NFL Nation: Gregg WIlliams

Williams' work will be in the lab

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
4:05
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As new St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams stepped to the dais to meet the media for the first time Thursday afternoon, he quickly joked that the rest of the defensive staff was pleased to get a respite from him while he answered a few questions.

"I know this week as we’ve started meeting as a staff, that they’re probably great and they’re enjoying the fact there’s a little bit of a break in the staff meetings downstairs and I’m here with you instead of with them because we have a lot of work to do," Williams said. "We started early this week and we’ll be working hard and doing that knowing that you all want a winner.”

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesGregg Williams "is not going to do a lot of player evaluations," Jeff Fisher said. "I want him to take this defense and run with it and let us handle that part."
Soon after a relatively brief news conference, Williams went back to work evaluating the current Rams defensive talent, meeting with his staff and getting the ball rolling for the 2014 season. Between now and the start of the season, that's going to be Williams' primary function, according to coach Jeff Fisher.

Even before the Rams officially hired Williams as defensive coordinator, many began wondering what his addition would mean to the Rams in terms of player evaluations and needs in the NFL draft and free agency.

By all indications, Williams isn't going to spend the next few months poring over tape of college prospects or traveling all over the country to pro days. Instead, Williams will spend his time in a sort of football laboratory, cooking up coverages, blitzes and more in an effort to help the Rams defense take the next step in its development.

"I told Gregg that this time around he’s going to be the mad scientist," Fisher said. "So he’s not going to do a lot of player evaluations. I’m not going to take his time up in evaluating unrestricted free agents and getting ready for the draft. I want him to take this defense and run with it and let us handle that part."

Fisher brought Williams back with the sole intention of helping the Rams move from a top 15 defense to a top 10 or better group. For most of his coaching career, Williams has had a reputation for aggressive, ball hawking defenses which feature aggressive press coverage and exotic blitz packages. Part of his job during this time will be figuring out how those principles mesh with what the Rams already have in place.

For example, the Rams finished third in the NFL in sacks in 2013 and seem to have a knack for generating pressure with just the front four. That would seem to alleviate the need to come with extra pass-rushers as much as Williams might be used to. That could allow him to concoct some different and unique ideas for third-down situations.

That isn't to say Williams is going to abandon what he believes in. Fisher wanted him all along for a reason, because they have similar beliefs on how to attack opposing offenses.

After Williams and Fisher were done speaking Thursday, Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis discussed what Williams' addition means for the defense. He's well aware that Fisher envisions Williams as one of the final pieces toward making the Rams a top 5 or so defense. He understands the expectations.

"We wouldn't have it any other way," Laurinaitis said. "You want to have that expectation way up there, and he has it and we have it. Quite frankly, there's no excuses for this defense not to be there. That comes from myself, from all the guys, talking to them. We're fired up, and I think it's just really an understanding that we have to elevate our game. There's absolutely no excuses. We should be a top 5 defense."

What Dr. Williams cooks up in the lab over the next six-plus months will go a long way in helping them get there.
ST. LOUIS -- Three former prominent St. Louis Rams coaches found more work this week in some form or another, each under different and intriguing circumstances.

Linehan
Linehan
In Dallas, former Rams head coach Scott Linehan was named the team's play caller. Yes, that's his official title.

In Baltimore, former Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo was moved from a defensive consultant position to secondary coach.

And of course, former Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was hired by the Rams to be their defensive coordinator. All of that in just a few days time.

For as strange as some of those moves seem on the surface, the only one that doesn't make much sense in my eyes is the Cowboys adding Linehan.

Spagnuolo
Spagnuolo
It's not outrageous that Dallas hired Linehan. He has a long history as an offensive coordinator. Of course, he's not the offensive coordinator. Linehan is walking into a job as the offensive play caller on a staff that already has a coordinator in Bill Callahan and a head coach with offensive background in Jason Garrett.

For now, at least, all three of those coaches figure to be in place next year. It's a strange situation and one that has led to plenty of head scratching. Beyond that, Linehan's track record running offenses is questionable when you look beyond the basic numbers. Linehan's success as a play caller has largely been based on having a strong-armed quarterback and an elite wide receiver.

In Minnesota, Linehan had Daunte Culpepper throwing deep to Randy Moss. In Detroit, it was Matthew Stafford tossing it up to Calvin Johnson. Even in St. Louis, the Rams had Marc Bulger throwing to Torry Holt in the first couple of years of Linehan's tenure.

The Rams' offense in 2006 was by far the best of his tenure with the team but it also functioned at its best when offensive coordinator Greg Olson was handling play calling duties. When Linehan reclaimed those duties, the offense sagged.

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyGregg Williams' return to St. Louis is the strangest hire involving former Rams coaches this week, but it also makes the most sense.
Likewise, Linehan has a history of ignoring the running game. The good news for Linehan in Dallas is he will have a talented quarterback and receiver combo in Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, but it's not like that duo has struggled to produce. The onus will fall on him to find ways to get the most out of the rest of his offense or this verse will be the same as the first.

Meanwhile, the man who replaced Linehan is taking on a much lower profile job with the Ravens. Spagnuolo made his bones in the league as a secondary coach, moving up through the ranks to Giants defensive coordinator after coaching the secondary as part of his tenure in Philadelphia. Like Linehan, Spagnuolo's tenure in St. Louis was not successful and he was unable to right the ship as defensive coordinator in New Orleans in 2012.

Spagnuolo was able to step away this year and now is back in a comfortable spot with Baltimore. His role won't require him to focus on anything but coaching up the secondary, and he should be able to settle back in and do just fine.

We've covered plenty of how Williams fits in with the Rams. It's a natural fit, one that has been more than two years in the making. While the circumstances of Williams' hiring are the strangest of the three moves, it's also the most logical and the one that should make the biggest difference.
NEW YORK -- A good share of Tennessee Titans devotees latched on to Gregg Williams in 2013.

The team’s senior assistant/defense helped change Tennessee’s defense for the better.

But the degree of public support for Williams as a defensive coordinator candidate once Mike Munchak was fired surprised me.

Now Williams is heading back to St. Louis for the reunion with Jeff Fisher that was slated for 2012, before Williams was sidetracked by his Bountygate suspension.

[+] EnlargeRay Horton
AP Photo/Mark DuncanRay Horton likes the speed and effort he's seen on tape from the Titans' 2013 defense.
In the meantime, the Titans have fresh defensive leadership in Ray Horton.

And Horton has the one big quality people like so much in Williams: Swagger.

He was formally introduced by the Titans on Wednesday and visited with us on the Midday 180, too.

He said he’s excited to be reunited with Ken Whisenhunt, who he called “a dynamic, proven, play-calling, winning coach” and he told us something I suspect will become a sound byte with staying power: “We’re going to get the damn job done.”

He likes the speed and effort he’s seen on tape from the 2013 defense, and said it’s the staff’s job to turn those things into wins.

“I want my players to be very disciplined, to be in the right place at the right time, and never, never, never let your teammates down,” he said. “...You better have good technique, you better be fundamentally sound, you better know how to take care of your responsibility.”

Horton’s played in and coached in a total of five Super Bowls.

He’s won three times -- Super Bowl XXVII as a player for Dallas, and Super Bowls XL and XLIII as a coach with Pittsburgh. But it’s the two losses he was part of that he says are most memorable.

He lists Super Bowl XXIII when San Francisco’s John Taylor caught the game-winning touchdown against his Bengals, and the Green Bay Packers win in Dallas against Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.

“I remember the losses not the wins,” he said. “The wins are easy. You just take your hardware, your ring, you go home and you wear it ... The losses, they haunt you.”

We were on Radio Row at the Super Bowl and Horton was in Nashville when we spoke.

“I truly believe this with all my heart,” he said. “What players want is to be where you guys are right now. The first week of February, they want to be in that city where you guys are.”

By Friday night, Horton will have watched every snap of every player.

Next week he and the staff will begin to discuss how to maximize what they have, accentuating strengths, hiding weaknesses and determining needs.

Fans should be energized by the reviews Whisenhunt has received for getting Horton, and about what Horton has said so far.

I anticipate that while fans will remember Williams’ contribution fondly, they will be quite happy with the man who got the job.


ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams and Gregg Williams have agreed to a deal to make Williams the team's defensive coordinator.

It's a move two years in the making after Williams originally accepted the same role in 2012 but never did the job after serving a suspension for his role in the bounty scandal with the New Orleans Saints.

Williams served as a defensive consultant for the Tennessee Titans in 2013 but technically hasn't been a defensive coordinator for a game since his time in New Orleans.

There will be no sweeping changes in terms of the general defensive philosophy but Williams will certainly add his own flavor. To get a handle on how we got here and what Williams brings to the table, ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett discussed the move.

Wagoner: Mike, it's been a long, strange trip to get to this point where Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams can finally reunite. You were there during the ups and downs of Williams' time in New Orleans. First, what are some of the things he can bring to the table from solely a coaching perspective?

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsGregg Williams, a senior defensive assistant with the Titans this past season, will preach an aggressive style of play as Rams defensive coordinator.
Triplett: Williams made a huge impact on the Saints -- especially in his first year in 2009. For one thing, he was a creative and versatile coordinator who was great at tailoring his defense around players' individual strengths. One example that stands out most was the way he made safety Roman Harper into a two-time Pro Bowler by using him as a frequent blitzer and pseudo-linebacker. Williams would also mix and match between a 4-3 and 3-4. His most famous example was the Super Bowl win over Indianapolis and Peyton Manning when he had different plans for the first half, the third quarter and the fourth quarter.

What stood out even more was the way Williams lit a fire under his players as a passionate leader and motivator. And he noticeably instilled confidence in them. He brought a lot of the same qualities in his first season that we talked about this past year with Rob Ryan. Obviously you can't ignore the bounty scandal, though, when describing those traits because Williams took it to such extremes.

Do you think it was hard for Fisher to make this move with the bounty scandal still so fresh in Williams' past?

Wagoner: In all honesty, I was under the impression that this ship had sailed. Fisher was hesitant to even talk about Williams during the week leading up to the Titans game this season and he fired Williams' son, Blake. But apparently their friendship survived all of those things or they were at least able to reconcile enough to give it another go. When Williams first got suspended, Fisher seemed to be a bit taken aback by it. I wondered if Williams didn't provide all of the information. It put the Rams in something of a difficult spot that first season. The timing of all this seems a bit strange because Williams shook loose from Tennessee a while ago. I wonder how much time has been spent working out the details. At the end of the day, this was clearly what Fisher wanted all along so perhaps now the Rams can finally have some stability at defensive coordinator.

You mentioned the bounty scandal. One thing that raises a red flag with this hire is the lack of discipline the Rams had in 2013. They drew a lot of silly penalties. That's always been a part of Fisher teams and it doesn't seem Williams' style will do much to harness that. What were your impressions of his ability to walk the line between instilling discipline in his players while not taking away their edge?

Triplett: I don't ever remember penalties being a big problem with the Saints. In fact, many people pointed out during the bounty debate that the Saints had one of the league's least-penalized defenses during Williams' tenure. But I still think that's probably a fair concern since I wouldn't exactly characterize Williams as "disciplined." He wants to create big plays, and he blitzed a ton while he was in New Orleans. And sometimes that gambling nature led to breakdowns and big plays for the offense. It worked wonders in 2009, when the Saints led the NFL in combined turnovers in the regular season and postseason. But they had playoff blowups at Seattle and San Francisco the next two years.

The same goes for big hits, obviously. Williams saw the value in what he always called "remember me" shots, and sometimes that led to unnecessary roughness penalties. But it was never a case of the Saints playing "dirty" on defense or taking cheap shots to hurt guys. The philosophy was to be aggressive as possible within the rules (though the reward program was where they went too far).

You'll see that philosophy on display right away during summer practices. The defensive guys will annoy the offense by constantly swatting at the ball and trying to pry it loose and diving on every ball that hits the turf. And you'll hear Williams shouting often. The energy level will be unmistakable.

Wagoner: It should be a good thing for the Rams to have some stability at the position, finally. One more thing while I've still got you. One area that drove Rams fans nuts this year was a commitment to a lot of "off" coverage with corners playing soft zones. It would seem Williams doesn't abide by that approach. Can you shed some light on his approach to coverage schemes and how it might alter the type of players for the secondary the Rams will be looking for this offseason?

Triplett: You're right. His corners played a ton of man-to-man coverage in New Orleans -- often times pressing -- while doing a lot of blitzing. But I'm not sure that's always his approach. It's just how he decided to do things in New Orleans since he trusted the defensive backs' ability to cover more than the front four's ability to generate pressure without blitzing.

When he was here, he had corners like Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter and safeties like Darren Sharper and Malcolm Jenkins, who all played very well during those years. Greer and Porter weren't very big or physical, so he doesn't necessarily require a big, physical corner. But he'd obviously like to find guys he can trust in man coverage.

Wagoner: There's no doubting the move makes sense for the Rams. Given the caliber of defenses the Rams face in the NFC West division, Williams' hire should help nudge them toward the elite status necessary to close the gap on Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona.

ST. LOUIS -- As the St. Louis Rams announced Wednesday that they fired defensive coordinator Tim Walton, the easy reaction wasn't necessarily to wonder why he was fired but why the Rams waited so long to do it.

It took all of about 10 minutes to understand. The Rams already had their replacement lined up, and technically, the replacement is the replacement's replacement. Got that?

ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen reported that the Rams will hire Gregg Williams to be their new (old?) defensive coordinator only moments after the team sent out a release announcing it was parting ways with Walton.

What a long, strange trip it's been for Williams and the Rams.

A brief history: Soon after the team named Jeff Fisher as head coach in January 2012, Fisher hired Williams as his defensive coordinator. Fisher and Williams were best friends and had worked together in Tennessee, where the Titans were regularly among the league's best defenses.

Not long after that, the Rams and Williams were forced to part ways because the NFL suspended Williams for his role in the bounty scandal in New Orleans. The Rams allowed Williams' son, Blake, to serve as a de facto coordinator in addition to his role coaching the team's linebackers.

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesGregg Williams will be hired as the Rams' defensive coordinator, reuniting with Jeff Fisher, sources said.
The Rams' defense was middle of the pack in 2012, but the younger Williams struggled to mesh with the coaching staff and was let go after the season. St. Louis hired Walton from Detroit, where he worked with Fisher disciple Jim Schwartz, because of his familiarity with Fisher's defense.

Walton's defense struggled mightily early in the season, especially against Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco. Rumors persisted that Fisher took on a larger role in calling the defense around midseason, and the group finished in the middle of the pack once again.

But Walton's contributions were questionable as the secondary struggled with passive coverage schemes and the defense allowed a completion rate of 68.1 percent, tied for worst in the league.

Despite those struggles, Walton was in his first year as a coordinator and Fisher said he didn't anticipate making any changes to the coaching staff this offseason.

Perhaps Fisher didn't anticipate the Titans making wholesale changes to their coaching staff, where Williams served as a defensive consultant in 2013.

Which brings us to Wednesday and the report that Williams and Fisher are set to reunite. Given the way things ended between the two sides the first time around, it was fair to wonder if the bridge had been burned and reconciliation was even possible.

Fisher said in 2012 that he wouldn't rule out bringing Williams back at some point, but it seemed plenty had changed since. When the Rams and Titans played in November, Fisher didn't exactly offer up warm fuzzies when asked whether he talked to Williams much.

“I really never talked to him during the season anyway,” Fisher said then. “I'm sure I'll see him on Sunday.”

From Williams' side, one had to wonder whether his son's firing would create a wedge between the two sides.

Apparently, none of that was enough to damage the long and close friendship forged by Fisher and Williams.

From a pure football perspective, the move makes sense. Williams and Fisher built the attacking, aggressive defensive scheme favored by both coaches and will continue to deploy it in St. Louis.

Williams' involvement in the bounty scandal is sure to bring questions, but there's no denying his positive impact on Tennessee's defense in 2013. The Titans finished 14th in total yards allowed and 16th in scoring defense with Williams helping out after finishing 27th in total yards and last in scoring defense in 2012.

With Williams back on board, it's safe to expect the Rams to take on the personality that Fisher wanted to see from the get-go -- less of the soft zone, huge cushion coverage calls paired with relentless pressure from the front four and exotic blitz packages.

Those are all calling cards of a Williams defense and will almost certainly be staples of the Rams' scheme in St. Louis.

Given the state of the NFC West, where elite defenses are the rule, the Rams' middle-of-the-pack finish in the first two seasons under Fisher simply hasn't been good enough. While the unit didn't take any steps back in 2013, it also didn't make the leap forward to the top-10 group many hoped it would become.

To reach that level, Fisher appears poised to bring back the man he wanted all along.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Maybe behind the scenes, Mike Munchak and the Titans organization gave Jerry Gray the business for foolish things he did while he was Tennessee’s defensive coordinator the last three seasons.

Publicly, they were supportive and loyal to a guy who defaulted to an overly passive defense and who needed to be propped up in his third year by Gregg Williams.

Gray
Gray made at least two public comments that were thoughtless and resulted in fines he didn’t feel were his fault -- one about how his defense should deliver hits that required a cart to take the victims off the field and another on the sideline near the end of a game about officials qualifying as three blind mice.

The fines that resulted were, of course, the fault of those that reported it, not the guy who said it.

It was incongruous with Munchak’s pledge that every member of the Titans should “be a pro,” know his job, do his job and be accountable.

Gray should have been told by his bosses that insulting officials isn’t a great idea and to be smarter. Perhaps he was. But to protect him from himself the Titans also changed a policy, limiting who could be on the sideline for the final two minutes of the game. Call it the Jerry Gray rule.

Monday in Mobile, Ala., John Glennon of The Tennessean ran into Gray.



Mike Munchak is a loyal guy. Had he hired a better coordinator, or cut ties with the only one he hired, the former Titans head coach might still have his job.

If Munchak and the Titans don’t read that line from Gray and think, “WE wish we cut HIM out of OUR lives” a year or two before his contract ran out, they’ve got tremendous restraint.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans' secondary was good last year, so defensive backs coach Brett Maxie should have been retained.

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesLet's give Ken Whisenhunt the benefit of the doubt before judging the moves he made regarding the Titans' coaching staff.
The Titans special teams were bad last year, so special teams coach Nate Kaczor and his assistant, Steve Hoffman, should not have been retained.

That's the popular thinking for at least a portion of Titans fans who are vocal on Twitter.

It's overly simplistic and incorrect.

I thought Maxie and assistant secondary coach Steve Brown did a good job last season.

Ken Whisenhunt kept Brown but let Maxie go.

Maybe he loved Maxie's work but has someone else in mind. Maybe he didn't like Maxie's work. Maybe a coaching colleague he trusts told him something about Maxie and something different about Brown. Maybe Ruston Webster gave him different reviews of the two. Maybe he's got a list of secondary coaches he covets and thinks a new guy working with a holdover will maximize the secondary's chances to do its best.

There are a number of factors that could have come into play. Whisenhunt's not going to spell them out for us.

The same is the case with regard to keeping Kaczor and Hoffman.

It's at least a partial endorsement of their work.

Tennessee's special teams were a problem last year, though things settled down when a quality returner, Leon Washington, fell into their lap late in the season.

But while those guys were heard, they weren't ultimately responsible for Darius Reynaud starting out as returner or Devon Wylie holding the job for a bit. Look higher up the Titans organizational chart for blame there -- to Mike Munchak and Webster.

As for silly, side-spinning, tee-less onside kicks ...

Perhaps Kaczor brought the idea to the table. But the head coach is the guy responsible for the team using it. Munchak, and any head coach, holds veto power and ultimate responsibility.

Whisenhunt is a smart coach who's respected around the league and arrives with six years as a head coach on his resume.

He's taken in some info and decided to keep the special teams assistants who were in place.

Rather than immediately call it a crazy move, how about we wait and see how they do given another chance?




The list of assistants and their fates, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean:

Retained: Steve Watterson, assistant head coach/strength and conditioning; Steve Brown, assistant secondary coach; Sylvester Croom, running backs; Steve Hoffman, assistant special teams; Shawn Jefferson, wide receivers; Nate Kaczor, special teams.

Let go: Dowell Loggains, offensive coordinator; George Henshaw, tight ends; Bruce Matthews, offensive line; Brett Maxie, secondary; Chet Parlavecchio, linebackers; Dave Ragone, quarterbacks; Tracy Rocker, defensive line.

Contract not renewed: Jerry Gray, defensive coordinator; Gregg Williams, senior assistant/defense; Keith Millard, pass rush.

TBA*: Jonathan Gannon, defensive assistant/quality control; Arthur Smith, offensive line/tight end assistant.

* Wyatt says they are retained for now, but the new offensive coordinator will have a say in what direction the team goes.

NASHILLE, Tenn. -- During his final two years as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, Ken Whisenhunt’s wanted a Pittsburgh style, 2-gapping, 3-4 defense.

He could adjust given his second head-coaching job, with the Tennessee Titans. But if we're forecasting scheme, that might be the most likely defense we'll see.

What's that mean regarding potential coordinators on the other side of the ball for Whisenhunt, who played as an NFL tight end and is an offensive coach?

If defensive coordinator Ray Horton is fired by the Cleveland Browns, who are still searching for a head coach, he’d likely be a prime candidate to re-join Whisenhunt, for whom he worked with the Cardinals. It was Horton who went from Pittsburgh to Arizona to run that scheme for the Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeRay Horton
AP Photo/Mark DuncanIf Ray Horton is not retained when the Browns hire a new coach, he could be a prime candidate to join Ken Whisenhunt's staff.
A couple others I think could be defensive coordinator possibilities: Green Bay’s inside linebackers coach Winston Moss and Baltimore’s secondary coach Teryl Austin, who coached Arizona’s secondary for Whisenhunt from 2007-09.

The Packers or Ravens would have to be willing to let them go in order for Whisenhunt to get them.

Steelers linebacker coach Keith Butler is someone Whisenhunt coveted for the role in his first go-round as a head coach. But Pittsburgh wouldn't let Butler go then and it's unlikely it will let him go now.

Gregg Williams was a 4-3 guy coming up with the Oilers/Titans, as head coach in Buffalo, as coordinator in Washington and Jacksonville. He did run some 3-4 in New Orleans, where he coaches a Super Bowl-wining defense.

Williams did well as a senior assistant/defense for Mike Munchak in 2013. His contract recently expired. He seems like an unlikely guy for Whisenhunt to want, but who knows what options the new coach will wind up with?

His two earlier defensive coordinators in Arizona -- Clancy Pendergast in 2007-08 and Billy Davis in 2009-10 -- ran hybrid fronts. But ultimately Whisenhunt landed on Horton and that 3-4.

If Whisenhunt puts the Titans on a course for a 3-4 defense, he’ll likely need some time to get them there. In the traditional version of the scheme, linemen generally take on the man across from them and are expected to clog the gap on either side of the blocker depending on how a play develops. The linebackers fill in and make the bulk of the plays.

The Titans’ best defensive player, Jurrell Casey, is a 4-3 tackle who would surely become a 3-4 end. Big nose tackles who demand a double team are hard to find, though perhaps 328-pound Sammie Hill could make the conversion.

The Titans linebackers were very unproductive in 2013 after a good start. None scream out to me that they’d be better standing up and adding some coverage duties, though Akeem Ayers was projected by many in that role when he came out of UCLA. I didn’t think the Titans had one sufficient middle linebacker, better yet two who could be tackling machines sharing the inside.

Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano got good results running a hybrid in his first season converting a 4-3 to a 3-4 in 2012, and in his second season the team was better stocked for his preferred front. But he had Robert Mathis, a pass-rushing demon at end who’s taken well to playing as an outside linebacker.

When he’s formally introduced Tuesday, we’ll hear from Whisenhunt about his plans for Tennessee’s defense.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Mike Munchak returned Friday evening to the Music City, but the Tennessee Titans issued statements from president/CEO Tommy Smith and general manager Ruston Webster saying things are not yet resolved regarding the coach's job status.

Munchak
"I said all along that we would review every aspect of the football operations at the conclusion of the season -- in early January," Smith said. "Today I sat down with Ruston and Mike and we discussed every coach and player on the roster. We had good discussions, but no final decisions were made."

Said Webster: "The three of us met all day today in Houston. We had a good conversation in regards to the team and moving forward. Nothing final has been decided at this point, but we hope to have a decision soon."

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reported that Munchak will return, saying after the statements were released that Munchak has conditions but is expected to meet them.

I interpret that as meaning Munchak will sacrifice part of his staff to retain his job.

Jerry Gray has an expiring contract, but when his phone rings he's likely to be told he won't get a new deal. Munchak should be trying to promote Gregg Williams to the defensive coordinator post, but Williams is also about to become a coaching free agent.

Others who might be in trouble: offensive line coach Bruce Matthews, Munchak's best friend and fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer; linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio; special-teams coach Nate Kaczor; defensive line coach Tracy Rocker; and pass rush coach Keith Millard.

I wrote previously about some of them being at risk.

I fully believe Dowell Loggains is safe if Munchak is back. The last thing the Titans need is a third offensive coordinator in three years for young quarterback Jake Locker.

If staff changes are the primary conditions for Munchak's return, the easy part may be firing assistants. Hiring quality replacements while heading toward a lame-duck season will be difficult. And there is no indication at all that Smith will consider an extension for Munchak.
Eric Decker, Jason McCourty AP Photo Jason McCourty, right, and the Titans' secondary face a formidable challenge in defending Eric Decker and the Broncos' passing attack.
It seemed a little out of place, but as the Denver Broncos were about to get to work on the Tennessee Titans this week, quarterback Peyton Manning said he was going to prepare for an "unfamiliar opponent."

Granted, Manning hasn't faced a Titans team with Mike Munchak as its head coach, but he has faced Tennessee 19 times previously in his career (including a playoff game in the 1999 season), all with the Indianapolis Colts. So, while this is the Titans' first look at Manning in a Broncos uniform, the quarterback is a familiar face as Denver tries to keep its grip on home-field advantage in the postseason.

Here, ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.

Legwold: Paul, you've been around the team since it arrived in Tennessee and, before we get to the on-field matchup, how would you say the team has dealt with franchise founder Bud Adams' death earlier this season? Who is making the decisions now and who will make them in the coming offseason, both on and off the field?

Kuharsky: It was a big loss, of course, for Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster and team employees who worked for Adams for a long time. Most of the players hardly knew him, as he was not around much in his final couple of years, when his health began to fail. So there is a lot of uncertainty now. Three branches of Adams' family share control of the franchise, and Bud's son-in-law, Tommy Smith, is the team president and CEO. He's apparently been paying close attention to things in anticipation of taking over. But we know very little about how he will operate going forward. That means there is some tension, because not every team employee knows if he's secure. That starts with the struggling head coach, Munchak.

Leadership in Denver appeared to remain strong as Jack Del Rio stepped in for John Fox. How much of a boost will Fox's return give the team?

Legwold: Del Rio, the team's defensive coordinator, earned praise from everyone in the organization, including Fox and the players, for how things were handled in the head coach's absence following open-heart surgery. His return has given the team an emotional boost, because after a month away, Fox came back feeling better than he had in some time and enthusiastic to see where this season can go. It should help the Broncos avoid a late-season stumble as they try to get home-field advantage for the playoffs again. Tactically speaking, not much will change. Coordinator Adam Gase is still calling the plays on offense -- Del Rio has said that, other than being a sounding board from time to time, he left the offense solely in Gase's hands during Fox's absence. Del Rio will continue to call the defense on game day as he has all season. Overall, though, it's likely Fox's return will keep the Broncos from hitting an emotional lull over the final month of the regular season.

On the field, the Titans have seen Manning plenty over the years. How do you think Tennessee will approach things on defense and does it see some differences in the Broncos' offense compared to what it saw from the Manning-led Colts?

Kuharsky: Well, it's a relief the Titans don't see Edgerrin James, I am sure. And while Denver's pass-catchers are a remarkable bunch, I'm not sure there is a Marvin Harrison in it yet. They know blitzing Manning can be fruitless no matter what matchups they like against offensive linemen. They'll try to be unpredictable and force him to throw to a certain spot a few times. But plenty of teams have that idea and fail with it. Under Gregg Williams' influence, the Titans have used an ever-shifting front, and we know that's a popular way to play against Manning in an attempt to minimize his ability to make pre-snap reads. The front is pretty good, especially Jurrell Casey, though there is no dominant edge rusher. The secondary has been quite good. It's the linebackers, particularly in pass coverage, who seem vulnerable to me, and I don't know what the Titans will do there to prevent abuse. Bernard Pollard's been a leader whose play has matched his talk, but the Titans have kept him out of tough coverage situations and I wonder whether Manning will find ways to try to go at him.

The Titans are rooting for freezing temperatures even though they've been awful themselves in their past two frigid games. I know some all-time great quarterbacks have excelled in the cold even if they haven't loved it. How much of an issue is it for Manning at this stage of his career?

Legwold: That is the elephant in the room with the Broncos given their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last January. Manning threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns in that game, even though the temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees. But folks seem to remember a wobbly incompletion here and there to go with an interception to close out the Broncos' final possession. Until Manning simply cranks it up on a cold day and the Broncos get a key victory, people are going to ask him about it. He had spots in the overtime loss to New England two weeks ago -- in frigid, windy conditions -- in which he threw as well as he ever has, particularly on a sideline pass to Demaryius Thomas and a touchdown throw to tight end Jacob Tamme. It's not so much his arm that has been an issue post-surgery, it's his grip when he throws. Overall, though, the Broncos push the pace more on offense at home. Manning has terrorized defenses that have played a lot of man coverages against the Broncos' offense, including his five-touchdown game last weekend in Kansas City. The Broncos like that matchup in any weather.

Denver has some injuries on defense that have affected how it plays, especially with the run defense. Where does Chris Johnson fit in the Titans' offense these days?

Kuharsky: He's really had one big game all season. Even when he seems to get going, the Titans can't find a rhythm or a way to stick with him. This was supposed to be a run-reliant, run-dominant team. It isn't. With Ryan Fitzpatrick now the quarterback, the Titans like to put him in an empty set and let him do his thing. It's been good at times, but it doesn't do much to enhance the chances of the running game. Johnson doesn't get yards after contact. So if he doesn't find a big hole, he's not going to do a lot of damage. Watch out on a screen or little flip pass -- that's where Johnson has been more threatening.

Denver's defense has dealt with quite a few injuries and Von Miller's suspension. How's his health and how is that group playing together?

Legwold: The Broncos have yet to play the 11 starters on defense in any game this season they expected to have coming out of training camp. They never will now that defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson has been moved to injured reserve. Vickerson was a big part of the plan on early downs -- and the Chiefs tested the middle of the defense plenty this past Sunday, so the Broncos are working through some adjustments there. Champ Bailey (left foot) has played in just three games this season -- just one from start to finish -- and safety Rahim Moore is on injured reserve/designated to return. (The Broncos hope Moore will be back for the postseason.) Toss in Derek Wolfe and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie not being in the lineup against the Chiefs and the Broncos are not nearly as consistent as they were last season, when they were a top-five defense. Miller has had moments of top-shelf play since his return, but hasn't been a consistent force like he was last season.

Sean Taylor's death still resonates

November, 4, 2013
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The trial of his shooter is over (four other men were charged in the case and three await trial), which can’t bring a whole lot of joy and relief to anyone who was close to late Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor. Closure, maybe, but even that will be tough. Taylor is still gone. His daughter will still grow up without her dad and a son will never return to see his parents.

That’s the saddest part, of course. That won’t be forgotten.

Sean Taylor
G Fiume/Getty ImagesFormer Redskins safety Sean Taylor was shot and killed in a 2007 burglary of his home. On Monday, Eric Rivera Jr. was convicted of second-degree murder, six years after Taylor's death.
The media did not get to know Taylor that well during his time in Washington; he allowed some people in, but rarely revealed much of himself. You had to earn his trust, something even the coaches discovered. Then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams spoke of this often, before and after Taylor’s death.

Was there real growth in Taylor during his four seasons there? Teammates I spoke to at the time said yes. One of them said his opinion of Taylor changed because he saw a young kid maturing. No players are 100-percent beloved, and everyone has critics. Still, players I trust recalled a kid they saw evolving. They knew him better.

For myself, I didn't know Taylor all that well. In all honesty, for most of us, he was the moody, young kid we were trying to get to know, but every time a corner was turned, another obstacle emerged. In time, I thought, he’ll come around. He was getting closer. It takes time for some.

But from a football perspective, I knew him well. And his death still haunts the franchise at the safety position. They've had plenty of time to recover, from a football point of view; it’s hard to find a similar talent, but that doesn't mean they've done a good job in doing so. They've made too many poor decisions here, and that haunts them as well. You can only blame his death for so long. But had Taylor lived, he would have been in his 10th season, probably with a handful of Pro Bowls on his resume and, assuming good health, several more years to go.

Taylor was playing at an elite level in 2007, prior to his knee injury and murder. He could move like few other safeties, allowing the Redskins to disguise coverages longer. For example, he would be over a slot receiver on the left side only to drop to a Cover 2 on the other side. I haven’t seen that since.

He would have been the perfect safety for how the NFL has evolved, too. When offenses go to empty sets, if you have a safety who can run like Taylor and cover like a corner, then you can stay with your base defense and not limit your calls. His speed and aggressiveness would have been a good foil to help defend the read option, too. A corner blitz from the numbers? Go ahead; Taylor could get to the receiver in a hurry. After Taylor died, they had to move rookie LaRon Landry to free safety; he's better at strong but could get away playing free.

It’s too bad NFL.com did not offer the All-22 coaches film when Taylor played, to see how much ground he covered and to see the multitude of ways the Redskins used him to disguise coverages. It would have been revealing.

Taylor played with a passion few have for the sport. He left behind a legacy with his play. He also left behind a lifetime of what-ifs for anyone who watched him.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Gregg Williams will coach a defense at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday but it won't be the one that he probably envisioned as recently as January of 2012.

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyGregg Williams, one of Jeff Fisher's first hires with the Rams, is instead leaving his stamp on the Titans' defense after his return from a season-long suspension.
Williams was one of Rams coach Jeff Fisher's first hires when he took over the job last year, brought on to be the team's defensive coordinator. That never panned out how either side envisioned when the NFL suspended Williams for the year because of his role in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal. Williams faded into NFL oblivion and resurfaced in Tennessee this year as a defensive consultant.

As the Rams and Titans prepare to face off this week, much has been made of Fisher's knowledge of Tennessee and head coach Mike Munchak's system but it's certainly a two-way street, at least on defense. Although Jerry Gray is the defensive coordinator, Williams' imprint on the defense -- lots of blitzing, plenty of press coverage -- is obvious.

"Absolutely, you can see Gregg's fingerprints on that," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "I think Jerry Gray does a great job. I think they're very well-coached. It will be a good challenge for us. The good news is there is some carryover from what we saw last week with Seattle coming off the Monday night game in terms of the eight-man front and some of the stuff we'll have to block. So, that does help you."

Fisher and Williams were once thought to be close friends, a relationship likely strained by what happened with Williams' status in St. Louis and the Rams parting ways with Williams' son Blake after one season last year.

Asked about Williams earlier this week, Fisher told the Tennessee media that he hasn't spoken to Williams much in the past year. Asked again Wednesday by St. Louis media, he didn't offer much more.

"I really never talked to him during the season anyway," Fisher said. "I'm sure I'll see him on Sunday."

I.C.Y.M.I.

A morning roundup of Friday's Rams stories appearing here on ESPN.com. ... We began the day with a look at why Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan is getting the last laugh on the success of Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner. ... Next, we looked at the Rams' need to keep the momentum on defense after a dominant outing against Seattle. ... On the injury wire, we looked at the potential for new looks at running back with three backs listed as questionable. ... Finally, we discussed the news about Jacksonville receiver Justin Blackmon with a look back at what might have been had he slipped to the Rams at No. 6.

Elsewhere:

At stltoday.com, columnist Bryan Burwell provides this video look at the Rams-Titans game.

Joe Lyons dives into the breakthrough performance of rookie running back Zac Stacy.

Jim Thomas provides the comments from offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer on the final play against Seattle.

Stacy stopped by to chat with fans at stlouisrams.com.

Tickets for Sunday's game can be had for as low as $9.

One former agent provides a list of likely cap casualties this offseason, including Finnegan.

An interesting look from cbssports.com on the trade that sent Eric Dickerson from the Rams to Indianapolis.

Double Coverage: Titans at Rams

October, 31, 2013
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Alterraun Verner and Chris LongUSA TODAY SportsTitans CB Alterraun Verner and Rams DE Chris Long are two of the league's best at their positions.
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Any time the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans meet, memories of Super Bowl XXXIV are sure to come to the fore. In one of the greatest Super Bowl finishes of all time, the Rams emerged with their lone championship during their time in St. Louis.

A lot has changed since, but neither team has managed to get back to the promised land and it seems like a long shot either will this season. This week, the Rams and Titans renew acquaintances at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. ESPN.com Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky discuss some things worth watching, including an interesting role reversal for one of the key figures in that Super Bowl.

Wagoner: Well, it's pretty obvious what the big story is going to be this week. Jeff Fisher is facing his former team for the first time since taking over as the coach in St. Louis. As is to be expected, Fisher is downplaying that whole angle, but you were around him a lot in his years in Nashville. Do you expect Fisher to have a little something extra for his old team this week?

Kuharsky: It would be so much better if it were in Nashville. Then we’d have the crowd reaction as a part of it, too. Still, it’s intriguing. He will definitely have something (or some things) drawn up that he feels will uniquely exploit the schemes and styles of his former underlings Mike Munchak, Jerry Gray and Gregg Williams. If those things work, I’d expect Fisher will then talk about how one of his assistants who was once in Tennessee -- Chuck Cecil, Dave McGinnis or even Ray Sherman -- was instrumental in the design. Fisher didn’t leave with hard feelings, and I believe he wishes the organization well. Still, any proud former employee in this sort of circumstance wants to outperform the former employer. He’s talked about it meaning more for the guys on the roster who were once Titans.

Jared Cook had a monster opening day but has been quiet since. Cortland Finnegan missed some time hurt. What’s the status of those guys?

Wagoner: Cook has really struggled dealing with teams giving him more attention and, more specifically, being physical with him at the line of scrimmage and downfield. He stopped on a route last week against Seattle, and it resulted in an interception. The Rams have gone back to more of a power running scheme that has also limited his snaps because he doesn’t bring much to the table as a blocker. Finnegan won’t say it, but I believe he was banged up at the beginning of the season; his first four games were downright brutal. He returned last week against Seattle, and for now he’s working exclusively in the nickel as the team’s third corner rather than just bumping inside in those situations. Given that he’s only a little more than a year into a monster contract, it’s hard to categorize him as anything but a disappointment for the price.

A lot will be made of the Fisher-Tennessee connection, but I’m more intrigued by the Gregg Williams situation. The way things went down with him and the Rams, and between Williams’ son Blake and the Rams, had to have created some tension on all sides. What has Williams’ impact been down there in Tennessee, and what exactly is his role?

Kuharsky: By title, he’s senior assistant/defense. In practice, he’s not-quite defensive coordinator. Gray is still calling the plays, but Williams’ influence is undeniable. This defense had no personality or attitude last season. Now it’s the backbone of the team. It mixes it up and disguises its looks up front, it blitzes more often and it plays far more man-to-man. Bernard Pollard has been a great fit who has talked with swagger and backed it up. Some guys most people have never heard of -- defensive end Ropati Pitoitua and middle linebacker Moise Fokou -- have been very good additions. Williams certainly had a say in bringing those guys in. He has stayed in the background and seems comfortable there. I would imagine he and Gray are excited to put together a plan to make Kellen Clemens uncomfortable.

How do you think Clemens will respond in his second start since Sam Bradford went down?

Wagoner: To paraphrase one of the great philosophers of our time, Mr. Dennis Green, Clemens proved last week against Seattle that he is what we thought he was. He’s a tough, gritty, consummate professional who can occasionally extend plays with his legs and make something happen. He’s also consistently inaccurate, a bit indecisive and has a knack for costly turnovers (though his two interceptions Monday night weren’t completely his fault). Another week to work with the starters should help, but he was a bit sore after Monday night’s game against Seattle. The Rams don’t need him to throw for 300 yards and five touchdowns, but they do need him to convert in the red zone and not turn the ball over.

There are something like 16 players from the Fisher era remaining in Tennessee, one of whom is running back Chris Johnson. The Rams have been better defending the run the past two weeks, but they need to prove they can keep doing it. It appears Johnson has struggled after the team made efforts to help him in the offseason. What’s going on with Johnson, and is he (and the Titans' offensive line) capable of taking advantage of the Rams’ run defense?

Kuharsky: The Titans are built on a philosophy of throwing it when they want to, not when they have to. That’s a mistake because the revamped line and Johnson are not equipped to run it they way they think they can. Jets fans get a kick out of this, but to a large degree the Titans' hope things will get better comes from Shonn Greene. The bigger back was brought in as a compliment to CJ, but he got hurt in the opener and made it back only the week before the bye; he has hardly played. They need him to emerge and contribute. Based on current numbers, the Rams are the third-softest run defense the Titans will have seen this season. If they can’t run Sunday, it will really speak to their issues.

Chris Long and Robert Quinn looked really good against Seattle. Have they been giving everyone problems like that?

Wagoner: Quinn certainly has. Through the first half of the season, he’s really starting to realize his immense potential. I believe he’s the Rams’ best player right now, and have felt that way since the beginning of the season. He’s an athletic freak who gives slower tackles problems. He feasts on inferior players, but he can get it done against good tackles as well. Long was banged up earlier in the season but has battled through it and is starting to find his stride. Given the situation on offense right now, the Rams need this duo to take over games on a regular basis and set the tone for a defense that, before last week, had largely disappointed this season.

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Double Coverage: Jets at Titans

September, 27, 2013
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Jake Locker and Bilal PowellUSA TODAY SportsJake Locker, left, and Bilal Powell hope to build on big games when their teams meet Sunday.
Preseason expectations for the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans were poor, at best. Rex Ryan and Mike Munchak were at the top of the list of coaches on the hot seat. They had questions at quarterback and critics wondering about the caliber of their defensive playmakers.

Those questions still exist.

But three games into the season, entering a head-to-head matchup in Nashville, each stands at 2-1. They each won last week despite major penalty problems.

The Titans' offseason included more than $100 million spent on a big group of free agents and a revamping of the coaching staff, including the addition of senior assistant/defense Gregg Williams.

The Jets were much about turmoil, particularly with the drafting of quarterback Geno Smith and his competition with Mark Sanchez. To set up the game, ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Jets reporter Rich Cimini got together to break things down:

Paul Kuharsky: How, Rich, have the Jets pulled off this start after such an ugly offseason?

Rich Cimini: You're right, Paul, it was an ugly offseason. Ugly preseason, too, with a rigged quarterback competition that ended with Sanchez's shoulder injury. But to its credit, this team has stayed focused and confident. It's too early to say the Jets have arrived, but they're playing good defense. For a change, they actually have a front three/four that can put pressure on the quarterback. In the past, Ryan had to rely on exotic blitzes to generate the heat. Now he has a young, talented defensive line led by Muhammad Wilkerson. Seven of their eight sacks last week came on four-man rushes. The offense exploded last week, for one of the most prolific days in team history -- if you can believe it -- but I think a lot of that can be attributed to a lousy Buffalo secondary. Smith has a big arm, but he's prone to two or three big mistakes per game. He already has seven turnovers, compared to none for Jake Locker. What can you say about Locker's development?

Kuharsky: He's really made nice, steady progress. I like my quarterback to do more than not make giant mistakes, and Locker showed last week that he might be capable of more. The Titans love his intangibles. In a lot of ways, they drafted him because he's the anti-Vince Young. Locker prepares well, works hard, understands the hard parts of being an NFL quarterback and earns the respect of his teammates and coaches. He's blazing fast and can really throw. He changed protections twice in the game-winning drive against San Diego, which is real progress. Still, it's a run-first team that wants to hand the ball to Chris Johnson and, when he's healthy, Shonn Greene. (I know Jets fans are sad he's out this week.) The Titans rebuilt their interior line to protect better, but even more so, they can establish and count on the run. How is the Jets' front as a run-stopping group, and how are the Jets running the ball to take some of the burden off the rookie quarterback?

Cimini: Bilal Powell is coming off a career day (149 rushing yards), but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg isn't married to the idea of running the ball to take pressure off Smith. He has been pretty aggressive with his play calling, allowing Smith to attack downfield. In fact, he has nine completions on attempts that went 21 yards or longer, tied with Aaron Rodgers for the league lead. As for stopping the run, the front seven is doing a nice job. It's a younger, faster front seven than the one you saw last December in Nashville. Linebacker DeMario Davis, nose tackle Damon Harrison and rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson have injected much-needed speed into the defense. They have held a couple of good backs in check, namely Doug Martin and C.J. Spiller. I'm really curious to see how they handle Locker and Johnson. Talk to me about the Titans' defense. Sounds like Williams has brought a different dynamic.

Kuharsky: Yeah, Jerry Gray might still have the defensive coordinator title and might still be calling the game. But the Titans are running stuff he never thought to install or call on his own, and they've got an attitude he wasn't able to instill without Williams. The Titans are blitzing more, they are playing more press coverage, they are hitting harder, they are more assertive and their confidence and swagger is well beyond what we saw last season. Williams is completely in the background, low-keying it. If the defense plays as it has, he could re-emerge as a candidate for coordinator jobs after just one year back from his suspension. Rex seems to have backed off the crazy pronouncements and is more low-key himself. Same guy being a bit more guarded, or is there more change to it than that?

Cimini: Ryan is in self-preservation mode. He has a new boss, general manager John Idzik, a buttoned-down guy whose objective was to send the circus out of town. He has changed the culture around the organization, and Ryan has bought into that mentality. So yes, the old bravado is gone. Selfishly, as a reporter, I liked the old Rex because he gave us plenty to write about. Another reason for the change in his approach, I think, is he realizes this is a fairly young team (three or four rookies in the starting lineup) and he doesn't want to put extra pressure on them by making outrageous statements. As a result, it's a lot quieter around here. Bummer.

Kuharsky: It’s always quiet down here, Rich. Hopefully, someone will make some sort of noise Sunday. I’m thinking it’s unlikely to be a Jets receiver. I know Stephen Hill did some good work against the Bills. But the Titans' pass rush and coverage might be fine against Smith and his receivers. They don’t rate very well, do they?

Cimini: Astute observation, Paul. The Jets picked on a couple of backup cornerbacks for the Bills, racking up numbers you'd expect to see from Peyton Manning and the Broncos. It won't be that easy against the Titans. Hill is talented, yes, but he's wildly inconsistent. He'll make your heart race with a big play, but he'll also break it with an easy drop. Santonio Holmes remains their best receiver. Last week's big game notwithstanding, he's not the Holmes of a few years ago, still not 100 percent after foot surgery. Bottom line: This is still a receiving corps with questions.

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Rivers/LockerUSA TODAY SportsJake Locker, right, will try to keep up with Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who have scored 61 points through two games.
The San Diego Chargers are the Tennessee Titans' white whale.

The teams don’t play that frequently -- just nine times since 1993, including a wild-card playoff matchup in January 2008. The franchises have undergone all sorts of changes during that span, but one thing has remained consistent when they meet: The Chargers always win.

Bill Williamson, why do you think that is, and what are the odds it continues?

Bill Williamson: I don’t see the Chargers' history with the Titans being a factor. I know in Nashville the word "Chargers" makes fans cringe because of the history. Both teams are rebuilding and trending upward. These are two similar teams, and they will both be in the AFC conversation in the coming years.

The Titans made a lot of changes. This isn’t the team the Chargers beat 38-10 last September. What’s the biggest difference?

Paul Kuharsky: The central part of the offseason revamp was the offensive line. The Titans have three new starters on the interior with left guard Andy Levitre, center Rob Turner and right guard Chance Warmack. Turner has been shaky, however, and Warmack is a rookie who is going to take some lumps when he’s across from someone like J.J. Watt. The group hasn’t jelled yet, but the run-blocking has been pretty good.

We've seen the good Philip Rivers and the bad Philip Rivers over the years. With the new regime in place, what is your feeling on who he will be now?

Williamson: I might be the wrong person to ask, Paul. I’ve always been high on Rivers. Yes, his play sank the past two seasons and he committed 47 turnovers during that span. But it wasn’t all on him. The previous regime in San Diego let go of a lot of skill-position talent, and the offensive line was decimated by injuries. Rivers didn’t have much help. He was pressing as a result. So far under head coach Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback coach Frank Reich, Rivers has looked re-energized. He has looked relaxed and confident over the first two weeks. He has shown that he is still a high-level player. Stopping him is the main challenge for the Titans.

How’s Jake Locker coming along?

Kuharsky: He made a bad throw on a crucial third-and-1 late in regulation in the loss to the Texans. The Titans have hardly turned him loose so far. But since the start of camp, he’s shown steady progress. I’m not a complete believer by any means, but I think he has a chance and I didn’t always feel that way. We still haven’t seen some aspects of the offense that should be featured for him. Maybe this week he’ll run around more and we’ll see more boots and rollouts.

I’m curious about one of the guys who will be chasing Locker. The Titans have seen a great deal of Dwight Freeney over the years. How has he fit in the defensive scheme there?

Williamson: An old foe, indeed. Freeney is in a tough spot. He was signed (and paid well) to be the Chargers’ primary edge pass-rusher after 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram blew out his knee in May. But at 33, Freeney is best suited as a rotational player. He has half a sack this season. He has been active and will give his best effort, but he needs help. It would be a stretch to think he can still be a premier player. But he knows the Titans, and I’m sure he will be motivated to perform well Sunday.

What can Rivers and the Chargers' offensive line expect from the Titans’ pass rush?

Kuharsky: The best guys so far haven’t been the ends. Derrick Morgan, Akeem Ayers and Kamerion Wimbley should key the rush. Ayers moves from stongside linebacker to end on rush downs but has been limited by a bad ankle. Tackle Jurrell Casey and weakside linebacker Zach Brown have been the best rushers so far. The fronts are less predictable and the blitzes more frequent. That’s the influence of defensive assistant Gregg Williams. This defense is far better than I expected.

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