, as I think Mariani is a bit overrated. (Mike Munchak said this week Reynaud’s made it a legit competition.)
The four running back scenario may be most likely, but to keep a fourth back that player will have to be able to contribute on special teams as a non-returner.
We’ll get a taste of whether Reynaud can do that Thursday night, when the Titans host the Cardinals at LP Field.
Special teams coach Alan Lowry said he will use Reynaud on the kickoff coverage and punt coverage teams against Arizona as the Titans get their first sampling of what Reynaud can do in that capacity.
“My sense is he can do whatever he wants,” Lowry said. “He’s a good football player. He’s got speed and strength. I hope we have enough plays, I don’t know.”
Reynaud’s previously been with the Vikings and Giants.
“Reynaud is interesting and I am not quite sure why he has never stuck anywhere,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “He is kind of like a Percy Harvin Lite. He’s real good with the ball in his hands, a running back/receiver tweener type who also can be an effective returner.”
He’s still got a good, positive attitude and knows he can play. Reynaud is not worried about all these scenarios, he’s just glad he's created them.
“My job is to make their job as hard as possible,” he said of the Titans decision-makers.
He worked in the sort of jobs he’ll have tonight on special teams when he was with the Giants. As for the return man debate, Lowery said he thought a race between Mariani and Reynaud would be close and Reynaud agreed, though he said of course he’d win.
Who would Williamson start as his return man if these were his two choices?
“I would say that is a pretty good competition,” Williamson said. “Reynaud runs lower and with more power. He might be shiftier laterally too. But Mariani has really good vision, is quick to get upfield and probably is the faster of the two. Edge to Mariani, who is also more reliable.”
But the math in the equation is off, and this is not a simple, one-against-one situation.
If the love-struck Adams chooses his favorite quarterback, he’s not only going to lose Fisher, he’s going to lose all, or most, of Fisher’s staff.
While Adams would be making a poor choice, even he’d have to admit that Young at his best isn’t going to do much to offset the loss of some excellent assistant coaches.
All but one Titans assistant coach is working with an expiring contract, according to a Titans source. Fisher’s contract runs through 2011.
In a typical scenario, Fisher would get an extension and then line up his assistants with deals of the same length.
“We are in the process of extending contracts for the entire staff," Fisher said after practice Friday. “I don’t comment on negotiations other than to say we’re in the process.”
But there has been no word on any talks about a new deal for Fisher, and now it’s a safe bet there will not be one before the Young issues are resolved. If they come to fruition, those staff extensions could be for only one season.
And the uncertain labor situation gives Adams the potential to hold off on anything new until after things are settled between the league and the players, in case he has to withstand a lockout.
Whenever it comes around, the staff issue is more significant now given the battle between Fisher and Young and Adams’ comments to The Tennessean saying he expects the two to find a way to co-exist next season.
I think we’re past the point where that’s a possibility and Adams is going to have to make a choice. Hopefully it’s a well-reasoned one.
Munchak is one of eight members of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s a steady teacher who recognizes talent and has consistently groomed quality guys. The Titans have regularly had good pass protection and solid run blocking in large part because of Munchak’s exhaustive work.
Pick Young, and you probably sacrifice Jim Washburn.
The Titans’ defense is tied for second in the NFL with 30 sacks. They’ve come from players Washburn has rebuilt such as Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Tony Brown or guys he encouraged the front office to draft, such as Jason Jones. A large number of franchises in the league would love to add a high-energy defensive line coach who can get production from such reclamation projects and draft picks.
Those two are key coaches on a staff that’s widely regarded around the league as one of the best. A staff Fisher has been able to shape and hold onto because of his stability and the loyalty he shows -- occasionally to a fault.
His staff also includes offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who has been mentioned as a candidate for head-coaching jobs and once interviewed with San Francisco for its top post; defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil; veteran linebackers coach Dave McGinnis, who has been head coach of two teams; defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson, who had an excellent career as a safety for the franchise; special teams coach Alan Lowry, who scripted the Music City Miracle; strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson; receivers coach Fred Graves; tight ends coach John Zernhelt; running backs coach Craig Johnson; and quarterback coach Dowell Loggains.
They are not all irreplaceable superstars, of course. And with expiring contracts, some of them could be moving on even if Fisher is firmly in place.
Washburn is a Nashville fixture who appreciates the second-chance Fisher gave him in 1999. But if he becomes a coaching free agent, perhaps a team with a bad defensive line would make him an offer too good to refuse.
Still, the chances he stays in Tennessee are far higher if Fisher is in the big office. I'd be willing to bet the same would be true for all the assistants.
If Adams chooses to stick with Young and Fisher negotiates out of his contract, or if another team strikes a deal to give the Titans picks to get Fisher out of his last year, I predict all the assistants would be totally turned off by Adams’ choice.
Some might have to stay if they could to ensure themselves of a job. But given any sort of choice, I believe they’d be unlikely to sign new deals with Tennessee to work under Fisher’ replacement.
More likely, these assistants would rejoin Fisher with a new team if he is able to move on for 2011. If not, they would find jobs elsewhere. The older guys might ponder retirement or take a year off with assurances from Fisher that they’d have a job with him once he re-enters the league.
The top in-house candidate to replace Fisher with the Titans would have to be Heimerdinger, and I believe his loyalty to Fisher would mean he wouldn’t even allow his representative to talk to Adams about the post.
Even Fisher’s harshest critics have to appreciate assistants like Munchak and Washburn and acknowledge they’d be difficult to replace. (You can make a case against Fisher, sure. But in a head-to-head against Young there is no way not to choose the coach.)
If Adams makes his move against Fisher, Fisher could have solidarity from his staff of 16.
If Young is the one shown the door, he’d be walking through it alone.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
NASHVILLE -- Maybe some of St. Louis' short throws would have turned into big gains in a game situation.
But in a joint-practice situation, those completions that are such a big part of what the Rams do were hardly the highlight.
I thought Tennessee's defense manhandled the Rams for the most part, and the Titans set the tone in that side of practice Wednesday morning. They got the better of most of the fights, too.
A run down out of my notebook:
- I watched a lot of Albert Haynesworth versus former Titan Jacob Bell. Bell did pretty well in the big one-on-one matchup. In nine-on-seven and team drills he got a lot of help from tackle Adam Goldberg as the Rams sometime neutralized Haynesworth at the expense of leaving Kyle Vanden Bosch with matchups he could win. (Check out this George Walker picture of Haynesworth and Bell going at it).
- Torry Holt caught a pass over the middle and got leveled by Calvin Lowry, who popped his helmet off. The official nearby told Holt: "If you buckled your chin strap, that wouldn't happen."
- Reserve defensive back Chris Carr had a good morning running as the second-team left corner, getting his hands on multiple balls and delivering a few nice hits, including one in run support on back Travis Minor.
- Corner Cortland Finnegan went for a sideline kill shot on Holt on a short ball and missed, flying by.
- Linebacker Stephen Tulloch continues to make flashy plays. He leveled Keenan Burton. And after a big stick on Randy McMichael, the tight end popped up and threw the ball in to Tulloch's back as he walked away.
- DB Vincent Fuller pulled in two interceptions, both of Brock Berlin. On the first, Fuller timed it up beautifully, jumping a short pass for Shaine Smith on the sideline in the red zone. It would have a touchdown return for sure.
- During a field goal period, Titans special teams coach Alan Lowry pointed out to an official that Rams long snapper Chris Massey was flinching and tensing his arms before the snap to try to prompt someone to jump.
- Vanden Bosch was frustrated after he worked part of a two-man rush in the one-on-one period, as guard Roy Schuening pushed him back and forced him to take a lengthy looping route to the quarterback.
On to the fights:
- Finnegan wrapped receiver Reche Caldwell in his arms and wrestled him to the ground for a scrap. Finnegan has scratches above and below his right eye.
- After Michael Griffin crushed Dane Looker, Bulluck and Caldwell went at it. Bulluck's one-two swipe took off Caldwell's helmet. "It's his third team in two years, that's what I told him," Bulluck said.
- After Joe Klopfenstein ran under a deep ball down the middle and into the end zone on a play where the Titans busted coverage, a big bout broke out near the sideline at the line of scrimmage -- Vanden Bosch and Goldberg's fight spilled into a full-team melee. Both teams were huddled up as their coaches tried to calm things down.
- Rams tackle Mark LeVoir and Titans end Sean Conover weren't finished, however, and went at it with LeVoir getting the upper hand. Vanden Bosch, who wasn't in the play and didn't have his helmet on, came flying in as support staff.
Holt's take on all the extracurriculars:
"As excessive as that got, it does take away from the work," he said. "Now you're totally getting away from your technique and what you're trying to do as a football team. But as far as the mixing it up and the physicality, I think it's great for both football teams. Your macho comes out and you see where you are. There is some give and take there, but we were able to settle those differences and finish up on a good note."