NFL Nation: Marcus Robertson

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Louis Delmas sat on his stool in the Detroit Lions' locker room the other day, and a couple of seats over, Glover Quin’s head shot up from his phone.

Delmas was continuing his running joke of calling Quin “slow," even if they both ran comparable 40-yard dash times at the 2009 NFL combine.

This is no insult to the teammate whom Delmas trusts implicitly, but rather a compliment to his complement in the Detroit secondary and what he has learned from him. Slow, you see, doesn't mean what it sounds.

[+] EnlargeLouis Delmas and Glover Quin
AP Photo/Paul SancyaGlover Quin (left) and Louis Delmas complement each other, in their personalities and in their play.
“It’s crazy because he plays, he’s always in the right position to make plays on the ball and I always wondered why,” Delmas said. “He plays fast, but slow with his eyes. Sometimes you look at him on film and it makes it look like he’s playing very slow, but he’s always in the right position.

“That’s something I always struggled with because I always thought, ‘I need to get there, need to get there, need to get there.’ By watching him, an older guy as far as more experience and playing more games than me, being in the organization he was in, he learned that a long time ago.”

As Delmas was explaining, Quin shook his head at him. Delmas barked back at Quin.

Welcome to the playful friendship that has been all positive for Detroit’s defense.

Delmas kept going, animatedly describing how watching Quin taught him that quickness is more important than speed. How reading the play correctly is paramount to being there first and hopefully on time.

As Delmas is having arguably the best season of his career -- he said he won’t say that until he makes it through the year healthy -- some of the success is attributable to Quin. Same for Quin to Delmas, even if they have as opposite personalities as you could find.

Quin is the consummate professional, quiet, disciplined, focused and consistent. Delmas is the fiery, energetic, passionate soul of the Detroit defense.

Or, as defensive-backs coach Marcus Robertson put it, Delmas is the “spark plug,” while Quin is the “quiet storm.” Even the titles of their positions, with Delmas as the free safety and Quin the strong safety, fit their disparate personalities.

However it happens, it has worked for the Lions. Delmas and Quin are third and fifth on the team with 30 and 26 tackles, and both have two interceptions. Delmas has six pass breakups. Quin has five. Similar stats. Different approaches.

“Too much of anything isn’t good,” Quin said. “So if me and [Delmas] both had the same personality, it might not be good. We might bump heads. If we both played the same way, it might not be good.

“We need to balance.”

With the balance comes trust, and that came instantly when Detroit signed Quin from Houston in March. Delmas was still home rehabilitating his injured knees, but he and Quin texted and called each other, expressing their mutual excitement at playing alongside one another.

There was never any concern, just the comfort that Delmas would finally have the same player next to him every day and that Quin would have a counterpart with the confidence to make plays.

Even as Delmas dealt with injuries the past two seasons, he was a constant presence when he was able to play. Next to him, though, the only consistency Detroit had was a lack of it. Through Delmas’ first four seasons in the league, the Lions had what Detroit coach Jim Schwartz called a “revolving door” playing next to him.

When you’re trying to build cohesion in a group and communication to the point of comfort, the always-changing safeties weren’t safe at all. Delmas never slid into complete familiarity and trust with anyone he played next to as the last part of protection in the Detroit defense.

[+] EnlargeLouis Delmas and Glover Quin
Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty ImagesGlover Quin offers stability for Louis Delmas and the Lions.
“For such a long time, Lou hadn’t had that consistent counterpart there,” Robertson said. “When we made the initiative to go out and get GQ, I think that was one of the things that truly helped him out because he knew he was going to have somebody there beside him that he could depend on. Somebody he could count on, somebody that was going to have his back.”

In Quin, Delmas got a counterpart he had known since he entered the league -- they first met at the 2009 combine -- and someone he trusted immediately. He also had someone who, even though they have the same number of years in the league, he could look up to.

Delmas learned that he needed to bolster his physical skills by understanding everything else. And communication is key. Delmas and cornerback Rashean Mathis are consistently telling each other “keep me in it” or “talk to me, talk to me, talk to me” as a way of picking up on any changes they might notice before, during or after a play.

More important is the way Quin and Delmas communicate together.

“They communicate a lot off the field, on the field, you can see,” defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. “Lou probably played some of his better games this year. He’s not gambling as much. He’s playing the system better, and he knows he’s got a guy on the other side.”

That guy is Quin, whom Delmas describes as a “very quiet, humble dude.” Then, he added, “you’ve got me. The fireball.”

And while Delmas has learned from Quin, he is also rubbing off on his strong safety.

“I’m pretty sure, I’m definite, that I’m feeding off of him a little bit,” Delmas said. “Because every time I get in his face and getting riled up, I can see him hopping around a little bit, getting excited.

“We’re different, very much different.”

For Detroit this season, that’s working out just fine.
Similarities between Matt Flynn and Matt Hasselbeck border on eery.

Flynn, like Hasselbeck in 2001, came to the Seattle Seahawks from the Green Bay Packers. Both were reunited in Seattle with personnel people they knew in Green Bay (John Schneider for Flynn, Ted Thompson for Hasselbeck).

Matt Flynn
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireThe Seahawks believe they have a strong supporting cast in place for Matt Flynn.
Flynn is 25 years old. Hasselbeck was 26. Both quarterbacks, though unproven, appeared close to joining the Miami Dolphins before landing in Seattle.

Flynn's new coach, Pete Carroll, has a 14-18 record and one playoff appearance with the Seahawks. He has been on the job for 26 months. Hasselbeck's coach in 2001, Mike Holmgren, had a 15-17 record and one playoff appearance with Seattle. He had been on the job for 26 months when the Seahawks landed Hasselbeck.

For all the striking circumstantial parallels, three differences give Flynn an opportunity to enjoy early success, something that eluded Hasselbeck and nearly derailed his career with the team. All three factors are a direct reflection of Carroll and, to an extent, Schneider:

  • Realistic expectations: Carroll has tempered expectations by declaring publicly that Flynn must compete for the job with Tarvaris Jackson. Holmgren anointed Hasselbeck, went on about the importance of the position, and suggested his own job security hinged on his new quarterback's performance. There's always pressure on quarterbacks, but Carroll isn't adding to the pressure on Flynn by suggesting he's their savior.
  • Support system: Carroll and Schneider are further along rebuilding the roster, particularly on defense, than was Holmgren in 2001. This allows the current Seahawks to better support all their quarterbacks. This was by design and carried risk when the team opted to use its 2011 first-round choice for guard James Carpenter instead of quarterback Andy Dalton, figuring the line needed reinforcing before welcoming a young passer.
    .
    But the upside is that Carroll and Schneider have put together the NFL's youngest defense, one that ranked ninth last season and should only improve. When Hasselbeck arrived in 2001, Holmgren was patching the NFL's last-ranked defense with veterans John Randle, Chad Eaton, Marcus Robertson and Levon Kirkland. There wasn't a young talent base to build around on that side of the ball.
    .
    "Matt (Flynn) comes in at a time when our sights are set on a strong running game, a young offensive line we're excited about with depth, an attitude that plays off the defense-and-special-teams-style that we play, and that we all can feel," Carroll said Monday.
  • Overall philosophy. Carroll wants to win with a strong defense and running game, whereas Holmgren was all about the quarterback.
    "We have never asked the quarterback to carry the whole show," Carroll said. "We want him to be part of this offense and part of this football team, and be the point guard and spread the ball around."

Questions remain regarding the current Seahawks' ability to develop a quarterback for the long term. That was Holmgren's strength, and one reason Hasselbeck eventually developed into a Pro Bowl player.

The NFL has become more of a passing league since then, opening for debate whether Carroll's philosophy is best for the current NFL landscape.

Those are subjects for another day. Improving the short-term chances for Flynn has to be the top priority. The Seahawks have done that. The rest is up to Flynn.
Michael GriffinFernando Medina/US PresswireSafety Michael Griffin had an up-and-down season in 2010, just like the Tennessee Titans.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Michael Griffin puzzles me.

The Titans safety is a supremely gifted athlete who’s been remarkable for the team at times during the four seasons since he was the 19th overall pick in the 2007 draft. He’s also gone through stretches in which he’s been far less than remarkable, winding up on another kind of highlight reel -- chasing players who’d made big gains against Tennessee.

With a new staff awaiting the team when the labor impasse ends, and Griffin participating in a two-day player minicamp this week, I sat with him and also talked to his new defensive coordinator, Jerry Gray, seeking clarity.

The drop-off from 2008 Pro Bowler to 2009 disappointment, we already knew, had a good deal to do with some off-the-field issues and a torn labrum.

Wary of making excuses or tossing anyone under a big yellow transportation vehicle that carries children, Griffin still offered a lot of hints about what went wrong in 2010.

He was great as the Titans jumped out to a 5-2 start. But he struggled the rest of the way -- like just about everyone else on the roster -- as the team lost eight of its final nine games to finish 6-10. Football Outsiders charted him as missing 17 tackles, the most in the league and 12 more than he missed in that bad 2009 campaign.

(His Pro Bowl selection and standing as a Second Team All-Pro were testament to the impression his early-season success made on voters, and also spoke to the state of safeties in the AFC and the league as a whole.)

[+] EnlargeMichael Griffin
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMichael Griffin had four picks in the first half of last season, but none in the second half when he played closer to the line of scrimmage.
“There was just too much finger-pointing instead of us all saying, 'Let’s sit down and let’s resolve it',” Griffin said. “There was just too much going on and we were divided ...

“There was a lot going on behind the scenes. It was kind of good that there was a change. I think it was a change for the best. With a lot of the things that made headlines, you could just see where this team was. We were all on different pages, and it started from the coaches on down.”

Although Gray says Griffin has the skill set to play strong safety, given his skills and other available personnel, Griffin has clearly been best as a free safety for the Titans. He collected an interception in four consecutive games at one point last season, earning AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for October.

Yet as the season moved along, he found himself playing a good deal of strong safety. He was asked to play nearer the line of scrimmage and make tackles on running backs and tight ends instead of roaming center field, reading quarterbacks and pouncing on pass-catchers.

“I feel like I’m better in the field. I’ve always been a free safety, playing in the field and trying to get jumps on quarterbacks,” he said. “Two years ago, all my interceptions came when I was in the field playing Cover 2 or playing Cover 1. Last year all my interceptions came playing the field. Then, all of a sudden I kind of got moved to the box.

“If I know this guy right here can get to the quarterback on passing downs, get him in the game and get him to the quarterback. If I know this guy is a great run-stopper, play this guy on run downs. I am not telling coaches how to do their job, but those are my examples. Compared to how we played two years ago when we were one of the top secondaries and doing a great job and had three Pro Bowlers, we were just never put in those same positions.”

Veteran strong safety Chris Hope was partially the issue. He wasn’t the in-the-box presence he’d been in years past, and the Titans believed getting Griffin more involved in defending closer to the line of scrimmage would be beneficial. But Hope has slowed down and wasn’t a big help in coverage, either.

Another curious move from coach Jeff Fisher and his defensive coordinator, Chuck Cecil, was made at the end of October: Longtime nickelback Vincent Fuller was taken out of the lineup. A staff that had always been incredibly loyal to veterans pulled Fuller and began shifting starting rookie cornerback Alterraun Verner inside to cover the slot receiver, replacing him outside with Jason McCourty.

“It’s just the way our business is,” Griffin said. “You can understand why they did it, but at the same time, you can’t understand why they did it. It makes sense, but it doesn’t really make sense. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m not saying it's the reason things started going bad. There were just a lot of things going on.”

[+] EnlargeJerry Gray
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyNew Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray plans to play to the strengths of his players on defense.
Jerry Gray’s a Texas guy just like Griffin. I expect the two will build a good rapport.

Gray said Griffin is capable of playing free or strong safety, comparing him to the late Sean Taylor. Gray coached the versatile Taylor in Washington.

“What Griffin did best, he got four interceptions last year. I thought he did a good job of tracking the football, reading the quarterback when he was in center field,” Gray said. “But he made tackles too. … You’re going to start him out at free. His identity is going to show up in practices, hopefully before it gets to games. Our job is to not spread him thin and let him go play what he’s really good at.

“Sometimes you may give up 10 to 20 tackles a year. But you gain five or six interceptions. Is a tackle more important than a turnover? If it’s not, then put him at free safety. That’s what we’re kind of leaning on in the beginning and wanting to see if we can make work.”

Hope will turn 32 in September. If he can regain form and the pass rush helps the secondary, things could get a lot better. If he cannot, the Titans don’t appear to have a guy in the backup pool who is clearly next in line at either safety spot.

Young corners Verner and McCourty should be better, and Fuller, a sure tackler, could resurface.

Whoever is on the field, Griffin is confident that Gray and holdover defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson will provide a unified plan that maximizes the chances to be effective and will provide answers if things don’t go according to plan.

He’s most concerned with a return to winning football. But heading into the final year of his contract, he also said a consistent season is mandatory if he wants to ensure a good future for himself.

“It has to be a great year,” he said. “I think they are going to put us in the best situations possible for us to make plays. After that, when they put us in the positions, it’s up to us as players to make plays. If we can’t make the plays, that’s when we’ll point the fingers at ourselves.”
Sean McCormick of Football Outsiders has picked his 10 most disappointing teams Insider of the last 25 years.

The 2001 Tennessee Titans hold sixth place.

Here’s what he says:
"The Titans went 26-6 in 1999-2000. They were particularly unbeatable at home, winning 16 of their first 17 games played in (then) Adelphia Coliseum. But a shocking 24-14 loss to the Ravens in the playoffs took the shine off their new digs, as Tennessee would go on to lose five home games in 2001 on its way to a disappointing 7-9 record. Injuries to star running back Eddie George were a major culprit, as he managed only 3 yards per carry while playing through toe and ankle injuries. An even bigger culprit was a defense that couldn't get to the quarterback and couldn't cover receivers … any receivers. The Titans' defensive DVOA ranked 30th against No. 1 receivers, 28th against No. 2 receivers and 30th against all other receivers. The bright spot was Steve McNair, who turned in his best season to date and whose development ensured that Tennessee wouldn't stay down for long."

The missing context here is that the pass defense was so bad when compared to the two previous seasons because of a changing of the guard in the secondary that failed badly.

Of the four top guys in the defensive backfield from the two big seasons, free safety Marcus Robertson and cornerback Denard Walker had moved on as free agents and strong safety Blaine Bishop played in only five games because of injury.

Guys who filled in those spots -- corners Andre Dyson, DeRon Jenkins, Michael Booker and safeties Aric Morris, Bobby Myers (one game before injury), Perry Phenix , Joe Walker and Daryl Porter -- simply didn’t make for a good enough collection to support the one holdover who played regularly, corner Samari Rolle.

Most Titans fans regard the team’s inability to pull out Super Bowl XXXIV when it got there and, more so, the divisional-round playoff loss to Baltimore at the conclusion of the 2000 season as the things that are hardest to swallow.

Even before the team’s 0-3 start on the way to their 7-9 record, it was clear the franchise wasn’t the same caliber in 2001. It’s hard for me to imagine those Titans ranking among the 10 biggest disappointments of the last quarter century.
BRISTOL, Conn. -- Jason and Devin McCourty don’t mind when people play the guessing game. Which twin is the Titans cornerback heading into his third season? Which is the Patriots cornerback coming off a Pro Bowl rookie season?

Have a look, take a guess, check the answer key at the end of the post.

Jason and Devin McCourty
Paul KuharskyJason and Devin McCourty visited the ESPN campus on Thursday. Can you tell which is which?
They’re running through the ESPN car wash today, with appearances on SportsCenter and NFL Live still to come. Talent producer Audrah Cates was kind enough to let me join the group for lunch.

Jason McCourty has spent some time in Nashville, working out with Cortland Finnegan and Chris Hope at Father Ryan High School and Vanderbilt. But recently he’s been back in New Jersey, training at Rutgers with his brother and some other former Scarlet Knights, including Jacksonville receiver Tiquan Underwood, while also spending time with his mom and catching some movies. (He really likes “The Lincoln Lawyer.”)

He introduced himself to Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and other members of the new coaching staff before the lockout, and talked with holdover defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson during the brief lockout pause.

Under new coaches, we have no idea how Tennessee’s new defense will sort out once we have football again.

McCourty was the third corner last year, replacing Alterraun Verner outside as Verner slid inside to play the nickel spot. The Titans appear pleased with Finnegan, Verner and Jason McCourty as their top three corners. In nine draft picks, the team only used the second of two seventh-rounders on a corner, Tommie Campbell out of California, Pa.

“I think we believe we can win with the guys we have, that it’s just a matter of coming together,” Jason McCourty said. “…I don’t know what my role will be. You know when you play football, everyone wants to start.

“Cort is definitely a proven player, a Pro Bowl guy. We’re all good corners, we’ll all do battle. Whoever the coaching staff feels are the necessary parts and where they place us, I’ll be cool with it. It’s just a matter of going out there and competing.”

That’s Jason is on the right, Devin is on the left.

When Ray Sherman left the Tennessee Titans staff, he was viewed as a coach with a bit of wanderlust: He always thought the next job he got would be better, and might position him for the big step to a head coaching job.

Sherman was on Jeff Fisher’s staff in 2005 and 2006, hardly a monumental time for receivers with the team. He was on the Oilers' staff in 1988 and 1989 as well. So Bud Adams knows him from two stints.

Now he’s a candidate for the Titans' head coaching vacancy (somehow Adam Schefter tweeted that Chris Mortensen is reporting it).

Sherman interviewed with the Cowboys, fulfilling their requirement under the Rooney Rule to discuss a head coaching vacancy with at least one minority. Skeptics will say he’s a token interview in Nashville, particularly if Mike Munchak is hired quickly as Fisher’s replacement. Munchak interviewed Monday.

John Wooten is chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization that works with the NFL promoting diversity among front office executives, coaches and scouts.

He said he spoke with Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt Monday to let him know of the group's “ready list.” Sherman is one of seven remaining minorities the group promotes as ready to be head coaches. Three others from the earlier version of the list – Leslie Frazier, Ron Rivera and Hue Jackson – have attained head coaching jobs.

Wooten said he’d love to see Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and Packers assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach Winston Moss get a look from the Titans. Moss cannot interview until after the Packers play in Super Bowl XLV Sunday.

I know Jim Wyatt’s conversation with Bud Adams that I cited in this morning’s RTC entry indicated the owner sees things happening quickly. Maybe they will.

But general manager Mike Reinfeldt and senior executive vice president and general counsel Steve Underwood are sorting out the pool and doing the interviewing.

They are deliberate guys who emphasized Friday that they would take as long as they need to. That makes me think we learn the new coach later rather than sooner.

Of course, this franchise has not been in this position for some time, its lead by an eccentric owner and anything can happen.

As for minority presence: of the four assistants that are gone from Fisher’s 2010 staff, running backs coach Craig Johnson and receivers coach Fred Graves, are African American.

Now only two of the 14 assistants who are under contract to the team are minorities -- secondary coach Marcus Robertson and defensive assistant/quality control coach Rayna Stewart.

Whoever the new head coach is, he will have to consider diversity as he pieces together his staff.
Fisher/YoungKirby Lee/US PresswireFor Bud Adams, the choice won't be as simple as picking Vince Young or Jeff Fisher.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Vince Young-Jeff Fisher showdown and its spillover has many observers thinking Bud Adams will ultimately have to choose one or the other.

But the math in the equation is off, and this is not a simple, one-against-one situation.

If the love-struck Adams chooses his favorite quarterback, he’s not only going to lose Fisher, he’s going to lose all, or most, of Fisher’s staff.

While Adams would be making a poor choice, even he’d have to admit that Young at his best isn’t going to do much to offset the loss of some excellent assistant coaches.

All but one Titans assistant coach is working with an expiring contract, according to a Titans source. Fisher’s contract runs through 2011.

In a typical scenario, Fisher would get an extension and then line up his assistants with deals of the same length.

“We are in the process of extending contracts for the entire staff," Fisher said after practice Friday. “I don’t comment on negotiations other than to say we’re in the process.”

But there has been no word on any talks about a new deal for Fisher, and now it’s a safe bet there will not be one before the Young issues are resolved. If they come to fruition, those staff extensions could be for only one season.

And the uncertain labor situation gives Adams the potential to hold off on anything new until after things are settled between the league and the players, in case he has to withstand a lockout.

Whenever it comes around, the staff issue is more significant now given the battle between Fisher and Young and Adams’ comments to The Tennessean saying he expects the two to find a way to co-exist next season.

I think we’re past the point where that’s a possibility and Adams is going to have to make a choice. Hopefully it’s a well-reasoned one.

[+] EnlargeMike Munchak
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellThe Titans' solid pass protection and good run blocking are due to efforts by coach Mike Munchak.
Pick Young, and you probably sacrifice Mike Munchak.

Munchak is one of eight members of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s a steady teacher who recognizes talent and has consistently groomed quality guys. The Titans have regularly had good pass protection and solid run blocking in large part because of Munchak’s exhaustive work.

Pick Young, and you probably sacrifice Jim Washburn.

The Titans’ defense is tied for second in the NFL with 30 sacks. They’ve come from players Washburn has rebuilt such as Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Tony Brown or guys he encouraged the front office to draft, such as Jason Jones. A large number of franchises in the league would love to add a high-energy defensive line coach who can get production from such reclamation projects and draft picks.

Those two are key coaches on a staff that’s widely regarded around the league as one of the best. A staff Fisher has been able to shape and hold onto because of his stability and the loyalty he shows -- occasionally to a fault.

His staff also includes offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who has been mentioned as a candidate for head-coaching jobs and once interviewed with San Francisco for its top post; defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil; veteran linebackers coach Dave McGinnis, who has been head coach of two teams; defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson, who had an excellent career as a safety for the franchise; special teams coach Alan Lowry, who scripted the Music City Miracle; strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson; receivers coach Fred Graves; tight ends coach John Zernhelt; running backs coach Craig Johnson; and quarterback coach Dowell Loggains.

They are not all irreplaceable superstars, of course. And with expiring contracts, some of them could be moving on even if Fisher is firmly in place.

Washburn is a Nashville fixture who appreciates the second-chance Fisher gave him in 1999. But if he becomes a coaching free agent, perhaps a team with a bad defensive line would make him an offer too good to refuse.

Still, the chances he stays in Tennessee are far higher if Fisher is in the big office. I'd be willing to bet the same would be true for all the assistants.

If Adams chooses to stick with Young and Fisher negotiates out of his contract, or if another team strikes a deal to give the Titans picks to get Fisher out of his last year, I predict all the assistants would be totally turned off by Adams’ choice.

Some might have to stay if they could to ensure themselves of a job. But given any sort of choice, I believe they’d be unlikely to sign new deals with Tennessee to work under Fisher’ replacement.

More likely, these assistants would rejoin Fisher with a new team if he is able to move on for 2011. If not, they would find jobs elsewhere. The older guys might ponder retirement or take a year off with assurances from Fisher that they’d have a job with him once he re-enters the league.

The top in-house candidate to replace Fisher with the Titans would have to be Heimerdinger, and I believe his loyalty to Fisher would mean he wouldn’t even allow his representative to talk to Adams about the post.

Even Fisher’s harshest critics have to appreciate assistants like Munchak and Washburn and acknowledge they’d be difficult to replace. (You can make a case against Fisher, sure. But in a head-to-head against Young there is no way not to choose the coach.)

If Adams makes his move against Fisher, Fisher could have solidarity from his staff of 16.

If Young is the one shown the door, he’d be walking through it alone.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans appear hell bent on maintaining the cornerback slot opposite Cortland Finnegan is open for competition.

And that’s the right approach in June, when you can't win a job and probably can't lose one either.

But through 12 of 14 spring and summer OTA practices, Jason McCourty has run with the first team 11 times. Tye Hill was due to get a shot last week, but suffered a hamstring injury and was out. Ryan Mouton got that day, but then McCourty was quickly back in place.

[+] EnlargeJason McCourty
AP Photo/Bill KostrounWhile Jason McCourty appears to be the front-runner to start opposite Cortland Finnegan, Titans coaches aren't saying as much.
Still, coach Jeff Fisher says it’s unwise to read too much into who’s getting the reps at the head of the line.

“We’re just rotating,” Fisher said.

But no matter how much he talks about rotating, the team hasn’t been rotating, at least not at the top.

Fisher said Hill, when healthy, can expect reps to come, as can rookie Alterraun Verner.

Rod Hood would have been in the mix as well, but he tore an ACL recently and is out of the mix.

I sought out former Titans safety Marcus Robertson, the defensive backs coach, to get a review of McCourty’s work so far.

Like his boss, Robertson wasn’t especially eager to single out McCourty or differentiate him too much from Mouton -- leaning toward talking of “them” rather than “him.”

Perhaps we need start calling them McCourton?

I think it’s clear that the Titans like Mouton better in the slot and he’s better suited for it while McCourty is better outside. But with Vincent Fuller entrenched there, it’s not an available spot.

Robertson said McCourty has “drastically improved.”

“Both of those guys have the ability,” Robertson said. “The one thing I like about JMac is the simple thing that he’s coachable. He has all the tools to be a good football player, he understands the game. I think for him, the more times he sees it, the better he will be.”

A brutal season for the Titans' secondary last year included too much time for Mouton and McCourty on the field as rookies.

“Although it wasn’t a great thing for us, I think it was a good thing for them,” Robertson said. “Because they got an opportunity to realize that at any given time you can be exposed and that if you don’t do the hard work during the week, you can easily be embarrassed on Sunday.

“That isn’t a good feeling and I know now that they are dedicated to being the best players they can be.”

McCourty said he isn’t concentrating on who’s lining up when, but that all of the team’s corners -- with Nick Harper’s old spot now open -- have to think of themselves as starting material.

“I know the guys behind me are just as good,” McCourty said. “So if I go out there and I slack, one of them is going to pick up on that and hop in front of me.”

Receiver Lavelle Hawkins interrupted to brag about having beaten McCourty on a play late in practice. McCourty didn’t really flinch. Pressed, he said it wasn’t much of a victory for the receiver, who grabbed a short slant.
William HayesJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesTitans defensive end William Hayes was drafted in 2008 in part because defensive line coach Jim Washburn wanted him.
When players want to steer clear of trouble with the bosses, they are fond of saying “players play, coaches coach.”

As the draft approaches, I wonder how often scouts mumble the variation: “Scouts scout, coaches coach.”

Not long ago, the Tennessee Titans had a somewhat distinct division of power along those lines.

Former GM Floyd Reese respected Jeff Fisher’s staff. But Reese believed it was his job to assess the talent and to provide it to be coached up.

There were exceptions, of course. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak was the primary force behind the selection of left tackle Michael Roos in 2005, for example.

The scouts I know respect the opinion of a position coach like Munchak.

How could they not appreciate the track record of a Hall of Fame player in developing quality linemen? Still, in a general scout-assistant matchup where the credentials are more even, scouts should hold the trump card, don’t you agree?

One scout I spoke to this week pointed to nine months of work including all those live visits against four to six weeks of study done primarily with tape.

If a GM needs to lean one way or the other, this scout said he should lean with the scout. And on his team, he said that’s usually the way it goes.

Most often, Reese was making the call with the support of his scouting staff. Position coach input was a relatively small ingredient.

And so, when some of Reese’s players didn’t match expectations, a semi-traditional tug of war commenced: Position coaches might gripe about the talent they were -- or were not -- given; the personnel department could grumble about how coaches were not bringing out a player’s best.

Now the man who replaced Reese in 2007, Mike Reinfeldt, strives for harmony and consent and has drafted several players in part because of large endorsements from assistant coaches with mixed degrees of success.

  • Secondary coach Marcus Robertson liked Ryan Mouton, who struggled as a rookie in 2009.
  • Defensive line coach Jim Washburn wanted Jason Jones and William Hayes in 2008, and they still rate as works in progress.
  • Former running backs coach Sherman Smith endorsed Chris Henry in 2007, and Henry busted and is gone.
Reinfeldt’s counterparts in the AFC South seek to be consensus builders too, though Colts president Bill Polian and Jaguars general manager Gene Smith are more powerful than Reinfeldt and Texans GM Rick Smith when it comes to final decisions.

[+] EnlargeSteve Walters
Jacksonville Jaguars for ESPN.comSteve Walters said he has coached on teams where assistants played a role in scouting.
Retired coach Steve Walters, who worked in New England and New Orleans before wrapping up his career with stops in Tennessee and Jacksonville overseeing receivers, said he agreed with that. Under Reese he rarely did much hands-on work with prospects. Assistants just weren’t used that way much. Under James “Shack” Harris with the Jaguars, dumped after the 2008 season, Walters said he and the assistants played a bigger role in scouting.

I can see some value in a more old-school approach to how things should work. It was often unhealthy to have “Reese guys” and “Fisher guys” on the Oilers and Titans. But a position coach didn’t have any more stake in Player A than he did in Player B and it felt like a system of checks and balances was in place.

Washburn helped turn late-round picks by Reese like Robaire Smith (sixth round, 2000) and Carlos Hall (seventh, 2002) into productive players. More recently, he’s given his blessing to the team’s choice of Jones and Hayes under Reinfeldt .

Might the hard-nosed Washburn, even subconsciously, be inclined to give Jones and Hayes a bit more leeway than a guy previously forced on him despite his protests? Might he, even subconsciously, be rooting for them a bit more, because he stuck his neck out for them?

My initial answer to those questions was that I expected he would, and that such things be detrimental. But in hashing it out with a scout and a former coach, I am no longer as staunch in my opinion.

I do still think it’s an interesting question to consider.

My scout told me the additional accountability that comes with a position coach endorsement is a good thing. Maybe a coach would want to stick with such a player a snap, a series, a game or a season too long, but the cross-checking and co-sign from a GM and his scouts provides the necessary context and cover for such scenarios.

You can take the accountability idea in many different directions, though.

If there is a scouting-coaching split, it’s easier to trace an evaluation mistake back to where it happened. On the consensus side, the saying goes that it’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares about who gets the credit. What about the blame?

Ultimately, an owner should want to know who is nailing assessments and who is botching them.

Walters said when an assistant feels he got what he asked for, he is conscious of having endorsed a guy.

“If you stand on the table for a guy and say, ‘I really think this is the guy and these are the reasons why’ and you can build a case for the guy, your opinion may push it over the top for a guy that you want,” he said. “And if you get that guy you’re certainly a little bit on the line for him because they’re going to remember what you said.

“If they just say ‘Here are your guys, like them or not,’ whether you had any input into them or not…”

His voice trailed off and he left that one hanging.

I’d be inclined to finish it: “Well that’s a different deal.”

Draft Watch: AFC South

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
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NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.

Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak was already on board for the fantastic 2006 draft, but the old front office was also there. General manager Rick Smith was hired after that. I don't have a great sense of the Texans' philosophy. The three drafts since feature some hits -- most noticeably Brian Cushing -- but more guys who still haven’t fully tapped into the potential the team saw in them. They’ve only taken one defensive back as high as the third round, which is part of why they need a few so badly now. They’ve only taken one defensive tackle, and he was a fifth rounder.

Indianapolis Colts

Best player available, regardless of need. That’s how president Bill Polian strives to operate and that’s why the Colts are very unpredictable, especially at the top, when draft days roll around. The Colts still prefer fast and quick to big and super-strong, though they have come to desire more size on their offensive line and interior defensive line. The team’s first pick has been offense the last four years, and providing what Peyton Manning needs to be successful is usually priority one. This time around that would seem to be offensive line, but Polian won’t panic if there is a lineman he loves later and is confident he will be able to land.

Jacksonville Jaguars

General manager Gene Smith has only been on the job for a year, but we still know a good bit about his drafting philosophy. He believes in foundation first, which means offensive and defensive lines. He’s looking to hit singles with every pick, not to swing for the fences. He’s not afraid to stick his neck out as he did last year, trading his 2010 second-rounder for a third-round pick used on corner Derek Cox out of a lesser football school, William & Mary. The Jaguars will strive to get value at every pick while filling out their needs. They will be more likely to trade down than up because of that missing second-rounder and won’t force moves (read draft Tim Tebow) to please the marketing department or a segment of the fan base.

Tennessee Titans

In the three drafts run by general manager Mike Reinfeldt, the Titans have gotten excited over at least one workout warrior early: Chris Henry (bust), Chris Johnson (home run) and Jared Cook (we don’t know yet). The Titans are not afraid to look to smaller programs like Eastern Michigan or Winston-Salem State and some picks in recent years have clearly been favorites of position coaches -- Jim Washburn wanted Jason Jones, William Hayes and Sen'Derrick Marks; Marcus Robertson backed Ryan Mouton. The team doesn’t have big concerns over how other teams or people may value a guy. Sticking their neck out for Johnson made the Titans look great. The jury is still out others like Michael Griffin or Jones.

The Big Question: What to expect from VY?

April, 6, 2010
4/06/10
1:03
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NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What can we expect from Vince Young in 2010?

[+] EnlargeYoung
Steve Dykes/US PresswireVince Young threw for 1,879 yards in the Titans' final 10 games of the 2009 season.
When this question was posed to me last year at this time, I felt Young would be an unsuccessful quarterback in 2009 -- and going forward. I just didn’t trust him to throw the ball well and accurately enough. Nothing is static in this business, and although I am not ready to say that I am a total believer in Young, my tune has surely changed.

Of course, Young deserves a ton of credit for this improvement, but so does coach Jeff Fisher and the Titans’ offensive play calling. I see a lot of half-field reads for Young and obviously Tennessee employs a run-first offensive approach. It also doesn’t hurt having the threat of Chris Johnson as a runner and outlet receiver to make life much easier on a developing quarterback. The Titans also have one of the very best offensive lines in the league and a young, promising group of pass-catchers.

But back to the original question. Young’s supporting cast shouldn’t change much in 2010. In fact, those pass-catchers -- namely Kenny Britt and Jared Cook -- should be further along in their development. Britt in particular should really assert himself this season.

But most important, Young should continue to progress as well. Of course, Young is very dangerous with his legs and he should continue to present a threat in this capacity, but his passing skills improved by leaps and bounds in 2009 since his last stint as a starting quarterback. His ball placement and touch on throws to all levels is vastly improved. Young seems to understand that staying in the pocket to make the throw is usually a better decision than tucking it down and running in the NFL.

But still, this isn’t an offense built to come from behind. Young needs to keep the offense on schedule and move the chains. I see him continuing to do just that, but also further refining his passing skills and deciphering defensive schemes.

Sometimes failure is a great thing for a quarterback. They come back and no longer are playing scared or like the weight of the franchise is planted on their shoulder pads. Young did play fast at times last year, but less so than in the past, and those instances probably will continue to decline. He looks like a much more relaxed quarterback.
Is Tye Hill a magic solution for the Titans who have a hole at one of their starting cornerback spots? No.

But if you don’t have a clear-cut starter, the next thing you want is options. And the Titans have done well to supplement second-year corners Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty with veteran free agents Rod Hood and now Hill.

Hill’s agreed to a one-year deal with the Titans, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

We have a scouting take on Hill here.

Based on that, the question now is how well Chuck Cecil, Marcus Robertson and Tim Hauck are able to coach Hill up to get him in position to be a contributor. But if they do great work with Mouton and McCourty, it may not turn out to matter much.

Some will now extrapolate that the Titans will definitely go defensive end in the first round of the draft. I think their total work in free agency leaves them in a spot where they do not have to address any one spot at No. 16.

But the pool of ends and their two moves at corner certainly leave them the room to go for a pass-rusher if one they love is there.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
 
  AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
  Eddie George, right, and Craig Hentrich were among the former teammates to attend Steve McNair's memorial.

WHITES CREEK, Tenn. -- Lance Schulters arrived at Steve McNair's memorial with another former teammate of the fallen Titans quarterback, Robaire Smith.

The two also saw Samari Rolle and Eddie George.

Those four friends always thought they'd be reunited with McNair for happier times.

"That's our seats right there, playing cards all day on the plane," Schulters said, gesturing the circle they'd comprise. "Steve always won the big hands. All the big pots he won. We just joked about that, like 'Man, this is crazy.'"

Instead, they gathered in this suburb north of Nashville, not to shuffle and deal, but to join more than 5,000 others to mourn McNair, who was shot and killed Saturday in a murder-suicide.

"We might feel indestructible and indispensable on the field, but the reality of it is we're all human, and we all have an end," said Kevin Mawae, Titans center and president of the NFL Players Association. "We just don't know when that end is going to come.

"It's a difficult thing to be here. But we're all NFL players and there are not very many of us and when one of us passes under these circumstances or any circumstances, you mourn the loss of that guy. He was a brother in the locker room to many of us."

More than 30 teammates -- Titans past and present -- attended the memorial, as did the franchise's owner, Bud Adams, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.

The list of current and former players also includes Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, Jevon Kearse, Kevin Carter, Frank Wycheck, Yancey Thigpen, Benji Olson, Blaine Bishop, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jon Runyan, Josh Evans, Justin Hartwig, Al Del Greco, Erron Kinney, Zach Piller, Craig Hentrich, Gary Walker, Joe Nedney, Chris Sanders, Al Smith, Chris Hope and Vincent Fuller.

Current Titans assistant coaches Dave McGinnis, Mike Munchak and Marcus Robertson (who was also a teammate) are also here, as is the team's starting quarterback, Kerry Collins. McNair was drafted third by the Oilers in 1995; Collins fifth by Carolina.

Jeff Fisher will speak during the memorial and is set to talk with the media after it's over.

George said he gathered with 15 or 20 former teammates to remember McNair Wednesday night at The Palm in downtown Nashville

McNair was killed on July 4, which led different players to different thoughts of future Independence Days.

"Here's an opportunity for us to get together every Fourth of July and celebrate his life," George said.

"I know from this point on, my July 4 will never be the same," Kearse said. "I may not even celebrate July 4 from this point on. Instead it will be on July 9 or something like that."

George wrote a poem -- entitled "Where Do Warriors Go?" -- in recent days as he tried to sort through his feelings about McNair's death.

"It was a great question, and based off of that question, these words just started coming out of me and I tried to put it into form," said George, who read the poem at the memorial service. "It was something that I wanted to send off to him, directly speak to him and send him off in the right way. Maybe one day I can recite it for you.

"It's a special place they go to. I don't know the exact place, and that was the question. In it all, he's done his best, right or wrong, and basically it was a message to say, 'You know what, you're free to go into that life, without any judgment. You've done the best you can do and we're going to hold it down here for you.'"

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Jim Schwartz is taking over in Detroit. Jeff Fisher is in the market for a defensive coordinator. Gregg Williams just joined the Saints.

 
  Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
  Jim Schwartz spent eight seasons as defensive coordinator in Nashville.

I expect Fisher to promote secondary coach Chuck Cecil or linebackers coach Dave McGinnis, then hire a new position coach. If Cecil gets promoted, Fisher could promote assistant secondary coach Marcus Robertson to Cecil's old spot and then have room to hire an extra assistant in the defensive backfield, or where he sees fit.

It will be difficult for Schwartz to take many friends from Fisher's staff with him. Young defensive assistant Matt Burke could have a good opportunity. Robertson could get an offer. But like the rest of the staff, those guys have a lot of loyalty to Fisher and a lot of security as part of his staff.

He's got an economics degree from Georgetown and is good with stats and trends. I wrote a piece about his ties to "Moneyball" thinking for football back when I was at The Tennessean. (No archive link to be found, sorry.) But it's a mistake to cast him as strictly a stat guy, or as someone who's more about numbers than people.

Schwartz is a bright guy who can do well. With the big office comes more scrutiny. I think he'll need to work to make sure people don't think he thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, even though he might be. I think he will have to shrug off criticisms and not take things personally. I think he needs to hire a couple of assistants who are fiery guys, because while he's intense, he's probably not a motivator in that sense.

He will put people in position to succeed and he will explain why that's the right spot to be. I don't think he takes the job if he doesn't feel like he's been given enough leeway and power to turn things around.

One Detroit writer said recently that smart is a good direction for the Lions, as they've been anything but for a long time.

They got their guy.

I join the Titans in wishing him well

[Updated 6:04 p.m.]

Jeff Fisher's statement:

"It is rare in this league to get to spend 10 years with an assistant coach as we have with Jim. In his eight years as our defensive coordinator, Jim has clearly put his stamp on that side of the ball. He is competitive, a tremendous communicator and motivator and in our opinion he has been ready for this next step for several years. I want to congratulate the Lions for hiring the right guy and he will be missed here in Tennessee.

As for our next defensive coordinator, we will take our time as far as replacing Jim, but that process has already begun."

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