NFL Nation: Jevon Kearse

The case for and (more) against Munchak

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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Mike MunchakJim Brown/USA TODAY SportsMike Munchak has a .091 winning percentage versus teams finishing the season with winning records.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Monday the Titans begin the process of deciding what to do with Mike Munchak, who’s under contract for one more year as head coach.

Let’s set aside all the predictions and expectations.

We know very little about how team president and CEO Tommy Smith will operate in his new role and how he will balance his family’s long-term relationship with Munchak against the results he’s produced as a head coach. We don’t know if Munchak has the backing of general manager Ruston Webster going forward.

We do know what goes into the case for him and the case against him. So let’s examine those and then delve into things I consider significant issues where I don’t see a clear counterargument in his favor:

For: The Titans are on the verge. They’ve lost six one-possession games this season. Make the jump in just half of those and they could be a 10-win playoff team.

Against: They are unable to finish games, and there is no reason to expect they find it all of a sudden under the same leadership.

For: The division is bad and there is room to get better in a hurry against rebuilding Houston and Jacksonville.

Against: The Titans are 3-8 in the division in the past two seasons and 1-4 this year heading into the finale against Houston. Tennessee lost to the Texans and Jaguars this year when it should be sweeping those teams when they are having down years. That’s the path to actually competing for the division.

For: This roster has stood firmly with Munchak. There has been no dissension. They haven’t quit on him and have been playing hard to the end. His message is working. They work hard to execute what is asked of them.

Against: Having a roster of guys committed to following a coach who’s not doing a good job is nice, but if he’s not doing a good job it doesn’t matter as much. What is asked of them isn’t right often enough. This team’s in-game adjustment to what opponents do is typically poor.

For: Smith has pledged another big offseason, and the Titans will create a spring and summer buzz much like last year’s, when they spent over $100 million on free agents and had the 10th pick in the draft.

Against: The fan base is angry and/or apathetic. The tickets are bought, in part because so many people are financially committed with PSLs. But that hasn’t meant they have showed up. A new coach and staff will also have a free-agent class and draft and that will do a lot more to get Nashville interested.

For: Though they were overmatched, the Titans stood toe-to-toe for a good while with some of the NFL’s best -- Seattle and Denver. They lost twice to the AFC South champion Colts by a combined 11 points.

Against: Munchak is 2-20 -- not a misprint -- against teams that finish the season with a winning record. Whether they are close to the caliber of those teams or not, that is a .091 winning percentage against winning teams. How can Smith endorse that?

For: They could be one player away, and we’ve seen them make a big addition and a big jump before.

Against: The odds of landing Jevon Kearse are small, and the 1998 Tennessee Oilers had more pieces in place than the 2013 Titans do.

For: They’ll move away from Chris Johnson and by doing so they’ll be in line to have the run game they expected this year. This offensive line needed time to jell. In 2014, Shonn Greene and a mid-round draft pick will be more effective.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsMike Munchak wanted the Titans to be a run-first team but inconsistency in the run game plagued Tennessee all season.
Against: Three years in and a Hall of Fame offensive lineman as a head coach with a Hall of Fame offensive line coach still haven’t produced a team that can run consistently. How can they possibly say, “We need more time” and get it? How did lines with injuries in Seattle and Miami manage to play well enough to win? They have to replace David Stewart at right tackle, right? Another change positions them for more excuses about needing time to jell.

For: The Titans didn’t have their starting quarterback for nine games this year. Who wins without their starting quarterback? Injuries to Greene and center Brian Schwenke also hurt.

Against: It would be a good argument if Jake Locker was a proven NFL franchise quarterback. He is not and they sold Ryan Fitzpatrick as a top-flight alternative. We know Locker has potential and is injury prone. Pinning hopes on that for 2014 seems dangerous. The Greene and Schwenke injuries should not be regarded as hugely impactful and are on par with the sort of thing every team in the league deals with.

For: He doesn’t care about the peripheral stuff; he’s not going to play the game. He just wants to coach and do things the right way.

Against: Tough for him. A head coach is a CEO and the responsibilities require more. You have to be a PR guy and a marketer. He doesn’t embrace that stuff and it hurts the franchise. You can’t play the “I just want to coach” card until you’ve proven you can win.

A few other things don’t fit as neatly in a for-and-against format and mostly qualify as arguments against his return.

I think it’s very difficult to make a case for him based on his work in the division, his record against winning teams and his inability to explain what’s wrong.

Warped thinking: Munchak endorsed a foolish onside kick approach with an unconventional, tee-less spinner that kicker Rob Bironas clearly did not like. Worse, the coach judged his team to be 1-for-3 with it rather than 0-for-3 because San Francisco bobbled the kick before recovering it. Note to Munchak: Such a kick is judged a success if, and only if, you recover it. We know it’s very difficult to do. We also know it’s ridiculous to deem one a success when the other team comes out with the ball. Lo and behold, the Titans recover a conventional, high-bounce onside kick during a furious comeback against Arizona.

Straying from his philosophy: Over and over Munchak spoke of how the 2013 Titans would be able to get the tough yard on the ground. These Titans were going to throw it when they wanted to, not when they had to. But given a chance to win the Arizona game with 10 seconds left with a two-point conversion play from the 1-yard line after a penalty, he chose overtime. The team he promised shouldn’t have even considered kicking the extra point. In sharing more about his logic a day later, he said the team hadn’t run it in an hour as it played hurry-up to overcome a big deficit. Shouldn’t a team built around the offensive line and backs be able to run for a yard whether they’d been running it or not?

Salesmanship: He’s a better salesman than he is a head coach. In memorializing Bud Adams when he died, he spoke about how he used to walk the hallways of the team’s facility on a Saturday before the game with Adams and Adams’ friends, looking at the pictures of the team’s history and telling stories. It showed me that Munchak was shrewd in how he dealt with the owner, playing right into what the owner liked and taking Adams right where Adams liked to go. It endeared him to his boss and did a lot to make him the choice when the team and Jeff Fisher parted ways. I expect he will do well selling Smith on the plan going forward. But the team gets better by adjusting the plan, not by selling the plan better to a new person at the top of the organization. Old-time Oilers memories should mean nothing now.

Lame duck: His résumé certainly doesn’t warrant an extension. That means he and his staff would be working as lame ducks in 2014. Lame-duck scenarios aren’t typically healthy. They make it hard to attract players and assistants. They make it easy for a team to tune out if and when things don’t go well.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Four notes from my first day with the Jaguars before diving into Day 2 of minicamp.

1) Coach Gus Bradley said that Maurice Jones-Drew spoke to the entire team on Monday night, offering an apology for his recent distraction.

2) What happens in team periods in these practices is off the record and can’t be shared by the media. But when Bradley fields a question about something that unfolds and choses to address it, some details can be revealed. The coach acknowledged that seventh-round rookie cornerback Demetrius McCray got some work with the first team and said McCray “did a good job with it.”

3) A couple of the regular reporters sought out one of the team’s four tryout players after practice. Tight end Lance Kearse, a cousin of one-time Titans star defensive end Jevon Kearse, s 6-foot-6, 240 pounds. The Jaguars are quite thin behind Marcedes Lewis. Lance Kearse vomited as practice was getting started, but AP’s Mark Long spoke to him and Kearse said it wasn’t nerves, he just ate too much.

4) I am sure in time I’ll get used to them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get any better. The gold and black helmets are bad. From a lot of angles, they look like someone made the same mistake over and over with a can of spray paint. The franchise tried to hard to be different. But if different is bad, being different isn't the way to go.


RENTON, Wash. -- There were no bold strikes up the draft board for NFC West teams Thursday night.

There was resignation among those hoping the St. Louis Rams would emerge with a No. 1 wide receiver for quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams traded down instead, taking LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers after wideouts Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd vanished from the talent pool right before St. Louis picked.

There was the expected in Arizona, where the Cardinals went with Floyd over tackle Riley Reiff, no slam dunk but a widely projected scenario in recent weeks.

There was waiting in San Francisco, where the 49ers did not pick until No. 30, where they selected Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins shortly after two top guards landed elsewhere.

And then there was utter shock in Seattle, where the Seahawks used the 15th overall choice for a player with more time logged in jail than in the mainstream media mock drafts circulating recently.

The Seahawks could have had pass-rushers Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram or Chandler Jones, but instead they went with West Virginia's Bruce Irvin, a former junior-college transfer with a rough past, a sensational first step and a history with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who once recruited him to USC.

Irvin is not Charles Haley, Chris Doleman, Derrick Thomas or Dwight Freeney. He is not even Von Miller or Jevon Kearse. The Seahawks think he'll become that type of player quickly, however, and they are not shy about leaving that impression. It's an upset if Irvin fails to reach double digits in sacks this season, to hear the Seahawks speak of him.

"This guy comes off the ball like Dwight Freeney and Von Miller and Jevon Kearse," general manager John Schneider said.

Irvin is not for everyone. At 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds, he's a pure pass-rusher, not a player with the strength to anchor against the run on early downs. Irvin represents what Carroll wants for the "Leo" role manned capably by Chris Clemons in recent years. Irvin will play immediately as a situational pass-rusher. The plan will be to groom him as Clemons' successor eventually.

"He is exactly the makeup that you are looking for," Carroll said. "This goes all the way back to Charles Haley and Chris Doleman and Derrick Thomas. That is the kind of effect this guy has a chance to have. He has a lot to learn. He is going to have to grow up with us and learn our system. But the makeup of this player is so rare. He looks like a carbon copy of Von Miller rushing the passer."

Seattle spent big to retain run-stuffing defensive end Red Bryant in free agency. The money Bryant commanded means he'll be on the field for early downs. And with Clemons coming off an 11-sack season, that meant the Seahawks weren't looking for an every-down defensive end. They were looking for a player with a unique set of skills, and Irvin fits on that front. His 6.7-second time in the three-cone drill was the fastest for any player at the scouting combine.

"This position is so rare to find a guy that runs this fast," Carroll said.

Irvin follows a pattern in Seattle. Bryant is much bigger than the typical defensive end. Brandon Browner (6-4) and Richard Sherman (6-3) are taller than the typical cornerback. Kam Chancellor is the biggest strong safety in the league. Earl Thomas might be the NFL's fastest free safety. Linebacker K.J. Wright stands 6-4 and is rangier than most.

Now comes Irvin, who played wide receiver in high school before flunking out as a junior. Irvin was living on the streets for two years, at one point keeping his possessions in a bag. He spent a couple weeks in jail after allegedly robbing a drug dealer. Irvin pulled himself together, earned his GED and landed, eventually, on the football team at Mount San Antonio College.

"I went through a lot of stuff in my life," Irvin said. "I've seen a lot. The average person would not be on this call."

Nothing came of a more recent arrest for destruction of property.

[+] EnlargeBruce Irvin
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIThe Seahawks are looking for Bruce Irvin to produce big-time sack numbers out of the gate.
"The Lord knew it was B.S.," Irvin said, drawing laughter from reporters huddled around a conference-call speaker at Seahawks headquarters.

A year ago, the Seahawks shocked draft analysts by selecting tackle James Carpenter with the 25th overall choice. Carpenter hadn't appeared in many first-round mock drafts, but the Seahawks weren't the only team with a first-round grade on him. Pittsburgh and Green Bay also liked him. An injury derailed Carpenter last season, making it tough to evaluate that choice. The Irvin selection was similar in that virtually no one projected the move.

So far, though, Carroll has usually been right when targeting specific defensive players for specific roles. And there is precedent within the division for surprise first-round selections making an immediate impact.

The 49ers selected Aldon Smith seventh overall last year when few projected the Missouri pass-rusher to San Francisco. Smith, unlike Irvin, was widely considered a top-15 prospect by analysts. Smith finished his rookie season with 14 sacks, finishing behind only Miller in defensive-rookie-of-the-year balloting, even though conventional wisdom suggested Smith would need time to develop.

Smith succeeded right away largely because the 49ers used him properly, asking him to do the one thing he could do best: rush the passer.

The bar has been set high for Irvin.

"I'm just a great athlete," Irvin said. "I'm going to do great things for this organization. The sky is the limit for me."

SAN DIEGO -- A look at an overtime thriller on an 80-plus degree day by the sea, where the Denver Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers 16-13:

What it means: Denver is now 6-5 and has won five of Tim Tebow's six starts. It trails Oakland by one game. San Diego has lost six straight games and is 4-7. Cue the Norv Turner-gets-fired talk. It will probably happen at the end of the season.

Tomorrow’s talker: What do you think? Tebow’s second NFL overtime game ends in victory. The kid got better as the game went on and once again he proved he gives this team a chance to win. The NFL’s wildest, unlikeliest story continues.

Miller (and Doom) time: Denver pass-rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller are continuing to be a nasty duo now that Dumervil is healthy. Dumervil had two sacks and Miller had one Sunday. Dumervil has all 5.5 of his sacks in the past four games. Miller now has 10.5 sacks this season. He is four sacks off of Jevon Kearse's NFL rookie sack record.

Philip Rivers' protection caves in: The Chargers are playing without six offensive linemen. Think about that. That’s mind-boggling. They did a solid job last week at Chicago and for parts of Sunday’s game, but the protection did collapse late.

Third-down conversion: Denver football leader John Elway said he wants to see Tebow improve on third down. Denver improved some, but it wasn’t great. It was 5-of-16.

Mathews comes on strong: San Diego running back Ryan Mathews played well -- and he didn’t fumble, which was has been a problem. He had 137 yards on 22 carries. He played winning football Sunday.

What’s next: San Diego plays at Jacksonville on “Monday Night Football” and Denver plays at Minnesota. Both are very winnable roadies.

AFC West Stock Watch

November, 22, 2011
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» NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Hue Jackson’s patience: The Oakland Raiders' first-year head coach complained publicly about the officiating in Oakland's win at the Minnesota Vikings Sunday. Monday, he spoke to the league about his concerns. The Raiders, who lead the league in penalties, were flagged 12 times for 117 yards Sunday. Several of the calls were questionable.

[+] EnlargeNorv Turner
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireAfter a 4-1 start, Norv Turner can't seem to stop San Diego's five-game losing skid.
2. Norv Turner’s time in San Diego: If the San Diego Chargers don’t somehow find a way into the playoffs, it will likely be the end of Turner’s San Diego tenure. The Chargers have lost five straight games and have a 4-6 record. If San Diego finishes under .500 and out of the playoffs for the second straight year, the cry for Turner's firing will likely be too loud for ownership to ignore.

3. The Chiefs’ momentum: The Kansas City Chiefs have been a team of streaks all season and their streaky ways continued Monday night at New England. The Chiefs scored the game’s first three points only to see the New England Patriots score the game’s final 34. The Chiefs played very tough and very well through the middle of the second quarter before the Patriots took over. The Chiefs lost the first three games of the season, and then they won their next four games. Kansas City is now sitting on another three-game losing streak.

RISING

1. Tim Tebow's ball security: Say what you wish about Tebow’s accuracy problems, but the Denver Broncos' quarterback is not throwing the ball to the wrong uniform. Tebow has thrown just one interception in 125 passes attempts this season and he hasn’t throw an interception in his past three games. That is a real positive step for a young quarterback.

2. Kevin Boss, tight end, Oakland: Boss had five catches in the win over the Vikings. He previously had been targeted just 11 times this season. He and new Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer are building a nice rapport.

3. Von Miller's rookie of the year candidacy: Denver’s linebacker is getting better each week. He had 1.5 sacks in the Week 11 win over the Jets. Miller has 9.5 sacks in 10 games and has a chance to break Jevon Kearse’s 1998 rookie record of 14.5 sacks. Miller, the No. 2 overall pick of the draft, has to be the favorite to win the award.

Wrap-up: Packers 49, Broncos 23

October, 2, 2011
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A look at the Broncos' 49-23 blowout loss in Wisconsin:

What does it mean: The Broncos are not close to being able to compete on the road against a champion. This game was predictable. Denver’s defense has improved, but great offenses will shred it. Denver doesn’t have the firepower on offense to keep up.

Tomorrow’s talker: If John Fox won’t play reserve quarterback Tim Tebow in a blowout when will he play him? The Broncos are now 4-13 in Orton’s 17 starts. He is not helping this team win. Expect Fox to be peppered about Tebow’s status. This season is going nowhere fast.

Marvelous Miller: Von Miller is the goods. The No. 2 overall pick in the draft had two sacks Sunday and he now has four in four games. He is a threat to set the rookie sack record. Jevon Kearse owns the record with 14.5 sacks in 1998.

What’s next: The Broncos host San Diego next week before their bye. If the Broncos lose that game, the calls for Tebow to play after the bye will be off the charts.

Back at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt gave Jim Wyatt the first nugget about the sort of small personnel trait changes Mike Munchak and his staff may want to see.

They'd look to get sturdier at defensive end, where they wouldn't line their guys up so wide so often.

Munchak said this afternoon that the positional alteration at defensive end won’t be a constant. The team played its ends super wide to the point where “it was almost all we did,” he said. Now they won’t be in wide nine-technique so often, playing closer to, or head up on, the offensive tackle more.

“Back when we went to the Super Bowl when [defensive coordinator] Jerry Gray was here last time, Jevon Kearse played a lot of those seven-techniques and six-techniques and nine-techniques and was successful from all those positions," Munchak said. "We’ll still be in nine-techniques and taking advantage of that in certain down and distances, but I think there will be a little bit more variation than we’ve had.”

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Gregory BullThe Titans plan to use screen passes more to get the ball in Chris Johnson's hands.
Also on the agenda: More size at both defensive tackle, where the focus had become more and more on pass rushing, and at linebacker.

On offense, Munchak turned the conversation to the same place the ball’s going to go: Chris Johnson.

“We have to keep looking at ways to get him the ball,” Munchak said.

Under Jeff Fisher and his offensive coordinator, Mike Heimerdinger, the Titans tended to shy away from screens. The number of moving parts involved, they said, didn’t make the trade off worth it for how much work has to go into being a good screen team.

And while they had screen packages in most game plans, we saw them less and less, to the point of frustration. The primary quarterback, Vince Young, also didn’t throw screens well.

Young’s successor will have the chance to do so.

“Any way we can get [Johnson] the ball, it doesn’t have to be handed to him,” Munchak said. “Hand it to him, pitch it to him, throw it to him -- I think we’ve done a good job of that. He’s made a big impact on the running and passing games. Defenses do a great job of trying to take those passes away.

“We work screens quite a bit; it’s just a matter of getting them called in games. Last year, we were one of the worst teams in time of possession. We have to find ways to stay out there, which allows us to run more plays. And I think you’ll see more plays to Chris where if you need a screen, all it is is a run. You can run those on first down, it doesn’t have to be third down. You can run those on any down. They are something that just gets him going around the edges.”

Draft Watch: AFC South

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
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» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: History in the spot.

Houston Texans

2010: OT Anthony Davis (49ers)

2009: LB Aaron Maybin (Bills)

2008: DB Leodis McKelvin (Bills)

2007: LB Patrick Willis (49ers)

2006: QB Jay Cutler (Broncos)

2005: LB DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys)

2004: QB Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)

Last year at No. 11, the 49ers got Rutgers offensive tackle Davis, who started every game on the right side. Maybin, taken in the spot in 2009, is on the hot seat in Buffalo where he’s not come close to expectations. In 2007, the 49ers got the excellent middle linebacker Willis 11th, when the Texans took defensive tackle Amobi Okoye the spot before. The verdict on Cutler is still to be determined, while Ware is a superstar and Ben Roethlisberger's won two Super Bowls. Other hits since the NFL-AFL merger include Michael Irvin, Dwight Freeney and Leon Searcy. Other misses: Ron Dayne, Michael Booker.

Indianapolis Colts

2010: WR Demaryius Thomas (Broncos)

2009: WR Percy Harvin (Vikings)

2008: RB Felix Jones (Cowboys)

2007: QB Brady Quinn (Browns)

2006: LB Manny Lawson (49ers)

2005: WR Mark Clayton (Ravens)

2004: QB J.P. Losman (Bills)

Last year’s 22nd pick, Denver receiver Thomas caught 22 passes and scored two touchdowns. Minnesota grabbed receiver Harvin in the spot in 2009 and he’s one of the game’s most dynamic players already. Quinn didn’t cut it in Cleveland and ranks third now in Denver, and Losman didn’t solve Buffalo’s quarterback issues. The last time the Colts were in this spot, they took receiver Andre Rison in 1989. He played only one season for the franchise, but in 12 years he amassed more than 10,000 receiving yards and caught 84 touchdowns.

Jacksonville Jaguars

2010: DE Derrick Morgan (Titans)

2009: LB Larry English (Chargers)

2008: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Cardinals)

2007: DT Justin Harrell (Packers)

2006: CB Jason Allen (Dolphins)

2005: DT Travis Johnson (Texans)

2004: OT Shawn Andrews (Eagles)

Morgan went 16th to Tennessee last year, but suffered a season-ending knee injury early on. Rodgers-Cromartie had a big rookie season in 2008 as the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu was a huge find at the spot in 2003 and Jevon Kearse set a rookie record for sacks and led Tennessee to the Super Bowl in 1999. But others in the recent past like Allen, Houston's Johnson and Cleveland running back William Green hardly lived up to expectations. Dan McGwire, a big quarterback bust for Seattle, also went in the spot in 1991. But anyone thinking the Jaguars can’t hit a home run should know that a guy rated by many as the greatest player of all time, Jerry Rice, was selected 16th in 1985.

Tennessee Titans

2010: LB Rolando McClain (Raiders)

2009: OT Eugene Monroe (Jaguars)

2008: DE Derrick Harvey (Jaguars)

2007: DE Jamaal Anderson (Falcons)

2006: S Donte Whitner (Bills)

2005: S Antrel Rolle (Cardinals)

2004: CB DeAngelo Hall (Falcons)

McClain went to Oakland eighth last season and was second on the Raiders in tackles his rookie year. Jacksonville had the spot the two years before that. The Jaguars think they got a long-term left tackle in Monroe, but Harvey might be done already. Jordan Gross is a top-flight tackle for Carolina and receiver Plaxico Burress was a Super Bowl hero for the Giants. But receiver David Terrell busted for the Bears, receiver David Boston didn’t fare much better in Arizona and running back Tim Biakabutuka was a dud for the Panthers. Sam Adams’ long career clogging up the middle as a defensive tackle started in Seattle. The last time the Titan franchise had this pick, it landed Hall of Fame guard Mike Munchak, who’s now the team’s coach.

Titans' Washburn may be Philly-bound

January, 18, 2011
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Jeff Fisher critics have called for staff shuffling.

They’d have been foolish to want defensive line coach Jim Washburn to go. But Washburn, a free agent like every coach on Fisher’s 2010 staff except for Mike Heimerdinger, may be on the verge of jumping to Philadelphia, reports Jim Wyatt.

Fisher acknowledging the possibility may be an early attempt to start softening the blow.

It would be a terrible development for the organization, which has consistently seen Washburn turn draft picks and free agents, problem children and reclamation projects into productive pass rushers.

The list of guys Washburn got the best out of includes Jevon Kearse, who joined the Titans in 1999, the same year as Washburn as well as Kenny Holmes, Josh Evans, Henry Ford, Carlos Hall, Robaire Smith, Antwan Odom, Travis LaBoy, Albert Haynesworth, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Tony Brown, Jason Jones, Dave Ball and Jason Babin.

In six seasons with four teams, Babin had 17. 5 career sacks before the Titans signed him for $1 million last offseason. Under Washburn’s tutelage, Babin posted 12.5 sacks -- the sixth-best total in the NFL. (Here’s a column on Babin and Ball from early in the 2010 season.)

A screamer, Washburn knows how to find and push buttons for his players, and he’s helped them make them a ton of money. By Wyatt’s count, 11 defensive linemen left the Titans over the past 12 years to sign big free-agent contracts elsewhere at a total value of more than $355 million.

I can think of only two guys who were better after they left. Juqua Thomas, who’s now Juqua Parker of the Eagles and could soon have Washburn as a position coach again, is not part of that big-money departure list. Randy Starks of the Dolphins is.

Virtually everyone who’s played for Washburn has good things to say about what he did for them.

Replacing him would be a huge undertaking for Fisher. A lame-duck coach, he won’t be able to offer his next defensive line coach any more than the one-year deal he was able to offer Washburn.
BrittAP Photo/Frederick BreedonKenny Britt now gives the Tennessee Titans a bona fide deep threat.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have long searched for a dynamic downfield receiver. Sunday at LP Field, the Titans got the kind of game that says they finally have one.

Kenny Britt is big, physical and fast, but he’s also still growing up.

Early Friday morning, he was accused of throwing punches in a bar brawl at Karma Lounge on Broadway in downtown Nashville.

Late Sunday afternoon, his quarterback and coordinator were answering questions about how highly he ranks among the receivers they throw to and call plays for, respectively.

A seven-catch, 225-yard, three-touchdown game has a way of altering the focus of the conversation. Britt's performance keyed the Titans' 37-19 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

“There is not much better that I’ve played with,” said Kerry Collins, the 16th year quarterback who played for the injured Vince Young. “…[Britt is] going to do everything he can to get the ball, he’s aggressive going after it. The guy loves to play, love to make big plays. As a quarterback, it’s nice to know a guy like that is on your team because like you saw today, there were some throws that weren’t exactly perfect, but the guy did whatever he had to do to get the ball.

“You can have all the physical tools in the world but if you don’t have that, it doesn’t make you a special player. And I think Kenny has the ability to be a special player.”

I asked Mike Heimerdinger, who’s overseen the Titans' offense for eight seasons in two separate stints, where Britt ranks among the guys he’s coached in Nashville.

“Ability wise, he has the most of anybody,” Heimerdinger said. “Derrick Mason did more with less ability than Kenny has. I wouldn’t put him ahead of Mase yet.”

Britt had the Titans biggest receiving day since Drew Bennett had 233 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas City on Dec. 13, 2004. The Eagles had never given up so many receiving yards to one player.

For the Titans, now 5-2, it should amount to more than a big day.

It should delineate two shifts: One where the teams that choose to stack things up to stop running back Chris Johnson pay the price in deep passing production; another in how the Titans deploy their receivers.

Britt was used primarily as the team’s third receiver through the team’s first four games this season. He started the two games before this one with Justin Gage out with a hamstring injury.

With Gage still out, Britt would have started against the Eagles, but coach Jeff Fisher disciplined him for the Karma Lounge incident. Britt sat until the middle of the second quarter; Fisher is relying on the crutch of "gathering facts.”

Britt has now caught a touchdown pass in five consecutive games.

So now, when Gage is ready, he should remain in the background.

Nothing personal against a nice guy who’s been productive in spurts and is signed through 2011. But it’s time to move on, and to do so the Titans need to play Britt and Nate Washington as the starters, with rookie Damian Williams as the No. 3.

Gage can dress, but he shouldn’t be on the field unless something is wrong with one of those three guys. He could be used as the fourth receiver rotating in once in a while to offer a breather.

A year ago, after four starts, the Titans scratched a healthy defensive end Jevon Kearse. He got hurt in practice after that, but clearly the team decided amid a poor start to move forward without the veteran. The Titans turned things over to guys with more upside like William Hayes, Jacob Ford and Dave Ball. Kearse appeared in only two more games before his contract ran out and he disappeared.

It’s time now for them to “Jevon Kearse” Gage in order to create sufficient room for Britt and Williams, who’s played well in increased chances the last few weeks.

I asked general manager Mike Reinfeldt about Britt earning a starting role.

“I think as you go along, people do things that demand more play time and I’m not sure what more you can do than he’s done,” Reinfeldt said. “That’s how it should work. You earn play time.”

Defensive coordinators are going to have to spent additional time formulating better plans against Britt. They have to be able to make better, quicker adjustments to him than Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott did.

Britt worked mostly against cornerback Ellis Hobbs, though several of his big plays turned out to be against safety Nate Allen.

He got to the corner for his first touchdown. Britt circled a ball that was under thrown as Collins got his arm hit to take the second one 80 yards for a touchdown. Britt caught the third score among three defenders in the center of the end zone.

Did Collins expect the Eagles to make an adjustment away from that safety-centric coverage?

“I did,” he said. “And they didn’t.”

“A lot of that was just me,” Allen said.

Only near the very end was cornerback Asante Samuel on Britt’s side of the field.

“About six, seven minutes left I was going to go over and cover him,” Samuel said. “But we didn’t have enough time.”

Fullback Ahmard Hall said he still expects Britt to address the team this week, perhaps apologizing for causing a distraction. Many of the Titans won’t consider it necessary after he did so much to lift them in such a big win. Two of his touchdowns were part of the team’s 27-point fourth-quarter, the franchise's most productive final quarter ever.

I suspect Britt will be in before too late Sunday night. He said his fiancée gave him grief over being out late when trouble is more likely.

“Don’t go to places after 12,” he said when asked what he’d learned. “Stay in the house. My fiancée actually yelled at me and I was like, ‘OK, I’ll stay home for the rest of the season.’”

Britt’s friend Jason McCourty, a Titans cornerback who was part of the same draft class out of Rutgers, joked he might go the other way.

“I told Kenny now if he’s trying to back to Karma this Thursday night, I’m with him, if that’s the type of game you’re going to have,” McCourty said, laughing.
Notable players: LG Bruce Matthews, QB Steve McNair, RB Eddie George, DE Jevon Kearse, CB Samari Rolle, WR Derrick Mason, S Blaine Bishop, TE Frank Wycheck

Eddie George
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesEddie George rushed for 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2000. He also caught 50 passes for 453 yards and two scores.
Analysis: While the Titans were transformed by reaching the franchise’s first Super Bowl during an improbable run in 1999, most insiders -- and this observer -- believe the follow-up team was better.

Fred Miller wasn’t as good as Jon Runyan at right tackle, but Randall Godfrey was a significant upgrade over Barron Wortham at middle linebacker. The defense allowed 133 fewer regular-season points than the year before. The addition of offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger also qualified as an improvement. These Titans weren’t discovering they were good, they knew they were good, rolling to a 13-3 season.

An opening-night loss at Buffalo was a grudge match over the Music City Miracle, but Tennessee responded with an eight-game winning streak. The Titans won in a variety of ways. They beat the Giants 28-14 and the Steelers 9-7, adapting to what a certain Sunday may have demanded.

They also lost close games to Baltimore and at Jacksonville. The total margin of their three losses was seven points.

With the NFL’s best record and as the No. 1 seed, the Titans felt primed to return to the Super Bowl and win it. But they were undone by the rival Ravens, who upset the Titans in Nashville with big defensive and special-teams performances that sparked a run to a championship. Jeff Fisher says the 2000 Titans are the best team he’s coached, which made the loss to the Ravens all the harder to swallow.

Most impressive win: The Giants were ranked as the NFC’s best team in 2000, and the Titans beat them by two touchdowns on Oct. 1.

Research room: While it was the Ravens’ year, and they are regarded as an all-time defense, it was the Titans who finished the year as the NFL’s No. 1-rated defense.

Honorable mentions:

1993: This edition of the Houston Oilers, which had two Hall of Fame offensive linemen in Mike Munchak and Matthews and a Hall of Fame quarterback in Warren Moon, rattled off 11 consecutive wins to conclude the regular season and finished 12-4. But they lost their first playoff game to Kansas City.

1961: The Houston Oilers were 10-3-1 and won their second AFL championship in a row with 13 players who were in the AFL All-Star Game.

1999: The Music City Miracle came to define a gritty, prepared, never-say-die team. They won their first playoff game thanks to the last-second trick play and came a yard short of forcing overtime on the final play of the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- They may have preferred another defensive end, but the Titans had to be happy to get Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan at No. 16 in the first round.

He’ll have ample opportunity to play early as the team sorts through a young group that lost Kyle Vanden Bosch as a free agent and let Jevon Kearse walk as his contract ran out.

Now Morgan will search for a role along with William Hayes, Jacob Ford, Dave Ball and Jason Babin, the journeyman signed as a free agent.

Morgan had 19.5 sacks and 29.5 tackles for a loss in his 39-game career as a Yellow Jacket. Twelve and a half of those sacks came last year as a junior.

Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn is a top-flight position coach who’s done well developing pass rushers, and they want their defense to be able to rush effectively with only four. Right now they don't have the back end personnel that can allow for much blitzing.

Many estimated Morgan was the top ranked end in this class, but both Brandon Graham (Philly traded to 13 to get him) and Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants at 15) went before Morgan.

The Titans will say Morgan’s the one they prefer of the three. It may be true.

They will address cornerback later in the draft.

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Giants take DE Jason Pierre-Paul

April, 22, 2010
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No matter what you hear coming out of Giants camp, you have to believe the Osi Umenyiora may have come to a close. The Giants basically took a player in Jason Pierre-Paul who's a younger version of Umenyiora. My only problem with this pick is that it seems like sort of a project. I've always heard from scouts that you never take "projects" early in the draft.

Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul has all the ability in the world, but we haven't seen him do it for long. The guy started for half a season at South Florida. He's an explosive athlete with unusually long arms, but he doesn't really have a clue how to diagnose pulling guards and other fronts at this point. I think Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka are safe for now.

Folks compare Pierre-Paul to a young Jevon Kearse. Remarkable body length. He's definitely built like the kind of players Jerry Reese covets. Look at Clint Sintim from last season. Long, long arms. Remarkable speed for a big guy. This is a high-risk, high-reward type pick. A guy like Derrick Morgan is more complete at this point, but Pierre-Paul has the higher upside.

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Add another reclamation project to Jim Washburn’s pile -- provided the Eagles don’t choose to match the one-year, $1 million contract Jason Babin has agreed to with Tennessee, according to Adam Schefter.

Babin
Babin
Washburn, the Titans' defensive line coach, has had his share of high draft picks – Jevon Kearse, Albert Haynesworth, Travis LaBoy, Antwan Odom, Randy Starks, Jason Jones and Sen'Derrick Marks -- to work with.

But he’s also been given a share of scrap heap guys.

And before people like me jump to say we don’t expect much from Babin, who busted big time as a first-round pick for the Houston Texans in 2004, we’d be wise to review some of those names, too.

Kyle Vanden Bosch and Tony Brown turned into defensive stalwarts and Dave Ball was tendered at a second-round level with a one-year $1.8 million price tag.

So Babin is an extreme case of wait-and-see.

Perhaps he eases the pressure on the team to find a pass-rusher in the first three rounds of the draft. I would think it’d be awfully hard for them to make that assessment before the draft, though, and he won’t change their plans.

If he blossoms under his new position coach, the Titans will take the depth and experience.

Here’s the bonus review from Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc., who returns e-mails with lightning speed.
DE/OLB tweener who has never really found a home or position that best suits him. Had a tremendous Combine when coming out for the draft and I think that has clouded some people into thinking he is a great athlete who can really play coverage (in a 3-4 for example). But that hasn't been the case and he is more or less just an upfield 9 Technique...which is like [Dwight] Freeney or [Robert] Mathis (lining up real wide). He does have speed, but hasn't developed a real repertoire of pass rush moves and when run at, is a liability. Obviously DE is a need area for the Titans, so adding him to the mix isn't such a bad thing, but he isn't an everydown guy and in the end, you would hope that you can do better for a pure specialty pass rusher.

AFC South: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
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Houston Texans

Potential unrestricted free agents: CB Dunta Robinson, WR Kevin Walter, RB Chris Brown, DT Jeff Zgonina, G Chester Pitts, S Brian Russell, S Nick Ferguson, LS Bryan Pittman, LB Chaun Thompson, QB Rex Grossman, LB Khary Campbell, G Tutan Reyes, T Ephraim Salaam, P Matt Turk.

Potential restricted free agents: DL Tim Bulman, S John Busing, OT Rashad Butler, TE Owen Daniels, RB Ryan Moats, S Bernard Pollard, LB DeMeco Ryans, G Chris White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: I don’t think the Texans will jump out and make any monumental moves. But by deciding not to tag Robinson they created another hole and saved themselves big dollars. With needs at corner, running back, free safety, interior offensive line and defensive tackle they may have more than they can address in one draft. That means they could jump out for one significant free agent – like they did last year with defensive lineman Antonio Smith -- and maybe another less expensive one or two.

Indianapolis Colts

Potential unrestricted free agents: MLB Gary Brackett, K Matt Stover.

Potential restricted free agents: WR Hank Baskett, S Antoine Bethea, S Melvin Bullitt, OL Dan Federkeil, CB Aaron Francisco, LB Tyjuan Hagler, CB Marlin Jackson, CB Tim Jennings, DT Antonio Johnson, OT Charlie Johnson, LB Freddy Keiaho, DT Dan Muir, CBPR T.J. Rushing.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: Brackett is priority one and the team has indicated a plan to pay him as an upper-echelon guy. The restricted list includes a lot of key guys who will remain big factors next year. Indy is not a team that looks to bring in many outsiders for big roles and it won’t start now. Bill Polian’s said the Colts will sit back and see how things unfold in the new capless landscape.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Reggie Hayward, G Kynan Forney.

Potential restricted free agents: DT Atiyyah Ellison, LB Clint Ingram, DL Greg Peterson.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Jaguars are draft-reliant, but will also shop for bargains in free agency, hoping to plug a couple holes with high-character guys with upside who fit what they are doing. As for a big splash, it’s unlikely based on their recent busts with big-name free agents like Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence and the direction they’ve moved since.

Tennessee Titans

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, C Kevin Mawae, LB Keith Bulluck, TE Alge Crumpler, CB Nick Harper, CB Rod Hood, DE Jevon Kearse, S Kevin Kaesviharn.

Potential restricted free agents: DE Dave Ball, DT Tony Brown, TE Bo Scaife, LB Stephen Tulloch, DT Kevin Vickerson, RB LenDale White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Titans will undergo a youth movement, especially on defense where Vanden Bosch and Bulluck, who’s recovering from ACL repair, are going to be allowed to walk. Mawae been told his only chance to return is as a backup at a backup price. Brown, Scaife and Tulloch are important guys they’ll want to retain. Beyond that, expect mostly bargain shopping.

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