NFL Nation: Frank Wycheck
While Johnson is only averaging 3.3 yards a carry, the Tennessee Titans are still seeing eight-man fronts. Eight in the box dictates the shape of the secondary, and the shape of the secondary dictates where the Titans are throwing.
Sixty-one percent of the Titans' attempts, including Ryan Fitzpatrick's relief duty against the Jets, have been outside the numbers. Fifty-seven percent of the Titans' completions have been to the outside.
“The ball is going outside the numbers because we're seeing so much single-high (safety) defense,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “That's where the ball goes in single-high defense. When people play Cover 2, that's when you throw the ball to the middle of the field. And with Chris Johnson and our run game we're going to see a lot of single-high defense.
“I don't know if we've seen one snap of Tampa 2 in four games. …They're loading up the box and that means you have to throw the ball outside the numbers more than usual.
Here's a look at Jake Locker's work outside and inside the numbers this year.
Locker's out hurt now, and Fitzpatrick is taking over.
His biggest play in relief against the Jets was a deep ball to Nate Washington down the middle that turned into a 77-yard touchdown. But he doesn't sound like he will be an inside-out quarterback compared to Locker.
“I will probably fall into whatever Jake has done,” Fitzpatrick said.
The former Titans tight end Frank Wycheck, who's now the team's radio analyst and a sports talk radio host, said he thinks Loggains answer accounts for the lack of deep balls down the middle.
But Wycheck said against single high coverage there is room to find guys like Wright and Walker in intermediate range in the middle of the field.
“It seems to me that the majority of the passes are from the numbers out,” Wycheck said. “That's lower percentage for completions. They've been doing a good job with it. But the middle of the field has to be accounted for.
“I think Dowell has to go more to the middle of the field, it give more players an opportunity to make plays, with crossing routes and a lot of man-beaters, run-away routes. I think they should go to the middle of the field more, a lot more.”
Fewer throws to the middle of the field have probably helped the Titans avoid an interception -- tipped balls that get picked are more common inside. It's also brought down the completions percentage. Tennessee is completing 67.4 percent on balls inside and 56.9 percent to the outside.
I'm not opposed to the Titans being receiver-centric and perimeter-heavy. Hey, it's worked well for them and Washington (19 catches) should be heavily targeted. Wright leads the Titans with 20 receptions, but it feels like he could have more chances at yards after the catch if there were more slants in the mix for him.
An occasional throw to Stevens could help mix things up and I'm hardly heartbroken that Thompson has not gotten chances. But Walker was signed to be much more of a pass-catcher than he has been -- he's averaging three catches a game.
Where Fitzpatrick is throwing will be one of the biggest things I'll be looking for starting Sunday.
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.”
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.
Finances: There are contracts here that need to be dealt with, but the team has about $18 million in cap room at the start and there's no need to make any moves right away. Guard Steve Hutchinson ($5.25 million base in 2013) and center Eugene Amano ($3.935 million) can't be on the roster at those salaries, and won’t be. Safety Jordan Babineaux ($1.6 million) could be in a similar situation. But the Titans have said they won’t make cap moves until replacement players arrive, and that’s sound thinking.
Continuity: Keeping kicker Rob Bironas would be nice, but you can only spend so much on a kicker considering how we’ve seen some kids come out of nowhere and do big things. Tight end Jared Cook was enough of a problem that the Titans didn’t tag him, so they must move on from the headache. Center Fernando Velasco should be fine if he’s between better guards; the Titans should tender the restricted free agent so that he’s sure to remain. It’d be nice to keep Darius Reynaud, but if Marc Mariani returns healthy, Tennessee doesn’t need both returners.
Turnover: Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks is probably not worth what he might draw on the market, so be ready to move on there. Will Witherspoon wasn’t a good enough backup for injury-prone Colin McCarthy at middle linebacker, and an upgrade is needed.
Additions: It’s time to be aggressive. Chase Buffalo’s durable guard, Andy Levitre, and lure him by telling him how much better he can get with the polish two Hall of Fame coaches can apply. The other big fish needs to be Michael Bennett, the Tampa Bay defensive end. He’s a big, ascending player who can play every down and would give the pass rush the boost it needs. Dustin Keller was hurt last year, but he played in every game in his first five seasons. He can be the reliable tight end working underneath for Jake Locker that Frank Wycheck was for Steve McNair. To replace Marks, roll the dice on Kansas City defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who should be affordable and might fare well in a second act with lower expectations.
Draft: If Alabama guard Chance Warmack is on the board at No. 10, he would complete the interior line rebuild. I want a corner who can provide another option outside, a safety to groom behind George Wilson and one of the big running backs in the middle rounds who can complement Chris Johnson.
- Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean indicated the team didn’t like the idea of fighting through an arbitrator with regard to whether Cook was a tight end, as they would have tagged him ($6.066 million) as opposed to the wide receiver tag he would have sought ($10.537 million). But had the team lost that arbitration, it would seem they simply could have pulled the tag if it got changed on them. Not intending to use it on anyone else, what would they have lost? What would have happened if, while a grievance was in process, Cook signed the tight end tag but then an arbitrator changed it to the receiver tag? There was room for a great deal of complication in a month during which the Titans have a lot of other issues to sort through. They decided they were unwilling to deal with those headaches in exchange for attempting to hold on to Cook.[+] EnlargeDon McPeak/US PresswireThe franchise tag deadline expired Monday, and the Titans did not tag tight end Jared Cook.
- Contract talks apparently broke down along the lines one would expect -- the Titans were looking at production and Cook was looking at potential. The question will now be what other team will pay him more for the potential than the production?
- New tight ends coach George Henshaw was brought in to help get the Titans back to the short passing game that was a staple of the Steve McNair-Frank Wycheck era, when Henshaw previously coached the position. The Titans will have to get him a veteran to work with now. Options include Martellus Bennett of the Giants, Dustin Keller of the Jets, Brandon Myers of the Raiders and James Casey of the Texans, who’s been used as a fullback but has tight end pass-catching skills.
- The Titans loved Taylor Thompson when they drafted him out of SMU in the fifth-round last year. He was a defensive end in college with a tight end background and looked raw as a first-year player. Tennessee can’t be envisioning him as its primary pass-catching tight end, he’s still very much a developmental player. Craig Stevens can make some plays, but is more of a blocker.
- Since we learned that Mike Munchak would remain on as the head coach, there has been a distinct feel that he will sink or swim with his guys. I thought Cook ranked as enough of a playmaker to qualify as a guy he intended to swim with. But whether he was or wasn’t, a too-high price tag appeared to weigh things down and the Titans simply weren’t willing to go there.
- When the Titans drafted Cook in 2009, they did so with a third-round pick they acquired from New England in exchange for a 2010 second-rounder. The production out of that expenditure: 59 games, 131 catches, 1,717 yards, a 13.1-yard average and eight touchdowns. The side effects: A lot of questions about his ability to be reliable and a lot of questions about how they failed to get the most out of him.
- The Titans were already heading into free agency and the draft with multiple needs on the interior offensive line as well in search of a pass rusher and perhaps a safety even after signing veteran George Wilson. The big down side to this move is they've created another need.
A young quarterback breaks the huddle and steps to the line. There is much to assess staring at him from across the line of scrimmage.
What’s the coverage? Is it better to run or pass against it? Is that safety really coming at me or is he disguising before backing off to be part of a Cover 2? I need to send that receiver in motion. How would the cornerback across from him react to that? Who’s hot here if someone comes free at me?
On top of all of that, in some systems, the quarterback is also setting the protections.
Is asking him to manage the blocking scheme putting too much on his plate?
Some teams think so, leaving those decisions mostly to the center and giving the quarterback power to make a simple switch. Other teams want their quarterback to control everything, and ask him to assess what needs to happen up front, not just downfield.
“Personally, I think it ties the quarterback into everything,” said Colts offensive coordinator and interim coach Bruce Arians, who asks rookie Andrew Luck to call protections most of the time. “I don’t think the center can see what the quarterback can see. When the center depends on the [middle linebacker] because of safety locations, he gets fooled too many times.
“The quarterback can see everyone’s body language and everything else. That’s his job. He’s got to know who the 'Mike' is, where the safeties are for him to know his hots and sights. There are a lot of offenses that the center does it because the quarterback doesn’t throw hots or sights, they don’t have them in their offense. I’m not one of those people.”
In Jacksonville, meanwhile, the Jaguars rely heavily on 13-year veteran center Brad Meester.
“It starts with the center, but everybody’s had the ability to get us in the right protection to obviously make us more sound,” coach Mike Mularkey said. “I think it’s a very user-friendly offense. I think because of players having to come in and learn the system yearly, you’ve got to be careful just how much you put on their plate. But I think our guys can handle it pretty well."
In Tennessee, Jake Locker doesn’t have the responsibility Luck does in the Colts' offense.
The linemen sort out the protections, with the center serving as the key communication person. Veteran backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said there is typically one guy whose interpretation serves as the default if there is any confusion. Once left guard Steve Hutchinson became comfortable in his new team’s system and before a knee injury knocked him out, he was that guy for Tennessee.
With Tennessee’s offensive line now stocked with backups, the lone remaining original starter, left tackle Michael Roos, surely has a louder voice.
The Titans lost Eugene Amano in the preseason and plugged Fernando Velasco in at center. When Hutchinson went down, they settled on Velasco shifting to left guard and Kevin Matthews as center. In Week 15, Matthews was lost for the remainder of the season with an ankle sprain. Third-stringer Kyle DeVan played the bulk of that game as the pivot. He could be there again Sunday in Green Bay, or the Titans could put Velasco back in the middle and play recent waiver claim Mitch Petrus at guard.
Got all that?
Whoever is doing the decision-making up front and whoever is communicating it, Locker has veto power. If he sees something he believes isn’t right for what the Titans are intending to run, he is expected to alter it.
The case for a quarterback setting protections starts with the view. Linemen in three- or four-point stances don’t see things as clearly as the quarterback, who can stand upright and scan the field before getting under center.
“They might start somewhere, we see where they start and we might say, ‘No, no, no, let’s do this’ or ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah let’s do that,'” Hasselbeck said. “Or if a team blitzes, we have different words that mean ‘same protection other side’ or whatever it is.”
The Texans and the Jaguars work in a similar fashion, where the line and quarterback work in conjunction. Both teams have veteran centers who typically get things started, Chris Myers in Houston and Meester in Jacksonville.
A couple of weeks ago when the Titans prepared for the Texans, offensive line coach Bruce Matthews made the quarterbacks aware of three especially difficult looks. If the center saw one of those, he’d take the lead and tell Locker what to check into.
At other times, the quarterback’s ability to recognize things he wasn’t advised about is very important.
“One thing that is big with me and veteran players in general is, you develop problem-solving skills,” Hasselbeck said.
On the bus or plane after the game, he might talk with a lineman or a blocking tight end who says he knew a certain play wasn’t going to work.
“The coaches don’t care if you change the play if you’re getting them out of a bad play,” Hasselbeck said. “They care if you change the play and you are getting them out of a decent or good play.
Some quarterbacks don’t want to be real involved in sorting out protections.
Mike Munchak was the Titans' offensive line coach while Steve McNair quarterbacked the Titans. He said McNair didn’t want to be concerned with setting protections. His safety blanket receiver, tight end Frank Wycheck, recalled McNair asking weekly what his “emergencies” would be against an opponent and making sure he had a solution in mind or was ready to freelance when he saw those.
But Hasselbeck thinks most coaches want it on the quarterback, at least to some degree. He was responsible for calling protections in Mike Holmgren’s scheme in Seattle. He likes not having to do it all when he’s playing in Tennessee.
“It’s partly 'best seat in the house,' it’s partly you’re expected to be the guy who spends the most hours at the facility watching the most amount of film,” he said. “You’re the coach on the field. You’re the guy that talks in the huddle."
Still, there are situations where he’s been told in meetings that top offensive linemen would just “feel it” when it came to certain stuff from a defense, and that the line would “just pick that up,” Hasselbeck said.
“That’s not a world I’ve ever lived in,” he said. “I’ve lived in a world where you use your cadence to try to get a tip. You move the protections. You tell the running backs exactly where to block. And if you have to throw hot, you have to throw hot. And that’s a hard way to live on the road or against certain guys.”
Munchak said the center can be fooled more easily, so the quarterback needs to be involved, but he doesn’t want Locker making constant protection decisions at the line.
A quarterback like Peyton Manning, who controls everything, can handle it. Munchak played with Warren Moon, who did the same during some of the run-and-shoot era.
“But for the most part, I don’t think a lot of quarterbacks are comfortable doing that,” Munchak said. “I don’t think they want to do it. I think it’s too much for them. And then all of a sudden they’re not making the throws and doing the things you want them to do. I think there is a place for a percentage of doing it, but not all the time.”
Some athletic quarterbacks wind up in situations where they have no real idea of where a protection might break down, but can make guys miss when they come free. Hasselbeck’s seen this year’s top three rookie quarterbacks -- Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson -- as well as Ben Roethlisberger do it this season.
When Hasselbeck was a backup behind Brett Favre in Green Bay, he saw it to an extreme.
“He knew how to pick things up, and he was very, very good at it,” Hasselbeck said. “But sometimes he just wouldn’t care. He was like, ‘Ah, I can get it off.’ And he’d get it off and take a shot in the chin. There is a price to be paid sometimes when you do it.
“I would lean on coaching it up.”
The Titans clearly hope Locker comes to buy himself time in the fashion that Roethlisberger, Luck, RG III and Wilson can and do.
Myers is a key leader for the Texans, and he carries a lot of responsibility for calling protections. He likes working with a veteran quarterback, in Matt Schaub, who participates in the process, and he likes having other offensive linemen who are capable of making calls or adjustments, too.
While Myers welcomes the play here and there when he doesn’t have to figure out the equation and solve it before the snap, he’s always ready and willing to do so.
“We have the quarterback do it, have a tackle do it sometimes when we have to fan out in certain play-actions,” Myers said. “So the responsibility isn’t solely on one guy, and I think that’s a great thing. We have the ability and the leadership and the people who have played long enough, we’re able to put it on everyone’s shoulders as opposed to just one guy.”
Heimerdinger, who had two stints in the coordinator post for Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, died Friday night at the age of 58.
It’s a big blow to those who knew him. He was a gruff and demanding coach, but his public persona was painted too broadly based on those qualities. He was not all about screaming and hollering, though he tended to be loud as he tried to help players see the errors of their ways and come to understand the right way to do things.
Beyond that exterior coaching personality, he was funny and smart, loyal with high standards. He was a no-nonsense Chicago guy who I thought could one day wind up coaching the Bears and being reunited with Jay Cutler, a player who had some of his best days working with Heimerdinger in Denver.
Two successful NFL head coaches, Mike Shanahan and Fisher, counted Heimerdinger among their closest friends and valued his football opinion.
In Heimerdinger's first term as Fisher’s coordinator with the Titans, he helped round out the late Steve McNair’s game and was a big factor in McNair’s co-MVP award in 2003.
I got to know him as a Titans beat writer, and he was the kind of coach a reporter had to respect. If he saw something he thought was wrong, he’d search for you and spell out why.
He clicked through film of every drop-back McNair took in the game in question, his red laser pointer drawing my eye to the important spots. McNair made the right read and went to the right place with all but two throws that day. He showed me that in great detail, spelling out the reads. A lot of plays that didn’t come off correctly, he illustrated, were because of good defense, a bad block or route, or a bad play call by the coordinator. I left with a new understanding I could put to use as I covered that offense going forward.
It amounted to the best, most memorable postgame review of a player I’ve ever had with a coach.
Heimerdinger was in Mexico, where his search for aggressive treatments led him, when he died.
His wife, Kathie, released a statement that’s part of Jim Wyatt’s piece on his passing.
We have been overwhelmed and incredibly touched by all of the support that we have felt from family, friends, fellow coaches, players, fans and the league this past year. It is with a heavy heart, but a trust in God, that we say goodbye to our beloved Dinger who lost his courageous battle with cancer yesterday. Mike approached cancer with the same vigor and tenacity that he approached any football game — to win. Even in the final minutes he never gave up — that was our Dinger.
He was a deeply devoted husband and father, loving son and brother, loyal friend and committed coach who loved the game and life. The coming days will be challenging for our family and we graciously and respectfully ask that you allow us to grieve privately.
Here’s ESPN.com’s story and Liz Merrill’s piece on Heimerdinger during his fight.
Here are statements on Heimerdinger released this morning by the Titans:
General manager Mike Reinfeldt
We are saddened today to hear the tragic news of Mike passing. Mike was a good man that brought a great level of dedication and professionalism to his job. He was brave in his fight over the last year and showed such a commitment to the game. Nothing was going to stop him last season from being a part of the team and having his stamp on the games. Our thoughts go out to Kathie and his kids through this difficult time. Mike and his family will always be with us.
Head coach Mike Munchak
My prayers are with his family. Mike was a great football coach; and over the years, we had a great relationship. I learned a lot of football from Mike and I have a number of great memories and experiences that will always be with me. It is just hard to believe his is gone. It is a sad day for his family and for those who knew him.
Running back Chris Johnson
He was a great coach and a tough coach. I know I wouldn’t have become the player I am without his confidence and the trust that he showed in me. My thoughts go out to his family.
Tackle Michael Roos
You don’t expect these types of things to happen and they shouldn’t happen. I felt confident that he was going to beat this after seeing his resolve last season in dealing with it. He was such a competitor and a fighter – the things that made him such a good coach were also the traits that I thought would lead him to beat the cancer. My prayers are with his family.
Former Titans center and current NFLPA President Kevin Mawae
It is with great regret and sorrow that we learn of the passing of Coach Mike Heimerdinger. "Dinger", as many people knew him, was a great coach and a good man. For those who knew him and played for him, they knew Dinger was a man who loved his family, enjoyed his players, and loved the game of football. Dinger's fight with cancer was indicative of the type of person he was; determined and courageous. It was my privilege to play for Dinger while with the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans. I am better for having known and played for him. The NFL community has lost a great member of its fraternity this week. On behalf of the National Football League Players Association, the players offer their condolences to Kathie, Alicia, Brian and the rest of the Heimerdinger family.
Former Titans running back Eddie George
Any time you lose a friend, you feel it. My heart goes out to his family, it is a terrible loss. Mike was a highly competitive coach and person, who expected and demanded nothing but the best from you. He was a good guy to be around and he will surely be missed in this world.
Former tight end Frank Wycheck
I am really sad to hear the news today. Mike was a man of many qualities – he was humble, he was funny and he was demanding. I loved being with him on the golf course, he was a lot of fun to hang out with. From the coaching side, he brought a different element to our offense when he arrived. He took us to a different level in the passing game. He expected all of us to be accountable and he was a perfectionist when it came to executing his offense.
Over the last year, what he went through gave him great perspective of his life -- he was thankful and proud of what he accomplished.
Antonio Gates has received the Adrian Peterson treatment.
This guy didn’t do it this time.
Up from the NFC South rises Pat Yasinskas into the ESPN.com Power Rankings’ hot seat. Embrace the heat, my friend. In another air-tight positional Power Rankings battle, Dallas' Jason Witten edged out Gates by one vote to be crowned the almighty ruler of all NFL tight ends.
How in the name of Kellen Winslow did it happen, San Diego? Talk to Yasinskas.
Yasinskas ranked Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez No. 2. He had Witten No. 1 and Gates No. 3. Witten finished with 76 voting points. Gates had 75. No other voter placed Gonzalez higher than fifth. He finished sixth.
Send your cards and letters to Yasinskas, Dallas. If you must let him know your thoughts, stay classy, San Diego.
Yasinskas reasoned that he sandwiched Gonzalez between Witten and Gates because of Gonzalez’s incredible career. Gonzalez, 35, owns every major receiving record by a tight end.
“Yes, he's nearing the end of his career, but this is the best tight end in history,” Yasinskas said. “I think that counts for something. Gonzalez still is playing at a high level. He has great chemistry with quarterback Matt Ryan and the desire for a Super Bowl ring is keeping Gonzalez going strong.”
Here is the rest of the top 10 after Witten and Gates: Indianapolis’ Dallas Clark (53 points), San Francisco’s Vernon Davis (50), Washington’s Chris Cooley (36), Gonzalez (33), Tampa Bay’s Kellen Winslow Jr. (26), Jacksonville’s Marcedes Lewis (21), Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew (18) and Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley (15).
Witten and Gates clearly stand out as the game’s elite tight ends. Witten was ranked first on four ballots and second on the other four. Gates received the other four first-place votes. He received three second-place votes and Yasinskas’ third-place vote.
The only thing that separated Witten and Gates in 2010 was health. Witten, 28, had 94 catches for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Gates, 30, was on his way to a brilliant season when it was derailed by nagging ankle and foot injuries. Gates ended up on injured reserve and missed six games. He finished with 50 catches, 782 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said both Witten and Gates are game-changers.
“Witten to me is the class of the two-way tight ends,” Williamson said. “Receiving needs to trump blocking because that is what the league is right now. If someone put Witten first on the list, I can buy that. In terms of doing it all, I think he is the best. … I think he is the best of the two-way guys if you put an equal amount of faith in both receiving and blocking. He is the all-around tight end prototype. If you put more weight on receiving, which I would, you have to give the nod to Gates. He was awesome last year. He was hurt and that was the only negative other than blocking. He played hurt a lot and was great.”
Let’s dig deeper into the rankings:
Not easy pickings: Several of our voters were surprised by the difficulty of this process. This is our fourth position in the series. We previously looked at receivers, running backs and pass-rushers. The pass-rushers process was very difficult. This vote was not a cool breeze, either.
This is a very strong league for tight ends these days.
“After a hellish pass-rusher ballot, I thought tight ends would be far easier,” AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky said. “They were just as difficult. There is a great deal of young talent too. I steered clear of first-year guys, but in another season or two, this could be even more brutal to sort through.”
Blame injuries: In addition to the glut of talent, a primary reason this vote was so difficult was the fact that there were major injuries at this position in 2010. In addition to Gates, Clark, Finley and Houston’s Owen Daniels were injured. That changed the voting landscape.
“I thought it was tough because there are a lot of guys with mitigating circumstances,” NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert said.
Clark’s injury prompted Yasinskas to rank him 10th. No other voter placed him lower than fourth.
“There's no doubt this guy has had a great career,” Yasinskas said. “But I ranked him a little lower than most and that's almost entirely because he missed 10 games last season. Clark is 31 and I'm not sure he'll be the same player going forward.”
“Gonzalez is still an excellent player,” Kuharsky said. “But as I struggled to find room for the 10 I felt needed to make the cut, he fell off. In 2010 his numbers suggest he was more quantity than quality. I'm not looking for giant plays from my tight end, but Dallas Clark replacement Jacob Tamme matched Gonzo's 9.4-yards a catch, and while Gonzalez's first-down percentage was good (55.7), it was way lower than that of the three top rookies and smaller than that of guys like Heath Miller, Ben Watson and Todd Heap, who I hardly considered. One final note: As I've got access to Frank Wycheck during three shared radio appearances a week, I asked him for a ballot. I'm sure he admires Gonzalez's body of work. But right now Gonzalez wasn't in Wycheck's top 10 either.”
The Davis flip-flop: The 49ers’ immensely talented tight end received a wide range of support. Four voters had him third. Yet, I had him ranked ninth and Yasinskas had him eighth. I like Davis, but I’m not convinced we always see his best effort.
NFC West blogger Mike Sando was among those who voted Davis third. Sando argued that Davis has made an impact despite playing with subpar quarterbacks.
“It's easy to forget about Vernon Davis because he plays for a low-profile team that has struggled,” Sando said. “If you've seen the 49ers much, you know Davis makes the huge play better than any tight end in the league. He'll catch touchdown passes for 60 or 70 yards, outrunning even cornerbacks. He remains unrefined and can still improve his all-around game quite a bit, but his 20 touchdown receptions over the past two seasons rank first among tight ends.”
This position is in it for the long haul: I remember a conversation I had with Gates prior to the 2009 season. He was glowing over all the young talent at the position in the NFL. Gates rattled off several young tight ends he expected to have bright careers.
There’s no doubt, this is a special time for tight end play. As Gonzalez puts the cap on the most brilliant career by anyone at the position in the history of the game, the position is well stocked for the future.
Five players on the list -- Davis, Winslow, Lewis, Pettigrew and Finley -- are 27 or younger. The only players who are 30 or older on the list are Gonzalez, Clark and Gates.
Oakland’s Zach Miller and the Jets’ Dustin Keller, who finished 11th and 12th, respectively, are also young players. Miller is 25 and Keller is 26.
That was a giant picture of Young, next to the team’s Pro Shop on the East side of LP Field.
Quite frankly, with a pending coaching change and quarterback change, it’s the right time to bring down four primary banners at the stadium too.
Honor history, sure. The relatively new ring of honor does that.
But I think much of Nashville thinks that giant banners of Bud Adams, Bruce Matthews, Eddie George and Frank Wycheck (who I work with on the radio) are ancient history. They are literally and figuratively faded.
Call the exterior decorator. Show me the future. I nominate Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, Jason Jones and the new coach.
And the Colts can jump on this advice as well.
Even if Bob Sanders takes a cheaper deal and is part of the 2011 Colts, he no longer qualifies as a face of the franchise. His banner on Lucas Oil Stadium’s time has come.
Fred Miller wasn’t as good as Jon Runyan at right tackle, but Randall Godfrey was a significant upgrade over Barron Wortham at middle linebacker. The defense allowed 133 fewer regular-season points than the year before. The addition of offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger also qualified as an improvement. These Titans weren’t discovering they were good, they knew they were good, rolling to a 13-3 season.
An opening-night loss at Buffalo was a grudge match over the Music City Miracle, but Tennessee responded with an eight-game winning streak. The Titans won in a variety of ways. They beat the Giants 28-14 and the Steelers 9-7, adapting to what a certain Sunday may have demanded.
They also lost close games to Baltimore and at Jacksonville. The total margin of their three losses was seven points.
With the NFL’s best record and as the No. 1 seed, the Titans felt primed to return to the Super Bowl and win it. But they were undone by the rival Ravens, who upset the Titans in Nashville with big defensive and special-teams performances that sparked a run to a championship. Jeff Fisher says the 2000 Titans are the best team he’s coached, which made the loss to the Ravens all the harder to swallow.
Most impressive win: The Giants were ranked as the NFC’s best team in 2000, and the Titans beat them by two touchdowns on Oct. 1.
Research room: While it was the Ravens’ year, and they are regarded as an all-time defense, it was the Titans who finished the year as the NFL’s No. 1-rated defense.
1993: This edition of the Houston Oilers, which had two Hall of Fame offensive linemen in Mike Munchak and Matthews and a Hall of Fame quarterback in Warren Moon, rattled off 11 consecutive wins to conclude the regular season and finished 12-4. But they lost their first playoff game to Kansas City.
1961: The Houston Oilers were 10-3-1 and won their second AFL championship in a row with 13 players who were in the AFL All-Star Game.
1999: The Music City Miracle came to define a gritty, prepared, never-say-die team. They won their first playoff game thanks to the last-second trick play and came a yard short of forcing overtime on the final play of the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance.
Multiple outlets are reporting the Patriots have reached terms with Crumpler, a four-time Pro Bowler who spent the past two seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
The Patriots had a major void at tight end after losing free-agent Benjamin Watson to the Cleveland Browns and releasing Chris Baker. Those moves left them with only Robbie Agnone and Rob Myers, undrafted rookies on last year's practice squad, on their roster.
"It's a loss," Titans radio analyst and former tight end Frank Wycheck said of Crumpler's departure. "He's such a great professional, a stand-up guy win or lose. Theyr'e going to lose that leadership and that presence.
"The Patriots are getting a guy who fits the mold of what they've done over the years, bringing in guys you can trust to step up and play well."
In Crumpler's time with Tennessee, he evolved into a balanced tight end. He was known as a dangerous receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. He caught 24 touchdown passes in his last four seasons with them before joining the Titans as a free agent.
Wycheck said Crumpler excelled when the Titans gave him greater blocking responsibilities. Crumpler played a significant role in helping speedy running back Chris Johnson hit the corner throughout his 2,000-yard rushing season.
"He really blocked well, something he hasn't gotten enough credit for over his career," Wycheck said. "He's a really stout blocker, really holds the edge well.
"He embraced the role of going both on the line as a lead blocker and still being an effective receiver."
Crumpler had 27 receptions for a career-low 222 yards and one touchdown last season. Bo Scaife was the primary receiver at tight end, catching 45 passes for 440 yards.
Wycheck noted Crumpler won't be breaking down the middle of the field like he used to. But Crumpler still has incredible hands and the size to post up between the hash marks.
"It'll be a little bit of a change because everybody remembers Ben Watson tracking down Champ Bailey from behind," Wycheck said. "If you're expecting Alge to run like Ben Watson, that won't be the case."
"But I see him like Tony Gonzalez the past few years. Alge uses his smarts and experience. No one expects him to be the Alge that he was in Atlanta, but he's still playing really well and enjoying the game."
CANTON, Ohio -- Bruce Smith's final game in a Buffalo Bills uniform was a doozy. He broke the NFL record for most postseason sacks. It was the last time the Bills were in the playoffs.
|AP Photo/Wade Payne|
|Kevin Dyson and the Tennessee Titans broke the hearts of Bills fans everywhere with the Jan. 8, 2000, "Music City Miracle."|
The game also went down as the Music City Miracle, when the Tennessee Titans broke the Bills' hearts on a trick kickoff return.
With the Bills and Titans meeting Sunday in the Hall of Fame Game, reporters from Nashville are in town and stopped by Friday afternoon's interview sessions at the McKinley Grand Hotel.
A Nashville television reporter asked Smith what he remembered from that game.
"I remember it was a forward pass," said Smith, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night along with Bills owner Ralph Wilson. "That's all I remember."
The game shouldn't have been Smith's last with Buffalo. In the first round of the 1999 playoffs against the Tennessee Titans, Steve Christie kicked a field goal to put the Bills ahead by a point with 16 seconds left.
Then came the infamous kickoff return known as Home Run Throwback. Fullback Lorenzo Neal fielded the short kick and handed off to tight end Frank Wycheck fired the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson, who ran for a 75-yard touchdown to stun the Bills.
To the naked eye, it appeared the ball traveled forward. Replays were inconclusive. The ball looked like it might have traveled on a perfectly parallel line from Wycheck to Dyson.
Smith had a polite smile on his face Friday, but he didn't seem to pleased to be asked about the Music City Miracle.
"Certainly, it's something that's worth a conversation," Smith said. "But it's in the past. It's history."
For Bills fans, who have endured nine straight years without the playoffs, that kick-in-the-gut game must feel like ancient history.
|AP Photo/George Walker IV, Pool|
|Former Titans players, including Brad Hopkins, top left, and Benji Olson, top right, served as pallbearers at the memorial service.|
WHITES CREEK, Tenn. -- For all who watched Steve McNair assisted off the field during his 13 seasons as an NFL quarterback, the conclusion of his memorial service was especially tough to digest.
Pallbearers who played with him surrounded his casket, lifted it and carried it out of Mount Zion Baptist Church, surely hoping they were also transporting at least a degree of the pain shared by the family, the franchise, the city and the league.
"That was tough, to carry his casket out," Eddie George said. "Right after they said those kind words, they said the eulogy, reality set back in again, that he has to go to his final resting place. Knowing that's Steve's remains, that's his shell in that casket, that's not Steve, and I'm not going to remember him in that capacity. This is a part of the process, this is closure for us, for me. Now the healing can begin, and I don't know how long it will take."
|AP Photo/George Walker IV, Pool|
|Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason takes part in a memorial service for Steve McNair.|
In his eulogy at the conclusion of a service that included impressive versions of "Press On" and "God is Able," Bishop Joseph W. Walker III called McNair "a humanitarian, a philanthropist, a supreme athlete, a motivator, an entrepreneur." In citing the biblical instruction that one without sin cast the first stone, Walker said it was "time to have a stone-dropping service."
During the memorial, Jeff Fisher told a story of McNair considering giving up the game in 2000 after suffering a sternum injury and conveyed the condolences of a high-ranking military official he met just last week while visiting troops in the Persian Gulf.
Later, the Titans coach said he was sure even more of McNair's old teammates wanted to attend but could not. Fisher said that he might soon take McNair's sons fishing.
Asked about watching George, Samari Rolle, Zach Piller, Kevin Long, Frank Wycheck, Brad Hopkins, Benji Olson, Kevin Carter and Vince Young lift McNair's coffin and walk it out the door, Fisher said he couldn't put words to his thoughts.
"I can't describe that, no," he said.
Plenty of others leaving the church felt the same way.
Count me among them.
An add to the previous entry, which included a list of many of the most notable players in attendance. I later spotted several others, including Keith Bulluck, Bo Scaife, Young, Fred Miller, Drew Bennett and Kenny Holmes.
|AP Photo/Mark Humphrey|
|Eddie George, right, and Craig Hentrich were among the former teammates to attend Steve McNair's memorial.|
WHITES CREEK, Tenn. -- Lance Schulters arrived at Steve McNair's memorial with another former teammate of the fallen Titans quarterback, Robaire Smith.
The two also saw Samari Rolle and Eddie George.
Those four friends always thought they'd be reunited with McNair for happier times.
"That's our seats right there, playing cards all day on the plane," Schulters said, gesturing the circle they'd comprise. "Steve always won the big hands. All the big pots he won. We just joked about that, like 'Man, this is crazy.'"
Instead, they gathered in this suburb north of Nashville, not to shuffle and deal, but to join more than 5,000 others to mourn McNair, who was shot and killed Saturday in a murder-suicide.
"We might feel indestructible and indispensable on the field, but the reality of it is we're all human, and we all have an end," said Kevin Mawae, Titans center and president of the NFL Players Association. "We just don't know when that end is going to come.
"It's a difficult thing to be here. But we're all NFL players and there are not very many of us and when one of us passes under these circumstances or any circumstances, you mourn the loss of that guy. He was a brother in the locker room to many of us."
More than 30 teammates -- Titans past and present -- attended the memorial, as did the franchise's owner, Bud Adams, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.
The list of current and former players also includes Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, Jevon Kearse, Kevin Carter, Frank Wycheck, Yancey Thigpen, Benji Olson, Blaine Bishop, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jon Runyan, Josh Evans, Justin Hartwig, Al Del Greco, Erron Kinney, Zach Piller, Craig Hentrich, Gary Walker, Joe Nedney, Chris Sanders, Al Smith, Chris Hope and Vincent Fuller.
Current Titans assistant coaches Dave McGinnis, Mike Munchak and Marcus Robertson (who was also a teammate) are also here, as is the team's starting quarterback, Kerry Collins. McNair was drafted third by the Oilers in 1995; Collins fifth by Carolina.
Jeff Fisher will speak during the memorial and is set to talk with the media after it's over.
George said he gathered with 15 or 20 former teammates to remember McNair Wednesday night at The Palm in downtown Nashville
McNair was killed on July 4, which led different players to different thoughts of future Independence Days.
"Here's an opportunity for us to get together every Fourth of July and celebrate his life," George said.
"I know from this point on, my July 4 will never be the same," Kearse said. "I may not even celebrate July 4 from this point on. Instead it will be on July 9 or something like that."
George wrote a poem -- entitled "Where Do Warriors Go?" -- in recent days as he tried to sort through his feelings about McNair's death.
"It was a great question, and based off of that question, these words just started coming out of me and I tried to put it into form," said George, who read the poem at the memorial service. "It was something that I wanted to send off to him, directly speak to him and send him off in the right way. Maybe one day I can recite it for you.
"It's a special place they go to. I don't know the exact place, and that was the question. In it all, he's done his best, right or wrong, and basically it was a message to say, 'You know what, you're free to go into that life, without any judgment. You've done the best you can do and we're going to hold it down here for you.'"
WHITES CREEK, Tenn. -- Mt. Zion Baptist Church isn't far from Interstate 24, north of Nashville. The parking lot is lined with orange cones and guides in orange vests, all set up to handle the 5,000-plus people expected to come here to pay their final respects to Steve McNair.
|ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky|
|Mourners wait to enter Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Whites Creek, Tenn. to pay their respects.|
An hour after the funeral procession arrived, a thick line of fans snaked from the door up a steep driveway.
Visitors are black and white, young and old, dressed in suits and shorts sleeves, scrubs and shorts, and No. 9 jerseys of every variety: Titans home and away, Ravens black, Oilers blue.
The procession past McNair's closed, silver-colored casket -- covered with white lilies, flanked by large pictures of McNair in a suit, one with him holding a football, the other with the 2003 NFL MVP trophy in hand -- is moving briskly, with no pauses or stops. It will last for nearly three hours.
Dorsey Hamby, 52, had met McNair several times and once signed an autograph for her: "To Dorsey, my greatest fan ever."
"He treated us like we were his best friend," she said, keeping her composure as she headed for the line. As she walked out of the sanctuary, she was dabbing at her tears. "I always thought it'd be me, not him, that maybe they could get him to come to mine."
Members of Omega Psi Phi, McNair's fraternity from Alcorn State, sweated through dark suits as they approached the church and added white gloves as they stood beside the casket.
|ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky |
|Tyron Eason, left, and Namon Anderson are members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. The fraternity will pay tribute to McNair, also a brother, with a ceremony Thursday night.|
The fraternity will conduct a memorial service for a half hour before the church's memorial begins.
"We have a ritual we abide by when a brother has fallen," said Namon Anderson, 33, an educator who lives in Murfreesboro, Tenn. "We send him to the celestial chapter."
Wreaths and pictures of McNair lined the lobby, along with a giant collage.
McNair's wife, Mechelle, is expected to attend the memorial service. His mother, Lucille, is not. A second memorial is scheduled for Saturday on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi before his burial.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher and Derrick Mason, who caught McNair's passes as a Titan and a Raven, are among those scheduled to speak here. Eddie George, Frank Wycheck and Vince Young are to be among the pallbearers.
Final Indianapolis 28 Cincinnati 42 Final Atlanta 21 Green Bay 22 Final Cleveland 26 New England 27 Final Oakland 27 New York 37 Final Detroit 20 Philadelphia 34 Final Miami 34 Pittsburgh 28 Final Buffalo 6 Tampa Bay 27 Final Kansas City 45 Washington 10 Final Minnesota 26 Baltimore 29 Final Tennessee 28 Denver 51 Final St. Louis 10 Arizona 30 Final New York 14 San Diego 37 Final Seattle 17 San Francisco 19 Final Carolina 13 New Orleans 31