NFL Nation: Rafael Little
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- I took a great interest in a drill Sunday that pitted linebackers against running backs in a pass protection scenario.
I thought Stephen Tulloch was especially impressive going against the Titans running backs in the team's first practice in shoulder pads.
Here's a mini-breakdown of some of the matchups:
- Ryan Fowler ran right over Chris Johnson, and later said he intended to bull rush, which is a bit of a no-no in this scenario. He said Johnson was on him quickly and he simply did the only thing he could, not meaning to circumvent protocol.
- Tulloch just clobbered Chris Henry, who held up better in a rematch.
- Javon Ringer got beat by Colin Allred.
- After a false start, Quinton Ganther did well against Josh Stamer.
- Stanford Keglar blew past Rodney Ferguson II, which prompted Ahmard Hall to tell Ferguson "don't just stop."
- David Thornton dominated Rafael Little.
- Keith Bulluck got to the tackling dummy serving as the quarterback quickly, but Hall held him up, maybe long enough to qualify as a win.
- Keglar beat Henry to the outside.
- Ganther did well versus Gerald McGrath.
After practice, I was considering my notes/scorecard and sought clarification from running back coach Earnest Byner on what amounted to a win on a snap of the drill.
"If a guy gets good contact, shows the ability to get on a guy and then tries to run him by, that's pretty good," he said. "In that drill, the defense is supposed to win. That's really a defensive drill. If a guy can get any contact and maintain the contact for like two seconds, that's a win."
A couple important notes for context:
If they weren't on the line of scrimmage, the backs lined up very close to it. In game situations they wouldn't be so close to the defender they need to block at the snap. At a practice the backs are without one major tool -- the cut block that would take a linebacker's legs out and put him on the ground. Ganther said ideally a back will push the rusher outside, buying a quarterback who is stepping up in the pocket additional time.
"It's much easier in a game," Byner said. "You have the ability to cut block, you have the ability to use your line a little more. If you can block in that drill, the game is easy. I thought the guys did well. They sit tight, hard to the defender. I wanted that. I didn't want them to sit and be cautious and not do anything. I wanted the aggression, and I was pleased with that. We can learn from that."
Some other practice observations:
- Cornerback Tanard Davis, who finished last year on the practice squad, had a strong afternoon and has been good so far, though working against lesser players. He muscled his way in front of Chris Davis to intercept a short Vince Young pass in one-on-ones. Later, in a team period he moved in front of Paul Williams to grab another pass from Young.
- Rob Bironas, who was due back from his mystery injury, did not return. Fisher continued to decline to say what the injury was, on a day when Kenny Britt talked openly about the right hamstring that landed him on PUP. If Bironas' injury is so insignificant, than why wouldn't it be shared? It gives us all reason to believe something odd is up.
- Britt is still dealing with a right hamstring issue, so he starts out on the PUP list. Fisher didn't quite rule Britt out of the Hall of Fame Game against Buffalo, but said it's "probably unlikely." Britt sounded pretty upbeat. Fisher made it sound as if a week would be the most Britt misses.
- Jared Cook went to the ground to scoop a Young pass. He has made a lot of catches on the run or going up to get the ball, and I took note that he also looked comfortable going to the ground.
- During a two minute drill period, a sliding Nate Washington caught a Kerry Collins pass on the right with Chris Hope and Nick Harper closing. It was too close to call as to whether Washington had his right knee down in bounds before his left leg crossed the sideline. Both sides pleaded with Fisher, who got a shout out from Hope when he came to a quick verdict and the sides "split the difference" on the gain. The drive produced an Alge Crumpler touchdown catch.
- Paul Williams made a very nice, spinning, leaping sideline catch.
- Jovan Haye stepped up and crushed Henry on a carry the back tried to take up the middle.
- Ringer looks a lot better in pads, and a lot better than he did in OTAs.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
NASHVILLE -- Here's my prediction for the Titans' running back pecking order after the first three games of a five-game preseason this summer:
- Chris Johnson: The once and future king.
- LenDale White: Likely to bust his hump in a contract year and still get a lot of carries in situations favorable to posting impressive statistics.
- Javon Ringer: Picked as a fifth rounder who can carry when needed who will likely take over for White in 2010 but can contribute regularly on special teams in the meantime.
- Rafael Little: Spent last year working his way back from a knee injury he suffered in his final year at Kentucky and could wind up on the practice squad if they can't squeeze him onto the 53-man roster.
- Quinton Ganther: A hard worker who does what's asked but won't be able to climb higher than this to maintain a roster spot or a role if the three veterans ahead of him are healthy.
- Chris Henry: A second-round workout warrior from 2007 when he was drafted 50th overall, who's heading for the waiver wire before the Titans are due to cut him another pay check.
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