NFL Nation: Nate Washington

Titans Camp Report: Day 19

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
7:46
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:

  • Receiver Justin Hunter continued to make things difficult on cornerbacks on jump balls. He went up and got one over Coty Sensabaugh from Jake Locker. He jumped over rookie Marqueston Huff for another. He skied to the crossbar in the back of the end zone to pluck another with Sensabaugh nearby.
  • Charlie Whitehurst had to call “ball” on one throw up the right side for Michael Preston, who turned but wasn’t ready and watched it sail through his hands, though he had some room on Micah Pellerin.
  • Locker threw a duck that found the ground quickly when it looked like he was aiming for Nate Washington with Blidi Wreh-Wilson in coverage. Locker seemed to be trying to stop himself from throwing it, but the motion was well underway and it came out of his hand. Wound up harmless.
  • Other red-zone TD catches besides Hunter’s: Marc Mariani from Whitehurst and Chase Coffman stretching at the back line from Zach Mettenberger.
  • Linebacker Zaviar Gooden didn’t get his head around on a Whitehurst throw for Taylor Thompson, but Gooden got his arm up to hit the ball for a breakup.
  • While the Titans have been very reserved with their kickers, Brett Kern punted for the second day in a row.
  • Whitehurst was "sacked" when the he dashed left and ended up swallowing the ball. It looked like the play was supposed to be a handoff to Bishop Sankey but was unclear who made the mistake. Sankey made some nifty moves on a couple of carries.
  • Whitehurst threw an interception to Huff in a ball intended for Isaiah Williams.
  • DaQuan Jones is working as the second nose tackle, and Al Woods is also in the loop there behind starter Sammie Hill. Antonio Johnson has been out for a while in recovering from a knee scope. Jones and Woods can play inside or out, while Johnson doesn’t bring the same versatility. He’s likely in trouble.
  • Travis Coons hit field goals of 38 and 44 yards at the conclusion of two-minute drill work by the offense. Whisenhunt said Maikon Bonani's groin was bothering him a little bit. Coons hit both field goals on a better trajectory with room to spare. He told me he was hitting the ball a bit lower than usual as he worked with snapper Beau Brinkley and holder Kern to speed up the snap, hold, kick process. Now that they’ve made progress on that he’s getting his natural swing back and getting more height on his kicks.
  • Whisenhunt said he will allow players to go home after they return from their trip to New Orleans for Friday night’s game. That ends camp in one way. But Whisenhunt said while the Titans will structure next week like a normal practice week, that they will still work ones against ones and rotate people in competitions. For him, camp really ends when the first round of cuts come and as the team focuses on planning for an opponent.
  • That likely means the practice rules change next week and you won’t be seeing any more of these practice reports. Hope you enjoyed them and they gave you some insight.

Titans Camp Report: Day 18

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
7:16
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:

  • The offense played a lot better than it did on Monday, with Jake Locker throwing three red-zone TD passes a day after he was shut out. There was still some sloppiness. Jackie Battle dropped two passes, and Taylor Thompson dropped one. Shonn Greene had a fumble, though he didn’t run the customary punishment lap which may have been because it was ruled to happen after the whistle (though there isn’t really a whistle).
  • In seven-on-seven work Charlie Whitehurst connected with Michael Preston on a deep ball over cornerback Ri'Shard Anderson. I’ve noted before that Whitehurst has put a lot of air under a lot of his deep stuff. This one was more of a line drive.
  • Kendall Wright continues to look amazing. It looks as if his confidence is as high as possible, and anything thrown near him is practically a sure thing. I hit him several times on Instagram.
  • Justin Hunter also had several good catches, beating Jason McCourty on a go route and going up easily over Tommie Campbell in the back right corner of the end zone in red zone 1-on-1s.
  • Bishop Sankey ran more authoritatively than he did a day earlier, when he fumbled a couple times. He had two live goal-line chances from the 2-yard line. The first was debatable -- I wasn’t sure he got in, he said he’s biased but admitted it needed a tape review. He was stuffed pretty quickly on a second snap.
  • Both sides were feisty. Bernard Pollard and Nate Washington had an extened back-and-forth hollering at each other, as did Daimion Stafford and Leon Washintgon. Washington told Stafford, “You can’t hit me” to which Stafford replied “You’re too little.” That exchange was repeated several times. Linebacker David Gilbert, back after a stretch out with a shoulder injury, flung tight end Chase Coffman to the ground to start a fight that spilled over. The Gilbert-Coffman dustup wasn’t anything beyond ordinary but leaked into a couple different shoving matches.
  • Right after that scrap, Anderson picked off Zach Mettenberger in the back right corner of the end zone. Anderson's been making some plays, but also gets beat. He seems like an all-or-nothing type at this point.
  • Derek Hagan caught a mid-range pass near the numbers on the right side in between a lot of defenders. I feel like he’s consistently good at finding that space on that play or ones similar to it.

Titans Camp Report: Day 17

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
7:21
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:
  • It was a horrific day for the offense, which came out flat and had mistakes in every area you can think of. There were multiple drops, fumbles, interceptions and bad snaps. Ken Whisenhunt downplayed it as one bad day, and of course it was, but the degree of badness was alarming. Said receiver Derek Hagan, who dropped a pass near the end of practice “It was bad, we didn’t get anything going at all. It was a crazy day. Nobody was catching the ball, bad blocking, missed assignments. Just an overall bad day.”
  • Shonn Greene had a fumble that Zach Brown recovered. Bishop Sankey fumbled twice, the first recovered by Brandon Copeland and the second bounced back to Sankey.
  • Kendall Wright streaked across the middle to collect a Locker pass, beating Jason McCourty. Michael Preston made a nice catch over Coty Sensabaugh up the left side from Charlie Whitehurst. Taylor Thompson had a couple more nice plays.
  • Jake Locker made a bad throw for Nate Washington in the right side of the end zone in red zone work. Tommie Campbell may have pushed off, but he easily collected the bad throw.
  • Whitehurst threw a terrible pick as he looked for Marc Mariani to his right. The line drive throw was easily caught by Blidi Wreh-Wilson who was practically halfway between quarterback and his target. Perhaps the worst play of all on a terrible day.
  • Daimion Stafford had a nice breakup of a throw for Mariani, whose helmet popped off in the process. Ri'Shard Anderson broke up a Zach Mettenberger dart for Hagan. Wreh-Wilson had a too-easy breakup of a Locker pass for Dexter McCluster. The defense made some plays, for sure. But more of the offensive failures were self-inflicted.
  • Justin Hunter wore a jersey that said “J A G” across the back instead of “Hunter.” He said Whisenhunt and receivers coach Shawn Jefferson talked to him after he forgot to convert a route Saturday night. Hunter didn’t know they’d follow through with the jersey, but they did. He said he’ll continue to work to be more than “just a guy.”
  • Hunter made a nice play in the middle of the field, winning a contested ball from Locker by taking it away from safety Michael Griffin.
  • Among the targets with drops: Delanie Walker, Preston, Washington (who had a chance to recollect the ball on the sideline but bobbled it until his feet were out), Thompson, Hagan.
  • Guard Andy Levitre said he played one game at center for the Bills against Miami and was bad at it. Whisenhunt reminded a questioner that he’d said in the past he intended to work Levitre a little at center to prepare a contingency. Now with Chris Spencer (ankle) out, it was the right time. Levitre said he lost focus and snapped as if the quarterback was under center a couple times when he wound up rolling balls past Zach Mettenberger. Ultimately, they put starting center Brian Schwenke in with the third team to settle things down.
  • Kickoffs: Maikon Bonani put one 9 yards deep and another 4 yards deep into the end zone. With less hang time, Travis Coons put one kickoff 4 yards deep. Coons also punted some.

Titans Camp Report: Day 12

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
1:41
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:
  • Defensive linemen Mike Martin (hamstring) and Antonio Johnson (knee) remain out. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt said Martin could miss Saturday’s preseason opener against Green Bay and that Johnson has more of a chance to play.
  • Taylor Lewan's No. 77 jersey was missing his last name. He said he was not in trouble or anything. Fifteen minutes before practice he discovered his jersey was missing.
  • Cornerback Tommie Campbell has struggled throughout camp, but he had a much better day. He ran deep with receiver Nate Washington on one play and was close enough to cause an incompletion. He batted away another pass by Jake Locker for Washington in the end zone during red-zone work.
  • Tight end Craig Stevens does a lot of unnoticed dirty work as a blocker. He had some nice opportunities in the passing game and took advantage. He caught a throw in the red zone from Locker at the goalpost and had a leaping catch in the end zone.
  • I watched Locker closely in one red-zone period. He hit Washington, dropped a snap for a fumble that killed a play, hit Washington in the end zone, hit Stevens for that leaping touchdown and saw Campbell bat that pass away from Washington.
  • The Titans went live (with tackling) for a goal-line snap and running back Shonn Greene plowed forward and got into the end zone from the 2-yard line. On the next snap, not live, Bishop Sankey was going straight ahead, made a sharp cut right and slid around the one guy with a chance of keeping him out of the end zone. Very nice.
  • We saw some kickoffs. Maikon Bonani put one through the end zone and had another high one come down halfway into the end zone. Travis Coons took one and hit a liner that landed at the goal line and looked like a long squib kick.
  • All 2-minute drive work ended with field goals: Bonani hit from 40, Coons hit from 49 (with a low liner), Bonani hit from 48.
  • Whisenhunt missed Ri'Shard Anderson swinging his helmet at a member of the Falcons during a scrap Monday. The coach said if he had seen it, Anderson would have been pulled.
  • The Titans practice at 2:50 local time Thursday. It is closed to the public.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Every team in every training camp talks optimistically. Every team with a new coaching staff talks about how things are different for the better.

The Tennessee Titans are lowly regarded by plenty of fans and media nationally. But they have a lot going on that they feel those people have not paid attention to.

With Ken Whisenhunt and his staff at the helm, new schemes on both sides of the ball, a schedule that doesn’t include some of the powers they faced a year ago and a division with two other rebuilding franchises, they might have a chance to surprise.

."You say each and every year, 'Feels different, feels different, feels different,'" safety Michael Griffin said. "Just, you can see every day, people out there talking, we always have guys picking people up. Each and every day there is competition. There are little side bets here and there -- who’s going to win this period and things of that nature. The whole time we’re all trying to get each other better.

"Again, it just feels so much different in this locker room, and everybody has the same goals in mind, and that’s a positive around here."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsNew coach Ken Whisenhunt brings a solid résumé and a strong coaching staff to the Titans.
1. Whisenhunt isn’t Vince Lombardi or Don Shula, but the Titans' new coach is a significant upgrade from Mike Munchak, who was unsteady in his first three years as an NFL head coach. Whisenhunt had success in the role during his six seasons in Arizona, and he is a well-regarded offensive mind who will do more with what the Titans have than his predecessors.

Whisenhunt had the connections and the interviewing skills to hire a staff that appears to be filled with strong teachers, including a few quality holdovers. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is turning the Titans into a less predictable 3-4 and comfortably works his way into different sections of practice when position work is unfolding. I've watched these coaches teach and I've seen them connect with players.

Whisenhunt may field a complex offense that's hard to defend, but he's good at keeping things simple. I don't see any changes in how the Titans function that aren't for the better at this point.

2. The Titans don’t have players the fans are going to pick to captain their fantasy squads, but Tennessee should have a good array of quality weapons on offense. Kendall Wright topped 1,000 yards in his second season, and now the team’s best receiver will be sent on a wider variety of routes, not just inside slot stuff. He's been excellent so far in camp. Justin Hunter is doing better getting his legs under him and is catching the ball more comfortably. He got behind Atlanta's defense a few times in the recent joint practice and should be a constant deep threat. Nate Washington is showing he remains a versatile, productive guy.

Beyond the receivers, tight end Delanie Walker and running backs Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey will be good pass-catching options. When the Falcons gave the Titans a lot of room underneath, Jake Locker hit McCluster with a pass over the middle, and he had a ton of space to take. The Titans have invested a great deal in their offensive line over the past two seasons. They have one more tackle than they need after signing Michael Oher and drafting Taylor Lewan. There should be better protection for the quarterback and better holes for the running backs.

3. The 4-3 defense in recent years lacked a star pass-rusher on the edge who an offense had to fear every snap. The Titans still don’t seem to have that guy. They have to find him, but even if he doesn’t emerge from this group, the overall production out of the pass rush should be better. Who is rushing and who is dropping into coverage? In the 4-3, opponents pretty much knew. In this 3-4, it won’t be nearly as clear on a regular basis. Jurrell Casey, who notched 10.5 sacks as a tackle last season, will work as an end now. He's worked on speed rushes off the edge as well as his bread-and-butter quick power stuff in camp.

Sure, some good quarterbacks can diagnose who is rushing and who isn’t, no matter the front. But outside of Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck (twice), the Titans don’t face any A-list quarterbacks coming off big 2013 seasons this time around. They don’t see Seattle and San Francisco this season either.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Locker is a really likable guy who works hard, says the right things and desperately wants to prove he is the long-term answer for the Titans at quarterback. But in two seasons as the starter, he's missed 14 games while dealing with shoulder, hip, knee and foot injuries. He's practiced pretty well, but there are plays splashed in that can be killers on a Sunday afternoon.

Getting 16 games out of him is hardly a certainty for the Titans. Even if they do and he fits well with what Whisenhunt is asking him to do, he has not been accurate or poised enough when he has played. He sometimes tries to do too much and isn’t poised under pressure. Though he moves well and is very fast, putting him on the move puts him at more risk of another injury. Behind him are more question marks. Charlie Whitehurst has had no real success in just 13 games in eight seasons and often fails to step into his throws. Rookie Zach Mettenberger has a great arm but slipped to the sixth round for several reasons and is rotating with Tyler Wilson as the third-team QB. (Update: Wilson was released Wednesday.)

2. The offensive weaponry looks good, but for those five pass-catchers to give the Titans the nice smorgasbord of options, they need to stay healthy. Also, guys like Hunter (second year), Sankey (a rookie) and McCluster (first year with the Titans and Whisenhunt) need to show that their potential and practice play translate into NFL Sundays in a Tennessee uniform. Wright was the best player on offense last season and should grow more. Can the others become known quantities?

Who is the star of the defense? DT-turned-DE Casey is a strong, quick rusher who was healthy and productive in 2013. He is going to land a big-money contract -- either soon from Tennessee or on the market next spring. There are some nice pieces around him, but the Titans need veterans to have their best seasons and youngsters to emerge, all simultaneously. In Georgia, no defender stood out and regularly gave the Falcons more than they could handle.

3. Forty-seven percent of the current 90-man roster has been in the league for two years or less. Youth is generally good, but it needs to be quality youth and it needs to be surrounded by quality veterans. The Titans lack experience in a lot of spots. There aren't kids in camp who weren't high picks but have forced their way up the depth chart to this point.

Maybe it’s a great mix of players and a good share of the inexperienced people can blossom together. But with new coaches and new schemes, it could be asking a lot for all that to happen in the first season.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] EnlargeJake Locker
    Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsJake Locker needs a healthy season if he hopes to become the long-term answer at QB for the Titans.

  • Locker said he feels more comfortable speaking up and being vocal, and he has shown himself to be more confident in how he carries himself. After one throw that looked to be too long for an undrafted rookie, Locker pointed to tell Julian Horton where he should have gone. He still has bad moments in practice, but the preseason has not started, and he is progressing.
  • The Titans have moved running back Jackie Battle to fullback, where he can offer some needed versatility. He appears to have a sizable lead on incumbent Collin Mooney, who has had, at most, a handful of first-team snaps.
  • Among long-shot late additions, veteran receiver Derek Hagan has been consistently good and Brian Robiskie is also gaining notice. He's competing for the fourth and fifth wide receiver spots with Marc Mariani and Michael Preston. Maybe they'll keep six.
  • Sankey is learning quickly how to be a pro, and he has shown a bit of everything the Titans said they expected when they made him the first running back selected in the draft. His first day in pads he looked like an experienced NFL-caliber pass protector. He has good vision and makes good decisions on when to go and when to cut. He also catches the ball well, can run inside and outside.
  • Weakside outside linebacker Shaun Phillips has not worked at all with the first team when Kamerion Wimbley has been practicing.
  • Tommie Campbell was politely mentioned with Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson as a contender for the starting right cornerback spot that opened when Alterraun Verner signed with Tampa Bay. But it’s a two-man competition, and Campbell has struggled horribly.

Titans Camp Report: Day 2

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
8:02
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:
  • In one-on-ones with receivers against defensive backs, undrafted rookie wideout Julian Horton matched up against undrafted rookie corner Ri'Shard Anderson. Jake Locker's pass sailed further downfield than where Horton had broken to the sideline. As Anderson looked back after the ball went incomplete, Locker pointed to where he should have been. That’s not vocal, but it did illustrate the sort of ownership and willingness to be heard that Locker said he’s been more reluctant to show in the past.
  • There was a stiff wind that had a bearing on a lot of passes. Charlie Whitehurst looked most affected by it to me, particularly on some deep balls in one-on-ones where he chose to put a lot of air under passes. Even Zach Mettenberger, the strongest-armed quarterback on the team, threw some wobblers. Ken Whisenhunt said he was happy with the wind, because the Titans were sure to get something like it on a game day at some point. Long-time assistant equipment man Matt Thompson has always shown a big arm. He made one of the day’s best throws when Leon Washington needed a ball in the end zone to bring out as the team worked on return positioning. It was over 40 yards in the air, a rope with a nice arc and plenty of zip.
  • Whisenhunt said more cover-2 was as big a reason for the reduction in deep completions from Day 1 to Day 2 as the wind. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton said no deep balls have been a theme since he joined the team and he was glad the offense hit them on the first day so he could say “this is what we’re talking about” to the defense.
  • There were some big mismatches where the matchups got out of sync. I guess the lesser player in Justin Hunter vs. Anderson and Rico Richardson vs. Coty Sensabaugh has a lot to learn from such a snap. But I liked when Tommie Campbell stepped on the field, replacing Khalid Wooten, for a snap against Justin Hunter. Campbell struggled against Marc Mariani on Saturday and had a tough time again, particularly in some snaps against Hunter.
  • Blidi Wreh-Wilson got the second day work as the second starting cornerback, after Sensabaugh had it on Saturday. Wreh-Wilson stuck with Hunter on a deep route early in seven-on-seven and Locker looked to want to go there, but ended up checking down.
  • Taylor Lewan got the bulk of the work as the starting left guard with Andy Levitre (appendix) out and Byron Stingily heading inside to deal with sickness.
  • Michael Preston worked higher in the receiver pecking order on Day 2, and Mariani was lower.
  • Whisenhunt said at the start that competitive positions wouldn’t see the same guy at the front of the line for multiple days. That bodes well for the status of Jackie Battle, who was the front-liner at fullback ahead of Collin Mooney again on Sunday.
  • Locker was running comfortably and without any hesitation. In one team period, he pulled it down after seeing nothing to his liking and ran up the middle, threw a completion along the right sideline to Nate Washington after rolling right and also rolled left and took off that direction. There was nothing to suggest his surgically repaired foot was any sort of issue.
  • Nate Washington returned to the receiver group jawing hard at cornerback Micah Pellerin, telling him not to do that and “if you’re beat, you’re beat.” Pellerin dropped a pick of Whitehurst on a throw Whitehurst didn’t seem to step into as strongly as he could have.
  • Second team defense: LE Al Woods, NT Antonio Johnson, RE Mike Martin, LOLB Shaun Phillips, ILB Zaviar Gooden, ILB Colin McCarthy, ROLB Akeem Ayers, LCB Tommie Campbell, S George Wilson, S Daimion Stafford, RCB Sensabaugh.
  • Washington, Dexter McCluster, Bishop Sankey and Mariani didn’t field balls, but each brought balls out of the end zone in a kickoff return period.
  • Kendall Wright made a nice sliding catch in traffic in front of Sensabaugh.
  • Stafford picked off a Tyler Wilson pass for tight end Jason Schepler.
  • Bernard Pollard was busting on Zach Mettenberger from the sideline as Mettenberger led the offense, shouting "Roll Tide." That's what someone said to Metenberger recently before sucker punching the former LSU player at a Nashville bar.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As an offseason filled with optimism closed and players reported to Tennessee Titans training camp Friday, they made the pledge being made throughout NFL cites across America.

They say they will be a playoff team.

"We believe that we're going to be a playoff team this year and that's what we are working to do," cornerback Jason McCourty said.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the goal is a home playoff game.

Quarterback Jake Locker pointed out the Titans lost four games they were winning in the fourth quarter in 2013.

“If you win two of them, you’re 9-7, two of them were the Indianapolis games, you win those football games, we win our division, we host a playoff game,” Locker said. “That’s how close this league is.

"We just need to find ways to finish those games, and the games we let get away from us, find ways to stay in them so you have an opportunity in the fourth quarter.”

Those are easy jumps to talk about and a difficult one to make.

Whisenhunt said he wants "a tough, smart football team that can win games at the end, in tight situations when it needs to."

Nate Washington shook his head when told the Titans are regularly near the bottom of preseason rankings, but said he appreciated the lists.

It'll be bigger when the team surpasses expectations and “at this point we can do no wrong if we're ranked that low,” he said.

As for what to expect from a Whisenhunt training camp, McCourty said he had checked in with some friends who were with the coach in Arizona but still has "no idea."

His approach to camp as it starts Saturday morning?

“You see a schedule, make sure you’re on time, go out there and compete and play football," he said.

Camp preview: Tennessee Titans

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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.
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.

Britt
Britt
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.

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In 2009, Pittsburgh free-agent receiver Nate Washington signed a six-year, $26.8 million contract with Tennessee that included $9 million guaranteed.

In 2014, he is in line to play the final year of that deal.

What an anomaly.

Washington
Five- and six-year deals in the NFL are crafted to look pretty and sound good. But we regularly see guys cut before they get to the final year or two of scheduled money.

In 2008, defensive end Jared Allen signed a 6-year, $73.2 million contract with $31 million guaranteed with Minnesota. He played out that contract and is now weighing his options.

According to Evan Kaplan of ESPN Stats & Info, 31 players signed six-year deals in 2009. Twelve were rookies, which is different than a veteran changing teams.

Of the remaining 19, only Washington and Falcons receiver Roddy White are in line to play out their contracts. The rest either restructured their deals, signed new contracts or were cut and signed elsewhere.

Before I had those numbers, I asked Washington about how gratifying it would be to play out the entire contract.

"The person I am today is not who I was when I first got to Tennessee," Washington said. "They’ve been patient enough for me to grow into something that could be great for them. I appreciate the opportunity.

"I was born in Pittsburgh, and I was bred here in Nashville. This place truly gave me my opportunity to be a professional."

We are seeing shorter contracts these days. And many that are four-year deals, such as the one the Titans gave right tackle Michael Oher, could actually end rather painlessly for the team after just one year.

Signing bonuses can only be pro-rated over five years now. Still, New Orleans safety Jairus Byrd and Denver cornerback Aquib Talib just signed six-year contracts.

What kind of odds would you give them to be with the Saints and Broncos, respectively, in 2020?
[+] Enlarge
AP Photo/Patric Schneider"Some of the guys that was the cancer, they really didn't care," Delanie Walker said after the season.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Delanie Walker indicated he thought there was a cancerous element on the Titans during the 2013 season.

After the season he expanded on the idea, saying as the season went south, more guys jumped in the cancer box, not caring about the team's results. He had talked to the players and to coach Mike Munchak about it, getting no results. That made him feel more comfortable talking about it in a radio interview.

I thought he felt he could bring some attention to the issue by discussing it publicly, and that it would help position Ken Whisenhunt and a new staff to solve it.

After the interview, he backed down a bit. He said his initial estimate of six guys was probably high, an exaggeration.

Whisenhunt said he respected Walker's feelings and chatted with him about them, but wants such matters to stay in house in the future.

Sunday at 104.5 The Zone's SportsFest in Nashville, receiver Nate Washington and cornerback Jason McCourty -- both captains of the 2013 Titans -- addressed Walker's comments.

McCourty
Here's McCourty: "The one thing I will say -- and I've talked to Bernard [Pollard] about this as well because I know during the season, him and Delanie were both guys that spoke of cancers on the team and things of that nature -- my feeling is that you never, no matter what you're doing, if you're at work at a regular job or in the NFL or whatever, you're never going to have every single guy in that locker room that whole heartedly believes in the team and everything about it.

"I remember talking to Bernard about the locker room in Baltimore and he said the same thing. You may have a guy out there who could care less if the team wins. Could be a defensive end and all he cares about is getting sacks, but at the end of the day if that guy finishes that season with 15 sacks, he's going to believe that he helped you win. I truly don't believe in that whole 'cancerous' talk. I know those guys have come from different locker rooms and they probably believe in some different things and believe that their way is the right way, but my whole thing is if there are cancerous players, let's have a team meeting, players only, and let's bring those guys out there and let's get it all figured out.

"But to be honest, for me to talk to you guys about cancers in the locker room, it's not going to solve anything. I believe that if we do have cancers, we can figure that out, but I truly don't believe that there are guys that could care less about the team. I think that we could probably get some better guys in at certain positions to help us win and the Super Bowl team would probably say that, the Seattle Seahawks, coming from this year to next year, they could probably get rid of some guys and replace some other guys, so we definitely have room for improvement, I would say that."

Washington
Here's Washington: "Like Jason said, he's talked to Bernard, I've had a couple of conversations with a couple of other teammates, and at the end of the day, we know that Delanie meant well by that statement. Like Jason said, at the end of the day, every locker room in the league is going to have some type of cancer, but I will say that I don't think that we had not one cancer that was going to dictate the outcome of our games, because like you said, we played hard no matter what.

"Every single man on that totem pole played hard. Now whether his habits specifically could be the talent to get us over the bar for that day, that's a totally different story. That's not a cancer, that's him still giving his effort. Like J-Mac said, I just wish, as one of those guys that was in that locker room and heard that statement, I wish that initiative would have been taken up by Delanie during the season. We should have had a players meeting. This initiative should have came from him back during the season when these things were going on, if he thought that that was an issue."

"But the debate didn't come until the issue was brought to the media. That should have been something behind closed doors. If you're married, as a husband, you don't go out and tell the world what your wife did, you understand what I'm saying? That should have been something kept in our locker room with Coach Whisenhunt, with the front offices, if he felt that it should be handled that way. There's not an issue with any of us or Delanie because at the end of the day, we know what he meant. We know exactly where the statement was coming from, so we have no issue with Delanie.

"But like J-Mac said, this is something that when we get back together, in a player meeting, as captains, as being someone who has been in this system for five, going on six years, this is something that maybe we do need to get corrected, behind our closed doors and hope that our fans and this community know that coming from these captains, that it means that much to us to get corrected."

I think Titans fans should be encouraged by how strongly Washington and McCourty responded to the issue. I expect the staff and players will hash it out in a way it wasn't last season. And still, as both these players said, there will be some selfish guys on the team who can rank as cancer who won't prevent the Titans from winning.
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.

For one Sunday, Titans fit the formula

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
5:51
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- They were just about everything they want to be.

Sunday at EverBank Field, in a 20-16 win over Jacksonville, just about every ingredient the Tennessee Titans have been missing in 2013 showed up.

They fit their formula as they ran for 182 yards, as they made effective halftime adjustments, as they made key stops and collected a key turnover, as they asserted themselves for a key third-down conversion to milk the clock near the end.

[+] EnlargeNate Washington
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesNate Washington's touchdown gave the Titans the lead in an encouraging performance by the team.
“The second half was finally how we want to play,” coach Mike Munchak said, acknowledging that it was far too little, too late in the big picture. “If you can do that, 180, 190 whatever the heck it was [we ran for], that’s the formula. Going forward, that’s what this team needs to be able to do, that’s what they’re built to do if we’re all healthy ...

“This is what you want to be able to do, this is what we will build into next season on, and this is the type of team you’re going to see.”

That second part, of course, presumes Munchak is retained as the team’s coach.

While a second loss to the Jaguars would have hurt his case, I'm not sure a win over them should help it much.

Put simply, the Titans currently have superior talent, if not a superior coach and GM. Put simply, it was a result that should be expected. Smartly and accurately, no one was lauding it as some sort of statement.

Still, it served as a relief and a breakthrough, and that says much about a franchise that won just its second game in its last 11 chances in the AFC South.

The Titans’ big rushing effort came against a team minus starting defensive tackle Roy Miller which then lost his replacement, Brandon Deaderick, to a first-half elbow injury. Recent practice-squad call-up Jordan Miller played from there.

J.T. Thomas, rookie John Lotulelei and LaRoy Reynolds rotated through two of the three starting linebacker slots. None of them are likely to be NFL starters on a fully stocked team.

The Titans won’t apologize, and shouldn’t apologize, for beating the Jaguars. That was the only thing they could do on this Sunday.

But mixed in with the happiness that came with the win was a recognition that they’ve blown similar situations all year long.

“We see that we can do it, but we ain’t done it all year long,” defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said, adding, “We know if we dig deep every week we can get the job done. We’ve just got to find out how we can get that done every week.”

Said receiver Nate Washington of the win: “That doesn’t ease any pain.”

“You always look back at those games that were nail-biters and understand you couldn’t close them out. You look at this game and say, ‘Wow, that was a team that could have closed out those other games.’”

Titans produce another second-half dud

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
11:02
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DENVER -- Three times this year, the Tennessee Titans have taken a surprising lead to the locker room at halftime.

Like they did in Seattle and against Indianapolis, the Titans blew Sunday's halftime lead over the Broncos with a poor second half, losing 51-28 after leading 21-20 at the half.

While the Colts are struggling, they have won the AFC South. Seattle and Denver are Super Bowl favorites.

The Titans have shown they can get out of the gate and play 30 good minutes against such teams. They have shown they can then fall apart.

Collective first halves: Titans 48, Opponents 33.

Collective second halves: Opponents 68, Titans 20.

It begs the question as to whether Titans coach Mike Munchak and his staff have done as well with halftime adjustments as Pete Carroll, Chuck Pagano and John Fox and their staffs have.

Of course it’s the trailing team that has to make the biggest alterations at intermission. Then the team that had the lead has to respond to those adjustments.

Three times the Titans have failed in a big way at that.

“No way in the world we came in this locker room expecting that second half to pan out like that,” receiver Nate Washington said of Denver’s 31-7 second half.

“As a player, I can’t worry about the adjustments being made or not,” defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. “All I can do is go out there and play football and rely on the coaching staff to make the adjustments they feel are necessary or not. Not looking at film, I don’t know what happened in that second half.”

Maybe I am gerrymandering to pick out these three games. But in a season where the Titans lost to Houston and Jacksonville they needed to find at least one game they were expected to lose and win it to offset the bad loss.

They had chances to do so at the halfway mark in Seattle, against the Colts and at Denver.

“I don’t know if it’s game-planning, I don’t know if they are finding ways to do things that we’re not,” cornerback Alterraun Verner. “At this rate with us being 5-8 you have to say we just haven’t been good enough.”

Nate Washington needs leadership help

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
3:13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Last week I wrote a bit about quiet guys and whether they are more compelled to speak up when things are going badly.

The Titans have one super-vocal leader in strong safety Bernard Pollard. But the team really doesn’t have an equivalent on offense, where the team is really struggling.

[+] EnlargeNate Washington and Antonio Cromartie (31)
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsNate Washington is one of the few veteran leaders on Tennessee's offense.
A quarterback has to lead, and Jake Locker was developing in that department. Ryan Fitzpatrick has not been at the helm long enough for us to get a true sense of him as a leader for the Titans.

I asked two guys who are definitely leaders on the offense, quiet left tackle Michael Roos, and more fiery tight end Delanie Walker, if their side of the ball has someone who ranks as the equivalent of Pollard.

They both pointed to receiver Nate Washington.

“Right now it’s Nate Washington,” Walker said. “He brings years of playing. He’s a hard-worker, he makes plays, he knows how to get you motivated. He always shows up week to week.”

Washington takes his captaincy seriously, and early in the year he was a go-to receiver for Locker.

But over the last five games, he’s caught only nine passes for 159 yards.

He doesn’t seem to have the same rapport with Fitzpatrick (an average of two catches for 32.6 yards in the backup's starts) that he had built with Locker (3.6 and 60).

To Washington’s credit, even when the ball isn’t coming his way much he influences the game. When the Titans ran out to an early lead against the Colts, he was a blocking demon for Chris Johnson.

“I think it’s important that we have every type of leader,” Washington said. “The defense has BP but they also have JMac (Jason McCourty) and he will speak up from time to time, but he’s not a vocal leader, he’s like Roos is. You need a balance of guys. There are some things sometimes that need to be said, that needs to come from a captain, a guy with that type of authority. I just try to hold myself accountable when those times have come.

“I want to be the guy to speak up and put the spotlight on my hard work. Everybody can now look at me and say, ‘Well he’s speaking up, well what is he doing on the practice field? He’s working hard.’ If you can see me working hard and also speaking up behind it, you can know maybe it is time to go. I take great pride in it. It a [task] that’s placed on me and BP now to go out and be the enthusiastic leaders with our voice and our play.”

Walker said catches and yardage aren’t necessary for Washington to be a good leader.

“I don’t think leadership is about making plays,” Walker said. “It’s about being a consistent guy, never letting down. If he doesn’t get a pass in a game, he still goes out and blocks for you and he’s running his routes hard, that’s a leader."

I think Washington has done a good job. I also think an offense needs the quarterback and a tone-setting lineman to be among its leaders. Locker and rookie center Brian Schwenke may have the personalities for it, but one is finished for the season and the other has started just two games and is dealing with a sprained ankle.

At those key spots, the Titans seem deficient in that department.

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