NFL Nation: George Wilson

An offensive lineman or a safety in the first round for the Tennessee Titans wouldn't solve an immediate problem for the team.

I've made a case they can't go that direction.

But general manager Ruston Webster said Tuesday on my Nashvile radio show that he has to weigh the strengths of this draft with pending needs.

A limited role for the first-round pick in his first year "would be a little hard to swallow, yes," Webster said. The Titans, after all, were 7-9, had a major coaching change and figure to have room for rookie impact.

"You always want those guys to come in and contribute early, you'd love for them to," Webster said. "More importantly you want him to have an impact over time …

"You've got to think a little bit about the future. And what next year brings. I think that's part of drafting, understanding where you might be light in a year. And there are certain positions where there is no guarantee you can get that guy every year."

As I said there, that means offensive tackle is in play, and Taylor Lewan or Zach Martin after a trade down is the possibility there. Michael Roos is in a contract year and though the team has high hopes for free-agent addition Michael Oher, the Ttians wrote a contract that would let them out of the deal after one year for a total of $6 million.

It can also mean safety, where George Wilson has only a year left, Bernard Pollard has two and Michael Griffin is due a $6.3 million salary and an $8.1 million salary-cap number in 2015. Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor have both visited the Titans during draft build-up.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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An examination of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 22-14 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium:

Fitzpatrick
Streaky: When he was bad in relief of Jake Locker after Locker’s first injury, we talked about Ryan Fitzpatrick being a streaky quarterback. In his second relief stint, he was far better. Until this game against the Colts. He made several bad throws en route to three interceptions and also lost a fumble. Fitzpatrick made some bad decisions -- including one that didn’t result in an interception, but cost them a chance to score points. The Titans faced a third-and-10 from the Indianapolis 31 with 8:23 left in the game and trailing 15-14. Seven yards would have gotten them in range for a 51-yard field goal attempt by Rob Bironas that could have put the Titans ahead. Instead Fitzpatrick threw a hopeless deep ball for Justin Hunter that fell incomplete. Fitzpatrick said in hindsight that a shorter option like Kendall Wright would have been better.

Tight-end trouble: When they traded up in the fifth round in 2012 to draft him, the Titans thought Taylor Thompson was going to be a game-changing tight end. He played more defensive end than tight end at SMU. With Craig Stevens already out with a concussion and Delanie Walker knocked out with a first-half concussion, Thompson was the lone tight end for most of the game. Reserve tackle Mike Otto reported eligible often. Thompson was targeted three times and didn’t make a catch. He hardly looks the part of a confident target. He looks very much the part of a draft-day reach.

Johnson
Not enough CJ: Chris Johnson finished the game with 18 carries for 69 yards. Ten carries for 48 yards came in the second half, when I thought Johnson and the Titans’ blocking were starting to wear the Colts down some and figuring out how to get places. But again, the Titans didn’t seem willing or able to stick with it as much as might have been possible. They got away from Johnson too quickly in their first loss to the Colts. In the second, they didn’t ride him enough late.

Low impact: There is a good deal of luck in recovering fumbles. The Colts fumbled three times, with Andrew Luck dropping two on sacks. The Titans couldn’t recover any of them. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick fumbled once and lost it. The Colts grabbed all their interception opportunities, while George Wilson dropped a potential interception that was as easy as they get. “Why can’t we grab that ball that’s lying there three times?” Mike Munchak said. “We had an interception that hits us right in the chest, and that changes the game; we missed it. They didn’t miss one of theirs. They intercepted all of theirs thrown to them. We’ll keep drilling those things, and maybe we’ll get better at it.”

Double Coverage: Titans at Colts

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
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Fitzpatrick/Jean FrancoisGetty ImagesRyan Fitzpatrick, left, and the Titans can tighten the AFC South race vs. Ricky Jean Francois' Colts.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts want to remove the bad taste in their mouths from their 29-point loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Tennessee Titans want to make the AFC South race intriguing.

Something will have to give when the teams meet Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts can basically lock up their first division title since 2010 with a victory, because they would have a three-game lead on the Titans with four remaining. A win by the Titans would cut Indianapolis' lead to one game.

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky break down the matchup.

Wells: The Titans made things in the division a little more interesting when they came from behind to beat Oakland last weekend. But they will be without a key player this weekend. How much will losing safety Michael Griffin impact the Titans' defense this weekend?

Kuharsky: They are OK without him, as George Wilson is a capable veteran safety who will start in his spot. Wilson played for an injured Griffin in St. Louis, which was a bad game for Tennessee, but not because of that switch. Wilson has covered tight ends in a heavy nickel set and the dime package for much of the season, and the Titans have been better against tight ends after having huge problems in 2012. The Titans didn’t use Wilson against Coby Fleener two weeks ago. Wilson played only one defensive snap in that game, and the Titans let their base defenders deal with Fleener. They didn’t fare well, as he caught eight passes for a game-high 107 yards. Using Wilson as they have against other teams is not an option now, since he’s in line to start.

Let’s stay in the secondary. Has Vontae Davis been consistent? And how is his health now?

Wells: Inconsistent is a better word to describe Davis. He looked like he was on his way to earning a nice offseason payday earlier this season. But he hasn’t been the same since Greg Toler, who starts opposite of him at cornerback, went down with a groin injury four games ago. It’s like Davis feeds off of Toler’s presence on the field. Houston's Andre Johnson, St. Louis' Tavon Austin, and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald all took turns getting the best of Davis at times in three of the past four weeks. Davis' groin injury isn’t severe, so he should be in the lineup this weekend. There is a chance that Toler could be back, too.

Running back Chris Johnson had a monster first half in the previous meeting against the Colts. But the Titans stopped handing the ball to him in the second half. Do you think the same thing will happen this weekend if Johnson has another strong first half?

Kuharsky: Well, the Colts came out and scored, collected Devon Wylie's kickoff fumble, and scored again, erasing the Titans' lead. I’m thinking Leon Washington, who was just signed to replace Wylie, will be more reliable, and the Titans won’t go so long without having the ball on offense. With Ryan Fitzpatrick finding a rhythm at quarterback, they are more likely to throw some short passes that function as runs. The Titans will certainly want to run it. But they don’t sustain it very well when they do manage to get it going some.

The Titans jumped out to that lead last time after the Colts were coming off getting blown out by 29. Now they draw the Colts after the Colts were blown out by Arizona. The Colts usually bounce back well, but I sense that the faith of those close to the team is waning. Is the team starting to doubt itself?

Wells: Faith better not start waning after owner Jim Irsay was, well, Jim Irsay and voiced his frustration Tuesday on Twitter about the team’s performance the past few weeks. The Colts have yet to lose back-to-back games with Andrew Luck as quarterback, but this was a different Colts’ team inside the locker room after the Arizona game. They normally talk among each other win or lose after the game. There was very little of that this time. Players showered and dressed rather quickly and headed toward the bus. The Colts are very vulnerable right now. The Titans have an excellent opportunity to come to Lucas Oil Stadium and win the game. All the pressure in the division race would shift to the Colts if that happens.

You mentioned that Fitzpatrick is finding his rhythm. Do you think this could lead to a quarterback controversy next season with him and Jake Locker?

Kuharsky: Well, we aren’t sure yet that the same coaching staff or regime will be in place. Presuming it is, and presuming Locker recovers fully and on schedule from his Lisfranc surgery, he’ll begin next year at the front of the line. The question isn’t so much about the possibility that Fitzpatrick surpasses him -- he’s very much a backup -- it’s about whether the Titans are compelled to deem Locker injury-prone and draft an alternative/possible replacement. Based on what they have seen so far, they can't execute a very expensive option in May for the 2015 season, so they also have to be looking ahead.

The Colts have had some serious injuries, too. Reggie Wayne was a terrible guy to lose. Would tight end Dwayne Allen rank a close second?

Wells: Don’t get me wrong, not having Allen is a significant blow to the Colts, but I’d say losing guard Donald Thomas is second on the list. The offensive line was abysmal last season, and the Colts went out and spent money to upgrade it during the offseason, with Thomas and tackle Gosdar Cherilus being the main pieces. The Colts went from starting Thomas, a veteran, to starting rookie Hugh Thornton. That’s a drastic drop-off, especially since Thornton shifted to left guard on the fly because he played right guard in college. The entire offensive line has been inconsistent with its run and pass protection this season.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s difficult being a defensive back. They want to deliver hits that make receivers wary of venturing into certain areas to go after certain throws.

But those receivers are afforded protections now, because some of those hits can be the most damaging in the game.

Enter Michael Griffin.

The Tennessee Titans free safety hardly rates as a big-hitting headhunter. He has had an up-and-down career, playing his best when surrounded by a good secondary, and struggling when he has not been. His geometry is sometimes bad and he takes bad pursuit angles. He is capable of badly missing tackles.

[+] EnlargeMichael Griffin
AP Photo/Ben MargotThe Titans' Michael Griffin was suspended for a game after a hit on the Raiders' Mychal Rivera.
But working with strong safety Bernard Pollard this year, Griffin has been pretty solid.

In terms of hits, he wavers. Sometimes he pulls off in a way that suggests he’s scared of getting fined. Then he hears that talk and doesn’t hesitate, sticking his head in and drawing flags and fines. Then he gets more passive again.

When he has been flagged and fined, he's spoken of being damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

An unnecessary roughness call resulting from a hit that removed the helmet of Oakland tight end Mychal Rivera on Sunday was enough for the league to label Griffin a repeat offender and suspended him for Sunday’s game in Indianapolis.

From the league:
“The suspension was imposed by NFL Vice President of Football Operations MERTON HANKS. Griffin may not practice this week nor play in the Titans’ game this Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. He may not participate in any football activities with the team during the suspension. Griffin will be reinstated on Monday, December 2. …

Griffin was penalized for unnecessary roughness in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders for delivering a blow to the head of a defenseless receiver, Oakland tight end MYCHAL RIVERA.

The violation was Griffin’s second this season and fourth since 2011, all for striking defenseless players in the head and neck area.

Griffin tweeted out an apology:
"Just want to say I apologize to the fans, organization, and teammates. I also apologize to Rivera. I was just trying to do my job but ended [u]p costing my team. Don't know what else to do except for appeal. Again I apologize."

Griffin went low, which is what players do when trying to avoid head shots. But Rivera was also going to the ground. Griffin hit Rivera in the head with his right shoulder, knocking Rivera's helmet off. I think the primary issue is that Griffin put his head down as he closed on Rivera, meaning he wasn’t in good position to see what he was hitting and how.

The Titans will now try to get to 6-6 in Indianapolis without Griffin. Veteran George Wilson, who plays as the third safety, should start as he did on Nov. 3 in St. Louis when Griffin was out with a quad injury.

The Titans typically play Wilson on the tight end, but that was not their strategy in the their Nov. 14 30-27 loss to Indianapolis.

Wilson played only one snap on defense and tight end Coby Fleener caught eight passes for a game-high 107 yards with cornerbacks covering him much of the time.

Tennessee will have one less option in the rematch at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Wilson is the lone free safety available with Griffin out. They could bring back recently cut Corey Lynch.

On quiet Titans speaking up

November, 14, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For all the fair criticisms of Mike Munchak, one unfair one gets too much attention in Music City.

Some critics point at his sideline demeanor and wish he’d be more demonstrative.

I think they aren’t watching him closely enough -- he gets plenty heated at times when it’s called for. Focus on him next time a call seems to go against the Titans. I also think it’s a mistake to think a coach has to rant and throw fits to be effective. Tony Dungy and Tom Landry did just fine as mild-mannered coaches.

When he was still coaching the Colts, I once chatted with Dungy about whether there was periodically a time, behind closed doors, when he felt screaming or throwing something might get his team’s attention in a different way that might have a big effect.

[+] EnlargeJason McCourty
AP Photo/Tom GannamThe usually reserved Jason McCourty spoke up to teammates about staying on the correct path after the Titans' loss to the previously winless Jaguars.
He said, quite reasonably, no.

As a player under Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh, he didn’t want to be yelled at or see a show. He wanted to be told and shown why something was wrong and how to fix it. That’s how Noll operated, and that’s how Dungy followed suit. They both had great success.

This week, after many Titans talked about how the team was lifeless during the bad loss to previously winless Jacksonville, I turned away from Munchak’s demeanor to consider his calm and collected players.

A roster generally has a heavy share of guys who have a personality similar to that of the head coach. The Titans have a lot of quiet, low-key guys like Munchak. Primary among them: Cornerback Jason McCourty; safeties Michael Griffin and George Wilson; running back Chris Johnson; and offensive linemen Michael Roos, Andy Levitre and David Stewart. (Injured quarterback Jake Locker has that demeanor too.)

When the Titans closed the locker room doors Sunday after the loss to the Jaguars, several players spoke up about what unfolded. One of them, who shed his mellow deportment and let loose about the chances the Titans are blowing, was McCourty.

He spoke loudly about continuing to come together and staying on the correct path, about how the Titans are, unlike some recent versions, a talented team. He wanted to make sure guys understood there are still opportunities ahead.

“I just look at it as a personal thing,” McCourty said. “For me, at that moment, frustration had built up and I felt like there was something on my heart that needed to be said and I said it. I don’t feel like everybody needs to do so. Some guys are very vocal leaders. Bernard Pollard is good at that, motivating himself and others around him. Other guys, maybe a quiet guy, just goes and talks to people individually to get them motivated …”

“That was probably the pinnacle of my frustration through my career. There have been different times when I’ve spoken up and said things I’ve felt needed to be said. It was pretty anted up, pretty decent.”

I imagine a composed pro like McCourty speaking up in such a fashion caught the attention of his teammates. To what effect remains to be seen.

Wilson said there could be value in a quiet guy raising the volume.

“The only way you really know if there is real value is when you see how guys receive it,” he said. “They can respond to it or not respond to it. They can listen to you or let it go in one ear and out there other. You decide to do it because you reach a point where something needs to be said. When guys want to vent and get things out on the open, you say things out of love and out of compassion, not to demean or call anybody out. Just to be accountable to each other.”

Chris Johnson has rarely if ever, shown himself to be mad.

Former Titans tight end Frank Wycheck, a Titans Radio color analyst and my sports talk radio colleague, says he’d like to see Johnson come off the field angry when he fumbles away the ball on the first play of the Jaguars’ game.

I can’t recall seeing the easygoing, soft-spoken Johnson heated. I’m not suggesting him getting visibly angry would change anything, and I wouldn’t encourage a guy to put on an air that doesn’t fit.

But I wondered: Is there ever a time he feels like moving away from his typical demeanor in a visible way that could get his teammates’ attention and benefit the Titans?

“Not really,” he said. “Because we have players-only meetings around here and everybody talks and everybody has the floor or whatever. It’s nothing that I need to show out in the media or out where all the fans can see just to get my point across. We have those times where we get to talk and we get to voice our own opinion.

“I say what I have to say, but I’m not throwing a temper tantrum or anything like that.”
Mike MunchakDon McPeak/USA TODAY SportsJacksonville has won eight games since 2011, and three have come against Mike Munchak's Titans.
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s hard to go winless in the NFL. Probably as hard, I've long maintained, as is it to go undefeated. Recent teams that have been in danger of it have been fortunate to find Mike Munchak’s Tennessee Titans on their schedule.

Two years ago, Munchak’s Titans lost to the 0-13 Colts. Sunday, they lost to the 0-8 Jacksonville Jaguars, 29-27 at LP Field. And though the 2012 version of the Jaguars weren’t winless, they were headed for 2-14, and the Titans lost to them, too.

Jacksonville loves playing the Titans. The Jaguars have won eight games since 2011, and three of them have been over Tennessee.

Munchak takes too many hits from Titans fans over his sideline demeanor; he’s more animated than Tony Dungy or Tom Landry ever were. And there are plenty of other issues to highlight about the job he’s done en route to a 19-22 record in three seasons as the head coach. Take his inability to throw a challenge flag in time to get a review in the first quarter, if you want a small moment. Take his team’s penchant for losing to really bad teams, if you prefer something broad.

“It was flipped: We were the Jaguars, they were the Titans,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “We played like we were 0-8.”

The Titans were lifeless from the start, and Chris Johnson fumbled on the first play from scrimmage to set a terrible day in motion. Along the way, quarterback Jake Locker, returner Damian Williams and center Brian Schwenke were lost to injuries.

Walker, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and safeties George Wilson and Bernard Pollard all took umbrage with the idea that Munchak and the coaching staff are to blame for the disastrous result. But three of those four outspoken leaders are new to the franchise. At 4-5 in their first season with the team, it’s unlikely they've reached the breaking point for giving candid reviews of the boss.

“There is no question, there is no question at all, did this coaching staff have us prepared? Absolutely they did,” Wilson said. “The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t come out there and do anything different than what we practiced. Coaching staffs put the game plan together. Coaches don’t do out there and play.

“It’s not the coaching staff’s fault that we came out slow. You can’t put that on them. It’s on the 11 men that are in that huddle.”

The Titans' new ownership group was at the game, though an accident caused game-day traffic that forced the cancellation of their introduction to the local media before the game. Tommy Smith is the CEO and team president now, following the death of his father-in-law, Bud Adams. Smith was at the game with his wife, Susie Adams Smith, and her sister, Amy Adams Hunt. The two are the team’s co-chairpersons.

Munchak is said to be in good standing with the family; he gave one of the two eulogies at Adams’ funeral. But surely the trio had bigger expectations for its first time in Nashville in their new roles. Surely, too, they know rash reactions are not a solution. Munchak’s footing can’t be as good as it was before this game.

Veteran safety Michael Griffin said the team was lacked energy from the start, had no hop. All week they said they wouldn’t get caught looking past the Jaguars, presuming a win and anticipating the big showdown with Indianapolis on Thursday.

“We came out here like we looked past this team, and they spanked us,” Walker said.

I don’t believe a coach and his staff should be responsible for igniting their team. I do believe they should have a strong feeling for which way the winds are blowing. If the pilot light goes out, a coach and his people should be equipped to help restart it. Good coaches help dead teams find life once in a while, especially against inferior opponents.

I think Munchak, a Hall of Fame player, would agree with his players that the primary responsibility is on them.

A coach has to have the right collection of players to get that, though. Munchak talked after his second season of not having the players he needed. So the Titans brought in 22 new ones that were on the roster against the Jaguars. None of them arrived over an objection from Munchak.

But this group he helped assemble does not appear to be sufficiently self-starting. And as a coach, he’s ill-equipped to get them back on track.

“We allowed things to happen to us today that shouldn’t happen to us in any game,” he said, pointing to four turnovers and a safety.

Note the word choice. The Titans "allowed" it. Passive teams allow things, and one of the most heralded guards in league history has a team that’s too often passive.

When he made major changes to his coaching staff and when he targeted significant free agents, Munchak suggested a new aggressiveness. It seemed part of his promise when he pledged to fans at training camp: “Believe me, we will not disappoint you this year.”

As for losing to bad teams, he talked, as he often does after bad moments, about how he doesn’t have answers.

“We thought when the smoke cleared, we’d play well enough and win the football game,” Munchak said. “We didn’t do that. … A good team finds a way to come back in this game and win this thing. We should have found a way to win this football [game] and we didn’t.”

With 2:32 left in the game, Jaguars cornerback Will Blackmon stole a ball from Titans backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and ran it back for a touchdown that provided the winning margin. After the game, Blackmon showed reporters that he’d written two goals on little pieces of paper before the game. One was to get coach Gus Bradley a game ball. The other was to cause a fumble.

Game plans on bigger pieces of paper haven’t been working for the Titans. Maybe the Titans ought to follow Blackmon’s lead.

It’s hard to know exactly what the first little piece of paper should say. There’s a lot to choose from. Any suggestions?

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Akeem AyersAP Photo/Tom Gannam
ST. LOUIS -- For six games, middle linebacker Moise Fokou ran the Tennessee Titans' defense, wearing the coach-to-player speaker in his green-dotted helmet.

After Fokou hurt a knee in Seattle on Oct. 13, his replacement, Colin McCarthy, did the job against San Francisco.

But the Titans came out of the bye with a new player charged with the job.

Strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers called the plays and didn’t leave the field, playing as the middle linebacker in nickel during Tennessee’s 28-21 win against the Rams.

"Coach (Jerry) Gray and coach (Gregg) Williams wanted to try something different," Ayers said. "Last year we had a lot of success in our nickel package when we had me and Zach Brown as the two nickel linebackers late in the season. They just thought it would be good for us after doing a lot of self-scouting in the bye week to come out and do something different."

He played every snap at strongside linebacker in base and at "Mike" in nickel, the most he’s played all season.

I don’t know that his increased presence and role had any great bearing on the team, but it did mark a notable change.

Ayers finished with three tackles and a pass defensed. McCarthy, even playing less, led the team with nine tackles on a day when the Titans played poor run defense, allowing rookie running back Zac Stacy 127 yards on 27 carries, and the Rams 5.0 yards per rush attempt.

Turning to Ayers as the defensive play-caller and with a full-time role might have been just a one-game thing. The Rams are run-first team, and Ayers is better as a run-defender than in coverage.

With Greg Williams added to the defensive staff and the Titans still unsure of how to deploy their second-round pick from 2011, they set out this season to use Ayers as a base linebacker and a nickel defensive end, but he’s not stood out much in either role.

It still needs sorting out, and once Fokou is healthy I expect he’ll be back in the middle as the every-down linebacker and play-caller.

In the meantime, it might have given Ayers a bit of a confidence boost that the team factored him into this plan in a bigger way.

"It was a different position for Akeem to be in," safety George Wilson said. "He did an outstanding job getting us the calls, getting us lined up. Anytime you have a guy who hasn’t played it, you’re going to have a few plays where you get some calls mixed up or we don’t get a call. But that didn’t happen much at all. We were able to get lined up and keep the ball in front of us. That was the goal."

It wasn’t a good defensive day, overall. The Titans did have some good moments, however. St. Louis got the ball twice on turnovers, and Tennessee put on the brakes after the sudden changes, allowing the Rams to convert them into zero points.

And after Jake Locker's second interception looked like it would position the Rams for a clock-milking, game-winning drive, the Titans' defense got the ball back.

Jurrell Casey stripped Kellen Clemens at the Rams’ 17-yard line, Derrick Morgan recovered it at the 19, and Chris Johnson took the next play into the end zone for a 28-21 lead that held up as the final score.

"In sudden-change situations, we won on both sides of the ball," Casey said.

The Titans' defense has been reliable and consistent. But they’ve now allowed touchdowns the past six times opponents have crossed their 20 yard line, they’ve allowed more than 150 rushing yards three games in a row, and they’ve given up a 45 percent third-down conversion rate the past two weeks when it was 27 percent before that.

"For some reason, the last two games that we played, we’ve been slipping," Casey said. "So we’ve got to get back to what we were doing the first couple weeks and turn the game back around."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If defensive coordinator Jerry Gray wants to throw the St. Louis Rams off the Tennessee Titans' tracks, he can come up with something better than what he tried Thursday.

With free safety Michael Griffin missing a second day of practice with a right quad injury, the Titans might need to turn to an alterative at free safety.

Griffin
The logical, obvious choice is George Wilson.

But Gray said in his weekly media session that the Titans could move Alterraun Verner from cornerback to safety or turn to Corey Lynch, who was just signed at the start of the week.

“If it’s going to help us win, we’ll move him,” Gray said of Verner.

Taking Verner, who’s having a stellar season as cornerback, and moving him to a spot he played some during the summer, then replacing him at cornerback, would amount to coaching malpractice.

Wilson said he’s taken a lot of the practice reps with Griffin out, and has studied the film from a free-safety angle.

"It’s my job to be ready regardless of what the situation is," said Wilson who has been spending a lot of time in sub-packages covering the tight end.

Griffin said he ran, backpedaled some, did some drills for defensive backs, and broke from different angles. He thinks it’ll come down to how he does in an early sessions with coaches and trainers on Sunday in St. Louis.

If Griffin is out and Wilson is in the base defense, the Titans will change things up as they try to cover Rams tight end Jared Cook.

Wilson could still get a share of time with Cook, and weakside linebacker Zach Brown could be on the former Titan, too.

Brown said if he’s covering Cook, he needs to get his hands on him -- at the line of scrimmage and when the ball arrives.

“He’s real fast,” Brown said. “He’s good in and out of his breaks. ... If you can touch him, you can get the ball out. For me, I’ve just got to get my hands on him, because he’s not that strong or that physical. He’s not as big as a lot of other tight ends.”

Cook might play small, but let the record show he’s 6-foot-5 and 254-pounds.

Survey says: Favorite road trips

October, 10, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans are about to embark on the NFL’s toughest road trip.

It’s a long way to Seattle, and the raucous crowd in an exceptionally loud CenturyLink Field will be waiting.

I wondered what ranks as the favorite road trip for the Tennessee Titans, so I strolled the locker room asking guys.

So wanted to know specific criteria -- was I asking more about the stadium experience or the city itself? I told them it was for them to decide, I just wanted to know what ranked as their favorite road trip.

Here’s what they told me:

Fitzpatrick
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: “My favorite road trip is Arizona, just cause I’ve got a lot of family there, that’s where I’m from. The stadium is really cool. It’s an awesome stadium. Last year when I played for the Bills, we played San Fran and then we played Arizona the next week. So we stayed in Arizona for that week. Which was awesome, I got five, six days to do my work, but then also get some family time, which you never get during the season.”

Defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill: “I’d have to say New Orleans. That’s the best I’ve ever been to when you’re playing somebody in a dome, it’s loud, their fans, it’s their fans but they still get you cranked and ready to play. That and Dallas, those are my two favorite places to play.”

Running back Jackie Battle: “I guess it would have to be Kansas City, just because I played there and that’s an unbelievable environment. It’s like a college atmosphere in Kansas City.”

Safety George Wilson: “When I was in Buffalo, we played at the Redskins. They have I think about 90,000 people and a real passionate fan base. I like the Redskins.”

Receiver Damian Williams: “I like playing in Seattle for a couple reasons. It’s one of the tougher places to play. Also, my whole college coaching staff is there. I enjoy going up there and playing against those guys.”

Linebacker Zach Brown: “I don’t have one, man. I have no favorite road trip. I like playing at home. I like playing in Houston just to shut the crowd up. And Pittsburgh, they were so quiet up there when we were winning, I just thrive off really shutting the crowd up. That’s motivation.”

Receiver Nate Washington: “It’d probably be Houston, because that’s where I’ve got the most family. My grandmother is there. Anywhere between 15 and 25 people will come to the game. I know a lot of people around there, it’s a great town to go get you some dinner. I really don’t like the stadium, it feels dark in there. But I do like the atmosphere, I like playing in a hostile environment like that.”

McCourty
Cornerback Jason McCourty: “I don’t have any in particular, but any team with a guy I played with in college, it’s pretty cool. You get a chance to see a guy maybe you haven’t see in a while, maybe get a chance to go out and eat or something like that. So New England where my brother is, Tiquan Underwood on Tampa Bay was my college roommate, Jeremy Zuttah in Tampa Bay. You know Greg Schiano has a ton of Rutgers guys.”

Center Rob Turner: “If anything, it’s going back to Texas, because that’s home for me. Dallas or Houston. When I go back to Texas, generally I have 20 or 30 people that come down. I get to see my family.”

Linebacker coach Chet Parlavecchio: “Indianapolis. There is a great cigar place there. I don’t know the name of it, I just know where it is. Right by that statue, I know it’s next to the Starbucks. (Laughs.) Last time I got La Flor Dominicanas, excellent, great cigar. I enjoy my cigar, ask anyone here. Every night going home in my car and then on my deck.”

Tight end Delanie Walker: “Probably New Orleans. It’s got some great food, Bourbon Street, it don’t get no better than that. And a Saints game is always a good atmosphere, and it’s indoors, you don’t have to worry about the weather.”

Wimbley
Defensive end Kamerion Wimbley: “I like going to Oakland. For some reason I just have good luck when I play in the Bay Area. When I was with Cleveland, I was able to get a couple two-sack games out there. I love it, because they hate the teams that come in, of course the Black hole when you see it and they boo you and they’re dressed up all crazy, it just adds excitement to the game.”

Guard Andy Levitre: “Bay Area, San Francisco or Oakland, so I can see my family. A lot of my family and friends might not get a chance to come out here during the season, so it’s one of those games where all of them can come see.”

Free safety Michael Griffin: “Houston. Go back home, play in front of friends, family. Stadium-wise, I’ve never played in San Francisco’s stadium, but going to watch a friend, Tarell Brown, play in a playoff game last year, it was a very tough environment to play in.”

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:14
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rather than tell you this is what’s going to happen, I’ll tell you this is what would happen if I had influence in the Tennessee Titans meeting room when final cuts will be decided.

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

Quarterbacks: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick

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

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

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

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

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

Tight ends: Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d expect Khalid Wooten on the practice squad.

Kicker: Rob Bironas

Punter: Brett Kern

Long-snapper: Beau Brinkley
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.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tommie Campbell looks to be the favorite to be the Titans' second starting cornerback on opening day.

But it's not like incumbent Alterraun Verner has just disappeared.

He's worked outside, he's worked at the nickel spot, he's even worked at deep safety. Coaches and teammates continue to talk about his professionalism and high-quality performance.

The most popular line about Verner: We've got to find a way to get him on the field.

That sounds nice.

But where exactly is that if Campbell is starting, if Coty Sensabaugh is excelling as the nickel and if Michael Griffin is locked in as the starting free safety?

It's hard to see it unless it's some sort of mix-and-match platooning, unless it's in packages that change game-to-game or unless someone is hurt.

Still, Verner is not punching holes in the phrase, however.

"I'm expecting to be an integral part of the game," he said "I'm going to still be able to make a difference in a game in some way, shape or form."

Campbell has an advantage in size (he's 6-foot-3, 198 pounds to Verner's 5-10, 186) and physicality, and the Titans want to play more press coverage.

Veteran safety George Wilson said Verner is no pushover in such coverage, having "held his own" against Kenny Britt, the team's most physical receiver, during Saturday's scrimmage.

"He's not the biggest guy," Wilson said. "But he has the heart of the biggest guy."

Verner is a smart player and a smart guy, who's approached the competition in just the manner the team expected.

"Our team, our coaches are going to put the best men out there," he said. "So if I happen to be one of the best people in that given package in that given game for that given play, they will do their best to accommodate that. And if I am not, they'll accommodate otherwise.

"All I can do is be the best I can be every time I'm out there and I know that me doing that, other people have to elevate their game so that they're going to be ready to play."

Jerry Gray can't win

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
12:29
PM ET
Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is in a tough spot.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean nails it in this piece: If the Tennessee Titans' defense gets better the credit is bound to go to the newcomer, senior defensive assistant Gregg Williams.
If the Titans defense makes great strides a season after setting the franchise record for most points allowed, the popular conclusion will be that defensive assistant Gregg Williams righted the ship and saved the day.

If the Titans defense struggles, as it did last year in giving up the most points in the NFL, the blame will be aimed at Gray.

Gray says the right things about not caring where the credit lands, and that’s all he can do.

If the Titans are better to the degree they expect, it will be easier for him to not care, because in-house his contribution will be apparent.

But if it goes the other way, it could be ugly if he listens to talk radio or reads columnists.

With Williams on the coaching roster, there are a lot of questions about who will call the defense on Sundays. The Titans have a practice at LP Field on Saturday, and head coach Mike Munchak will have his coaches in the spots he’s planning for them to be in for games.

At the start, that will mean Williams on the sideline and Gray in the coaching box.

That allows for Williams to be more hands-on and look players in the eye. But the bird’s eye view will belong to Gray, who will have a better picture of the offense the Titans are trying to stop.

Munchak says Gray was handcuffed last year. He couldn’t do the things he wanted to because the team was lacking personnel.

That points to another big question, of course: Why?

But in evaluating how to fix it, the Titans brought in much more than Williams. Among the new players are defensive tackle Sammie Hill, defensive end Ropati Pitoitua, safeties Bernard Pollard and George Wilson, linebacker Moise Fokou and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson.

Williams adds another veteran set of coaching eyes, and, his bounty suspension aside, he has a history of connecting with players and positively influencing their performances.

Gray had a hand in all those additions.

If the defense makes a jump, Gray’s going to deserve some credit. The pledge here is to not aim all of it at Williams.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The coach-to-defender communication device isn’t going to play much of a role for the Titans in terms of keeping a middle linebacker on the field every down.

Maybe the starting middle linebacker, be it incumbent Colin McCarthy or challenger Moise Fokou, is a three-down player. Or maybe he’s very much a two-down player the way Barron Wortham was when Jerry Gray and Gregg Williams coached the Titans' defense together.

With second-year outside linebacker Zach Brown and third-rounder Zaviar Gooden among the fastest outside linebacker in the NFL, there could be times the Titans turn to two coverage backers. With Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard and George Wilson on the roster, there will be times the team plays three safeties -- and in many of those instances Pollard could be working as if he’s a linebacker. We may see more dime with just one linebacker on the field.

Gray, the defensive coordinator, said McCarthy or Fokou will have the responsibility of calling the defense and getting people organized.

But that doesn’t mean someone else won’t be doing the job when sub-packages are deployed, and that may be as often as it’s been since the franchise moved to Tennessee.

There are a lot of options.

And because there are, players won’t rely on a guy in the huddle to make the call. They’ll rely on getting it from the coaches themselves.

“The good thing is we’re not even using coach-to-helmet this training camp,” Gray said. “We’re signaling everything. They don’t know who’s going to signal, because we’ve got three or four guys signaling, like baseball. So if you want to video, that’s going to be out -- not a shot.

“The thing I think we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to be smarter. Because if the Mike linebacker is not there, it got us like that last year. We’ve got to learn the signals and we’re making everybody learn signals, we’re going through signal-calling meetings and those things. I think we’ve got to make sure we’re ahead of the curve, not waiting until something happens. Let’s go out and make it happen, be in front of it.”
None of the teams that finished with six wins or fewer last year is less likely to improve into a playoff club than the Tennessee Titans, says Grantland’s Bill Barnwell.

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

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

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

Tennessee

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville

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


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


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

Luke Joeckel could start at right tackle for any of the other three teams in the division, I suspect. Can you name another guy who could?

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