NFL Nation: Blidi Wreh-Wilson

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CINCINNATI -- When the ball left Mohamed Sanu's right hand, two words immediately popped into his head.

"Oh, s---."

After trying to sell the play of the Cincinnati Bengals' 33-7 win Sunday over the Tennessee Titans by pretending he was about to run the ball to his right, Sanu threw back across the field to a seemingly wide open Andy Dalton. The quarterback had just pitched Sanu the ball and was curling out wide for a screen pass on the left side of the field.

What Sanu didn't see when he prepared to release the ball was the 6-foot-1, 200-pound cornerback cheating up and lining Dalton in his sights. It was only after the ball left his hand that Sanu realized Titans corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson had the perfect opportunity to wreck his quarterback.

The Titans knew what was coming. They practiced defending the trick play all week. Like many of the other teams that will face the Bengals the rest of the year, they understood how complex Cincinnati's offense is under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. They knew they had to do everything they could to prevent a potential gadget play such as this one from burning them. So when Wreh-Wilson dropped out of coverage and started sprinting toward the line of scrimmage, it seemed someone had finally solved Jackson's scheme.

Sanu wanted to look away.

"I was thinking he was going to knock Andy out," Sanu said. "Then Andy just went up in front of him and made the play."

Wreh-Wilson slowed his sprint, pulled up and bizarrely avoided contact with Dalton. Surprised, the quarterback-turned-pass-catcher adjusted his body to avoid a collision, caught the pass and took off toward the corner of the end zone. With a dive into the pylon, he scored an 18-yard touchdown that put the Bengals up 10-0 early. The play completely pushed the momentum in their favor. From there, offensively and defensively, there was no looking back.

The rout was beginning.

"He's so creative in getting his playmakers involved," Sanu said of Jackson, who called a non-traditional play for the third straight game.

In the season opener, Jackson had his two offensive tackles flanked off the line and in the slot. The rare formation didn't yield much in the form of yards on what was a short Giovani Bernard run, but it gave defenses something to think about. Last week, Jackson had Sanu roll out and attempt a bomb to fellow receiver Brandon Tate, who caught the well-thrown pass 50 yards downfield despite drawing double coverage along the sideline by the end of the route. Then there was this week's play.

There's no telling what all exists inside Jackson's playbook, but there certainly is a lot more. When defenses play the Bengals the rest of the year, they won't only have to defend against the standard run and pass, they'll also have to pay attention to who is running the ball, who is passing it and where it's being passed to.

"It's tough when you have gadget plays and the defense starts second-guessing," running back Jeremy Hill said. "They start thinking. Defenses pride themselves on running to the football and not thinking and playing fast. When you've got gadget plays going on, it makes them sit back on their heels and run back."

They do something else for Bengals players, too -- give them reasons to curse joyously.

"Once Andy actually caught the pass, I was like, 'Oh, s---!'" Sanu said. "But this time, in a more exciting way."

Andy Dalton catches TD pass from Sanu

September, 21, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton made Cincinnati Bengals history Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown when he did something no other quarterback had previously done in franchise history.

Dalton
Dalton
He caught a touchdown pass.

With six seconds left in the first quarter of the Bengals' Week 3 game against the Tennessee Titans, Dalton caught an 18-yard pass from receiver Mohamed Sanu to put Cincinnati up 10-0 early. By halftime, the Bengals led 19-0.

On the play, Dalton rolled right before pitching to Sanu as if the receiver was going to run the ball. As Sanu ran toward the numbers on the right side of the field, Dalton reversed course and ran left. He was wide open when Sanu turned and threw across field. As the ball glided toward Dalton, Titans cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson approached from deep downfield. It looked like Wreh-Wilson had a chance to either tackle Dalton right away or jump the route and intercept the ball.

Neither happened. Dalton contorted his body to avoid contact with Wreh-Wilson and caught the ball as the defender ran by him. Dalton then sprinted toward the pylon before diving for it and scoring.

In addition to it being the first touchdown reception by a quarterback in Bengals history, Dalton's grab also made him the fifth quarterback in team history to have a reception of any kind. Sam Wyche (1968), David Klinger (1994), Akili Smith (1998) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (2008) also caught passes.

Sanu, who completed a 50-yard pass to fellow receiver Brandon Tate last week, is now 4-for-4 with 166 yards and two touchdowns as a passer in his career.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A week ago after he failed to convert a route, receiver Justin Hunter was labeled “just another guy” by his coaches.

The nameplate on the back of his practice jersey was replaced by “JAG.”

[+] EnlargeJustin Hunter
AP Photo/Bill HaberThe Titans' Justin Hunter showed his athleticism in grabbing two touchdowns on Friday night.
After a week of great catches in practice, he grabbed two touchdowns in New Orleans, pulled in four catches for 111 yards and showed off the leaping ability that can make him practically impossible to defend.

“I think you’re seeing just a glimpse of what he can be, but because of what he did last night, let’s not make the mistake and think he’s, by any stretch, close to what he can be,” Whisenhunt said at his Saturday news conference. “There are a lot of things, from route depth to discipline on his releases, where even though he made some big plays last night, those have got to become more consistent.

“So he’s still got a lot of work to do. I’m excited for two things: No. 1 because he can make those big plays; and No. 2, because he seems to have the right mindset to work on those two things. Part of being a young player is you’ve got to be able to do that yourself. Right now, he has to be reminded at times to do that. Not from a negative standpoint, just because there is a lot going on. …

“I’m seeing growth, we’ve just got to continue to see that.”

The “JAG” jersey is still in his locker, maybe as a little reminder. Whisenhunt doesn’t expect to see it on the practice field this week.

“He definitely was not a JAG last night,” the coach said.

We’ll have to see how consistently Hunter can produce for the Titans outside the red zone. But once inside the 20 he will certainly be deployed as a target for fades and jump balls like the 4-yard touchdown he caught from Jake Locker at the Superdome.

There simply are not corners in the league who can match Hunter's combination of size (6-foot-4), speed (4.4-second 40) and leaping ability (39.5-inch vertical jump at the scouting combine).

I asked Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who’s either going to start at cornerback for the Titans or be part of the nickel package, how a defender can approach Hunter jumping for a pass in the end zone. Wreh-Wilson is 6-foot-1 with a 36-inch vertical.

“You can definitely see where he’s turned something on,” Wreh-Wilson said before the Titans went to New Orleans. “Something has clicked for him. … You have to play through his hands. You’re not going to find a lot of guys that can athletically jump with him. When it comes to the red zone when the ball is up in the air, he’s got a good advantage against a lot of corners. So you’ve got to play through him.”

Said the corner Wreh-Wilson is fighting for playing time, Coty Sensabaugh: “Hunter is a vertical challenge. He probably has one of the highest verticals in the league. I say you go through his hands and try to make him catch it one-handed.”

Titans Camp Report: Day 19

August, 13, 2014
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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.

Titans Camp Report: Day 17

August, 11, 2014
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:
  • It was a horrific day for the offense, which came out flat and had mistakes in every area you can think of. There were multiple drops, fumbles, interceptions and bad snaps. Ken Whisenhunt downplayed it as one bad day, and of course it was, but the degree of badness was alarming. Said receiver Derek Hagan, who dropped a pass near the end of practice “It was bad, we didn’t get anything going at all. It was a crazy day. Nobody was catching the ball, bad blocking, missed assignments. Just an overall bad day.”
  • Shonn Greene had a fumble that Zach Brown recovered. Bishop Sankey fumbled twice, the first recovered by Brandon Copeland and the second bounced back to Sankey.
  • Kendall Wright streaked across the middle to collect a Locker pass, beating Jason McCourty. Michael Preston made a nice catch over Coty Sensabaugh up the left side from Charlie Whitehurst. Taylor Thompson had a couple more nice plays.
  • Jake Locker made a bad throw for Nate Washington in the right side of the end zone in red zone work. Tommie Campbell may have pushed off, but he easily collected the bad throw.
  • Whitehurst threw a terrible pick as he looked for Marc Mariani to his right. The line drive throw was easily caught by Blidi Wreh-Wilson who was practically halfway between quarterback and his target. Perhaps the worst play of all on a terrible day.
  • Daimion Stafford had a nice breakup of a throw for Mariani, whose helmet popped off in the process. Ri'Shard Anderson broke up a Zach Mettenberger dart for Hagan. Wreh-Wilson had a too-easy breakup of a Locker pass for Dexter McCluster. The defense made some plays, for sure. But more of the offensive failures were self-inflicted.
  • Justin Hunter wore a jersey that said “J A G” across the back instead of “Hunter.” He said Whisenhunt and receivers coach Shawn Jefferson talked to him after he forgot to convert a route Saturday night. Hunter didn’t know they’d follow through with the jersey, but they did. He said he’ll continue to work to be more than “just a guy.”
  • Hunter made a nice play in the middle of the field, winning a contested ball from Locker by taking it away from safety Michael Griffin.
  • Among the targets with drops: Delanie Walker, Preston, Washington (who had a chance to recollect the ball on the sideline but bobbled it until his feet were out), Thompson, Hagan.
  • Guard Andy Levitre said he played one game at center for the Bills against Miami and was bad at it. Whisenhunt reminded a questioner that he’d said in the past he intended to work Levitre a little at center to prepare a contingency. Now with Chris Spencer (ankle) out, it was the right time. Levitre said he lost focus and snapped as if the quarterback was under center a couple times when he wound up rolling balls past Zach Mettenberger. Ultimately, they put starting center Brian Schwenke in with the third team to settle things down.
  • Kickoffs: Maikon Bonani put one 9 yards deep and another 4 yards deep into the end zone. With less hang time, Travis Coons put one kickoff 4 yards deep. Coons also punted some.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Every team in every training camp talks optimistically. Every team with a new coaching staff talks about how things are different for the better.

The Tennessee Titans are lowly regarded by plenty of fans and media nationally. But they have a lot going on that they feel those people have not paid attention to.

With Ken Whisenhunt and his staff at the helm, new schemes on both sides of the ball, a schedule that doesn’t include some of the powers they faced a year ago and a division with two other rebuilding franchises, they might have a chance to surprise.

."You say each and every year, 'Feels different, feels different, feels different,'" safety Michael Griffin said. "Just, you can see every day, people out there talking, we always have guys picking people up. Each and every day there is competition. There are little side bets here and there -- who’s going to win this period and things of that nature. The whole time we’re all trying to get each other better.

"Again, it just feels so much different in this locker room, and everybody has the same goals in mind, and that’s a positive around here."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsNew coach Ken Whisenhunt brings a solid résumé and a strong coaching staff to the Titans.
1. Whisenhunt isn’t Vince Lombardi or Don Shula, but the Titans' new coach is a significant upgrade from Mike Munchak, who was unsteady in his first three years as an NFL head coach. Whisenhunt had success in the role during his six seasons in Arizona, and he is a well-regarded offensive mind who will do more with what the Titans have than his predecessors.

Whisenhunt had the connections and the interviewing skills to hire a staff that appears to be filled with strong teachers, including a few quality holdovers. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is turning the Titans into a less predictable 3-4 and comfortably works his way into different sections of practice when position work is unfolding. I've watched these coaches teach and I've seen them connect with players.

Whisenhunt may field a complex offense that's hard to defend, but he's good at keeping things simple. I don't see any changes in how the Titans function that aren't for the better at this point.

2. The Titans don’t have players the fans are going to pick to captain their fantasy squads, but Tennessee should have a good array of quality weapons on offense. Kendall Wright topped 1,000 yards in his second season, and now the team’s best receiver will be sent on a wider variety of routes, not just inside slot stuff. He's been excellent so far in camp. Justin Hunter is doing better getting his legs under him and is catching the ball more comfortably. He got behind Atlanta's defense a few times in the recent joint practice and should be a constant deep threat. Nate Washington is showing he remains a versatile, productive guy.

Beyond the receivers, tight end Delanie Walker and running backs Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey will be good pass-catching options. When the Falcons gave the Titans a lot of room underneath, Jake Locker hit McCluster with a pass over the middle, and he had a ton of space to take. The Titans have invested a great deal in their offensive line over the past two seasons. They have one more tackle than they need after signing Michael Oher and drafting Taylor Lewan. There should be better protection for the quarterback and better holes for the running backs.

3. The 4-3 defense in recent years lacked a star pass-rusher on the edge who an offense had to fear every snap. The Titans still don’t seem to have that guy. They have to find him, but even if he doesn’t emerge from this group, the overall production out of the pass rush should be better. Who is rushing and who is dropping into coverage? In the 4-3, opponents pretty much knew. In this 3-4, it won’t be nearly as clear on a regular basis. Jurrell Casey, who notched 10.5 sacks as a tackle last season, will work as an end now. He's worked on speed rushes off the edge as well as his bread-and-butter quick power stuff in camp.

Sure, some good quarterbacks can diagnose who is rushing and who isn’t, no matter the front. But outside of Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck (twice), the Titans don’t face any A-list quarterbacks coming off big 2013 seasons this time around. They don’t see Seattle and San Francisco this season either.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Locker is a really likable guy who works hard, says the right things and desperately wants to prove he is the long-term answer for the Titans at quarterback. But in two seasons as the starter, he's missed 14 games while dealing with shoulder, hip, knee and foot injuries. He's practiced pretty well, but there are plays splashed in that can be killers on a Sunday afternoon.

Getting 16 games out of him is hardly a certainty for the Titans. Even if they do and he fits well with what Whisenhunt is asking him to do, he has not been accurate or poised enough when he has played. He sometimes tries to do too much and isn’t poised under pressure. Though he moves well and is very fast, putting him on the move puts him at more risk of another injury. Behind him are more question marks. Charlie Whitehurst has had no real success in just 13 games in eight seasons and often fails to step into his throws. Rookie Zach Mettenberger has a great arm but slipped to the sixth round for several reasons and is rotating with Tyler Wilson as the third-team QB. (Update: Wilson was released Wednesday.)

2. The offensive weaponry looks good, but for those five pass-catchers to give the Titans the nice smorgasbord of options, they need to stay healthy. Also, guys like Hunter (second year), Sankey (a rookie) and McCluster (first year with the Titans and Whisenhunt) need to show that their potential and practice play translate into NFL Sundays in a Tennessee uniform. Wright was the best player on offense last season and should grow more. Can the others become known quantities?

Who is the star of the defense? DT-turned-DE Casey is a strong, quick rusher who was healthy and productive in 2013. He is going to land a big-money contract -- either soon from Tennessee or on the market next spring. There are some nice pieces around him, but the Titans need veterans to have their best seasons and youngsters to emerge, all simultaneously. In Georgia, no defender stood out and regularly gave the Falcons more than they could handle.

3. Forty-seven percent of the current 90-man roster has been in the league for two years or less. Youth is generally good, but it needs to be quality youth and it needs to be surrounded by quality veterans. The Titans lack experience in a lot of spots. There aren't kids in camp who weren't high picks but have forced their way up the depth chart to this point.

Maybe it’s a great mix of players and a good share of the inexperienced people can blossom together. But with new coaches and new schemes, it could be asking a lot for all that to happen in the first season.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] EnlargeJake Locker
    Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsJake Locker needs a healthy season if he hopes to become the long-term answer at QB for the Titans.

  • Locker said he feels more comfortable speaking up and being vocal, and he has shown himself to be more confident in how he carries himself. After one throw that looked to be too long for an undrafted rookie, Locker pointed to tell Julian Horton where he should have gone. He still has bad moments in practice, but the preseason has not started, and he is progressing.
  • The Titans have moved running back Jackie Battle to fullback, where he can offer some needed versatility. He appears to have a sizable lead on incumbent Collin Mooney, who has had, at most, a handful of first-team snaps.
  • Among long-shot late additions, veteran receiver Derek Hagan has been consistently good and Brian Robiskie is also gaining notice. He's competing for the fourth and fifth wide receiver spots with Marc Mariani and Michael Preston. Maybe they'll keep six.
  • Sankey is learning quickly how to be a pro, and he has shown a bit of everything the Titans said they expected when they made him the first running back selected in the draft. His first day in pads he looked like an experienced NFL-caliber pass protector. He has good vision and makes good decisions on when to go and when to cut. He also catches the ball well, can run inside and outside.
  • Weakside outside linebacker Shaun Phillips has not worked at all with the first team when Kamerion Wimbley has been practicing.
  • Tommie Campbell was politely mentioned with Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson as a contender for the starting right cornerback spot that opened when Alterraun Verner signed with Tampa Bay. But it’s a two-man competition, and Campbell has struggled horribly.
Alterraun Verner made a graceful exit from Tennessee as he signed a four-year, $25.5 million free-agent deal with Tampa Bay.

He appeared on The Midday 180 in Nashville as our guest Friday largely to say thanks to Titans fans.

Verner said he expected some heat for leaving, but that the Titans' fanbase has been largely congratulatory.

[+] EnlargeAlterraun Verner
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsAlterraun Verner was the Titans' lone Pro Bowl selection last season.
He was polite, professional and not angry, but also said the Titans didn’t always make him feel loved and appreciated. In free agency, feeling loved is crucial.

You can hear the interview I’m about to quote from here.

I’m fine with the Titans' ultimate plan to allow Coty Sensabaugh or Blidi Wreh-Wilson to win the open starting spot, just as Verner won it when Cortland Finnegan left. I know Tennessee was the victim of its own accurate pricing -- if the Titans offered a deal at the end of last season averaging $6.5 million a year, Verner’s agent would have scoffed. Yet that’s what he ultimately got from the Buccaneers.

“That’s why I said the money really isn't the issue because in some sense, Tennessee kind of [ultimately] offered something around where I'm at now,” Verner said. “It's not really the money that was the issue. It's kind of rooted a little bit deeper than that. So maybe if they would have did this offer before the season started or maybe during the season, maybe I would have did it, but once the season ended, it was going to take a little bit more -- not necessarily money -- but just different ways of approaching the whole situation, they would have had to do a little different for me to probably come back and consider coming back."

So did the Titans undervalue him in non-financial ways?

"In answering that question, I think it's very tough because there's a lot of changeover, new coaches and everything like that,” he said. “At times, I felt that I could have been undervalued or maybe not appreciated enough. You know, I don't need to get slaps on the back or pampered or anything like that. I've never been that type of person or player to really want that. But at times I felt like I'm being demeaned or being put under when I felt like I'm being a professional, I'm doing everything right.

“I practice, I play every game -- hurt or not hurt -- I don't really complain and I'm a team player. But at certain points I feel like I gained, or should have earned, more respect at certain areas. It would take too long to go real deep into it or anything like that. It's not like I'm saying that the front office or coaches or anybody is bad or treated me mean or anything, there's just certain things that they could have did a little bit different or that they did do that wasn't the most ideal or most respectful way of doing things."

Here’s some leftover ill effects from the poor job Jerry Gray did as the Titans' defensive coordinator for the past three years. In both 2012 and 2013, Gray pushed hard for the bigger, faster Tommie Campbell to win the job opposite Jason McCourty.

Verner consistently outplayed Campbell. Everyone should have to compete for his job, of course. But the way Gray propped up Campbell was a joke, and I imagine Verner resented it to some degree.

Surely that at least played a part of what he’s referring to when he says there were times he felt “demeaned” or “put under.”

He’s landed in a good spot. Like virtually everyone else who follows the team, I wish him well and expect big things.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If the Titans lose Alterraun Verner as a free agent, it shouldn’t set off a panic attack.

As much difficulty as the team has had solving personnel problems at quarterback and on the offensive line, at pass rusher and linebacker, it’s a franchise that’s shown a quality ability to scout, draft and develop cornerbacks.

ESPN.com Patriots reporter Mike Reiss pointed out the Titans' success in this department on Sunday.

Since major headache Pacman Jones was drafted sixth overall in 2005, the Titans have drafted nine cornerbacks.



Five of them are solid NFL players, two of them still have the jury out and two of them busted.

If the team had a similar record at more positions, they’d be in a lot better shape.

And if Verner leaves, which I suspect he will, fans should have a reasonable amount of hope the Titans will be able to replace him.

Ask yourself, were you upset when Finnegan left for St. Louis? Because it was his departure that created room and opportunity for Verner.

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rather than tell you this is what’s going to happen, I’ll tell you this is what would happen if I had influence in the Tennessee Titans meeting room when final cuts will be decided.

Some cuts are already trickling out from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, so check his Twitter feed.

Quarterbacks: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick

There just is no room for Rusty Smith and there isn’t a need for a third quarterback unless things go incredibly wrong. The difference between a random third guy and Smith isn’t giant.

Running backs: Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Quinn Johnson (FB)

Battle has to contribute on special teams, but he was better than Jalen Parmele through the preseason. Wyatt says Parmele is already gone. Johnson’s been hurt and could lose out to Collin Mooney.

Wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Justin Hunter, Michael Preston, Marc Mariani (return specialist)

Preston is one of the best 53 players on the team. Even though he won’t be active on Sundays if everyone’s healthy, you keep extra quality depth at one spot if it’s better than weaker depth at another spot. Once he’s healthy, Mariani isn’t as explosive as a punt returner as Darius Reynaud, but will more regularly get 10 yards.

Tight ends: Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson

No need for a fourth on the 53. Sign Jack Doyle to the practice squad

Offensive linemen: Tackles Michael Roos, David Stewart, Mike Otto, Byron Stingily. Interior: Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack, Rob Turner, Brian Schwenke, Fernando Velasco

Velasco is guaranteed $2.02 million under his tender contract out of restricted free agency. I’m not sure he should stick over Scott Solomon at linebacker or Stefan Charles at defensive tackle. But the big push for revamping the line and the desire for depth after last year’s slew of injuries makes me feel like they will stay loaded.

Defensive ends: Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley, Lavar Edwards, Keyunta Dawson.

Dawson is a good guy to have. I can see him staying and the Titans going five ends as opposed to six tackles. But linebacker Akeem Ayers is a nickel end so he factors in here as well.

Defensive tackles: Jurrell Casey, Sammie Hill, Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson, Karl Klug (swing)

I’ve got Stefan Charles over DaJohn Harris but neither making it. If one of them sticks, it’s the last defensive line spot probably over Dawson. I see Charles on the practice squad.

Linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Moise Fokou, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy, Patrick Bailey

Scott Solomon is one of my last two cuts. I want to keep seven 'backers. The seventh guy would be a trade-off for Velasco, I think. Solomon is versatile, seems to be catching on to the position change and can still play end if needed. He’s not practice squad eligible. I just can’t fit him here. I might keep him over Bailey but I don’t think they rank him that way.

Safeties: Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, George Wilson, Daimion Stafford

The fourth spot isn’t strong and Stafford could probably go to the practice squad. But if they choose a veteran -- Al Afalava or Corey Lynch -- as the fourth I could see them trying to upgrade it with an outsider.

Cornerbacks: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

I’d expect Khalid Wooten on the practice squad.

Kicker: Rob Bironas

Punter: Brett Kern

Long-snapper: Beau Brinkley

Observation deck: Titans-Vikings

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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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.

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.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some observations from Friday evening’s Tennessee Titans training camp, the first open to fans...

In 7-on-7 work with no linemen:

Tight end Taylor Thompson angled away from a defender and was open about 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, but Jake Locker missed him with a wobbly ball that sailed too long.

Undrafted rookie receiver Rashad Ross was well-covered by corner Tommie Campbell, but quarterback Rusty Smith zipped a short pass completion to him anyway.

From his own 15-yard line, Locker looked for receiver Michael Preston but his terrible pass found cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick on Thursday.

In team periods:

Locker rolled left, against his arm, a few times by design. On one, he did very well to square his shoulders and hit Craig Stevens. On another he hit Justin Hunter, but cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson had it so well sniffed out he would have leveled the rookie receiver if allowed.

Locker threw a deep ball over Nate Washington's head up the right sideline. After he bounced one to Kenny Britt, Locker hit Damian Williams on a very nice pass down the middle for roughly 20 yards.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey showed great lateral movement and got nearly to the sideline to end one breakout running play by Jalen Parmele. Later Casey managed to knock the wind out of Shonn Greene after tracking him on a dump off pass closer to the line of scrimmage and the center of the field.

You can already see stretches where the Titans are working to mimic the sort of no-huddle, high-speed offense they will sometime have to defend. With a new batch of offensive players quickly taking over for the group that just ran routes and blocked, the defense had to race to get back into position for a snap.

On a “now” pass, the quarterback throws immediately to a receiver split wide who hasn’t really moved off the line of scrimmage. The ball has to arrive in a way that the receiver can run with it immediately. Locker threw one left to Kendall Wright, but Wright had to bend at the waste to pull it in from too low. That doesn’t lend itself to the play working.

Line of the day, from Britt to safety Bernard Pollard: “Your name’s Bernard, you ain’t THAT tough.”

Receiver Marc Mariani let a Fitzpatrick pass bounce off his hands that was picked off by linebacker Tim Shaw.

Campbell does look very confident and was in good position a lot. On another play, where Locker had someone in his face as he checked down short over the middle, Campbell closed and batted down a pass thrown for Hunter.

Backup kicker Maikon Bonani has a gigantic leg. But during the field goal period he had one atrocious miss, shanking his ball low and left and missing the wide screen set up well behind the goal posts.

I wanted to note one play in particular: Fitzpatrick lined up in the shotgun and the defense couldn’t get lined up. Multiple players were shouting calls, waving each other around and didn’t know what to do or where to line up. It’s a play where Fitzpatrick has to get his guys set -- maybe one was late, but I didn’t see it -- snap it quickly and take advantage of the defensive confusion. Instead, however, Fitzpatrick waited a long time and the defense found some semblance of organization. He wound up throwing a short incompletion that may have been a throwaway. The defense can’t win that play but did.

“Yes, we’d want him to snap it,” Mike Munchak said afterwards. “I don’t know if he was waiting for the defense or waiting for one of our guys. Generally, in a game we’d go. In a practice, I think he was making sure, because we weren’t in a hurry-up mode. The offense should have an advantage there, yes.”
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

One key positional battle for each AFC South team as training camps get underway.

Houston Texans: Right tackle. There is a lot to sort out at linebacker, and we don’t know who the third receiver is going to be. But we’ll go to the right side of the offensive line, where Derek Newton is coming off knee surgery and third-rounder Brennan Williams has battled a knee injury of his own. Ideally the two would slug it out through camp, but we don’t know when they both will be ready to make a full push for the position. That could give sixth-rounder David Quessenberry the chance to win the job, at least at the start, or prompt the Texans to turn to middling veteran Ryan Harris. It’s a key position that will have a big bearing on how Arian Foster runs and the protection offered to quarterback Matt Schaub.

Indianapolis Colts: Receiver. There is a lot to sort out on the offensive line. But the Colts have question marks at receiver for Andrew Luck in his second season. Reggie Wayne is locked in as the super-reliable top option. But Darrius Heyward-Bey is No. 2 and never lived up to his draft status in Oakland. With a good quarterback in a new system, could he blossom? T.Y. Hilton did some good things as a rookie, and if he minimizes his drops, he can really be productive, particularly from the slot. After that, things thin out. LaVon Brazill is suspended for the first four games. Griff Whalen missed his rookie year hurt.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Quarterback. Once again, the team will be trying to find the guy who can perform best: Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne. But new general manager David Caldwell, new coach Gus Bradley and a new staff don’t have the investment in Gabbert, the 10th pick in the 2011 draft. Henne has more experience. Both guys played their best when they first started last season. Gabbert fizzled on a bad team, got hurt and was shut down. Henne had a couple of big games, but ultimately didn’t offer much more. Coordinator Jedd Fisch’s system will allow the quarterback to make plays on the move more, which should be advantageous to Gabbert. Mike Kafka and Matt Scott are unlikely to pull an upset.

Tennessee Titans: Cornerback. Although Jason McCourty is locked in as the top guy, the second cornerback slot is up for grabs. Incumbent Alterraun Verner is a smart player with a good knack for slot play. But the team is moving toward more aggressive man-to-man play, and that’s not his forte. Tommie Campbell is physically gifted and fits the mold. The question is whether he can handle it mentally. New senior assistant/defense Gregg Williams did good work as the Titans' defensive coordinator (1997-2000) when there was a similar question with Denard Walker. Rookie third-rounder Blidi Wreh-Wilson also will get a crack at the job.
None of the teams that finished with six wins or fewer last year is less likely to improve into a playoff club than the Tennessee Titans, says Grantland’s Bill Barnwell.

On average, more than 25 percent of such teams advance to the playoffs.

Barnwell ranks the 10 contenders and give the Lions the best chance.

He’s got the Titans 10th of 10 teams and the Jaguars seventh.

Tennessee

Barnwell rationale: The Titans were already good in close games last year, so a jump there won’t make them better. The out of division schedule is very difficult. They paid too much attention to the offense and not enough attention to the defense in the offseason.

Barnwell says: “That's great and all, but the only move the team made to repair its defense — the one that allowed a league-high 29.4 points per game -- was to bring in Bernard Pollard. Maybe they can play the Patriots every week?”

I say: I think they did a lot more than Pollard. Like Gregg Williams or not, the scheme and attitude will improve. George Wilson is an upgrade as a third (or even second) safety. Sammie Hill can help them stop the run up the middle better. Ropati Pitoitua wasn’t my favorite addition, but he might help the run-stopping cause, too. And rookie corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson will have a chance to contribute in a secondary playing more man coverage.

That’s not Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack and Justin Hunter and Delanie Walker. But it’s not just Pollard.

Jacksonville

Barnwell rationale: He sees an upgrade at quarterback as he expects Chad Henne to start from the beginning. They underperformed their point differential. They had a bad record in close games. They suffered a ton of injuries.


Barnwell says: “Of course, 2-14 is still 2-14. That said, teams have made leaps this big from depths this low before. Squads that won two games or fewer in a given year have improved by an average of 4.4 wins the following season since 1989. There's even an example of a team that went 2-14 and immediately made the playoffs one year later, and the Jaguars won't have to look far to emulate the example: It was last year's Indianapolis Colts. I wouldn't suggest that the Jaguars are likely to be a breakout team, but it wouldn't be unprecedented, either.”


I say: I’m not buying that Henne will win the job or keep it. I expect it will be Blaine Gabbert’s at the start and for a good percentage of the season if he’s healthy. To make a jump virtually no one is expecting, they’ll have to be better than the sum of their parts. Even if they do, the talent gap between them and the rest of the division, even the Titans, is significant.

Luke Joeckel could start at right tackle for any of the other three teams in the division, I suspect. Can you name another guy who could?
How does each AFC South team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Houston Texans

News that No. 1 cornerback Johnathan Joseph had sports hernias repaired early in the offseason was actually a good development. He was even more hurt than we knew last year, which serves to explain why he was hardly the player in 2012 he had been in 2011. A healthy Joseph will be much better. Kareem Jackson blossomed as the second corner, and Brice McCain returns as a fairly steady nickel. Danieal Manning is the strong safety with Ed Reed roaming and ball hawking as the deeper guy. Rookie D.J. Swearinger should work as the third safety and be an upgrade over the two guys who played in that role a year ago. He’s also insurance for the aging Reed. Corner depth is a concern, but isn’t that the case for almost every team? I expect big things from this group.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are counting on free-agent addition Greg Toler as a starting corner opposite Vontae Davis. If he pans out as they project, they will improve. If he doesn’t, the depth is poor with Cassius Vaughn still in the mix. Darius Butler is a quality nickel cornerback. Antoine Bethea should be back to form when given a better partner at safety in free-agent acquisition LaRon Landry, provided Landry stays healthy. Safety depth has Joe Lefeged at the head of the line. He can be productive in spot duty, but if they need him for a long stretch, it’ll be an issue. Toler’s production in an expanded role and Landry’s health are the two big keys.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have an incredibly young group. Safety Dwight Lowery and likely starting cornerback Alan Ball are entering their sixth seasons. The other starting safety will be John Cyprien, a second-round pick, and the other starting cornerback will be Dwayne Gratz, a third-rounder. Depth is a major question. The nickelback could be the wise old man of the group -- Marcus Trufant -- or second-year man Mike Harris or a player to be determined. Primary depth will come from three more rookies: corner Demetrius McCray and Jeremy Harris and safety Josh Evans. Cyprien already looks excellent, and Gratz was very good in minicamp. Still, inexperience will be a big factor in this defensive backfield.

Tennessee Titans

Free safety Michael Griffin's game has dropped off significantly in recent years. At least part of it has been the team’s inability to allow him to be the center fielder, which is what he should be best at. With veterans Bernard Pollard and George Wilson added to man the strong safety spot, Griffin has a chance to be a lot better. Jason McCourty is a topflight corner. The other job can be wrestled away from Alterraun Verner as the Titans look to play more man coverage with Tommie Campbell or rookie Blidi Wreh-Wilson in contention. Coty Sensabaugh is a developing nickel, and Verner has a knack for the job as well. They need a better push up front to help them all out.

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