NFL Nation: Kendall Wright

Camp preview: Tennessee Titans

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Paul Kuharsky examines the three biggest issues facing the Tennessee Titans heading into training camp.

Jake Locker: It’s now or never for the Titans’ quarterback, at least in Tennessee. The fourth-year quarterback started last season well, then he got hurt, didn’t shine when he came back and ultimately suffered another season-ending injury. Now he’s got his third offensive coordinator in Jason Michael and a new playcaller and head coach in Ken Whisenhunt.

The Titans would love to see him blossom into the player they thought he could be when they tabbed him eighth overall in 2011. But they began to line up a contingency plan for beyond 2014 when they drafted LSU's Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round.

The team declined to execute Locker’s option for 2015, and he’ll be a free agent after this season. He needs to prove himself worthy of a new contract or the Titans will be prepared to go a different direction next season -- or maybe even sooner.

Things are set up for him to succeed with an upgraded coaching staff, a running game that should be better with a committee instead of Chris Johnson’s deteriorating vision, a reshaped defense and what should be a far easier schedule. But plenty of league insiders and outside critics have little faith Locker can be an effective long-term starter on a winning team.

The new 3-4 defense: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will bring people from different spots and has some rushers who can play as deeper outside linebackers or line up in a three-point stance as if they are defensive ends. We don’t know if they added enough, but out of Kamerion Wimbley, Shaun Phillips, converted end Derrick Morgan and Akeem Ayers, there could be ample edge rush.

The team’s best defensive player, DT Jurrell Casey, will now be playing a lot on a three-man line. But the Titans promise his duties will not change much and say he actually will get more one-on-ones -- because offenses won’t be able to help on him before getting to a linebacker who will be at the line of scrimmage a lot sooner.

Horton quickly won the respect of the team based on his fine résumé and calm but purposeful no-nonsense demeanor. He said small guys who can hit and big guys who can run will have a major say in whether the Titans are successful.

Houston and Indianapolis made the playoffs in their first seasons following recent transitions to a 3-4. The Titans know the scheme change doesn’t buy them patience.

Whisenhunt’s weapons: The Titans signed pint-size Dexter McCluster to be a weapon in Whisenhunt’s offense. McCluster played receiver and running back in Kansas City, but the Titans will look to him as part of the backfield committee, where he figures to catch a lot of passes coming out of the backfield.

Bishop Sankey was the first running back taken in the draft and should be a more direct, decisive back than Johnson, though he certainly doesn’t bring CJ’s speed. Shonn Greene will have short-yardage chances. Are those three enough to take heat off the passing game?

The Titans are counting on a big jump from blazing outside receiver Justin Hunter. Kendall Wright was the best player on offense. And while Nate Washington is aging, he has been dependable and productive. Along with tight end Delanie Walker there are options for Whisenhunt to be inventive with, but we don’t know what will work.
Keith BulluckRich Gabrielson/Icon SMIKeith Bulluck was a mainstay at linebacker for the Tennessee Titans.
In April 2000, coming off a Super Bowl season, the Tennessee Titans had a solid roster and were drafting 30th.

With Randall Godfrey, Eddie Robinson and Greg Favors on the roster, the Titans weren’t in need of immediate help at linebacker.

The Titans drafted Syracuse linebacker Keith Bulluck anyway.

And for two years, he was mostly a special-teams player, starting just four games while the team stuck with experienced guys in front of him.

For the seven seasons after that, Bulluck was a permanent fixture at right outside linebacker, and after 10 seasons with the Titans he ranked as the best linebacker the franchise has had since it came to Nashville.

For the Titans, Bulluck is the ultimate model of drafting the best player available.

But best player available is largely a fantasyland idea. If the best player available when a team goes on the clock is a guy who plays a position where said team just signed its star to a long term-deal, guess what? It’s drafting someone else or looking to trade back.

Best player available typically means best player available at a position of reasonable need.

Let’s look at the Titans' last 10 first-round picks and the level of need the team had at their positions.

2013 – Guard Chance Warmack (10th)

The Titans were coming off a year with major injuries on their offensive line, and interior line help was priority one.

2012 – Wide receiver Kendall Wright (20th)

Nate Washington and Damian Williams finished the 2011 season as the starters, with Kenny Britt gone after three games with a torn ACL. The other Titans receivers, Lavelle Hawkins and Marc Mariani, were bit players at best. Wright was a bit of a surprise, but receiver certainly qualified as a position where there was room for a weapon out of the slot.

2011 – Quarterback Jake Locker (eighth)

The Titans parted ways with Vince Young and moved on from Kerry Collins to Matt Hasselbeck. With a new coaching staff in place, the team needed a young quarterback to build around.

2010 – Defensive end Derrick Morgan (16th)

The team’s top pass-rusher, Kyle Vanden Bosch, had moved on to Detroit as a free agent. And the contract clocks were ticking on Jason Jones and William Hayes.

2009 – Wide receiver Kenny Britt (30th)

The team’s 2008 receiving corps was Brandon Jones, Justin McCareins, Justin Gage, Lavelle Hawkins, Chris Davis and Paul Williams. There was not a dynamic guy in the bunch. Jones had moved on to San Francisco as a free agent and McCareins wasn’t going to be back.

2008 – Running back Chris Johnson (24th)

The Titans were ready to move on from Chris Brown, who signed as a free agent with the Houston Texans. The Titans needed someone to go with LenDale White in the backfield.

2007 – Safety Michael Griffin (19th)

The Titans were, mercifully, done with Lamont Thompson, whose game has devolved. Despite the need for a free safety, the Titans put on an extensive charade where they pretended Griffin would be a cornerback. He started 10 games at free safety as a rookie.

2006 – Quarterback Vince Young (third)

The Titans were ready to move on from an aging Steve McNair and Billy Volek had lost stock. It was time for the Titans to try to find their next quarterback, and the top guys – Young, Jay Cutler and Matt Leinart -- were all highly regarded.

2005 – Cornerback Pacman Jones (sixth)

Samari Rolle and Andre Dyson were the starters in 2004. But Rolle was gone after the season as part of an unavoidable salary-cap purge and Dyson went to Seattle as a free agent. Tennessee had a big need at cornerback when it drafted Jones.

2004 – Traded out of first round

The Titans picked tight end Ben Troupe in the second round, 40th overall. Frank Wycheck retired after the 2003 season, Erron Kinney’s knees were a problem and Shad Meier had established he was going to be a bust.

If all those guys rated as the best player available on the Titans' board, then one of two things happened:

  • The stars regularly aligned where the guy they rated as the best guy and a significant need corresponded.
  • Their boards were heavily weighted toward need.

Best player available is a rare thing, like Bulluck was a rare player.

Best player available at a position of need is usually what it really means.
Drops are surely subjective. You and I might look at a play and you’d say Phil should have caught it and I’d say he couldn’t have.

ESPN tracks drops and applies a strong benefit of the doubt standard. A drop has to be something quite obvious.

Pro Football Focus breaks down targets into catchable balls, and judges drops more harshly.

Both ESPN and PFF then compute drop rates -- ESPN simply by dividing drops by targets, PRR by dividing drops by catchable balls.

By any standard, Kenny Britt had a terrible 2013. ESPN says he dropped four passes, PFF counted seven.

Britt is a free agent, and the Tennessee Titans have no interest in bringing him back. He’s drawn a decent amount of interest and will be a reclamation project somewhere.

Another Titans receiver, Damian Williams, is on the market and looks unlikely to return unless his price drops.

No coach or player is going to say anything more than none is an acceptable drop total. But everyone drops some. Let’s sample three top guys at random just for some context on their ESPN drop rates from 2013: Detroit’s Calvin Johnson was at 5.2, Andre Johnson at 3.4 and Larry Fitzgerald 0.7.

I was spurred to look at the Titans’ drops as PFF has put out stories recently on receiver drops, running back drops and tight end drops.

Here’s how last year’s top pass catchers fared for Tennessee.

Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

The Tennessee Titans have two players who qualify as MVPs on a team that is thin on star power: Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and wide receiver Kendall Wright.

Tennessee has a reasonably good stable of defensive tackles beyond Casey, with Sammie Lee Hill, Antonio Johnson and Mike Martin. But none of them are equal forces against the run and the pass, and none of them are capable of posting 10.5 sacks the way Casey did in 2013.

Johnson is a free agent, and guys on the defensive line will likely have altered roles in a new scheme to be installed by new defensive coordinator Ray Horton. They have enough other defensive needs -- edge pass-rusher, play-making linebacker -- that finding depth behind Casey can’t be a priority.

His rookie contract runs through 2014, and re-signing him will be a major priority as the team looks to the future.

Wright caught 94 passes in his second season for 1,079 yards, and his position coach, Shawn Jefferson, said the receiver can revolutionize the slot receiver position. Wright has improved consistently since the Titans drafted him in the first round in 2012 out of Baylor.

He had to play a bit more outside last season because Kenny Britt bombed.

Wright and deep threat Justin Hunter, a second-round choice in 2013, are one of the best things the Titans have going for them.

Wright might be the most distinctive player on the Tennessee roster, so if the Titans lost him they’d likely have to alter their scheme to make up for it rather than finding a similar player to fill in or replace him.

The Titans have spent two of their last four highest picks on Wright and Hunter. Odds are receiver isn’t a draft priority for them this time. The offense needs a right tackle and maybe, most importantly, a quarterback.

All-AFC South: Tennessee Titans

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans account for seven of 23 spots on offense and defense in’s All-AFC South Team for 2013.

The team was pieced together by a vote of the four writers who cover the division. That’s Mike Wells on the Indianapolis Colts, Tania Ganguli on the Houston Texans, Mike DiRocco on the Jacksonville Jaguars and me on the Titans.

Receiver Kendall Wright, running back Chris Johnson and right guard Chance Warmack are on the All-AFC South offense.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty and strong safety Bernard Pollard are on the 12-man defense; the extra spot helped us meld 4-3 and 3-4 defenses.

I didn’t vote for Warmack, as I thought he was too inconsistent. I would have preferred we left a guard slot, or even both guard slots, blank. Offensive line play in the division was generally poor.

I don’t like having two running backs on the team. No one uses enough fullback to warrant one here, but that doesn't mean we should have a second tailback. I pushed for three wide receivers instead, but was overruled by the editor overseeing the project and putting together the balloting.

Receiver T.Y. Hilton of the Colts is a huge omission here, and he’d be on my team ahead of Ben Tate or Johnson. If not three-wide we should have gone two-tight. But even with one tight end, I voted Delanie Walker ahead of Coby Fleener.

All-AFC South: Indianapolis Colts

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The Indianapolis Colts didn’t have a problem against teams in the AFC South this season. They went a perfect 6-0, and four of those victories were by eight points or more.

You wouldn’t have known that the Colts won the division just by looking at's All-AFC South team, because they had only six players on it. The Houston Texans had the most players named to the team with eight. The Texans opened the season with the talent to possibly make the Super Bowl, but their season turned into a disaster, as they lost their final 14 games.

Tennessee Titans receiver Kendall Wright edged out Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton to be the second receiver named to the team behind Houston’s Andre Johnson. Wright had more catches than Hilton, but the Colts receiver had more yards -- barely -- and more touchdowns than Wright.

An argument could be made that the Colts deserve more than six players on the team, but they’ll gladly take their current situation -- the playoffs -- over Houston’s.

Pro Bowl selections: Tennessee Titans

December, 27, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner is the team’s first Pro Bowl selection since 2010.

As of now, he’s going alone.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey has had a Pro Bowl season too. He ranks as second alternate at his position and has a chance to be part of the game if someone ahead of him is injured or plays in the Super Bowl.

He lost out to Gerald McCoy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens, Dontari Poe of the Kansas City Chiefs, Justin Smith of the San Francisco 49ers, Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions and Kyle Williams of the Buffalo Bills.

The cornerbacks in addition to Verner are Brandon Flowers of the Chiefs, Brent Grimes of the Miami Dolphins, Joe Haden of the Cleveland Browns, Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals, Darrelle Revis of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks and Aqib Talib of the New England Patriots.

The Titans passed out quotes from Verner, who has just one game left in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract.

“It is a huge honor,” Verner said. “It is something that everybody in my family, we used to watch the game and admire the people that make it. So to know that I am going to be a part of it and that only a special group of people make this game is very exciting. It is a good cap-off to the season and I am excited to be able to represent the Titans.”

Verner said coach Mike Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster called him this afternoon with the news. The teams will be drafted by Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice instead of playing AFC versus NFC.

“I would like to say “thank you” to the fans and to Titans Nation that voted for me and tried to help me out,” Verner said. “I want to thank the coaches for allowing me to contribute the way I was able to contribute. Again to my teammates as well. This is not an individual sport at all. This wasn’t an ‘I’ award or an ‘I’ honor, I didn’t make this happen, everyone had a hand in it. I am appreciative, overwhelmed and very excited.”

Receiver Kendall Wright has been the Titans best offensive player. But he lost out to a group of qualified guys with bigger numbers. Of the eight, seven ranked higher in at least two of three categories -- catches, yards and touchdowns -- than Wright.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter are very much the future of the Titans at wide receiver.

Sunday in a win at Jacksonville, Nate Washington showed he’s very much part of the present. He pulled in six catches for 117 yards and the game-winning touchdown.

He’s the team’s third leading receiver with 56 receptions, and second in receiving yards with 880.

[+] EnlargeNate Washington
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Nate Washington is second on the Titans with 880 receiving yards.
When the head of the team’s new ownership group, Tommy Smith, listed some young players he considers the Titans’ core, he also mentioned Washington and his leadership.

Washington has been an important influence on Wright and Hunter.

“It’s brothers, man,” Washington said of the receivers room. "It’s a room that I think the organization has been working to put together for a long time. I think they can really sit down right now with our room and be satisfied with all the hard work they’ve put in.”

Washington would certainly like to see things kept intact next season, though Kenny Britt is heading for free agency and certainly won’t be back. He’s hardly contributed this season. Damian Williams is also in line to be a free agent, and he’s a versatile piece I believe the team should try hard to keep.

Whether the Titans make a coaching change or not, there is potential they could choose to move away from Washington, who is 30. Heading into the final year of his deal, he’s due $4.8 million in 2014. It would be the final year of a six-year deal, and it’s pretty rare for a player to play out a long second deal with high cap numbers.

If they came to him and said they wanted to keep him at a reduced price, he wouldn’t be upset, but he wouldn’t negotiate either, he said.

“All I can do is play football,” he said. “If I’m in Tennessee next year, I will be very gracious. I love Tennessee, I love the people, I love the organization. If I’m here next year it’d be awesome. But I understand it’s a business ..."

If they wanted to reduce his salary?

“It’s time to move on, man,” he said. “If that’s the way they have to approach it, I understand.”

I agree with Washington that the receivers room is one of the best things the Titans have going for them. He has a big salary scheduled, but the team is not in line to be cap-strapped. If they are going to overpay someone, why not him? Yes, you want to get rid of a guy a year too early rather than a year too late, but I wouldn’t mess with a position where things seem to be in good order.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Ryan Fitzpatrick got hit by a blitzer, he threw short for Michael Preston in overtime. The resulting interception by Antoine Cason set up the Arizona Cardinals' win over the Tennessee Titans.

Preston said on "The Wake Up Zone" in Nashville this week that his deep route didn’t come with an adjustment for a blitz.

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains confirmed that Thursday.

Not only did Preston not have a sight adjustment for that situation, no receiver has one for any situation.

“We don’t sight, we don’t hot,” Loggains said.

That means Fitzpatrick or whoever is at quarterback is expected to make a protection adjustment to deal with the blitz and know who the best person in the progression is to turn to under pressure.

“That way you eliminate some of the gray area of, ‘Is that guy coming, is that guy not coming?’ Loggains said. “That way the receiver can go run his routes instead of staring at the safety and playing slow. …

“Instead of hot routes, we’ll put built-ins where Ryan has to recognize a coverage and go to Kendall [Wright] on an escape or Delanie [Walker] on a shallow cross instead of saying this receiver or tight end has to change his route after the snap and see the same thing the quarterback sees.”

Sounds smart to me.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 15

December, 16, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 37-34 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

[+] EnlargeKendall Wright
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsAgainst Arizona in Week 15, Titans receiver Kendall Wright has 12 receptions for 150 yards, his second 100-plus game this season.
Overcomplicated: Even minus Justin Hunter and Damian Williams, scratched for violating team rules, the Titans have a pretty good group of threatening pass catchers. I understand an occasional pass to someone like fullback Quinn Johnson may keep a defense honest, but the Titans can't spare snaps for such things. Johnson dropped the one pass thrown to him. Running back Jackie Battle was on the field in some passing situations and may have some pass protection skills, but I don't understand him playing 14 snaps on offense when Shonn Greene played only 12.

Hearing from Smith: We know very little about new Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith, but Sunday before the game he had his first meeting with the press. He was reasonable on every level, appearing a little nervous but providing a good deal of insight into the way he will operate. He's got no intention to sell the team, wants to have smart people in place and let them do their jobs, feels the fans' pain and sounds determined to get things on track. Fans and followers of the franchise should be encouraged by the glimpse of Smith he shared Sunday.

The stars shined: The Titans do not have as much talent as they believe, but the best guy on each side of the ball excelled Sunday. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey led the Titans with nine tackles and recorded 1.5 sacks, boosting his season total to 10.5. On offense, receiver Kendall Wright keyed the late comeback with several big catches. He was targeted on 34 percent of Ryan Fitzpatrick's 58 passes, catching 12 for 150 yards. Wright's receptions included gains of 26, 23, 20 and 20 yards. He's a really good player who stands to be a foundational piece of this team no matter who's making decisions and calling plays going forward.

Home-field disadvantage: The Titans lost their fifth straight at LP Field and are now 2-5 in Nashville this season. Under Mike Munchak, the team is 11-12 at home. Safety Bernard Pollard has preached about the idea of establishing a clear home-field advantage. After this loss, he said even if guys didn't really feel some sort of edge when playing in Nashville, they should "fake" like they do. No one in the league worries about a trip to Music City these days. It's a far cry from what the Titans had on the East Bank of the Cumberland River in the building's early years.

On the Titans' decision not to go for 2

December, 15, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Dowell Loggains pleaded with Mike Munchak when the Titans scored the tying touchdown with 10 seconds left.

The offensive coordinator didn't want to go to overtime. He wanted to try to win the game right there and then. Munchak declined the option, and the Titans lost in overtime, 37-34.

I imagine momentum factored into it. But I believe in Ryan Fitzpatrick's propensity to throw a big interception as much as I do in the idea that a team that had just stormed back from a 17-point deficit somehow carries an advantage into overtime. (Bill Barnwell of Grantland has written convincingly that momentum is a myth.)

They kicked the extra point but still had a chance. A defensive offsides call could have given them another attempt, needing just 1 yard, not 2.

But they passed on the opportunity.

Virtually every player I asked about it told me he wasn't the coach and it wasn't his call. Bravo to Munchak for having a team of guys willing to jump on board his groupthink and not publicly challenge their boss. Those are important things to have on a losing football team lacking identity. That and effort will be the top two things Munchak points to when he tries to sell Tommy Smith on keeping him for a fourth season.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Mike Munchak
AP Photo/Wade PayneNew Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak has used his head coach and Hall of Fame player experience to make a great early impression.
The team could use a couple players, frankly, that might be brave enough to challenge his logic at times, since his logic is a staple ingredient in a 5-9 season.

The only guy I can recall questioning him this season was Rob Bironas, after the terrible, tee-less, spinner onside kick failed the Titans a second game in a row at the end of the home loss to Indianapolis.

Lo and behold, Bironas effected change.

On two onside attempts against the Cardinals, he used a tee. And the second succeeded in conventional fashion. He smashed in into the ground, it took a high bounce, Larry Fitzgerald went up and got it, Jackie Battle crushed him and he lost it, Daimion Stafford recovered it.

No player was looking to effect change after this one, really. They were looking not to ruffle feathers.Understandable, I suppose. Though it signals the lack of star power that only one guy said something amounting to, "Damn right I want to go for it there."

Munchak has built this team in his image with a revamped offensive line and a lot of lip service to the running game. He saw the offense score on a lovely play-action pass to Delanie Walker from a yard out in the third quarter. This end-of-game scenario should be right in the Titans' wheelhouse.

Instead, Munchak preferred an extra series or multiple extra series to one snap.

“I'm not the head coach,” Walker said. “I believe in whatever he wants to do.”

Receiver Kendall Wright was a monster when the Titans needed him, finishing with 12 catches on 20 targets for 150 yards.

“I definitely wanted to go for it,” he at least conceded before turning to the company line. “But I'm not the offensive coordinator, I'm not the head coach. I can't control that. I thought the penalty might have changed it, but it is what it is. We can't control what our coaches do. We've just got to go out there and play.”

Said Munchak: “I would hope the offense always wants to go for it.”

An unconventional decision grounded in percentages would have been healthy for this team at that stage.

Make it and you were courageous. Miss it and you showed faith in your guys.

“I thought about it a lot,” Munchak said. “I just felt that we played so hard to get back into it, to put it on one play, that all of a sudden the game is over, the high to low. Now you sit there and think, ‘We might as well have done it. We had a better chance to win.' I felt the momentum was on our side. We got the ball, which I hoped we would. We were in position to take over the game. We have to make plays there and win it. Now that we didn't get it done, I wish we did go for it.”

The distance needed for the conversion shrinking after the penalty wasn't really a factor in his thinking, Munchak said.

In my thinking a team that has consistently failed to make plays, plural, this season, would have been better off trying to make a play, singular.

Including Sunday, the Titans have snapped the ball 11 times in 2013 from the 1-yard line. Five times they've scored the touchdown.

Including Sunday, the Titans have 56 snaps needing a yard for a first down. They have 35 first downs and 6 touchdowns. That's 73 percent success -- 23 percent better than the 50 percent that is overtime.

I am not an analytics guy, but I know several who are brilliant on this stuff.

I asked Chase Stuart of how he looks at it.

“If ‘on average' the two situations are equal, then the characteristics of the team come into play,” he said. “Honestly, considering the quality of the Arizona D, notwithstanding the last 3 minutes of the game, I'd probably lean towards playing for OT.

“However, the penalty makes a huge difference. Since 2012, teams have scored TDs on 60 percent of 4th-and-goal from the 1 situations."

His bigger point departs from numerical analysis and melds with mine, looking at the philosophy and structure of the Titans.

Munchak has a team he's spent three years helping craft. The team has spent money, draft picks and resources to be a team that gets a tough yard.

“It's a huge indictment of the organization's philosophy, in my opinion, for THIS team to not go for 2 and run it up the gut,” Stuart said. “You can't devote so many resources and time and effort to being a physical running team and then not run in a situation where even average teams convert.”

Amen, brother.

Munchak lacks faith in the offense he's constructed just as much as I do, it appears.

Even lacking faith, I would have gone for it from the 1.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Kendall Wright graduated into a receiver drawing double-teams in the past two weeks.

The Tennessee Titans top wide receiver said: "It might be a compliment, but I don't like it."

The absence of tight end Delanie Walker has allowed defenses to key more on Wright. Walker suffered a first-quarter concussion in Indianapolis, left that game and didn't play the next game in Denver.

"I've seen it a lot the last two games," Wright said. "It's hard, it's real hard. I've got a linebacker on me on the inside and a nickelback on me on the outside. When it's just the nickelback, if I have an out-breaking route, the corner will trap it, of an in-breaking route the linebacker will.

"I don't think they can really keep doing it because Justin (Hunter) is stepping up and we have a lot of play-makers at the position, so it would be kind of hard."

Wright said it's not a probable for him to beat a double-team, but that it might make for a better read to someone else. With Walker ready to get back on the field, Wright said there is no clear choice to double-team.

"He's a special tight end, when he gets back out there, they'll probably double-team me on some plays, some formations," Wright said. "But it'll be hard when you have Delanie out there with Nate (Washington) and Justin too."

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 14

December, 9, 2013
DENVER -- An examination of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 51-28 loss to the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:

Pressure on Peyton: Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey has been the Titans' best player this season, and a week ago in Indianapolis he was a monster the Colts simply couldn’t handle. In Denver, the Broncos' interior line kept him quiet -- he was credited with one tackle. He told me interior pressure was the key to forcing quarterback Peyton Manning into a mistake. There was none. Manning threw the ball 59 times and he didn’t turn it over. The Titans had the seventh-best pass defense in the league and had allowed eight touchdown passes heading into this game. Manning threw for 397 yards and four touchdowns. The Titans didn’t sack him and hit him just once. That’s hardly the recipe to rattle a big-time quarterback.

[+] EnlargeBernard Pollard
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos put up 551 yards against Bernard Pollard and the Tennessee defense.
Persecution complex: The Titans' secondary was upset over the way the game was officiated, and clearly feel Manning gets the benefit of the doubt from the zebras. Maybe he does get some of it, but calls against the Titans didn’t account for the Broncos’ 51 points. Tennessee needs to be careful about blaming the officials too much, and themselves not enough. They were the victims of a bad call against Bernard Pollard early in the third quarter. But that didn’t unhinge them or determine the game. Sure, Pollard’s been an outspoken critic of rules and officiating. Is that really enough for the league’s officiating department to pick the Titans as a target? I sure don’t think so.

Shuffling backers: The Titans used Colin McCarthy and even rookie Zaviar Gooden some at linebacker on Sunday, and not as the result of any injuries to their regular trio of Moise Fokou, Akeem Ayers or Zach Brown. Maybe they had some great rationale, but it seemed like the sort of lineup fiddling in Week 14 that suggests a team doesn’t have enough in its core guys and needs to mess around to find something. McCarthy made four tackles and Gooden four while Ayers wasn’t on the stat sheet. So maybe it was smart.

Too quiet: The Titans' best offensive weapon is receiver Kendall Wright, who works a lot out of the slot. One of the Broncos' best pieces on defense is nickel corner Chris Harris. Harris did his part to hold Wright to his fewest catches (two) and fewest yards (17) since opening day. Since the Titans’ win in Pittsburgh, Wright has had at least three catches and at least 54 yards in every game. With Delanie Walker out of the lineup with a concussion, the Titans were down one key weapon. Justin Hunter had four catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. No one else had more than two catches or 24 receiving yards.

On Kendall Wright's unique route freedom

November, 29, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Anytime I’ve heard about how a receiver doesn’t run the same route the same way all the time, it’s been a knock on that receiver.

Until now.

When Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said that about second-year receiver Kendall Wright, he meant it as a compliment.

[+] EnlargeKendall Wright
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports"Kendall [Wright] is the type of receiver, you need to give him some freedom, that's when he's at his best this year," QB Ryan Fitzpatrick said.
“Kendall is kind of 'streetballerish,'” Fitzpatrick said. “When I was in Buffalo I always got questions about Stevie Johnson, who was the same way. They both have basketball player backgrounds. Just very quick. It’s been nice to get on the same page with him a little bit. He’s never going to run the same route twice the same way, and so sometimes he can be a difficult guy to throw to. But I’ve got a good chemistry with him right now. He’s a fun guy because he’s always going to be open…”

“He’s hard to cover. He kind of is freewheeling out there a little bit. That can screw you up a little bit as a quarterback. But the feel that I have for him, some of it is my background with Steve Johnson. Kendall is the type of receiver, you need to give him some freedom; that’s when he’s at his best this year.”

Intense wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson rarely talks to the media, so there wasn’t an opportunity this week to ask him about Wright’s freedom to freelance.

But Wright said he’s heard no criticism about it, and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains says it’s a rare freedom that Wright has been granted.

“I think it’s a little bit of the Wes Welker,” Loggains said. “Kendall, he needs to know where he needs to be and how deep it needs to be, and he knows at what point Ryan is expecting him to be there. How he gets there? You can’t put the kid in a box because you’d take away some of his creativity. I think as the season has gone on, he’s started to understand more the distribution and timing of it. It’s given us the opportunity to give him a little bit of leeway in how he gets there.”

Awarding a receiver that sort of latitude is a very rare thing.

“He’d be the only guy on this team that has that option,” Loggains said. “He’s the only guy I’ve ever been a part of on a football team, any coaching staff I’ve ever been on, that has had that freedom to get where he needs to get.”
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Bambi stayed on his feet. Kendall Wright got back on his.

Sunday's 23-19 win over the Oakland Raiders was a breakthrough game for the Tennessee Titans' two young receivers.

Rookie second-rounder Justin Hunter is called Bambi by the other receivers for his propensity to fall down. But he stayed up and made two defensive backs look foolish with a nice move that produced a 54-yard catch and run touchdown.

[+] EnlargeKendall Wright and Justin Hunter
AP Photo/Beck DiefenbachJustin Hunter (left) and Kendall Wright combined for 212 yards on 12 catches against the Raiders on Sunday.
Wright again showed his toughness, popping up from an ankle injury and returning to action in short order to score the game-winning touchdown.

Both topped 100-yards in a game we may look back on as the start of an era where the Titans have a top tandem of pass-catchers.

"Hard work and humbleness, both of them,” veteran receiver Nate Washington said. "As good as they both are now, they're both willing to listen, they both understand right now they both have a lot of work to do. They come in every week and work as hard as possible.”

Said Wright of Hunter: "He made some spectacular catches today, he made some tough catches." He's working hard every day, maturing as a player. He's growing up. We still have a lot of work to do, him, me, everybody else.”

Wright hurt his right ankle early in the fourth quarter and it looked like trouble. He didn't know then that the Titans would be extra late returning to Nashville because their charter was delayed by 90 minutes. Still, he had no desire to be in super-early Monday morning to be with trainers and guys who finish the game don't have to get up at that hour.

"I settled down a lot,” he said. "I almost felt like it was broke the way it did it. But I told myself out there, ‘I'm not waking up at 6 in the morning to go to treatment. I'm just not doing it. I hate the training room, I hate being in there. So I'm going to do anything I can to get back out there.”

Hunter's been used increasingly as Kenny Britt's faded and Damian Williams has been out. The rookie had just seven catches on the season but was targeted six times by Fitzpatrick in this game, catching them all.

"I think it's been a steady climb all season long,” Fitzpatrick said. "I think he feels like he's starting to get it and belongs, more so than maybe at the beginning of the season. He's not just a guy that we're going to send down field and throw deep balls to. He's a guy that can really make some plays underneath. He's gotten better and he's worked so hard at it and now the reward and having a big game, it was good.”

Said Wright of Hunter's 54-yard touchdown: "Usually, the play he scored on, any other day at practice or something he probably would have fell. But he didn't [on Sunday]."

Hunter is very soft spoken.

In the locker room after the game, receivers coach Shawn Jefferson passed him his smartphone. There was something on the screen someone had sent along for him to read, and he smiled as he took it in.

I could hardly hear him in a bustling locker room where guys weren't clearing out because they had to pass some time waiting for the plane.

He said his intent was to cut all the way across the field but he found the path past safety Brandian Ross and corner Phillip Adams was to turn back to the right.

"I hope so, I hope this is a day it gets started for us together,” he said of his work with Wright. "We're going to be together for a while.”