NFL Nation: Chris Palmer

At the end of one of former coach Butch Davis' seasons with the Cleveland Browns, several of his players complained that they wanted Davis to loosen some of his rules.

Primary among them was players wanted to be able to leave the team hotel on Saturdays to go to dinner or visit family and friends.

Earl Little and Robert Griffith said they were professionals and should be able to be trusted for a few hours away from the hotel.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Mark Duncan"We're going to treat our guys like [men] until they prove that they need to be treated otherwise," Browns coach Mike Pettine said.
This, of course, led Phil Dawson to make his famous statement that the only thing he wanted changed was wins, and he’d practice naked if he was told to and it meant the Browns would win.

Davis' response, of course, was to "loosen" the rules the next season by telling the players they could indeed go out to dinner, but only to two restaurants he had selected, both within walking distance of the hotel.

It produced some rolled eyes.

This story came to mind during the entire Johnny Manziel-Vegas trip/non-story of last weekend. Because coach Mike Pettine made an important statement when he said the Browns would not micromanage players away from the building.

"Just like anybody else, he’s a man," Pettine said, "and we’re going to treat our guys like that until they prove that they need to be treated otherwise."

The interesting thing is the different ways coaches have of treating players like men. Davis no doubt felt his approach was the best way to keep control of players, who preferred another way.

Don Shula was known as a disciplinarian, but he let players have four or five hours to themselves on the road on Saturday. Some guys would meet friends and family and go out, others would stay in their rooms. That was the system Chris Palmer followed with the Browns before Davis changed it.

Way back when, Forrest Gregg (head coach from 1975-77) had curfews on Fridays and Saturdays before home games. Someone with the team would drive to players' homes and actually look for their cars, and if they didn't see them then they’d call the player at home.

It’s not tough to imagine how that went over.

Sam Rutigliano followed Gregg and took the “treat them like men” mindset an extra step by eliminating curfews and allowing the players to stay at home on Saturday nights before games.

It worked well until one player continued his “Party With (Player)” night at a Cleveland establishment the evening before a Monday night game.

There are all kinds of ways for players to make it work.

Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are quiet off the field, and they win. Bobby Layne played fairly well and had a very good time off the field. Joe Namath was renowned for his celebrity appearances at New York nightspots.

Manziel isn't Layne or Namath or anything close, as he's quick to admit. But he does bring celebrity elements to the Browns.

Experience seems to show that the system that works best is the one that has responsible players, guys who understand the sacrifices needed to win. They don’t need a lot of rules because they “get it.” The Browns seem to have a lot of those kinds of guys.

But experience also shows that Pettine makes good sense by saying he’ll treat his players like men until they show they need to be treated otherwise. He’ll expect them to know the system and rules and follow both. But he’ll not overdo the rules off the field or away from the building. It’s a logical approach.

Treat a player like a teenager and he’ll probably act like a teenager.

But treat responsible players like men, and they’ll probably act like men.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With the Tennessee Titans preparing to face the Denver Broncos for the first time since then-free agent Peyton Manning chose the Broncos over Tennessee, Manning's choice has been a big storyline this week.

John Glennon of The Tennessean recounts the pursuit and shows the Titans really thought they were going to get him.

I’ve heard from two reliable sources that one thing that worked against the Titans for Manning was the team's offensive coordinator at the time.

Chris Palmer’s offensive philosophy was to react, not to dictate. (Here’s a piece from Sept. 2012 I did about his options route scheme.)

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning spent about eight hours with Titans executives on a plane and at the team's headquarters in March 2012.
I can see how that wouldn’t jibe with Manning. And Eli Manning worked with Palmer as quarterback coach with the Giants from 2007-09, so Peyton Manning had some extra insight into Mike Munchak’s chief offensive lieutenant.

When the Titans got their time with Manning, they met him in Knoxville for a workout, then he spent some time in Nashville. The Knoxville contingent was team president Mike Reinfeldt, general manager Ruston Webster, Munchak, Palmer, quarterback coach Dowell Loggains and strength coach Steve Watterson.

I don't want to over-interpret Manning's comments about that time, but he does tend to be very precise in what he says and does.

"I ended up working out for them in Knoxville," he said. "Like I said, I really enjoyed getting to know Dowell Loggains, really enjoyed spending some time with him. I played against Coach Munchak’s teams for many years when he was the offensive line coach. I enjoyed spending some time with him, really enjoyed that time. That was kind of a unique workout I guess, but like I said, I enjoyed the time with them."

His failure to mention Palmer is not super-telling. But after hearing from two places that Palmer was an issue, the fact that Manning left him out is open for at least a bit of interpretation.

Bear with me and trace this circular path that led to the Titans missing out on Manning, who I believe felt a pull from Munchak but a bigger pull from Broncos executive John Elway because of the obvious connection with a quarterback who won big late in a Hall of Fame career.

  1. Late Titans owner Bud Adams was late in sorting out his head-coaching search in 2011. When he parted ways with Jeff Fisher and hired Munchak after the Super Bowl, a lot of hiring had already happened around the league.
  2. As a new head coach without a large network of connections and a narrowed pool of candidates, Munchak had to turn to Palmer, an old friend, as his first coordinator.
  3. A year later, Adams told Titans brass he wanted Manning on the team.
  4. And one of the reasons Manning went elsewhere was because he didn’t feel like working with Palmer would have been the best scenario for him.

Palmer’s an innocent victim here. He’s a good man, though his philosophy is ineffective in the NFL circa 2013. Munchak fired him with five games left in 2012.

If Adams had moved more quickly in sorting things out with Fisher and getting Munchak in place, perhaps Munchak would have hired a different offensive coordinator.

If Manning was more comfortable with that coordinator, perhaps he'd be a Titan instead of a Bronco.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Look at the Tennessee Titans from any angle and the focus winds up on the same spot: starting quarterback Jake Locker.

The Titans did a lot of overhauling after a miserable 6-10 season. All of it puts the third-year quarterback in a better position to succeed.

“I think throwing with confidence makes a big difference, and that’s what I feel like I am doing this year,” Locker said.

The Titans parted with Matt Hasselbeck and brought in Ryan Fitzpatrick as the No. 2. They are confidant Fitzpatrick can step in and win games if needed, but they have no leash on Locker. The entire organization is committed to him and believes he’s the right guy to quarterback the team to a turnaround.

“He’s really taken ownership,” Fitzpatrick said. “You can see he’s a confident guy, and that’s one thing that you really need as a quarterback. He’s really worked at his game mentally. We’re progression-based now, and he’s really trying to take it to the next level in terms of his footwork and accuracy. This whole offseason I’ve definitely seen improvement.”

Locker will be running an easier, more straightforward system. He’s got a "move" tight end in Delanie Walker (not currently healthy) who adds a dynamic the Titans haven’t had since Locker was drafted with the eighth overall pick in 2011. The receivers are deep and talented. The offensive line could be a dominant group, which should mean a Chris Johnson/Shonn Greene run game will provide great balance. And the defense should get Locker the ball back more often and with better field position.

I’ve seen steady progress and more consistent play in recent practices. But he needs to carry that over into games, and he needs to address two things that might qualify as habits: a tendency to start slow, and a propensity to throw more comfortably and more accurately to his left than to his right.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeKamerion Wimbley
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceThe Titans hope to give pass-rusher Kamerion Wimbley a lighter workload this season.
1. The pass rush. The Titans generated a reasonable total of 39 sacks last season, with 6.5 from Derrick Morgan and six apiece from Kamerion Wimbley and Akeem Ayers. The Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens ran the same number of defensive plays (1,086), and they had 37 sacks.

But no single player on the Titans’ defensive front ranked as a scheme-changer that offenses had to account for before every play. And the committee work in conjunction with coverage that was far too soft, far too frequently, played a big role in allowing a league-worst 471 points.

They didn’t change a lot at end. They added size in end Ropati Pitoitua, who figures to play a lot of run downs, and depth in fifth-rounder Lavar Edwards. Ayers will be a much more regular presence as a pass-rusher, and both Morgan and Wimbley will play much less than 80 percent of the snaps, which wore them down a year ago. Does all that and a more aggressive scheme influenced by Gregg Williams turn the Titans into a more threatening pass-rushing team? I can’t say yes yet.

2. Two important coaches. Dowell Loggains took over as offensive coordinator with five games left last season, but it’s not like he could revamp everything Chris Palmer was doing. Given an offseason, he has. These Titans will be less reactive and try to dictate more, and the options routes that complicated things and counted on receivers and the quarterback to read things the same way are gone. Things are tailored to Locker now, and Loggains has more talent at his disposal than Palmer did in 2011 or 2012.

On defense, Williams returns from his year in Bountygate exile with a simple promise he expected would help him win players over: That he can make them better. He’s not the same guy he was back when he was the Titans' defensive coordinator from 1997-2000, but the season suspension certainly made him reflect and he comes back a different guy from the one who was coordinator for the Saints. I suspect he will positively impact key guys on this defense like Ayers, cornerback Tommie Campbell, safety Michael Griffin and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey.

3. The offensive line. Last season was a disaster, as the Titans had to call on more depth than any team can have. But the franchise counted on coach Mike Munchak and another offensive line Hall of Famer, line coach Bruce Matthews, to develop guys. A couple they counted on who never reached the expected level are gone now, and the Titans have much better players in place of Leroy Harris and Eugene Amano.

With a line of Michael Roos, Andy Levitre, Fernando Velasco/Robert Turner/Brian Schwenke, Chance Warmack and David Stewart, Tennessee feels like it has re-identified its identity.

“If we’re going to win, it’s going to be because our offensive line is a lot better than it was last year, and we’re physical, and we’re relentless, and we’re going to move people around on both sides of the ball,” Munchak said at the start of camp.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

They identified last season’s issues and have addressed them all in some fashion. That’s with coaching staff alterations, changes in thinking and scheme, major player additions in free agency and a draft that looks solid. This isn’t a team that sat back and assumed that given another year of seasoning, its 6-10 record could turn into 10-6. It took action. Now we have to find out if the moves and changes total up and produce a big difference in overall outcome.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker and Chandler Jones
AP Photo/Joe HowelThe Titans need QB Jake Locker to make big strides quickly if they are to survive a tough early schedule.
REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The unproven quarterback and the schedule. The Titans open at Pittsburgh and at Houston, and also play San Diego, a team Tennessee always struggles with, at Seattle and San Francisco before the Oct. 27 bye. It’s impossible to predict how the competition will be. But through the first seven games, 4-3 might qualify as pretty good but might still leave them having to chase to get into playoff contention.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Campbell has looked really good, and his physical makeup is tremendous, but is he ready to handle the mental end of the job? The team wants to play more press, physical coverage, and he’s suited to do so. They hyped him a year ago in camp then didn’t trust him enough to play him. We heard even better things about him this offseason, but recently they’ve put out the word not to count out Alterraun Verner and Campbell was tentative in the preseason opener. If they can’t get Campbell onto the field given his physical characteristics, I’ll question the effectiveness of the coaches who have raved so regularly.
  • Linebacker Colin McCarthy finally climbed back into the starting unit recently, then was sidelined the very next day with a hamstring injury. He’s a good player, but he’s always dealing with something. They are prepared to go with Moise Fokou, and I expect it’ll be very much a two-down job. The Titans are relying on all defenders getting a signal from the sideline, so the coach-to-player communication device won’t be a factor that helps keep a middle linebacker on the field.
  • Undrafted kicker Maikon Bonani has a giant leg, but he has to improve his control. Rob Bironas is recovering from back issues.
  • Weakside linebacker Zach Brown came into the league facing a charge by a prominent draft analyst that he was allergic to contact. He’s been anything but, and his growth as a rookie was a bright spot. He and rookie Zaviar Gooden are blazers at linebacker who can help the Titans deal with some of the tough coverage mismatches created against other offenses.
  • I expect offenses to target strong safety Bernard Pollard in the passing game. He’s an in-the-box safety, though he bristles at conversation about his coverage skills. The Titans plan to use George Wilson also, and he’s a more sound coverage safety. Pollard has brought needed swagger. But I wonder if Wilson won’t ultimately wind up with more snaps.
  • Two eye-catching undrafted rookies at camp have been tight end Jack Doyle and defensive tackle Stefan Charles.
As we’ve gotten to know Chris Johnson over five years with the Tennessee Titans, we’ve learned one thing above all: He absolutely loves being fast.

Also, he also doesn’t think Adrian Peterson is better than he is.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsRunning back Chris Johnson says the Titans' backfield looks good on paper, but it has to go out and prove its worth on gamedays.
His rationale, per Pete Prisco of CBS Sports:

"I did it first," Johnson said of running for 2,000 yards. "Not one time did I sit back and say he did something that I can't do. I did it first. He's a great back. But I can't sit here and say out of my own mouth that Adrian Peterson is better than me. All the things he's done, I've done the same things. I did them first."

CJ thinks 22 carries a game will be enough to get to 2,000 yards. That would require an average of nearly 5.8 yards, which sounds impossible. And I’m not sure he’ll get 352 carries.

I did the math on what Shonn Greene and Jake Locker can mean to Johnson’s workload back in March.

I think he’ll get more like 254 carries and would need a 7.8-yard average.

That’s simply not happening.

Johnson tweeted “THANK GOD” when the Titans used the 10th pick in the draft on guard Chance Warmack. They also added guard Andy Levitre as their most expensive free agent in a spring of shopping, which makes their depth substantially better.

Excuses about blocking should disappear, as the system will be friendlier to Johnson under Dowell Loggains than it was under Chris Palmer.

But a lot more is on Johnson now. And he’s not saying everything is cured.

“Yeah, we look good on paper, but we’ve got to go out here every day and work hard and try to jell together and see how it is once we put it out there on the field,” he said. "Once we do that and if everybody can jell together, we should be OK."

I asked him how much is on him now that the line issue has been addressed?

“Just because we got all those good guys there’s not always going to be just great big holes,” he said. “I’ve still got to do my job. Hopefully it will eliminate some of the getting hit in the backfield as soon as I get the ball and those type of things and just get me a fair chance.”

No, even a great line isn’t plowing big holes on every snap. But barring something unforeseen, if the Titans don’t run well this year it’ll be much more about Johnson and the backs than about the line.
New Titans receiver Kevin Walter had some conversations with Tennessee media Monday, and one of them was on my radio show.

I was really surprised when he said this: “I know they’re installing the same offense that I’ve been in the past seven years. It’s a fun offense to be in. It’s going to be a good transition, a smooth transition.”

[+] EnlargeKevin Walter
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesKevin Walter caught 41 passes for 518 yards for the Texans during the 2012 regular season.
Upon further examination, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear him say that.

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is a disciple of the late Mike Heimerdinger, and Heimerdinger was a disciple of Mike Shanahan, just like Gary Kubiak is.

In language and philosophy there will be a lot of similarities.

It will usually be a run-first scheme with a lot of play-action. We will see Jake Locker rolling out and running the sort of bootlegs Matt Schaub executes in Houston.

But I think it’ll look more like Houston’s offense from Walter’s vantage point than it will from ours. I don’t expect we’re going to do a double take and look to the sideline to see if Kubiak is calling the plays.

The Titans will utilize plenty of zone blocking, but I don’t think they will be close to exclusively zone the way the Texans are. If they add Chance Warmack in the draft, they’ll be adding a major power element.

Walter’s new team lacks the clear-cut No. 1 receiver who keys much of what the Texans do in Houston thanks to Andre Johnson.

And the Titans' use of an H-back will be completely different than what Houston does.

Mike Munchak hired the tight ends coach, George Henshaw, who was with the franchise when Frank Wycheck (now a radio colleague of mine) was putting up big numbers as an H-back. Tennessee signed Delanie Walker to operate in much the same fashion, and that’s different than what Houston does.

When Heimerdinger landed in Nashville in 2000, he absorbed some of the offensive principles left behind by Les Steckel, particularly the use of the H-back since it rated as a strength of the offense that was in place.

While Chris Palmer’s term as offensive coordinator rated a failure, Loggains worked closely with him and will likely carry some Palmer stuff that he liked best.

So in terms of offensive foundation, there will be a lot of similarities and Walter will feel right at home. The final product, however, will hardly be a carbon copy.

How gap between Titans, Ravens grew

January, 28, 2013
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The Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens used to be bitter rivals, closely matched.

Then Tennessee collapsed in a playoff game after the 2000 season at what now is LP Field, losing 24-10 despite dominating the game in a lot of ways.

Since that fork in the road, the teams have gone in very different directions.

Writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean: “The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, and they will play for a second championship on Sunday in New Orleans against the San Francisco 49ers. The Titans, meanwhile, haven’t won a playoff game in nine years and are coming off a 6-10 season.”

But that’s not the line of demarcation I’ll use.

The 2008 Titans were the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. The sixth-seeded Ravens won in Miami to earn another playoff trip to Nashville. And Tennessee lost that divisional round game in a similar fashion to the game in 2000, even though the score was a lot closer, 13-10.

Since then:
  • The Titans are 29-35 (.453) with no playoff appearances.
  • The Ravens are 43-21 (.672) with a 6-3 playoff record.

That playoff meeting in Nashville was Joe Flacco’s second playoff game, and while he’s had his ups and downs, he’s now a Super Bowl quarterback.

Since then, the Titans have started Kerry Collins, Vince Young, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker and, in an emergency situations, Rusty Smith.

Instability at quarterback is only part of the reasons the teams have been so different.

John Harbaugh has developed into a steady coach while Jeff Fisher’s tenure fizzled out and Mike Munchak hasn’t established any solid footing after two seasons.

Led by one of the NFL’s top general managers, Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens have continued good roster building.

The Titans actually have more starters and contributors out of their last four drafts, but it’s partly because of previous failures -- think Young, Adam "Pacman" Jones, Chris Henry, Paul Williams -- that so much opportunity is available.

Baltimore’s gotten far more production out of outside veterans it’s brought in: Center Matt Birk, receiver Anquan Boldin (via trade), fullback Vonta Leach, safety Bernard Pollard, resurgent left tackle Bryant McKinnie, receiver/returner Jacoby Jones.

Compare that to Tennessee’s veteran additions: Receiver Nate Washington, linebacker Will Witherspoon, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, safety Jordan Babineaux, guard Steve Hutchinson, end Kamerion Wimbley, returner Darius Reynaud.

The Titans fired their offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season, and didn’t see much change with Dowell Loggains promoted to replace Chris Palmer.

The Ravens fired their offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season, and got a major boost from Jim Caldwell taking over for Cam Cameron.

It’s a copycat league, and the Ravens were already a model franchise in many ways.

The Titans are one of a long list of teams that need to look at how the Ravens work and borrow some ideas.

Quarterback is the key, but the gap between these two teams was a playoff field goal just four years ago. It’s a deep moat now.
Mike Munchak’s first interview for a prospective addition to his staff was former NFL offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Shoop.

The news came to us via Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.

Indications are that Shoop interviewed for a quarterbacks-coach position, which tells us about the direction Munchak is intending to go as he reshapes his offensive staff.

By interviewing a prospective quarterbacks coach, Munchak appears to be signaling he intends to keep Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator. Loggains was elevated from quarterbacks coach to coordinator with five games left in the season when Munchak dismissed Chris Palmer.

Shoop was out of coaching last year. He worked as offensive coordinator for Butch Davis at the University of North Carolina before that, as well as with four different franchises in the NFL -- Oakland, Tampa Bay, Chicago and Carolina.

Shoop appears to have been writing a blog, The Shoop Scoop, for WCHL-FM at Chapelboro.com, which covers UNC.

Earlier Thusday, it came to light that Munchak will also be looking for a running-backs coach. Jim Skipper was told he would not have his contract renewed.

In comments to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, Skipper suggested that the biggest help Chris Johnson needs going forward will be in the blocking department.

“Chris is the type of back that’s going to need help, you know?” Skipper said. “He’s not the kind of guy who is going to make his own holes. But I think he is in the right direction. He’s just had a run of bad luck. If they can get some stability on the offensive line, he’ll be fine.”

On Adams, Reinfeldt and Manning

January, 1, 2013
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Bud Adams' circular logic and irrationality apparently cost Mike Reinfeldt his job.

Adams fired Reinfeldt, executive vice president and COO of the Titans, with two years left on his deal.

[+] EnlargeBud Adams
Wade Payne/AP PhotoTennessee Titans owner Bud Adams deserves some of the blame for his team's performance.
Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean spoke with Adams to learn of the move. Wyatt thinks the team’s failed pursuit of Peyton Manning was a primary reason Reinfelt was dismissed. Adams felt Reinfeldt dragged his feet in getting the Titans chase of the star quarterback underway.

Perhaps that was the case. I certainly believe the Titans front office and coaching staff were reluctant to follow their boss’ directive.

On Sunday and Monday, coach Mike Munchak even took a shot at Adams' infatuation with Manning, saying the team didn’t do well in free agency last year because much of the class disappeared while the plan was set aside for focus on Manning.

Two things about the Titans worked against Tennessee as a suitor for Manning. One, Reinfeldt and general manager Ruston Webster are not John Elway. The Titans front office doesn't include a Hall of Fame quarterback who won two Super Bowls and knows how to get the most out of his final years. It’s hard to blame Reinfeldt for that.

Two, while Manning liked Munchak a bunch, I’ve heard he was not wild about his offensive coordinator, Chris Palmer.

Palmer worked as quarterback coach for the New York Giants for a time, so Peyton Manning certainly got some insight from his brother, Eli Manning. Manning surely had a chance to hear a sales pitch from Palmer about how the Titans would craft an offense for him. Perhaps he didn't like it or perhaps the two didn't hit it off. Perhaps Palmer just didn't do as well as Denver coordinator Mike McCoy.

Whatever the case, the primary reason Palmer was in place for Manning not to love was… wait for it … Adams.

Adams failed to resolve his head coaching situation in a timely manner after the 2010 season. In deciding to stick with Jeff Fisher before later coming to a mutual decision that the team and Fisher needed to part ways, he cost his next coach the time to assemble the best possible staff.

Munchak wasn’t able to compete for the best coordinators who were available, because they’d already found landing spots. And so he went back to an old friend. Palmer had coached for the Oilers in Houston. Later, when he was coach of the Browns, Palmer tried to lure Munchak to Cleveland to coach his offensive line. Palmer parted ways with the Giants when they wouldn’t give him an out in his contract allowing him to leave for a coordinator post. Palmer was working in the UFL when Munchak came calling.

So, one of the reasons the Titans didn’t get Manning was Palmer. And one of the reasons the Titans had Palmer -- fired with five games left this season -- was Adams.

Adams parted ways with Reinfeldt on Monday.

If a strikeout on Manning was the primary reason, once again Adams has failed to put the appropriate share of the blame on the right person: himself.
NASHVILLE -- Mike Munchak was assured by his boss that he’s staying in place for the 2013 season.

He’s not yet assured members of his staff whether they will be.

He said in five games offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains did well to remove some of the gray from a scheme Chris Palmer was running that may have kept Jake Locker and the offense “from playing fast.”

And asked about the future of defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, whose unit gave up a franchise record in points, Munchak quickly pointed out that the team ranked eighth in points allowed in 2011.

[+] EnlargeMike Munchak
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports Mike Munchak will be back on the sideline for the Titans in 2013, but that may not be the case for all of his staff.
“A year ago he was eighth best, so I should have given him a bonus last year and fire him this year because he gave up the most?” Munchak said when I pressed him on Gray’s future. “We’re going to look at fixing what’s going on.”

“Were all those points the defense’s fault?” he asked.

“Most,” I said.

“Were they? You have a percentage for me? How many pick-sixes there were or how many the offense may have been responsible for? That’s what I’m asking. It’s not an excuse. Yeah, we can’t give up a lot of points. You’re not going to win a lot of games if you give up a lot of points. I’m not arguing the point.

“You don’t fire somebody just because their defense gave up a lot of points. You’ve got to look to see what’s wrong. And if it’s the coach, you’re going to make a change. If you feel that most of the problem is coming from the coach and you have a better answer because there is another coach here you feel is going to be better for your team, you’re going to make a change, than that’s what we’ll do if that’s what we feel is right. But we’re not just going to do it because we gave up 'X' amount of points.”

That doesn’t need to be the sole reason. (And let the record show the offense and special teams were responsible for eight touchdowns, 56 of the 471 points the Titans surrendered.)

But as Munchak said, the start of his tenure in this job was kind of backward. He hired Palmer when Rusty Smith was the only quarterback the Titans knew they were going to have on the roster and Palmer ultimately didn’t do well to craft an offense that best suited Locker.

Gray’s unit is lacking talent and leadership. It did improve late in the season. But it was shredded by good offenses all season long. Take away games where the offense or special teams gave up points and there were still efforts that yielded 38, 41, 30, 34 and 55 points.

Munchak hasn’t made up his mind yet. Did the defense of Gray suggest he's leaning toward keeping him? I don't know.

With the amount of coaching turnover around the league already, Munchak can reshape his staff and upgrade it significantly.

But Titans fans who think he’s going to add Norv Turner and Lovie Smith as new coordinators are surely going to be disappointed.

One other point of interest out of Munchak’s Monday press conference: On the very day he got a vote of confidence from Bud Adams, he also took a veiled shot at Adams for the second time in two days.

He said the Titans haven’t had a normal free agency in either of his two seasons. The first year the timing was altered by the lockout and last year “with the Manning thing limiting us.”

The Manning thing was an Adams-directed, failed pursuit of Peyton Manning, during which other potential targets signed elsewhere.

Tennessee didn’t bring in much beyond guard Steve Hutchinson and defensive end Kamerion Wimbley in 2012. But Munchak fully endorsed the addition of Hutchinson, and he didn’t have the big effect on the interior offensive line that was expected before he missed the final four games with a knee injury.
A guy who was unable to give Mike Munchak the commitment it would have taken to become his offensive coordinator in 2011 is now an untitled piece of Munchak's staff.

Tom Moore, who ran Peyton Manning's offense in Indianapolis for the bulk of Manning’s term with the Colts, was at the Titans practice today.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean tweeted that Munchak brought in Moore in a spur of the moment decision, classified him as a “helping hand” for the rest of the season and said that new coordinator Dowell Loggains is excited to have him as a resource.

I think it’s a good move.

The Titans' offense was having issues under Chris Palmer, who was fired Monday night and replaced by Loggains. He’s 32 and it’s his first time calling plays. Bringing in Moore, who turned 74 on Nov. 7, seems like a smart idea.

Before he hired Palmer when putting together his initial staff when he replaced Jeff Fisher after the 2010 season, Munchak tried to talk to Bill Callahan and Mike Tice. The teams they were with didn’t grant permission for interviews.

Munchak spoke with Moore, who had just parted way with the Colts and would have qualified as a big get in the AFC South. But ultimately Moore told the Titans' new coach he didn’t feel he could make the necessary commitment to coordinate.

Moore consulted with the Jets late last season.

He'll do more than consult now. Exactly what, everyone is probably going to need some time to figure out.

Palmer: Titans have plenty of issues

November, 27, 2012
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Former Tennessee offensive coordinator Chris Palmer suggested he needed the one thing that's hardest to get in the NFL to make things work: Time.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean spoke this morning to Palmer, who was fired by Mike Munchak last night.

Said Palmer, citing a rookie quarterback and Kenny Britt’s injuries: “I just think there’s more issues than people want to admit to.”

He’s right -- there are a lot of issues. Jake Locker needs time and seasoning. Britt needs to be healthy.

But there is a gap between sufficient offensive progress and a high-quality offense, and Munchak didn’t see the gap closing fast enough.

There is blame to spread around, and Palmer indicated a share of it has to fall on those players who still have to work their way through things like inexperience.
“I feel we put the players in a position to make plays, and at that point it falls on the players. We had a chance to drive and win on Sunday, and then we throw an interception. Well, that is part of a young quarterback. You learn from that experience and hopefully next time he’ll take us down and put us in field goal position. And you have to live through that.

“...Mike (Munchak) had to do what he thought was best for the team. I have no regrets. We were 9-7 last year and all those kids had the most catches of their careers. Kendall (Wright) has a bunch of catches this year as a rookie, and Chris (Johnson) is back on track. It is just hard when (against the Jaguars) 8 of the 12 possessions start inside the 20 and you have a rookie quarterback and you think you are going to go down and score a bunch of points.”

Drives start where they start. Plenty of teams have driven the ball against the Jaguars, who were 1-9 when the Titans got to Jacksonville. Andrew Luck and Christian Ponder have led their teams to wins over Jacksonville.

In Palmer's first year when the Titans went 9-7, the team was coming off a lockout, which meant there was no offseason installation. Tennessee ran an offense that was similar to the one from the year before the new staff took over.

This year, Palmer installed his offense. Last year's offense was better than this year's version, which is one of the big indictments that cost Palmer his job.

How Loggains' offense will be different

November, 26, 2012
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It’s too late to make a big difference this season.

If Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak wasn’t happy with the progress of the offense under Chris Palmer now, then he should have been unhappy with the progress of the offense earlier.

The team announced Monday night that Palmer is out, replaced by quarterback coach Dowell Loggains.

But if Munchak “didn’t feel like we were progressing the way that I had hoped” after Week 12, what was different after Week 5 or Week 9?

[+] EnlargeDowell Loggains
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireQuarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains will now head up the Tennessee offense.
After Sunday’s loss in Jacksonville in which the Titans scored 19 points, the team ranked 24th in total offense.

After Oct. 7th’s loss at Minnesota in which the Titans scored 7 points, the team ranked 26th in total offense.

After Nov. 4th’s loss to Chicago in which the Titans scored 20 points, the team ranked 24th in total offense.

What would have been the big difference about making a change then? Here's what: The Titans would have still had a realistic chance of a successful change in direction giving them a shot at getting into the playoff picture.

Now, Munchak says, “I believe we needed a change in direction and I hope to see that progress in our remaining games.”

Even if that progress improbably produces a season-ending five-game winning streak, a 9-7 season is unlikely to earn a wild card berth.

After that loss to Chicago, that’s what Bud Adams called for, progress in the team's remaining games. He told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean that everybody’s work for the remainder of the year would be under close scrutiny as the owner determined their futures.

If the Titans get improvement now on offense, Munchak will likely get increased job security in the form of an extension. He and his staff are under contract only through 2013. Coaches rarely work as lame ducks, and if he's got to bring in some new assistants -- including, perhaps, a new defensive coordinator -- he's got to be able to offer them a three-year deal to make an attractive offer.

I didn’t expect Munchak to make an in-season change because I know he’s a loyal guy who respects Palmer a great deal.

But there are players on this offense, tight end Jared Cook chief among them but hardly alone, who hardly shared that respect.

So the move is proactive by Munchak, but not as proactive as it could have been.

Look for Loggains to return to some of the base principles of the offense run by the late Mike Heimerdinger, under whom Loggains worked when Jeff Fisher was the Titans coach. Loggains is in his seventh season with the Titans. He's seen what didn't work for Norm Chow and Palmer and what did work for Dinger. He's a smart young coach who broke into the league under Bill Parcells in Dallas.

Loggains can’t make drastic changes immediately. But he will work to eliminate the sort of confusion we’ve seen weekly where the quarterback and a receiver got crossed up and were not on the same page.

Palmer’s options routes were a breeding ground for that and included no flexibility. Line up in Play Call X, see a corner playing inside leverage, and run precisely this. Do otherwise, and hear about it. There wasn't flexibility or room for negotiation based on how you were being played.

Loggains will likely give route runners more freedom to play off of the coverage they see and take advantage of the space they find to work in. The quarterback will be allowed to see something develop and react to it.

Some underneath options may disappear -- a tight end who was previously heading to the flat, for instance, may just stay into block to allow the other tight end who is crossing deeper a chance to make a play.

The change should mean more creative downfield possibilities.

How much can change in the first week of Loggains as coordinator? He’ll draw up a game plan Tuesday with the rest of the staff implementing the first level of changes. Houston’s pass coverage has had issues the last couple weeks. Well-executed plays should have the potential to work.

Over the final five games, Loggains will be writing a bit of an application for a permanent promotion. I suspect he'll get it.

What qualifies as progress? For starters, a lot less talk of a quarterback and his target not being on the same page.

Bye week report: Titans’ questions

November, 16, 2012
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Lingering questions about the 3-6 Titans as they hit their Week 11 bye:

How much progress can Jake Locker make?

The second year quarterback lost a lot of time because of his shoulder injury, but returned last week and played pretty well in the Titans’ big win in Miami. He’s the big story the rest of the way if Tennessee is to make an improbable charge and challenge for a playoff spot. But even if the Titans don’t, he needs to show the Titans' offense can be the explosive unit the team expected. He’s got quality weapons, though they are not all reliable. What sort of connection can he develop with Jared Cook and Kenny Britt? Can he show improved accuracy? Does he show that he can consistently find ways to win even if his stat line isn’t all bright and shiny?

Will the coordinators regain their footing?

When owner Bud Adams said the final seven games would be about evaluating everyone, it was easy to see the biggest targets are the team’s coordinators. Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer has good talent to work with. He needs to get some consistent production out of Locker and the team’s weapons. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray has less talent to work with, but uses a scheme that doesn’t typically seem to maximize the chances at production and success. Mike Munchak and his assistants are only under contract through 2013, so any staff changes will be complicated as he’d need to be able to offer job security in order to upgrade.

Does Chris Johnson continue to play well?

It took too long, but the Titans have adjusted and found ways to create space for Johnson, and the running back has been far more assertive and effective of late. He’s got $9 million of his 2013 $10 million salary set to become guaranteed in March. Continued good play can put the Titans in position to give him that, though once again we can see money as a major motivator for him, which is a concern. The way he’s running now affects the way defenses deploy their people against the Titans, and should create opportunity for Locker to find receivers winning one-on-one matchups down the field.
The widespread presumption regarding the Titans coaches after Bud Adams blasted their work is that change will come.

It’s possible the owner could force coach Mike Munchak to make a move with a coordinator after Sunday’s game in Miami against the Dolphins, though I would be surprised.

Munchak
After the season, it’s possible the team could part with one or both coordinators -- Jerry Gray on defense and Chris Palmer on offense.

Defenders have not gotten better under Gray. Several offensive players don’t appear to have good relationships with Palmer or believe enough in what he’s doing.

Unless the rest of the season is a real dumpster fire, it would be really tough for Adams to fire Munchak after just two seasons. Munchak's a longtime player and coach for Adams' franchise, and one bad season in the top coaching job shouldn't wash away affection built up over nearly three decades.

Munchak is a loyal guy, who was a longtime assistant to a loyal guy. Munchak’s also a smart guy, and maybe he will realize himself or agree he needs an upgrade or two.

I wonder how much resistance Munchak will offer if Adams demands change.

It’s not as if he chose Gray and Palmer in ideal circumstances.

But he probably wouldn’t be choosing their replacements in ideal circumstances.

When he took over for Jeff Fisher in 2011, Munchak signed a three-year contract.

NFL coaches rarely go into a season as a lame duck. I don’t buy that it’s a terrible thing. I think it’s OK to ask a coach to prove himself in order to secure a new contract. The issue is his assistants.

Munchak isn’t going to draw better coordinators if he’s only got one-year deals to offer them. The team isn’t going to give assistants longer deals than the head coach has.

And so what do you do?

You extend the head coach, even if you’re not sure he’s your long-term answer. You hope you can do so saying he had a good final seven games in 2012 after the owner demanded improvements.

But even a good finish won’t mean it wasn’t a bad season.

Out of a bad season that may get his coordinators fired, Munchak may wind up with increased job security.

Report: Cook wants Titans' trade

October, 29, 2012
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Jared Cook apparently wants out.

The NFL’s trade deadline is tomorrow and the Titans tight end has asked to be traded, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

[+] EnlargeJared Cook
Don McPeak/US PresswireTitans tight end Jared Cook wants out of Tennessee according to a report.
Wyatt points out that Cook’s played less than 50 percent of the team’s snaps in the last four games, a puzzling number considering how damaging he is when he gets the ball in his hands. He’s tied for second on the team with 28 catches, but his 13.3-yard average is a great number from a tight end.

His contract is up after this season, and in the NFL trades for guys with expiring contracts are rare.

Tennessee GM Ruston Webster is a regular on my Nashville radio show. Friday we asked him about talks for a Cook extension. He said he would rather not discuss it, but did characterize things as “positive.” A few weeks earlier Cook talked to us about his frustrations. He recently reflected on his numbers, here.

Had the Titans won Sunday and gotten to 4-4, perhaps things would be different today. At 3-5 there is far less hope of getting into the playoff mix. I don't get the sense that Cook and coordinator Chris Palmer, whose offense includes a good share of options routes and lets defenses dictate where players go rather than forcing the issue.

Cook’s not always been a reliable route runner. And the Titans’ run struggles have translated into blocking tight end Craig Stevens being on the field more.

Play them both and you’re a two-tight end team, and if you’re a two tight end team you put a dent into the three-wide receiver plans and personnel you have with Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Kendall Wright.

So sure, it can be complicated. But the Titans haven’t sorted it out well.

And it’s produced at least a somewhat disgruntled player.

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