NFL Nation: Keith Millard

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.
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.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s been a while since the Tennessee Titans had an outspoken player on defense.

It’s been a while since the Titans had a real dynamic presence on defense.

Casey
Casey
To this point, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey has done everything he can to suggest he’s going to be the rare combination of both.

Sunday, Casey had a disruptive two-sack, four-tackle game that left Greg Cosell of NFL Films suggesting the tackle might become a Geno Atkins-like force.

After the Titans beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh on opening day, Casey offered commentary on both Pittsburgh fans and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

On the fans: “We made sure we put those Terrible Towels up their butts all day long. They waved them at the beginning of the game, but they left pretty early.”

On the quarterback: “You could see it in Ben’s eyes -- he wanted to get back to that locker room pretty quick. As long as we keep getting to quarterbacks, it’s going to be like that all year.”

Later, regarding the Texans, he told some of us: "We're going to go out there and make sure we put our foot up their (butt). Sorry about the cuss word."

My colleague Tania Ganguli took that to Brian Cushing who had a good response.

"Good luck," Cushing said. "He was real quiet at SC, I don’t know what happened to him. He used to be a nice kid."

Casey would like to get 18.5 sacks, breaking a record for a pure tackle held by Titans pass rush coach Keith Millard, who had 18 for the Vikings in 1989.

Casey said he’s happy to do some talking to get his team hyped up, but resisted the Atkins comparison -- he wants to make his own mark -- and said he’s not looking to be the Titans’ next Jevon Kearse of Albert Haynesworth.

“I think I can perform and carry a load if I have to,” he said. “I’ve got a great group of guys around me that I don’t feel like I need to do it.”

Ideally he can do it, and that group of guys can all benefit.

Quick Titans practice notes

July, 30, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The last several periods of Tennessee Titans practice were held in a pouring rain Tuesday night.

When they were over, most of the team headed for the fence line and high-fived their way down the row of fans who endured the rain before heading for the locker room.

Mike Munchak kept the Titans outside since the fields drained well and there was no lightning in the area, allowing his guys to work with a wet ball and in tough conditions.

The offense was crisp and Jake Locker had what was probably his best practice in five since the team got started.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Chance Warmack
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsIn his first practice since signing, guard Chance Warmack (70) got half of the first-team reps.
Some quick notes:

Chance Warmack: The Titans ran the first play from scrimmage in a team period behind Warmack, the right guard and first-round pick who signed Monday and was at his first practice of camp.

"Power football at its finest," Munchak said of a run play behind Warmack and right tackle David Stewart.

Warmack got the first half of the first-team reps through the evening for a total of 20 or 25.

Earlier he sang "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" to his teammates, a performance that could have made one of the early episodes of American Idol when you see bad acts, Munchak said.

Locker looked good: I thought it was his best practice of camp. He handled the weather just fine, as you'd expect from a guy from Washington.

He made several very good throws, including a quick hit to Kenny Britt up the left side that got over Alterraun Verner and arrived well in advance of Michael Griffin. That was part of a very well-executed hurry up drive that also included a nice play-action pass on a roll to his right to Kendall Wright.

Later, from relative close range, Locker dropped back and hit Kenny Britt with a quick, low pass (a mini-fade, if you will) to the back left corner of the end zone. Britt caught it over linebacker Moise Fokou, then punted it in celebration.

The Pistol: The Titans ran some plays out of the pistol formation, which amounts to a half shotgun with the quarterback back from the center only a bit and the back typically straight behind him.

"It doesn't quite tip off what runs you can do when the back is offset," Munchak said. "The offense has more options for what they can do."

Locker ran well from it. I don't know if others who were part of it from the backfield or split out on that side were fully comfortable.

Stop and start: With the offense pinned close to the goal line, Chris Johnson took a handoff and rounded the left edge, he put a stop-start move on Griffin that could have broken one of Griffin's ankles and left him in the dust.

Not all offense: Pass-rush coach Keith Millard was praising the defensive line frequently for quality snaps. And Munchak pointed out after practice that while the offense looked good, part of it was that the defense was doing what it's supposed to -- peeling off when it had the quarterback in trouble and allowing the play to go on.

Look back: Assistants to watch

February, 12, 2013
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Continuing a periodic look back at stuff we wrote before the 2012 season to see how on target we were and how things panned out.

In July, we looked at an assistant to watch on each of our four teams.

Here’s what we said then and what we think now.

Houston Texans

Then: “While [Gary] Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will be heavily involved in the offense, a new [quarterback] coach [Karl Dorrell] is certain to have a bearing on [Matt] Schaub’s performance. And Schaub’s performance may be as important of a story as there is in the AFC South this season.”

Now: I don’t think Dorrell did a bad job, but he certainly didn’t help stop a late-season slide for Schaub, who finally got into some big games and didn’t perform particularly well in them. All three coaches didn’t do well enough to get Schaub to play up to the moment.

Indianapolis Colts

Then: “Can [offensive line coach Harold] Goodwin help the new group jell and have it provide quality protection for Andrew Luck and some push for a group of unproven running backs?”

Now: The line was not good, but Goodwin did not have a lot to work with. Given the patchwork nature of the group and some injuries that forced lineup shifts, I’d say Goodwin did good work. Bruce Arians certainly thought so, as he took him to Arizona to be his offensive coordinator. Goodwin’s been replaced by Joe Gilbert, who served as Goodwin’s assistant last year.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Then: “[Receivers coach Jerry] Sullivan and those receivers are all reliant on improvement from quarterback Blaine Gabbert. But they are all reasons the team expects that improvement, too.”

Now: Laurent Robinson did little before he was sidetracked by concussions and Justin Blackmon took a long time to get going. But ultimately Sullivan, a good get by Mike Mularkey as he put together his staff, did good work with Blackmon and Cecil Shorts and he was held over by new coach Gus Bradley.

Tennessee Titans

Then: “An improved pass rush is a must if the Titans' defense is going to improve. [Pass rush coach Keith] Millard will be right in the middle of what happens, or what doesn’t, in that department.”

Now: The Titans jumped from 28 sacks in 2011 to 39 in 2012 with non-defensive linemen contributing 13.5. Young linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown certainly got better as rushers later in the year, a good sign regarding Millard’s influence.

AFC South wrap: The division in 2012

December, 27, 2012
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NFC Season Wraps: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five things to know and my all-division team.

Division MVP: J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston Texans. I’ve never seen someone so disruptive up front. The guy’s got the complete package. He’s incredibly instinctive, knowing when to stop rushing and pull up, looking to bat down a pass. He also understands the lane into which a quarterback might be looking to throw. He simply manhandles some blockers -- swimming past them, bowling them backward, speeding around them or knifing between two guys. Some blockers have had absolutely no answer for him, and even if a team tried to take plays as far away from him as possible, he often tracked those plays and got involved in stopping them.

[+] EnlargeJJ Watt
Brett Davis/US PresswireJ.J. Watt needs two more sacks to tie Michael Strahan's record of 22.5 sacks in a season.
Early in the season he talked about wanting to redefine the 3-4 end position, which hasn’t traditionally been a stat position. Later Antonio Smith pointed out how often Watt is really lining up at tackle. He’s not likely to win MVP based on what the league’s best quarterbacks and Adrian Peterson (despite my thinking that the running back is not worthy of the award) are doing. But his ability to push an offense backward so often has been a tremendous factor in an excellent season for the Texans. The other three teams would be wise to reinforce their offensive lines, because it’s reasonable to expect Watt will be a handful for protections and run blocking for years to come.

Biggest disappointment: The pass rushes of the Jaguars and the Titans required offseason attention. Neither team did enough to find a way to disrupt opposing quarterbacks consistently. The Jaguars go into the final game of the season with the worst sacks-per-play average in the NFL and a total of only 18 sacks. Jacksonville’s big addition was second-round pick Andre Branch, who couldn’t hold onto a starting job and finished with one sack in 12 games and is on IR. The Jags played nine games in which they produced either one sack or no sacks. Tennessee has 32 sacks and is close to the middle of the pack. But it’s not enough for a defense with a lot of kids in the back seven and bad safety play. Tennessee got better results than Jacksonville from its newcomer, free-agent signee Kamerion Wimbley (five sacks), but he didn’t offer the game-to-game and play-to-play threat Tennessee so desperately needed.

Joe Cullen’s been in place for three seasons as Jacksonville’s defensive line coach. He’s a good coach and motivator, but he did not get the production the defense had to have. His counterpart in Nashville, Tracy Rocker, came from Auburn in 2011 and hasn’t proved to be an effective NFL position coach. Pass-rush coach Keith Millard was brought in to help the rush and the blitz, but it’s hard to see a major difference as a result of his presence. The Titans got shredded by the best quarterbacks they faced, from Tom Brady on opening day to Aaron Rodgers last week.

Offensive player of the year, rookie of the year, fourth-quarter player of the year: Andrew Luck has thrown too many interceptions in his rookie season. His stat line is hardly cause for a parade. He dug himself some holes. But leading his team to 10 wins, seven of them in comeback fashion, and getting into the playoffs does a lot to reduce the importance of those turnovers. He showed a great talent for climbing out of those holes. He was capable of digesting everything the first time around, handling Bruce Arians’ very vertical offense, the absence of coach Chuck Pagano, an often ineffective defense and a less-than-watertight offensive line with aplomb.

Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson have strong cases for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, which may never have been so hotly contested. We may see all three rookie quarterbacks in the playoffs. In the AFC South, Luck is the quarterback who was asked to do the most from the start, and he was the quarterback who did the most. Rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton is already a good player for the Colts. If you took Hilton and put him on the Titans or the Jaguars, how would he fare? Nowhere near as well as he fared playing with Luck in their first years in the NFL, I feel certain.

Worst injuries: The Jaguars really suffered because Daryl Smith and Clint Session were absent from the linebacking corps. Smith just returned last week from a groin injury and Session never made it back from multiple concussions suffered in 2011, his first season in Jacksonville. The corners all took turns missing time, and safety Dwight Lowery played only nine games. The loss of playmakers really dented a defense that plummeted in the rankings from 2011 to 2012.

Tennessee’s offensive line was not good enough, and revamping the interior needs to be a major offseason priority. The Titans lost starting center Eugene Amano in the preseason and right guard Leroy Harris halfway through the year. For the last quarter of the season, they were also down left guard Steve Hutchinson and right tackle David Stewart. It’s hard for them to give Jake Locker a real chance playing behind a line with four reserves. Still, he could have shown far more in his chances when he was healthy.

The division’s two worst teams lost a lot of time with their young quarterbacks, too. Locker missed five games with a shoulder injury, and Blaine Gabbert played through a shoulder injury before adding a forearm issue that ended his season after 10 games. Looking ahead to 2013, the status of each as a long-term answer is not what it once was.

[+] EnlargeBruce Arians
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Bruce Arians stepped in for coach Chuck Pagano and led a team coming off a two-win season to the playoffs.
Coaches of the year: Pagano and Arians of the Colts. It's been a storybook season for Indianapolis, which rallied around Pagano. He learned he had leukemia after just three games and handed the team to Arians while he underwent treatment. His fight gave the team a purpose, and it responded by playing better than the sum of its parts. Behind the scenes, Pagano was more involved than many might imagine.

But it was Arians conveying the messages, overseeing the game-planning, leading and, as offensive coordinator, calling the plays. He did a masterful job in overseeing the team, the offense and the rookie quarterback. Now, with Pagano back in place, he’ll drift into the background. He’s 60, which will work against his getting a head-coaching job. His work, however, should earn him consideration for some of the jobs that are about to open. That was quite an audition. And just about every team hiring a coach will need a quarterback developer.

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

I want to emphasize one thing about this All-AFC South Team. Wade Smith is measured against the division’s left guards, not against the rest of the selections. There are miles between Smith as a player and Watt as a player, and if we measure a guard against a defensive end who’s the division MVP, things look askew.

One I’ll get crushed for: Many of you argued with me on Twitter when I wrote that I would take Luck over Matt Schaub as the third Pro Bowl quarterback, so I am sure you won’t like the choice of quarterback here. Luck struggled more than Schaub, for sure. But he was asked to do far more than Schaub and produced seven comeback wins, leading a team that’s really lacking in talent to an improbable playoff spot. There were no expectations for the Colts, and Luck and the team delivered. There were huge expectations on the Texans, and Schaub and the team delivered. My gut continues to prefer Luck’s year. That doesn’t mean I dislike what Schaub’s done.

Just misses: Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan, Texans outside linebacker Brooks Reed, Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.

Why the Titans are struggling so

October, 11, 2012
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Chris JohnsonBrace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireChris Johnson hasn't been the playmaker he advertised himself as when he signed his big extension.


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Only the insanely optimistic with an up-close view tabbed these Titans to make the playoffs.

And it hardly took a giant cynic to foresee a bad start given their schedule.

But with a 1-4 record, giving up 36 points, 424 yards and 35 minutes, 10 seconds of possession time per game while ranking 30th in rushing offense after an offseason promising major gains for Chris Johnson?

The struggling Titans are on display Thursday night as Tennessee hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Barring a sudden turnaround, a national audience is about to learn what the Nashville area and Titans opponents have come to know well: This is a team with serious issues.

Let’s look at some …

Mixed messages: Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said last week his guys had been playing too timidly and he wanted to see more aggression.

How, exactly, are the defensive backs to feel charged up and aggressive when Gray’s scheme is one of the very things helping produce tentative play? You’re not exactly telling your guys you have a great deal of confidence in them when everything is about not getting beaten by big plays, and when so many plays start with corners well off receivers and safeties a mile deep.

Yeah, coach, I’ll go make a big hit -- so long as I can make it to the ball before the offense is back in the huddle.

Nowhere near the same page: With a heavy dose of option routes in the passing offense, the Titans are very reactive on offense. Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer believes unless you’ve got absolute premium weapons, you have to be that way.

But it sure seems like he should be able to steer things to certain people more often if he thinks they might ignite the offense, which has been flat outside of a monstrous afternoon in a Week 3 victory over Detroit.

Here’s the example that sticks out right now.

Backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, playing for the injured Jake Locker last Sunday in Minnesota, said after a 30-7 loss that Jared Cook needs to be more involved early on. The tight end could barely find words in a radio interview when asked about the communication lines with coaches about getting more involved. Palmer said there were times early against the Vikings when the Titans could have gotten Cook the ball and they didn’t, and that going forward they need to.

Seems like a giant circle there. Everyone wants him to get the ball, but he’s not getting it.

Why not? Sit down and solve it. Script plays that make it happen, and call them.

An inability to generate pass pressure: The pass rush was insufficient last year, and it needed to be the primary focus during the offseason.

The Titans addressed it at two levels, signing pricey veteran Kamerion Wimbley when he was released by Oakland in a cost-cutting move and hiring Keith Millard as a pass-rushing coach who would work with players on the defensive line and beyond.

The early results have been terrible.

The Titans have seven sacks. Only three teams have fewer.

The only player with more than one is rookie defensive tackle Mike Martin.

Fearing the big play and knowing he lacks talented players in coverage, Gray is reluctant to add people to the rush. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Titans have blitzed on just 32 plays this year, less often than all but four teams.

[+] EnlargeMike Munchak
Troy Taormina/US PresswireWill closing practices to the media help Mike Munchak and the Titans improve on last season's 6-10 mark?
Too much belief: After yet another blowout dropped them to 1-4, coach Mike Munchak was adamant about making no changes to his staff or his lineup.

Look, it’s admirable to say you want to stick with the plan. It’s more admirable to show a willingness to change the plan. Munchak is coming across as stubborn.

Even if he doesn’t entirely mean it, wouldn’t it be better received by those both inside and outside the team’s facility if Munchak said he will leave no stone unturned in an effort to fix things, that he will tinker as a result of any suggestion if he thinks it might enhance the team’s chance to win?

Munchak seems to be expecting the same buy-in he had as a rookie head coach who didn’t have an offseason with his team because of a lockout.

Counting the preseason, Munchak’s been at the helm for 29 games now. The personnel he signed off on is certainly lacking. Are the Titans' struggles all his fault? No, but the longer the team slides, the more Munchak's methods will come under question.

Knowing your job: Munchak’s main message at the start of his tenure in 2011 was that everyone in the organization needed to know his job and do it.

I feel certain Titans defenders know they are supposed to tackle, yet they don’t do it. And while I don’t advocate public flogging, there are no consequences we can see. Certainly none that have produced better tackling.

That’s a player failure first. But once it becomes an issue, coaches have to get it fixed, and they’ve failed to do so. Same with the lousy run game -- which should be right in Munchak’s wheelhouse.

During Jeff Fisher’s lengthy tenure as a players’ coach, it was virtually impossible for a veteran starter to lose a job.

Munchak is a players’ coach, too. While he enforces discipline more universally than Fisher did, he’s proving as unwilling as Fisher to send a message to a player through reduced playing time.

That ties directly into the next two points as well.

Absent leadership: Johnson is a good player when things are going well. Safety Michael Griffin can be, too.

Recent long-term contracts for both made them centerpieces of this team, but did not change their stripes.

Johnson believes the line has to play well for him to influence games. Griffin has proven he’s at his best when he’s surrounded by talent and when there is a big pass rush in front of him. With or without that environment he’s a follower, not a leader. But he’s been put in a leadership position.

Were they wise signings by Mike Reinfeldt and the man he promoted to succeed him as general manager, Ruston Webster? It’s easy now to say no. Another big piece of Johnson’s giant salary gets guaranteed in the spring. The Titans will have to bail before that.

A lack of accountability: Johnson says over and over he’s only as good as his offensive line, but there are backs of much lesser stature showing a much better feel for how to get a yard when the line blocks for none or how to get two when the line blocks for one.

He sold himself as not just a running back, but a playmaker, when he got a contract extensive after a lengthy camp holdout in the summer of 2011. He easily ranked as one of the league’s most underpaid players in his first three seasons. He easily ranks as one of the most overrated in his fourth and so far in his fifth.

But this “playmaker” won’t admit he’s fallen into bad habits, might have got carried away with the stardom that came with great success or let the money change him. It’s become easier to read him as more upset about his lack of yards than the Titans’ lack of wins.

It’s OK for a guy who sees a lot of the ball to have some selfishness in him. It’s actually one of the qualities that can help make a guy good. When he’s not good, however, he needs to make some adjustments to his game, and his mindset.

What do you say, CJ?

Camp Confidential: Tennessee Titans

August, 14, 2012
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Like everyone in the NFL, the 2011 Titans were hurried together.

Unlike most other teams, they were hurried together by a new coaching staff.

Mike Munchak’s coordinators -- Jerry Gray on defense and Chris Palmer on offense-- had to show patience and restraint. They brought exciting new ideas to Nashville, but they weren’t able to implement much of them in the wake of the lockout. The personnel could only be revamped so much, but more importantly they didn’t have much time.

No offseason, no organized team activities and no minicamps meant sticking mostly to basics.

Now, they say, after a full offseason together, they’ll show us far more.

Whether Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker is at quarterback, we’ll see Palmer implement run-and-shoot concepts while using two tight ends or a fullback. He’ll look to regularly threaten teams deep with what can be a great compliment of pass-catchers: Kenny Britt (presuming he’s healthy and available), Nate Washington, rookie Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Chris Johnson, Jared Cook and Taylor Thompson.

If the evolution into more of a passing offense pans out, Johnson should get more space when he takes a handoff, and that should help him rebound from a disappointing 2011 season. He’s looked better after participating fully in the Titans' offseason activities for the first time.

Defensively, Gray is looking to allow some players to excel in narrow roles in specific situations. Akeem Ayers, for example, should get to show off his rush skills by lining up as an end in a special rush package. Ideally, free safety Michael Griffin will play more in center field, where he's best.

Do Palmer and Gray have enough people to do what they want? And does what they want to do work? Progress seemed steady in the first couple weeks of camp, but there are still questions to answer.

THREE HOT ISSUES

The quarterback battle: It hasn't drawn the spotlight one might have expected, because it’s friendly and doesn’t pit good versus evil on any level.

The Titans drafted Locker eighth overall in 2010 to be their starter -- for a long time, they hope. It’s not a matter of if he gets into the lineup, but when. If he can take advantage of game situations to show improved accuracy and make plays from the pocket as well as on the move, Locker certainly has a chance to displace Hasselbeck now. He was better by at least a bit in the preseason opener and will start the second game Friday night at Tampa Bay.

But the team feels it’s going to compete for a playoff spot now, and the younger, less experienced quarterback comes with a learning curve. If coaches feel Hasselbeck has a mastery of the offense and is playing effectively, it might be difficult to make the switch heading into an opening month that looks very challenging.

[+] EnlargeKamerion Wimbley
AP Photo/Wade PayneLinebacker Kamerion Wimbley looks to be an asset on the field and in the locker room.
The pass rush: Everything the Titans' defense wants to do can blossom out of a more productive pass rush. Gray came to the team determined to beef up the D and get back to run-stopping basics. The Titans certainly want to maintain that theme, but they need a better pass rush to go with it.

They hired Keith Millard to coach not a position but a skill: rushing the passer. I like the concept, but Millard was in Tampa last year and they were a bad pass-rush team. It also has to make you wonder a bit about the pass-rush education defensive linemen were getting from position coach Tracy Rocker.

Kamerion Wimbley looks like a potential difference-maker, but the other projected/expected starter at end, Derrick Morgan, is hardly locked in as a threat yet. He’s been working behind 2011 practice-squader Pannel Egboh recently.

The interior includes very intriguing rush guys in Karl Klug and rookie Mike Martin, and has some depth. Ayers is slated to scoot up and work as an end in some nickel situations, perhaps shifting Morgan inside. However, what hear about Ayers' versatility and what I see from him don’t match up yet.

Britt: A suspension under the personal-conduct policy is looming for Britt after a DUI arrest at a military base. He has not shown he's learned from mistakes and turned into a better decision-maker. And he’s still on the physically-unable-to-perform list, recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered early last season and subsequent cleanup procedures. When healthy and available, Britt is an absolutely tantalizing receiver who can make everyone else’s matchups more advantageous.

His recent rehab work makes him look close to ready. His recent meeting with the commissioner makes us expect an announcement soon about some time on the shelf. Once that’s over, he has to settle down and show up every week while not giving the team cause for concern when he’s away from the facility.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

One big reason the Titans didn’t think cornerback Cortland Finnegan was worth the money he got as a free agent from St. Louis is that his brand of professionalism didn't match up with the team's. Finnegan was beyond feisty at times, and a surly mood and an ego that prompted him to leave the team for a day during camp in 2011 in a contract dispute weren’t things the Titans could overlook.

Know what to do and do it. That’s Munchak’s basic requirement of his players. In guard Steve Hutchinson and Wimbley, the Titans added two more standard-bearers of a message other players should continue to respect and respond to.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Estimating who will be good and who won’t in advance of a season is fraught with peril, but it’s hard not to do. Look at the Titans' first four games and it’s hard not to foresee trouble. The Patriots visit on opening day; any game against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady is a major challenge. Then a trip to San Diego, where the Titans have long struggled. Detroit brings burgeoning quarterback Matthew Stafford to Tennessee before the Titans travel to Houston to face the division favorite.

With their current questions, it’s hard to envision the Titans ripping off a good start against that early schedule. But the league’s unpredictability is its best feature, so the quality of that four-pack is not written in permanent marker.

OBSERVATION DECK
  • The Titans have invested a lot of time and energy into Rusty Smith, and I don’t doubt they like their third quarterback. It’ll be hard to justify a roster spot for him, though. Third quarterbacks are a luxury, and both Locker and Hasselbeck should be on the team in 2013.
  • Johnson seemed to be back to form in practices, but it’s hard to gauge running backs in practices. He was awful in limited action in the preseason opener at Seattle, failing to press the hole and appearing completely disinterested in the passing game, where he had two drops. That was enough to officially put him back in the “major concern” department for me.
  • Dave Ball contemplated retirement after dealing with another concussion last year. He had another early in camp and is likely fading on the depth chart while missing time. Egboh should be the third end, and guys like rookie Scott Solomon and veterans Leger Douzable and Keyunta Dawson give the Titans some alternatives.
  • [+] EnlargeMike Martin
    Jim Brown/US PresswireRookie Mike Martin helps with pass rushing depth -- and could yet displace veteran Shaun Smith.
    Beau Brinkley is in line to be the long-snapper. The rookie right end out of Missouri takes over for veteran Ken Amato, who was not re-signed after filling the role since 2003. So far, so good for Brinkley, who’s been invisible through camp and a preseason game, which is what you want from a guy in that role.
  • Martin, a third-round pick from Michigan, has gotten some work with the first team and figures to be another piece in a talented group of interior linemen. Though he gives up nearly 20 pounds to Shaun Smith, he could help knock the veteran off the roster. Smith has worked hard at becoming more of a penetrator and turned quiet rather than being the boisterous guy of last season, but his changes may have come too late. The Titans brought him in last year as they tried to get bigger, but had to know he was a space-eater who wasn’t programmed to get into the backfield the way they want tackles to.
  • If Britt is healthy and somehow avoids suspension for his off-field transgressions, he certainly should be an opening-day starter. But if Britt isn't available, I won’t be surprised if Williams is ahead of first-round pick Wright against the Patriots on Sept. 9 at LP Field. Williams has become increasingly assertive and knows what to do, while Wright could need some time to bring an expanded repertoire onto the field.
  • Cook is the more explosive receiver, so he gets talked about. But the Titans’ other top tight end, Craig Stevens, is underrated. He’s a good blocker who may not have receiver speed, but can get open and make some catches when called on.
  • Weakside linebacker Will Witherspoon is a quality veteran guy in the locker room. But he comes and goes as a playmaker. Second-round pick Zach Brown brings tremendous speed. I don’t think he’ll dislodge Witherspoon from the job at the start. He may earn a role in covering tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, Brandon Pettigrew and Owen Daniels -- players the Titans will be game-planning against in their first month. Tennessee has had some major issues recently covering top tight ends.
  • The Titans have a find in cornerback Jason McCourty, who is going to be good as their lead guy and will help reshape the tone of the defensive backs meeting room. I actually feel better about him and Alterraun Verner as the team’s starting cornerbacks than I do about Griffin and Jordan Babineaux as the safeties. My suspicion is that good offenses are going to find plays down the middle of the field.
The Titans have been talking up the idea of strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers as a third-down, on-the-line rusher for awhile now.

Which automatically leads me to ask: If he’s working as a defensive end in those situations, who of your two top pass-rushing ends, Kamerion Wimbley or Derrick Morgan, is coming off the field?

Neither, Morgan told me.

“We started a little bit of that, we’ve got a couple packages, I’m moving in over the guard,” Morgan said. “It’s a good opportunity to key in on the rush and get me in a different rush situation with a guard.”

Morgan hasn’t worked inside like that since he was playing at Georgia Tech.

He said he will line up next to Ayers, with Wimbley on the other side, presumably next to Karl Klug, a very good pass-rushing tackle.

“That’s going to take some time to adjust to,” Klug said of Morgan’s potential to shift. “It’s always different rushing inside to outside. But a tired guard gets a guy who’s a little quicker like Morgan, he has to be a little lighter on his feet. Morgan can take him upfield and he can go speed to power and get him off balance.”

Prime pass-rush situations call for prime pass-rushers to be on the field.

If Ayers qualifies as one of the team’s four best, I am all for it. I have not yet seen evidence that he does rank as such, but he’s a primary pupil of new pass-rush coach Keith Millard.

I wonder, too, about the possibility of the speedy Morgan getting beat up inside. His ability to stay healthy is a concern.

“I feel comfortable enough to play in there,” he said. “You take advantage of your athleticism going inside and use your speed to your advantage on guards. As a good d-lineman, you should be able to rush anybody.”
What I think they are thinking (or should be) in the four headquarters of the teams from the AFC South ...

Houston Texans

There is a big element of the fan base and the city that think we’ve got the division in the bag before training camp even starts. We can’t buy into any of that and need to remember that ever year starts from zero and we need to build into a successful team all over again. That said, we’re confident and there is nothing wrong with that. The mindset is important, and we need to keep each other in check if it starts to slide places it shouldn’t go. During this down time, it would be gigantic if we could open negotiations with left tackle Duane Brown or outside linebacker Connor Barwin. Because if we go into the season with no extension done for Brown, Barwin or quarterback Matt Schaub, we face some serious free-agent issues when the 2012 season ends.

Indianapolis Colts

Maybe we lack some building blocks, but what good does it do for us to say so out loud or spend any real time lamenting it? The predictions from the outside expecting us to be terrible set us up to surprise people. On both side of the ball we will be different than we’ve been, so there is plenty of room for us to surprise. There is only so much you can do in offseason work, and we did the biggest thing: We got players to buy into the new coaching staff, the new systems and the idea of “Building the Monster.” The cornerbacks and the offensive line are our major question marks. We could be tinkering with a lot of areas of the roster through the remainder of the offseason, camp and into the season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Outsiders looking in think our offseason has been all about the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew and the DUI for our top pick, Justin Blackmon. While we certainly would have preferred neither of those thing to happen, it’s not as if either one had a direct impact on what we did on the field and in the meeting rooms in our offseason time. We weren’t thinking about contract issues or off-the-field problems when we were learning Mike Mularkey’s methods and offense or refining Mel Tucker’s defense. The progress Blaine Gabbert’s made is very real, and if he can show it on Sundays, we’re poised to surprise a lot of people. It will be a lot of fun to do so considering how we’re perceived.

Tennessee Titans

We spent an offseason dissecting what we did well and what we didn’t do so well last year in the first season of the Mike Munchak regime. And we got to spend the time installing a lot of stuff offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray didn’t even get to show us last year when everything was a post-lockout rush. We may not have added a ton to address our primary issues, but pass-rush coach Keith Millard is going to improve what we do have and Steve Hutchinson will influence the entire offensive line. The quarterback battle between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker will energize the entire team and set a healthy tone for training camp. Beyond quarterback, it will be interesting to watch leadership emerge.
Four guys with upside I think we can see show itself this fall in the AFC South.

Houston Texans

Maybe Wade Phillips’ lasting love for veteran addition Bradie James puts a damper on the opportunity for inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton. Sharpton was lost for the season at the end of October last year with a right knee/quadriceps injury. He’s out of action until training camp as the quad heals.

I think James, who played for Phillips in Dallas, probably will wind up with the edge in system smarts. But when he’s healthy, Sharpton should be a better option physically than James. James is 31 and Sharpton is 24.

Outside of health issues, I’ve not heard a bad thing out of Texans’ headquarters about Sharpton as a football player. Brian Cushing isn’t leaving the field when he’s healthy, so Sharpton will have to beat out James for chances to be part of the base 3-4, where whoever plays alongside Cushing will leave the field when the team goes to nickel.

Indianapolis Colts

Donald Brown had chances under the previous Colts’ regime to earn a bigger role, but he landed himself in the doghouse. It’s too early to say the first-round pick from the team’s 2009 draft is not a good back. After all, he owns a 4.2-yard per carry average.

He’s at the head of the line now, in front of Delone Carter and rookie fifth-rounder Vick Ballard. Brown will need to show offensive coordinator Bruce Arians that he can reliably pick up a blitzer and contribute in pass protection.

But Chuck Pagano is going to be a coach who’s more reliant on the run, and I suspect he’ll give Brown a significant chance to show the Colts he can be decisive, which will maximize his chances to break off big runs and be the team’s lead back.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The time is now for G Eben Britton, who returns from a herniated disk in his back that needed surgery and cost him all but four games last season. The Jaguars loved Britton as a second-round pick out of Arizona in 2009.

He’s a bright guy who will have no problem understanding what it is the new Jaguars offense calls on him to do. Britton moves well, which should allow him to steer defenders out of the way of the spot where Blaine Gabbert intends to throw from and the lane where Maurice Jones-Drew intends to run.

The question may concern how much strength the Jaguars' right tackle has gained and how well he can hold up after missing 22 of 48 possible starts in his first three years.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans thought they were getting a guy who could have a quick impact in 2010 when they drafted Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan in the first round. An explosive edge player who’s 6-foot-3 and 278 pounds, they expected him to be a key pass-rusher.

But after just four games in his rookie season, he suffered a torn ACL and was lost for the year. And in his second year he was playing for a new coordinator and defensive line coach who asked the ends to line up over the tackle and concentrate on stopping the run rather than lining up wide and attempting to stop the run on the way to the quarterback.

With Keith Millard added to the staff specifically to coach pass-rushers, Morgan has an additional resource. The team didn’t draft at his position the way many expected, and he’ll have plenty of chances to show the Titans he can produce like they expected him to when they drafted him.

Titans: One big question

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
12:00
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Will the pass rush for the Tennessee Titans improve enough?

The Titans had just 28 sacks last season, and the lack of pass pressure was at the core of many of their problems.

Did they do enough to address it? They jumped to sign Kamerion Wimbley after he was let loose by the Raiders in a cost-cutting move. He should provide a boost, but I don’t know that he will single-handedly solve the problem. The Titans will start Wimbley and Derrick Morgan, who’s due to stay healthy and consistently produce. Dave Ball was re-signed to pitch in. Seventh-round pick Scott Solomon out of Rice will get chances to rush.

Tennessee is talking again about more pass rush from linebackers, particularly last year’s second-round pick, Akeem Ayers, the starter on the strong side. But the Titans have talked about linebacker in the pass rush on and off for year and never actually make it a reality.

Hopefully the coverage is good enough that the Titans are not afraid to send an extra rusher from the linebacking corps or secondary. Keith Millard was hired as a pass rush coach who will work with players from all three levels on technique for getting to the passer.

The Titans need Wimbley to be productive and Millard to be influential to make passers less comfortable against them.
Keith Millard MPS/Getty ImagesKeith Millard, the Titans' new pass rush coach, collected 58 sacks over his eight-season career.

NASHVILLE -- After 15 minutes on the phone with Keith Millard, I was ready to rush the passer.

The newest addition to Titans coach Mike Munchak’s staff won’t oversee a position but a skill set. And although Millard will spend a lot of time with defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and his group, he’ll also rove and talk nuances of getting to the quarterback with linebackers, safeties and even cornerbacks.

His initial speech will go like this:

“Before you even start, you’ve got to pick a line and you’ve got to stay on that line. And that goes for every position, no matter what you are doing. It’s from wherever you start to the quarterback and that thing can’t vary. You know the old saying the shortest distance between two spots is a straight line? That’s as true in pass rush as there is. You stay on that line, get your blocker off it. Now how you do that is where it gets interesting, where technique and fundamentals come in.”

Tennessee needs to rush the passer better than it did last season, which was its first without Jim Washburn since 1998. The former defensive line coach, now in Philadelphia, pieced together an effective four-man rush most of the time.

After Munchak hired Jerry Gray as defensive coordinator, the team concluded that getting to the quarterback at all costs wasn’t the way to go because the run defense suffered.

In Year 1 of the new regime, the team sacked the quarterback less -- managing just 28 sacks, 31st in sacks per play in the NFL -- and was still just 24th against the run.

Both the personnel and the coaching need to be better.

[+] EnlargeKamerion Wimbley
Brett Davis/US PresswireThe Titans brought in former Raider Kamerion Wimbley to boost their pass rush.
Enter Kamerion Wimbley, the former Oakland Raider whom the Titans pounced on when he was released. Enter Millard.

Wimbley should be a boost for the pass rush. He’s worked a lot in his career as a 3-4 outside linebacker but in Tennessee he’ll be a 4-3 end. He can rush the passer well from there, but the team could put his durability to the test if he’s on the field for too many snaps.

Millard’s a big believer in a four-man rush, as the Titans have long been. But if they can’t get to the quality quarterbacks they are scheduled to face in 2012 with just four rushers, they should be better equipped to bring more blitzers than they have been in some time after Millard coaches them up.

“I’m thrilled about Millard,” Titans outside linebacker Gerald McRath said. “For me, I’ve never had someone who took time to teach me pass rush. You can fine tune a skill, and that’s a skill that makes you more valuable to your team. I think that will be great, that you can have someone who can focus on that.”

Munchak and Gray talked about the idea early on after the new staff was assembled. It didn’t come together during the initial staff assembly and the lockout. But then Millard came free after Raheem Morris and the Tampa Bay staff were let go.

Millard played nine seasons as an NFL defensive lineman, primarily with Minnesota. He coached in Denver and Oakland before spending 2011 in Tampa Bay.

Although he’s worked mostly as a defensive line coach, he was a pass rush coach at times with the Broncos and Raiders.

Specialized coaches are increasingly popular in the NFL. Many 3-4 teams have outside linebacker coaches. Some teams have cornerback and safety coaches in their secondary, or a coach who concentrates on the nickel defensive backs.

A coach like Millard qualifies as being outside the box for the Titans. He gets fired up talking about his office, and initially makes it sound big. Then you realize he means big enough to have three or maybe four guys in there at a time to go over pass-rush nuances.

“Not only is he going to be doing D-line, and that’s a good thing, we’re going to be sending him linebackers and safeties and things like that,” said Gray, who played nine seasons as a cover corner. “I’ll be honest and tell you I don’t know anything about blitzing. Beating a running back, I can tell you, but I’ve never felt that. So I really don’t know how it feels.

“He’ll be able to help us, more than saying ‘Hey, I’ve got a clear open spot for you to hit the quarterback.’ The best thing you can do is offer a one-on-one. Now show me how to win the one-on-one. That’s what he’s going to be doing.”

Warren Sapp, who’s widely regarded as an all-time great pass-rushing tackle, raved about Millard’s influence on him to The Tennessean after the Titans made the hire.

[+] EnlargeKeith Millard
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIKeith Millard has had coaching stints with the Broncos, Raiders and Buccaneers.
Gray still emphasizes the need for players to stop the run. Millard and Gray talk about earning the right to pass rush. And nothing does that more than stuffing a run play on first down to help create second- and third-and-long situations.

Millard calls himself a self-taught pass-rusher.

He’s eager to share what he knows, and says it will be a lot more about feet than hands for both blitzers and guys who make a living rushing the passer. For Millard, that second group generally falls into two styles, straight-liners (like Kyle Vanden Bosch or Jason Taylor) and basketball types (like Sapp and Derrick Burgess).

“I think doing it myself from different positions has given me a real edge at teaching the true fundamentals,” Millard said. “Being able to study blockers and find their weaknesses and how to take advantage of them. I’m really about teaching the concept of getting the blocker on your terms and how to do that. It’s not so much a repertoire with your hands as it is your footwork and trying to work a blocker’s weaknesses against him.

“Hands are really just kind of a second nature thing. When you really get down to it, it’s about feet. Getting blockers off balance and using your hands to keep them off balance. Whether you are bull-rushing, whether you are going from one edge to the other and back, it’s really got to be about balance and footwork and your approach -- getting to a point where you own that guy, you know where his weaknesses are and you just continually, constantly, work on those weaknesses. There is a lot that goes into that.”

Millard will spell out for a guy what his body has to do to counter the body trying to block him: flipping hips, making yourself small, understanding what blockers are doing with their hands. Get the guy in your way off balance and keep him off balance.

It seems uncertain just where and how Millard will fit into the regular practice schedule, but he’s certain to work with specific guys before and after practices and outside of regular meeting times.

Those office sessions will be kept small -- he'll rarely work with more than two linebackers or two defensive backs at a time.

If he’s what Munchak and Gray expect, the Titans will do a far better job of getting from Point A to the quarterback and the defense will make big gains.

Millard’s motivated me. I’m heading outside right now to see about making myself small and finding the best way to stay on my straight line.
The Titans have a five-year deal with Kamerion Wimbley, the team announced.

Wyatt said the agent for another end the Titans courted, Mark Anderson, has said Anderson will be signing elsewhere. The Jaguars are interested.

[+] EnlargeKamerion Wimbley
Brett Davis/US PresswireFormer Raider Kamerion Wimbley will play defensive end for the Titans.
Wimbley has worked as an outside linebacker, but he will be an end for the Titans.

Tennessee gets a player who has nice pass-rushing skills who helps fill a major need. One insider told me Wimbley has "unique cornering ability."

But he’s not likely to be an every-down guy. A friend who covers the Raiders said Wimbley did his best work as a nickel end, but tends to flash and disappear.

The Raiders listed him as 6-foot-4, 255 pounds last season -- the exact same size Titans end Dave Ball was at in 2011. Ball beefed up last season to fit better with the philosophy Jerry Gray brought in as defensive coordinator. But he still ranked as the lightest defensive end on the roster. He’s a free agent now.

While the Titans would like to get bigger overall, it’s just not an option at some spots. Bigger guys with top pass-rush skills are a huge commodity, and it’s not like a bunch are available. That’s part of why Mario Williams, 6-6 and 283, got such a giant contract in Buffalo.

Wimbley joins Derrick Morgan and Malcolm Sheppard as the Titans' lone ends under contract.

Does Wimbley solve the team’s pass-rushing woes the way Williams would have or Dwight Freeney could (if he’s traded or cut)?

I don’t know that he’s going to qualify as a singular force. He had seven sacks last season, but four came in one game against San Diego.

As for the durability question for a smaller end, he has a good record for how he’s been used.

In six seasons primarily as a linebacker with Cleveland and Oakland, he has missed just one game. He had 11 sacks as a rookie linebacker with Cleveland in 2006, and has 42.5 in his career.

The Titans have done well in the past with smallish, speedy defensive ends. But that was a different scheme, and the position coach who set those ends up for success, Jim Washburn, left as the staff broke up in 2011. Washburn is now in Philadelphia.

Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and pass-rush coach Keith Millard will be charged with getting sack and pass-pressure production from Wimbley.
We spent plenty of time in recent days discussing the tough road for wide receivers making the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In the process, we ignored where the selection committee has turned its attention: pass-rushers.

Not a single receiver made the last cut to five modern-day finalists in Saturday's balloting in Indianapolis. But former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman became the third consecutive NFC North pass-rusher to earn enshrinement, following Richard Dent in 2011 and John Randle in 2010. Former Minnesota Vikings receiver Cris Carter once again failed to make the cut, a victim of the perceived value between pass-rushers and wide receivers.

[+] EnlargeVikings defensive end Chris Doleman
AP Photo/NFL PhotosNot only was Chris Doleman a sack specialist, but the former Vikings star is also among the NFL career leaders in fumble recoveries.
At least one pass-rusher has won election in each of the past five years. Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas were part of the 2009 class, and Fred Dean was in the class of 2008.

Doleman's 150.5 career sacks rank third in NFL history, behind Smith (200), Reggie White (198) and Kevin Greene (160). Smith and White are both in Canton, and as of Saturday, eight of the 10 players with the highest career sack totals have or will be enshrined. Greene and the recently retired Jason Taylor (139.5) are the only players who have been left out.

(More on Greene, who didn't even make the cut from 15 finalists to 10, in the coming days.)

I don't want to take anything away from Doleman, who was a pass-rushing force for an extended period in the NFL. His two best seasons -- 21 sacks in 1989 and 15 sacks in 1998 -- came nine years apart. Doleman was part of four teams that finished the season with the NFL's top-ranked defense, recovered the seventh-most fumbles (24) in league history and was an eight-time Pro Bowler.

But with the exception of Greene, it's clear that sack totals are among the most reliable tickets to the Hall of Fame. Minutes after Doleman's election was announced, longtime Twin Cities sports analyst Patrick Reusse (also a colleague of mine at ESPN 1500) tweeted: "Apparently, it's all about sacks, since in his absolute prime, Doleman was 2nd best D-lineman on his team, behind Keith Millard."

To me, the definition of a Hall of Fame player is that he was one of the best of his era. Doleman was named to the NFL's 1990's All-Decade team, along with three other defensive ends. Was he one of the best players of that generation? He was if you accept that pass rushing is as important as the voting committee considers it.

But enough of that. I'm not going to diminish Doleman's big day by questioning his credentials. There is little doubt he was a great player for a long time in this league.

Yes, the beauty of the annual Hall of Fame announcement is that it produces as much debate afterwards as it did beforehand. Chris Doleman is a Hall of Fame player because the voting committee places premium value on his particular skill set. (Again, Greene appears to be the lone exception to that rule.)

Cris Carter isn't in the Hall of Fame because the voting committee doesn't value his position and corresponding statistics nearly as much. There are still only 21 receivers in Canton, the lowest total of any position other than tight end and kicking specialist. That's the deal -- no more and no less.

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