NFL Nation: Brett Kern

Titans Camp Report: Day 19

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
7:46
PM ET
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.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 6

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
12:10
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A review of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 20-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

One change coming: I don’t expect the Titans to make a big shakeup, though they should be considering Brian Schwenke at center when the bye week arrives. But one change that should arrive this week is the re-emergence of No. 2 running back Shonn Greene. He hurt his knee in the opener and had it scoped. He should practice on Wednesday. The Titans will be equipped to run better against San Francisco with a one-two punch of Chris Johnson and Greene, and if Greene gets on any kind of roll they won’t hesitate to go with the hot hand. They are desperate for a hot hand.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Ryan Fitzpatrick
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonTitans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been struggling lately.
Doling out consequences: While I am ready for Schwenke, there aren’t viable alternatives at most of the Titans’ trouble spots. Ryan Fitzpatrick is struggling, but he has always been streaky. There is a far better chance he plays better next week than there is that Rusty Smith would play well. And the Titans won’t even consider turning to their No. 3 QB. But that Kenny Britt played, by my count, two snaps, shows that Mike Munchak will take playing time away from a bad performer when he has an alternative.

Repeat mistakes: Brett Kern dropped a second punt snap in a month, which is hard to fathom. Darius Reynaud had a 40-yard kickoff return, but let yet another punt bounce and was lucky to get away with it when it turned into a touchback. Rob Turner sailed a couple more shotgun snaps. Guys making mistakes are the No. 1 people who have to be accountable for those mistakes. But when they make the same mistakes repeatedly, I have to wonder about the message of Munchak and his staff, and about how good they are at correcting things. Do they have guys who don’t get what they are being told, guys who aren’t capable of fixing those things or guys who are just mistake-makers? Whatever the answer, it’s a problem.

Look across the field: The Titans aspire to be a physical team that controls both lines of scrimmage and can impose its will as it runs and stops the run. Well, they just lost to two teams, the Chiefs and Seahawks, who follow that blueprint far better than Tennessee does. And the 49ers are of the same ilk and will be in Nashville on Sunday. The Titans pledged what they were going to be, and we’ve seen it a little bit, particularly in the wins in Pittsburgh and over the Chargers. But we haven’t seen it enough. Never mind fans who heard the identity promises. I wonder what owner Bud Adams thinks about the Titans failure to be who they pledged they’d be when he spent more than $100 million on free agents to help them be it?

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:14
PM ET
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

Rapid Reaction: Titans 14, Jets 10

December, 17, 2012
12/17/12
11:50
PM ET


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Thoughts on the Titans’ 14-10 victory over the Jets at LP Field:

What it means: The end of a three-game losing streak for Tennessee (5-9); coach Mike Munchak can use a solid finish to prevent owner Bud Adams from considering a change after the season. Chris Johnson sprinted to a 94-yard touchdown that gave the Titans a lead in the first half. After the Jets pulled ahead in the third quarter, Jake Locker engineered what was probably the best drive of his young career and ran in from 13 yards out for what stood up as the winning score. The result knocked the Jets out of the AFC playoff picture.

Bad times for bad punts: Brett Kern shanked a punt out of the Titans' end zone to give the Jets some great field position late in the third quarter. New York drove 35 yards to a Mark Sanchez-to-Jeff Cumberland 17-yard touchdown pass. Linebacker Tim Shaw was in range, but had his back turned to the ball. Then, with 47 seconds left in the game, Kern punted 19 yards out of his own end zone, giving the Jets the ball at Tennessee's 25. Sanchez couldn't scoop up a low shotgun snap on the next play, running back Bilal Powell kicked it and Tennessee linebacker Zach Brown recovered it.

Rocky ground: While Locker made enough plays to win and got a bit of a signature drive, he missed on a lot of throws. He was long on multiple deep throws where receivers didn’t have a chance. Early in the fourth quarter with Kendall Wright open deep, Locker was late and short, allowing two defenders to get back in the play and break it up. Wright wound up getting hurt as he landed awkwardly on top of Antonio Cromartie.

Another injury: The Titans were already playing four replacement offensive linemen. They lost center Kevin Matthews late in the first quarter to a sprained right ankle; Kyle DeVan, who has been on and off the roster numerous times this season, played the rest of the game.

An awful number: The Titans committed a season-high 14 penalties for 111 yards. None was bigger than a personal foul against linebacker Will Witherspoon that extended a Jets drive near the end of the fourth quarter. Witherspoon was bailed out by Michael Griffin's interception on the first play after the two-minute warning, Griffin's second pick of the game.

Four picks: Tennessee made sure Sanchez’s miserable season stayed miserable, as Jason McCourty and Griffin each intercepted him twice.

What’s next: The Titans travel to Green Bay for their last road game and their final game against the NFC North. They’ve lost to Minnesota and Chicago and beaten Detroit.

NFL Twindex: Another Brown on top

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
11:38
AM ET
Carlton MitchellAP Photo/Mark DuncanCarlton Mitchell leads this week's Twindex.
Faith is a key piece of the lives of a lot of NFL players on Twitter.

Many tweet Bible verses or favorite passages, particularly in the morning when they get in a prayer and a daily reading.

It can be a piece of a well-rounded tweeter, though it's not something that typically scores for a guy in the NFL Twindex.

We seek well-rounded players who deliver good humor, good commentary and good football insight.

You can find what I consider the best player tweets of the week by looking at my favorites.

I try to scan through as many tweets as I can, but it's difficult to see them all and I can always use your help. Call my attention to anything of interest at @ESPN_AFCSouth or @PaulKuharsky.

This week's list:

NFL Twindex: Cleveland WR takes crown

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
11:37
AM ET
Mohamed MassaquoiTom Cammett/Getty ImagesMohamed Massaquoi tops this week's Twindex.

It was a good week for pictures from NFLers on Twitter.

We had tourist shots of Larry Fitzgerald at the Lincoln Memorial and at The White House, a picture of Antonio Garay driving a Hello Kitty car, a shot of a receipt showing off just how much Michael Huff’s dad spent for groceries on his son’s credit card and a freeze frame of Josh Scobee’s locker on TV.

We at the NFL Twindex are in favor of all sharing. We seek insight into football lives, and do our best to weed through a lot of junk to find it.

If you see good humor, good explanations or yes, good pictures from an NFL player or coach or mascot or anyone on Twitter, please make sure we see it by calling our attention to it. Twindex headquarters can be found at @ESPN_AFCSouth and @PaulKuharsky.

To our new edition.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans certainly got some good out of a two-hour, player organized practice session that included more than 50 participants on Wednesday morning at Father Ryan High School.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and guard Jake Scott deserve credit for getting so many players out.

Of note:

  • Eugene Amano and Jake Scott
    Paul Kuharsky/ESPN.comOffensive linemen Eugene Amano, left, and Jake Scott work against each other.
    Running back Chris Johnson was part of things. He said his contract isn’t on his mind right now and declared that he expects rookie quarterback Jake Locker to start right out of the gate. Here’s the news story.
  • Locker had some nice moments and some that were not so good. About what you’d expect. He certainly threw the ball better than Brett Ratliff. And he didn’t go the Joe Cool route like Ratliff and Rusty Smith, who practiced in sunglasses.
  • The host school’s football staff ran the individual position drills, which had to be a cool thing for most of them. From the stretch through some team work, players seemed to strike just the right measure of laughs with work.
  • Safety Michael Griffin said the defense just worked through basic coverages. Players expect the new defense, coordinated by Jerry Gray will touch on them all. They thought running through basics rather than trying to learn and execute anything new was the smart approach.
  • Among the notables under contract who were missing -- and let’s be clear they didn’t have to be there and could have had very legitimate reasons for not making it -- were Michael Roos, David Stewart, Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins, Alterraun Verner, William Hayes and Brett Kern. Justin Gage was a late arrival and just watched.
  • Without their own receivers, the Titans benefited from the presence of three quality outsiders: Derrick Mason of the Ravens, Golden Tate of the Seahawks and Patrick Turner of the Jets. Mason started his career with Tennessee and still has an area home while Tate and Turner are both from Nashville. Tate went to Father Ryan arch rival Pope John Paul II, and wore his purple Ryan shirt inside out.
  • Gerald McRath and Akeem Ayers
    Paul Kuharsky/ESPN.comLinebacker Gerald McRath coaches up second-round pick Akeem Ayers.
    Several players who are not under contract for 2011 participated: defensive end Dave Ball, guard Leroy Harris, linebacker Tim Shaw and safety Donnie Nickey. Nickey had a big, early collision in seven-on-seven work with Marc Mariani as both went up for a pass from Ratliff that put the receiver at risk. It was the only obvious injury scare of the day. Both bounced up.
  • Plays of note: Mariani dropped a well-thrown deep ball from Locker after slipping behind multiple defenders. Corner Jason McCourty dropped a pick of a pass that bounced off Jared Cook; Ratliff threw an incredibly bad, incomplete pass down the deep middle, a duck that wobbled more than a lot of punts do.
  • Among the guys I saw doing a great deal of leading of young guys were Scott, Ball, defensive back Vincent Fuller and linebacker Gerald McRath.
  • The Titans will have another session Thursday.
A quick Twitter tour to get a sense of who’s showing up at team headquarters around the AFC South and what’s happened when they have.

I've seen nothing of substance tied to the Texans yet.

Here’s the best from the other three markets.

Indianapolis Colts

@JJFOX59SPORTS (Jeremiah Johnson): Jeff Saturday tells #ESPN that he notified #Colts players and said to keep training as they were (away from facility) "until dust settles"

@Jpeezy25 (Jerraud Powers): Arriving at D1 for workouts....time to get better!

Jacksonville Jaguars

@CBSSportsNFLJAC (RapidReports): Owner Wayne Weaver indicated players won't be getting into the Jags' facility. "We have motions in front of Judge Nelson and I think we just have to wait for her to make a ruling on those motions, then we'll know what our next steps are," he said.

@taniaganguli (Tania Ganguli): #jaguars spokesman tells me what weaver meant was they won't be allowed to work out but will be allowed in the building.

@taniaganguli (Tania Ganguli): Channel 4 left. Now it's just me and first coast news sitting here at EverBank Field. Still no players. #jaguars

Tennessee Titans

@brettkern6 (Brett Kern): Went to the complex to kick ...could not kick but was great to see people !!

@RennieCurran53 (Rennie Curran): Drove all the way out in the rain only to find out no workout, coaches, playbook or nothin. Nobody is really prepared for this situatuion

@glennonsports (John Glennon): Jake Scott says Underwood told him they cld stay in facility, but that there wld be no interaction w organization while there

@glennonsports (John Glennon): Underwood's msg. to Scott today upon arrival: "You’re welcome in the building. Nobody’s going to interact with you if you come in."

Your 2010 All-AFC South team

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
1:31
PM ET
FosterUS PresswireQB Peyton Manning, left, and RB Arian Foster were easy choices for the All-AFC South team.
Aspirations were high. Piecing together our second-annual All-AFC South team sounded easy on the front end. Now that it’s time to share, I feel I’m going to insult the division’s best.

Seriously.

How will Colts safety Antoine Bethea, a steady and settling presence in the Colts' secondary at free safety, feel about being part of a secondary with such shaky candidates?

How can I sell that Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew isn’t here when I think he had the second-best running back season in the division and one of the four best in the league, while wedging on a right guard when I didn’t see any I really found worthy?

How do I explain to the Titans' Jason Babin that as the No. 3 defensive end I had to leave him off, while my initial search for linebackers produced only one name?

How do I sort through the Colts' Adam Vinatieri (92.9 percent on field goals), Titans' Rob Bironas (92.3) and Texans' Neil Rackers (90.0) while rewarding a punter from a group whose top net average was 15th in the league and eighth in the AFC?

Here is how I will start: I won’t force. We’re leaving blanks where a guy doesn’t match the caliber required. And top guys -- clear-cut guys, the cream of the division -- get not just a spot on the All-AFC South team, but a spot with honors.

I wanted to create a minimum number of games played to qualify, but that would have taken away too many good players.

The fact is, teams like this generally include the best guy at his position. The context of how good the best guy at another position is doesn’t factor in. But we’re dealing with a small group here, and the skill guys and the pass-rushers were sterling compared to a lot of others.

When Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. sent me back his All-AFC South team to help with perspective, he added four guys he categorized as “by default” and concluded with this:

“Must say, this is a pretty bad all-star team.”

I don’t see it competing very well with an all-division team from anywhere else, but it does have some very fine skill players, so who knows?

Receivers: Houston's Andre Johnson played through a serious ankle injury and was still an incredible threat. Indy's Reggie Wayne made more mistakes than usual but was still exceptionally productive. Three up-and-comers are worthy of mention for strong seasons: The Titans' Kenny Britt and Colts' Austin Collie missed too many games and the Jaguars' Mike Thomas was the best slot guy outside of Indy.

Tackles: It was a down year for the Titans’ line, but Michael Roos was the best of the bunch. His only challenger here was Houston's Duane Brown. The Texans' Eric Winston did not have his best year either, but he’s the top guy in the spot and his team had the league’s leading rusher.

Guards: Wade Smith was an excellent fit in Houston and the sort of veteran addition the Texans need to continue to find. He gets the nod over the stronger Vince Manuwai. He was overweight in camp and didn’t take over the starting job until the Jaguars’ sixth game. Fellow Jaguar Uche Nwaneri was good, not great. But there was space between him and the rest of the middling pool.

Center: Jacksonville's Brad Meester got some good reviews during the year and Colts star Jeff Saturday is an obvious default choice. But my sense is that Houston's Chris Myers is regarded as one of the division’s most underrated players. He’s a smart guy who’s still improving and did a lot to get the blocking for Arian Foster organized.

Tight end: Jacksonville's Marcedes Lewis made an excellent jump. He continued great work as a blocker, and his 58 catches and 10 touchdowns were career highs by 17 and eight, respectively. He was tough to get around and tough to cover.

Quarterback: Peyton Manning wasn’t the league MVP, but there is no argument at all about the Colts' star being division MVP. Prefer Foster? The Texans could have won six games and not made the playoffs without him.

Running back: Arian Foster’s the easy choice as he was the league’s most productive runner and also very good as a pass-catcher. Jones-Drew’s chance to challenge faded with the late games missed to a knee injury. What a pool when the Titans' Chris Johnson ranks third.

Fullback: I debated this out when I did my Pro Bowl suggestion post and settled on Houston's Vonta Leach as more than one person I trust said he was better than Jacksonville's Greg Jones.

Defensive ends: Tough group when I’ve got Houston's Mario Williams fourth. He played hurt and saw his season end early. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis didn’t get to tee off as much because the Colts weren’t playing with big leads as much. And still they were very good. Babin was a revelation and right on Mathis’ heels.

Defensive tackles: The enormous Terrance Knighton ate up people and space for the Jaguars and has become a stalwart. His teammate Tyson Alualu is quicker and rates third here because the Titans’ Jason Jones was outstanding. Consistently disruptive, I rank him as his team’s best defender.

Outside linebackers: Jacksonville’s Daryl Smith was quite good, with a lot of uncertainty at the third linebacker spot and in the secondary. Houston's Brian Cushing was not nearly as good as he was as a rookie, but was still better than other outside guys in the division by a solid notch. I didn't love him, but scouts I talked to said he's worthy.

Middle linebacker: A tough spot I thought about not filling. Gary Brackett was not as good as usual, but the Colts were better when he was in the lineup than when he wasn’t. The guy who would typically challenge him, Houston's DeMeco Ryans, was lost for the season after six weeks.

Free safety: Bethea was the glue for a secondary that endured unimaginable turnover. Bethea often played with other defensive backs he had very little practice time with. He’s just a sound and reliable football player, and if he didn’t match previous years, his supporting cast had quite a bit to do with it.

Strong safety: The Colts were battered at the spot and the rest of the division’s strong safeties were awful. The best of a bad group isn’t worthy of mention here. It’s going to be a popular draft need.

Cornerbacks: Indy's Jerraud Powers was very good before he got hurt; a two-dimensional corner who covered well and did his part against the run. He’s developing into a premier guy. The second spot is vacant. A lot of corners suffered for the weak safety play, but I’m uncomfortable singling out anyone else’s season.

Kicker: Vinatieri has huge fan support and he was clutch. But when the competition also kicks off, it dents your candidacy. So Bironas, who has a division-high 17 touchbacks to go with 24 of 26 field goals, wins out. Jacksonville's Josh Scobee and Rackers were not far off.

Punter: Jacksonville's Adam Podlesh beats out the Titans' Brett Kern with slightly better numbers. But the entire division can punt better and more consistently.

Special teamer: Montell Owens of the Jaguars benefited from the addition of Kassim Osgood, but edged him in this category. Scouts really like him as a special-teams contributor.

Halftime thoughts on Colts-Titans

December, 9, 2010
12/09/10
10:13
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Halftime thoughts from LP Field where it’s 21-7 Colts over Titans.
  • Donald Brown is not the guy to solve the rushing problems for Indianapolis. Spins in the backfield provide time for defenders to tackle him in the backfield. That’s especially ineffective when it’s losing yards inside the 5-yard line. Javarris James is simple better in the red zone.
  • My understanding of the Titans use of Randy Moss gets worse and worse. He played minimally in that half, and I don’t think he and Kenny Britt were on the field together for a snap. Meanwhile, a drop for Nate Washington and a good bit of action for Justin Gage.
  • Kerry Collins can’t get nearly enough on the ball if he can’t step into it and the pocket rarely holds up. There are quarterbacks in the league who can make quality throws as they retreat. He’s not one of them.
  • Rookie linebackers Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner were in the starting lineup, but the Colts are mixing and matching at linebacker beyond Gary Brackett. Tyjuan Hagler has played a lot. Philip Wheeler’s been out there some too.
  • Two Tennessee giveaways led to two Colts touchdowns -- Dwight Freeney stripped Britt for one, Brett Kern couldn’t pull in a high snap from Ken Amato for a punt and Taj Smith recovered it for the other.
  • Ryan Diem, two false starts. Not good. Manning, no picks, good. Still a couple more bad throws than you’d expect -- one where he missed an open Reggie Wayne on a scramble, one where he had James at the goal line.

AFC South Week 3 decisive moment

September, 28, 2010
9/28/10
1:08
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

With the Titans and Giants knotted at 10-10, Tennessee faced a fourth-and-15 at its 38-yard line. Brett Kern punted to end the Titans’ first possession of the third quarter.

Michael Griffin is an outstanding special-teamer who I’m not sure always loves playing special teams. He tracked Kern’s punt, made an excellent over-the-shoulder catch with complete awareness of where he was, and stayed just outside the goal line while downing the ball inside the 1.

That play set up the Titans for a scoring flurry.

Within 2 minutes, 56 seconds, Tennessee scored nine points thanks to the field position Kern and Griffin provided. Ahmad Bradshaw’s end zone chop block resulted in a safety and undid a 43-yard Eli Manning-to-Mario Manningham pass play.

Marc Mariani returned the free kick 22 yards and the Titans quickly moved 51 yards en route to a Vince Young-to-Kenny Britt touchdown pass.

The game was never really in doubt from there, with the Titans adding another 10 points as they put the Giants away.

NFC East Week 3 decisive moment

September, 28, 2010
9/28/10
1:01
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The New York Giants' first possession of the second half set the course for a meltdown. With the score tied at 10, the Titans pinned the Giants at their 1-yard line. On third-and-10 from the 1, Eli Manning dropped back to pass and found wide receiver Mario Manningham streaking down the left sideline for a 43-yard gain. It could've been one of those game-changing plays and, in fact, it was.

Running back Ahmad Bradshaw went low to take out a Titans defender. What he didn't realize was that center Adam Koets was already engaged with the player and actually had him by the face mask. Bradshaw was called for the chop block in the end zone and the result of the play was a safety for the Titans.

Tennessee returned the ensuing free kick to midfield and marched down for a touchdown to make it 19-10 in the third quarter.

On another note, Titans punter Brett Kern deserves a special mention for pinning the Giants deep on the possession. Titans safety Michael Griffin waited to down the punt near the 1-yard line. That's why I support Tom Coughlin's idea of putting more starters on special teams. Griffin made huge plays on defense and he still had the energy to play well in coverage. New York could use a little bit of that action.

Wrap-up: Titans 38, Raiders 13

September, 12, 2010
9/12/10
6:35
PM ET
What it means: A 1-0 start a year after starting 0-6 will be a big hit in Nashville, where Chris Johnson showed a slow preseason meant nothing.

Trending: As they did in the preseason, the Titans got a lot of plays from a lot of guys on defense. Will Witherspoon, Jason Babin, Derrick Morgan and Jacob Ford had sacks and Babin and Ford also forced fumbles. Dave Ball had two passes defensed. Jason Jones had a tackle for loss. Ryan Mouton forced a fumble. That’s a lot of production.

What I liked: Third down. On offense, Tennessee converted 53 percent. On defense the Titans allowed conversions only 21 percent of the time. Vince Young was efficient with two touchdowns, no picks and a 142.8 quarterback rating (but a fumble) and Johnson was Johnson (27 carries, 142 yards, two touchdowns).

Unsung hero: Punter Brett Kern averaged 44.5 net yards on four punts, helping produce an average drive start for the Raiders that was 11 yards worse than Tennessee’s.

What’s next: The Titans host Pittsburgh in Game 2 of Ben Roethlisberger's suspension.

video
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- My prospects were mixed, depending on the evaluator.

As I toured the AFC South during training camp, I made special requests to chat with punters and punt returners. With a pending appointment to attempt to field practice punts from the Titans' Brett Kern, I was searching for advice, and seeking forecasts.

In Houston, Texans receiver and returner Jacoby Jones said I could catch three and a half of eight punts, with a falling-down catch counting as the half.

In Jacksonville, Jaguars halfback and occasional returner Maurice Jones-Drew sized me up and said he thought I could catch two of eight.

In Anderson, Ind., Colts punter Pat McAfee expected less of me.

“The first four you’ll be confused,” he said. “You’ll get lucky on the fifth one, the sixth one you’ll get overconfident. If I were you, I’d just close my eyes and hope it hit me in the chest … I think if you get one, you should be happy.”

[+] EnlargeJacoby Jones
Paul Kuharsky/ESPN.com Houston's Jacoby Jones shows Paul Kuharsky how to hold his hands to field punts.
OK, what stupid thing is Kuharsky up to now?

While I spend a lot less time in bars watching games than I used to, I typically circle to an idea like this once a year. Sit with friends over a cold one and watch a return man flub a punt, and inevitably someone says, “I could have caught that.” I’ve often been that someone.

And so I sought to transfer the question from the pub to the club and started making arrangements to test out the question: Can a fat, bald, 41-year old -- a cue ball covering football -- field a punt from a top professional?

The pointers I collected had me all twisted around, particularly those on ball flight.

  • Said Jones-Drew: “If the nose of the ball stays up, it’s going to be short. But if that nose turns over, you’ve got to get back because that ball is going to sail a little bit.”
  • Said Houston punter Matt Turk: “It really depends on the height of the ball. If it’s turning over, and it’s a low ball, you should be backing up. If it’s turning over and it’s a good hang-time ball, it might fall away from you.”
  • Said McAfee: “If the ball turns over it’s going to be straight; if the nose stays up it’s going to go right for a right-footed punter.”
  • Said Jones: “With a right-footed punter, if it’s a tight spiral, the ball will dive to your left. If it’s a wobbly spiral, it dives to your right.”

Got all that? I didn't either. Ultimately, I decided it would not be beneficial to try to flip through those notes while the ball was in the air. I’d play it like a center fielder and try concentrating, as Titans receiver and returner Damian Williams encouraged, on being square to the ball so any bobbles wouldn’t squirt through me.

I just wanted to get to where it would come down -- MJD said a six-yard radius should suffice -- and take my chances.

Nathan Renfro
Paul Kuharsky/ESPN.com Nathan Renfro, who punts for Brentwood Academy in suburban Nashville, worked with Paul one afternoon.
When I finished my travels a couple of weeks ago, I might have sneaked off one afternoon to get a feel for things with some work at Brentwood Academy in suburban Nashville with Nathan Renfro, a senior punter who might be heading to Northwestern.

Two days later I signed a waiver letting the Titans off the hook should anything go awry, passing on Turk’s advice to wear a mouthpiece and tape my fingers. Then, armed -- or should it be handed? -- with a pair of gloves provided by the Titans and with my dusty Puma Kings from my soccer days laced up, I met with Kern.

Some players, including kicker Rob Bironas, already were out preparing for practice. Equipment guys I know were milling around. A reporter friend and a PR man looked on from a distance.

I was happy McAfee, the Colts' punter, was hundreds of miles away.

“This is our only opportunity to actually embarrass a media person,” he said. “If Brett brings the rain down, it would be absolutely great for all of us. There are 31 other punters looking for him to embarrass you. Hopefully, he will.”

I wished Turk was nearby.

“Maul the ball, don’t try to use your hands, it won’t work,” he said. “… I always root for the underdog, so I am rooting for you. I want to be proud of you at the end of this thing.”

And so, with a bit of coaching from since-released Titans veteran kick returner Alvin Pearman, I took my shot.

I was 2-for-5 in warm-ups, but didn’t sufficiently learn from my misses.

Pearman mentioned the parabola of the ball, and I butchered my calculations of that early. The center-fielder approach didn’t work, as Kern’s first punts reached an apex, then dropped more sharply than I expected. Had I run through them, I’d have had a chance. Slowing for fear they’d take off, I had a pathetic showing. The first bounced in front of me, the second might as well have.

After those two, Kern changed his prediction from two catches on eight punts to none.

His third sailed over my head to the left, and I didn’t even get deep enough to make a play on it. I was well-positioned on the fourth and I dropped it.

Finally on No. 5, as McAfee predicted, a catch.

Feeling much more confident, I knew the worst was still ahead. Kern learned former Titans punter Craig Hentrich’s famous knuckler at the foot of the master.

Punish me, I shouted to him, give me your most devilish stuff.

Kern didn’t hit the first one especially well. Punt No. 6 sent me drifting back and to my right and I got that one, too.

Then he connected on what he said was his most fluttery knuckleball in weeks.

Sliding left and settling, I felt confident I’d done better than a 6-yard radius. I was directly under it and the nose was tilting down right at me. But I might as well have been standing under a flapping fish sent flying by a hurricane. The ball couldn’t have been 10 feet over my head when it flattened, shot several yards over my head, then bounced on the turf well behind me.

“I let those hit the ground,” Jones said when we talked knuckleballs.

I should have waved my arms and ran away from it screaming “poison” or “Peter” or “pull” or whatever other keyword guys use in those situations to signal teammates to be wary of letting a bouncing punt hit them and turn it live.

Kern and I agreed on a bonus punt, and I raced in to field another dancing knuckleball that bounced off my chest near my shoulder. I thought it would leave a mark.

It didn’t. But the next day I noticed the inside of both forearms were painlessly black and blue from just two catches.

Kern was nice about it all. On camera, he said I wasn’t the most graceful as I caught the two I did, and that was kind of him. The laughs in the locker room understandably could have come with a far harsher review.

I didn’t think it was going to be easy. I didn’t expect it to be quite that difficult -- or for me to be quite so clumsy.

Now add the standard conditions real punt returners contend with: a helmet and set of pads, mean gunners and crowd noise.

No thanks.

Thoughts on Titans 27, Saints 24

September, 2, 2010
9/02/10
11:30
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some bullet-point thoughts on the Titans’ 27-24 preseason win over New Orleans on Thursday night.

Impressive:
  • With Chris Johnson not dressing, Javon Ringer showed an ability to keep his feet moving and his eyes open on an early 47-yard run. He felt space open to the left side and took it, slipped a tackle attempt by Leigh Torrence, and moved back to the right. Samkon Gado got a lot of work relatively early with the first team, and broke off a 31-yard run.
  • Defensive tackle Jason Jones was very good again, with some nice pass rushes. He did well chasing stuff downfield when needed. If he stays healthy, he’s looking like a guy who will be heard from outside of Nashville this season.
  • Gerald McRath showed his ability to cover pretty deep, breaking up a pass down field with Robert Johnson and Nick Schommer also arriving at the throw from Patrick Ramsey intended for Jimmy Graham.
  • Jared Cook and LeGarrette Blount had some nice yards after the catch by hurdling defenders. Eventually, though, one of the hurdlers will get crushed when he encounters a defender who anticipates it, stays upright and buries a helmet in his chest.
Unimpressive:
  • Kenny Britt dropped two early passes -- the first on a right-to-left short crossing route, the second on about a 22-yarder on which he was cutting left to right. Both throws were on target from Vince Young. A bit later, Britt caught a 7-yard pass with Jonathan Casillas draped on him and Malcolm Jenkins fast arriving. But then he had a false start penalty when Collins was in at quarterback. Craig Stevens and Lavelle Hawkins also dropped balls they should have caught.
  • Schommer, in a battle for one of the last safety slots, hurt himself on special teams. Lined up on the right of the line, he allowed Junior Galette to get past him and casually block a Brett Kern punt with one hand. Harry Coleman juggled a bit but kept it in play for himself and pulled it in for a 1-yard touchdown. Kern should have felt the pressure from two rushers on a second block in the fourth quarter.
  • Too many penalties. Marc Mariani had two nice returns, one undone by penalty against Stevens, one with 15-yards chopped off thanks to a personal foul call against Donnie Nickey. In all, Tennessee was flagged nine times for 133 yards. Schommer needlessly shoved a receiver out of bounds for a late pass interference call. Thankfully, the Saints didn’t kick on the fourth-and-2 from the Titans’ 16 that came after that with 11 seconds left.

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