NFL Nation: Taylor Thompson

Offseason Blueprint: Titans

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
12:01
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans have several young players still at the very beginning of their NFL careers whose development could accelerate the improvement of the franchise.

Under Ken Whisenhunt and a new staff, can the Titans turn the likes of receiver Justin Hunter, linebacker Zaviar Gooden and tight end Taylor Thompson into productive contributors?

I expect Hunter to be a threatening and dynamic player who will more than double his output in his second season. We’ll have to see how Gooden figures into the linebacker group in a revamped front. I’m not convinced that Thompson, a guy old offensive coordinator Chris Palmer loved when the Titans traded up to draft him two years ago, can become a plus NFL player.

Those are the three players Field Yates looks at in the very thorough offseason blueprint pieced together from several different people from ESPN.com.

Check the whole thing out right here.

Titans restock at tight end, fullback

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
8:40
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The banged-up Tennessee Titans jiggled their roster Tuesday to restock for Sunday’s game at Denver and the remainder of the season, adding veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Shiancoe will join Taylor Thompson as the two healthy players at the position. Craig Stevens missed the Titans' game at Indianapolis because of a concussion. Delanie Walker was knocked out of the game against the Colts in the first half with a concussion of his own.

The Titans also have a new fullback who’s really not new. Collin Mooney is on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Titans replaced him with Quinn Johnson, who was the team’s fullback in 2012. Johnson went on injured reserve just before this season, and the Titans reached an injury settlement with him and went forward with Mooney.

Putting Mooney on IR created one open roster spot, and the Titans created two more by waiving linebacker Zac Diles and safety Shann Schillinger. Shiancoe and Johnson fill two spots, and Michael Griffin returns from a one-week suspension that came with a roster exemption.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
1:02
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An examination of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 22-14 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium:

Fitzpatrick
Streaky: When he was bad in relief of Jake Locker after Locker’s first injury, we talked about Ryan Fitzpatrick being a streaky quarterback. In his second relief stint, he was far better. Until this game against the Colts. He made several bad throws en route to three interceptions and also lost a fumble. Fitzpatrick made some bad decisions -- including one that didn’t result in an interception, but cost them a chance to score points. The Titans faced a third-and-10 from the Indianapolis 31 with 8:23 left in the game and trailing 15-14. Seven yards would have gotten them in range for a 51-yard field goal attempt by Rob Bironas that could have put the Titans ahead. Instead Fitzpatrick threw a hopeless deep ball for Justin Hunter that fell incomplete. Fitzpatrick said in hindsight that a shorter option like Kendall Wright would have been better.

Tight-end trouble: When they traded up in the fifth round in 2012 to draft him, the Titans thought Taylor Thompson was going to be a game-changing tight end. He played more defensive end than tight end at SMU. With Craig Stevens already out with a concussion and Delanie Walker knocked out with a first-half concussion, Thompson was the lone tight end for most of the game. Reserve tackle Mike Otto reported eligible often. Thompson was targeted three times and didn’t make a catch. He hardly looks the part of a confident target. He looks very much the part of a draft-day reach.

Johnson
Not enough CJ: Chris Johnson finished the game with 18 carries for 69 yards. Ten carries for 48 yards came in the second half, when I thought Johnson and the Titans’ blocking were starting to wear the Colts down some and figuring out how to get places. But again, the Titans didn’t seem willing or able to stick with it as much as might have been possible. They got away from Johnson too quickly in their first loss to the Colts. In the second, they didn’t ride him enough late.

Low impact: There is a good deal of luck in recovering fumbles. The Colts fumbled three times, with Andrew Luck dropping two on sacks. The Titans couldn’t recover any of them. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick fumbled once and lost it. The Colts grabbed all their interception opportunities, while George Wilson dropped a potential interception that was as easy as they get. “Why can’t we grab that ball that’s lying there three times?” Mike Munchak said. “We had an interception that hits us right in the chest, and that changes the game; we missed it. They didn’t miss one of theirs. They intercepted all of theirs thrown to them. We’ll keep drilling those things, and maybe we’ll get better at it.”

Rapid Reaction: Tennessee Titans

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
4:13
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Tennessee Titans' 22-14 loss to the Indianapolis Colts a Lucas Oil Stadium:

What it means: The Titans blew a chance to get back to leading the pack for the sixth seed in the AFC and couldn’t close to within a game of the Colts in the AFC South. They are now 5-7. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. Kicker Adam Vinatieri made up for the Colts' inability to find the end zone until the end, when they drove 92 yards in 11 plays over 6:12, capped by a 4-yard Donald Brown touchdown that provided the final margin.

Stock watch: Tight end Taylor Thompson was called on for a major role with Craig Stevens inactive because of a concussion and Delanie Walker lost in the first half to a concussion of his own. Thompson looked thoroughly overmatched, booting a couple of catchable balls and hardly providing a reliable option for Fitzpatrick.

Four in a row: The Titans have played reasonably well in four games against the Colts since Chuck Pagano took over as coach and Andrew Luck took over as quarterback. But Tennessee is 0-4 in those games as the Colts have found a way every time in the second half.

Giant goat: Well away from the tackle at the very end of the first half, linebacker Moise Fokou shoved fullback Stanley Havili in the back and drew a personal foul penalty. The 15 yards put the Colts in range for a 37-yard Vinatieri field goal.

What’s next: The Titans travel to Denver for a matchup with Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 1

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
12:00
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An examination of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 16-9 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers:

The defensive mentality: As the 2012 season ended, the Titans were already talking about the need to be more aggressive. Then Mike Munchak brought in Gregg Williams as a senior assistant/defense.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJurrell Casey and the Titans sacked Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger five times in Week 1.
Munchak emphasized that defensive coordinator Jerry Gray called the Pittsburgh game. And the Titans didn’t go crazy with blitzing the way Williams’s defenses have in the past.

But the defense was well-prepared to keep Ben Roethlisberger hemmed in the pocket. The Titans sacked him five times. Though the Steelers found some plays to Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Jericho Cotchery, the biggest pass play was 22 yards.

Williams' influence and the swagger he brings seemed to be at work, at least to a degree. As I’ve said before, Gray is in a no-win situation. We’ll look at improvements because of Williams, and if they are bad we’ll say it’s the same old stuff.

Jake Locker's poise: One of his biggest issues has been his desire to do too much. So one of the Titans' biggest goals has been to shape a team that can shape games where he doesn’t feel like he has to overreach. And he didn’t overreach in Pittsburgh.

He was calm and efficient. He misfired a few times. But we’ve said in the right sort of context he could be a bit like former Titans quarterback Steve McNair, where the numbers don’t always look as good as the quarterbacking.

That was the case here. Locker did his part.

I think his confidence grew through a preseason where he showed steady improvement. And I am sure it will grow some more from helping engineer a tough win in a tough place against a tough defense.

Three tight ends: The Titans used a three-tight-end formation quite a bit, mostly with Damian Williams on the field as the lone receiver and a running back behind Locker.

It was pretty effective, but going forward the Titans will have to do more to show they can be balanced when Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson are on the field together.

By the count of Terry McCormick of Titan Insider, the Titans gave up a sack and threw just twice in 17 snaps with three tight ends, some of which was with Williams and a back, and some of which was with two backs. Locker threw incomplete once and connected on a 13-yard pass to wide receiver Nate Washington.

Williams said it won’t be too predictable.

“Sometime in that formation, you’ve got three tight ends and a receiver, that’s four eligible receivers that are capable of catching the ball,” he said. “You do have to throw out of it to keep them honest.”

Third-down defense: The Titans gave up some third-and-long conversions in their preseason game in Cincinnati that were of particular concern. The Steelers converted third-and-8, third-and-9 and third-and-8, respectively, on their opening possession.

That left me thinking the Titans were going to have some serious issues. But they settled down and played really well on third down the rest of the way, allowing the Steelers to convert just one of 10 the rest of the game.

“We knew those weren’t good on our part and those third downs were long, we weren’t happy,” cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “We came back to the sideline and said, ‘We can’t have that happen.’ We were able to respond.”

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:14
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rather than tell you this is what’s going to happen, I’ll tell you this is what would happen if I had influence in the Tennessee Titans meeting room when final cuts will be decided.

Some cuts are already trickling out from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, so check his Twitter feed.

Quarterbacks: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick

There just is no room for Rusty Smith and there isn’t a need for a third quarterback unless things go incredibly wrong. The difference between a random third guy and Smith isn’t giant.

Running backs: Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Quinn Johnson (FB)

Battle has to contribute on special teams, but he was better than Jalen Parmele through the preseason. Wyatt says Parmele is already gone. Johnson’s been hurt and could lose out to Collin Mooney.

Wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Justin Hunter, Michael Preston, Marc Mariani (return specialist)

Preston is one of the best 53 players on the team. Even though he won’t be active on Sundays if everyone’s healthy, you keep extra quality depth at one spot if it’s better than weaker depth at another spot. Once he’s healthy, Mariani isn’t as explosive as a punt returner as Darius Reynaud, but will more regularly get 10 yards.

Tight ends: Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson

No need for a fourth on the 53. Sign Jack Doyle to the practice squad

Offensive linemen: Tackles Michael Roos, David Stewart, Mike Otto, Byron Stingily. Interior: Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack, Rob Turner, Brian Schwenke, Fernando Velasco

Velasco is guaranteed $2.02 million under his tender contract out of restricted free agency. I’m not sure he should stick over Scott Solomon at linebacker or Stefan Charles at defensive tackle. But the big push for revamping the line and the desire for depth after last year’s slew of injuries makes me feel like they will stay loaded.

Defensive ends: Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley, Lavar Edwards, Keyunta Dawson.

Dawson is a good guy to have. I can see him staying and the Titans going five ends as opposed to six tackles. But linebacker Akeem Ayers is a nickel end so he factors in here as well.

Defensive tackles: Jurrell Casey, Sammie Hill, Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson, Karl Klug (swing)

I’ve got Stefan Charles over DaJohn Harris but neither making it. If one of them sticks, it’s the last defensive line spot probably over Dawson. I see Charles on the practice squad.

Linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Moise Fokou, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy, Patrick Bailey

Scott Solomon is one of my last two cuts. I want to keep seven 'backers. The seventh guy would be a trade-off for Velasco, I think. Solomon is versatile, seems to be catching on to the position change and can still play end if needed. He’s not practice squad eligible. I just can’t fit him here. I might keep him over Bailey but I don’t think they rank him that way.

Safeties: Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, George Wilson, Daimion Stafford

The fourth spot isn’t strong and Stafford could probably go to the practice squad. But if they choose a veteran -- Al Afalava or Corey Lynch -- as the fourth I could see them trying to upgrade it with an outsider.

Cornerbacks: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

I’d expect Khalid Wooten on the practice squad.

Kicker: Rob Bironas

Punter: Brett Kern

Long-snapper: Beau Brinkley
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Who is the most indispensable Titan?

Not the presumptive team MVP. Not the guy they can least afford to lose.

Who’s the most distinct guy, the one who the team would have to alter its schemes without?

Here are the four I think qualify for the list, in the order of their distinctness:

Johnson
Johnson
RB Chris Johnson: There is one guy on the Titans who an opponent has to account for at all times, and it’s Johnson. He’s still got blazing speed, and if he gets free, he’s got as much potential to break off giant runs as anyone in the league. Having one guy with that speed is fortunate. It’s virtually impossible to have another. If the Titans were without Johnson, they’d still run the ball plenty. But it would be a lot more power-based with the stronger but much slower Shonn Greene taking the bulk of carries.

Walker
Walker
TE/F-back Delanie Walker: The Titans have yet to have him on the field for a preseason game, and they might leave him on the sideline this week to be extra cautious, and to keep him a bit of a mystery for Pittsburgh. As a “move tight end," he can line up in the backfield, on the line, in the slot, and even out wide. The Titans don’t have another guy anything like him in terms of being able to shift around and create mismatches. Craig Stevens is a more traditional blocking tight end. Taylor Thompson is more of a receiver. The Titans' offense is a lot different with Walker involved than without him.

Ayers
Ayers
LB-DE Akeem Ayers: At 6-foot-3, 253 pounds, Ayers is one of the biggest starting linebackers the Titans have had. He’s very much a strongside guy, and now he will almost exclusively be coming forward to be part of the rush. When the Titans go to nickel, he’ll often put his hand down and function as the right defensive end. Patrick Bailey played in Ayers' linebacker spot against the Falcons, but he can’t step up to be the defensive end. Scott Solomon is a defensive end who has been converted to strongside linebacker, and while his progress has been good, he’s not a natural.

Wright
WR Kendall Wright: At 5-foot-10 (and 191 pounds) he’s the shortest receiver among the guys who will be around. Shifty and quick, Wright has a knack for not taking a big hit in the middle of the field. The Titans don’t really have another guy in the same mold. Damian Williams is working in the slot as Wright recovers from a knee injury. Williams is a quality player and a bigger target. He’s a versatile guy who is technique-sound and a quality route-runner. But he’s not the same style or caliber of playmaker.

Observation deck: Titans-Falcons

August, 25, 2013
8/25/13
1:36
AM ET

 
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If you’re going to post two duds and a stellar game in the preseason, it’s best if the stellar game comes in Week 3, the traditional dress-rehearsal week.

That’s what the Tennessee Titans got Saturday night at LP Field in a 27-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

The defense gave up too much on the Falcons’ first three drives but held strong in the red zone and surrendered a total of six points. The run defense still has room to improve, allowing 4.5 yards per carry to Steven Jackson in the first half.

But things got better overall as the game went on, with five sacks of Matt Ryan and much better shedding of blocks, hitting and tackling.

The headline, however, was provided by young quarterback Jake Locker.

He finished up the first half plus one series with a very solid line: 11-for-13 for 133 yards and a touchdown with a 134.9 passer rating. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble. He threw the ball well and had people catching the ball better for him but for a drive-killing Taylor Thompson drop of a pass thrown a touch behind the tight end.

The mandatory preseason disclaimer: It was a meaningless game against a team that went deep into the playoffs last season but was only 24th in overall defense and 23rd against the pass. Now, two of the Falcons’ top three cornerbacks are rookies -- Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.

Locker’s bad moments came on the move or under pressure.

On a third-and-7 from the Titans' 35, he didn’t seem quite aware enough and should have been sacked but shrugged out of a blitz. He rolled right and turned to run for a pretty easy first down. But linebacker Joplo Bartu hit him -- and the ball -- as he went down and jarred it loose; safety Thomas DeCoud recovered it.

Beside the fumble, Locker was helpless on two sacks -- one that came from super-quick pressure past right tackle David Stewart, one on which he was pinned in on both sides and taken down as the middle closed in.

In the third quarter, the first-team offense’s lone drive stalled when Locker saw pressure and put his head down rather than feeling the pressure and trying to do something against it.

The positive far outweighed the fumble and the sacks, however.

“This is the first week that we’ve actually put in a game plan. We’d been running base stuff the first two weeks,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “So I think that probably helped a little bit. It helped open up the play-action a little bit and helped Jake.

“I was probably too conservative early on, and once I let him go, he played really well.”

It was a very encouraging night for the quarterback. If the Titans could freeze him right here and put him in practice on Wednesday, Sept. 4, in preparation for the season opener at Pittsburgh, I think they might.

I’ve done some reporting and I’ve learned, exclusively, that such freezing is not an available option.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
AP Photo/John RussellTitans QB Jake Locker ran three times for 22 yards in addition to his 133 yards through the air.
Some other thoughts:

Run defense still an issue: Jackson took 10 first-half carries 45 yards.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who’s healthy and playing very well, didn’t like learning those numbers.

“We want to hold guys to 2 yards a carry. One or 2 yards a carry,” Casey said. “We don’t want to give up nothing more than that because then it makes it too hard, a game where they can just pound it down your throat. In order to get to the quarterback, you’ve got to stop them on the run on first and second downs.”

See more about the run defense in this video.

Even having allowed more rushing yards than they’d like, the Titans' pass rush was excellent, with five sacks of Ryan and six overall. Casey had 1½; Derrick Morgan, Mike Martin and Kadarron Anderson had one each. Moise Fokou, Karl Klug and Kamerion Wimbley each had half a sack. Nice distribution.

Double barrel: Chris Johnson looked solid in gaining 65 yards on 11 carries with a nice 20-yard sprint to the right sideline on the Titans' first touchdown drive.

Earlier, on the Titans' second possession, Johnson got the ball on first and second down, gaining 7 yards and then 2. Tennessee sent Shonn Greene on to replace Johnson, and Greene did just what the Titans brought him in to do: find 3 yards to convert the third-and-1.

I asked Johnson if he envisioned that being the way things are going to work.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Another not-smart hit by Bernard Pollard: In the Titans’ first preseason game, Pollard put his head down and hit a Redskin heading out of bounds. That got him a $10,000 fine. In the Titans' second preseason game, he twice got beat on third-and-long, failing to make tackles in situations when he should have. Against Atlanta, on the Falcons' very first drive, he unnecessarily jumped in late on a tackle of Julio Jones and drew another personal foul penalty.

Ankle sprains: The Titans announced that both receiver Nate Washington and running back Greene didn’t finish with the first team because of ankle sprains. Washington said his was actually a right foot injury that wouldn’t cost him time unless the Titans were super cautious; Greene said his was really existing ankle soreness and not serious.

Good red zone defense after allowing the Falcons to get there too easily: The Falcons marched into the red zone on their first three drives but wound up with three field goal attempts and only six points.

“They got down there way too easy,” Casey said. “We let them get explosive plays -- big passes, things like that. We can’t allow that. When they got down there, we did our job by not letting them get in the end zone. That was one of our goals this week -- stopping them in the red zone, and we did that.”

Making a case: Receiver Michael Preston is not going to outrank any of the five receivers ahead of him, but he could be making himself a guy the Titans have to keep as a sixth, and I am hard-pressed to believe he is not one of the team’s 53 best football players.

Preston had three catches for 68 yards from Ryan Fitzpatrick, with a 56-yard bomb setting up Justin Hunter's short TD catch before he hauled in a 6-yard touchdown catch of his own later on.

I wrote about Preston at work on Friday.

“He’s a really good player. He’s been doing that day in, day out at practice,” Loggains said. “He made a big statement for his case to be on this football team again tonight.”

Verner and Turner: Cornerback Alterraun Verner and center Rob Turner started and did nothing that should dent them as the favorites to be named the starters at their respective spots.

Verner was flagged for two penalties against Jones -- a pass interference on a short pass into the middle and an illegal contact on a longer throw. I thought the first one was a good play on a ball Ryan threw a bit behind Jones. Later, Jones beat Verner, who didn’t touch him near the line, on a 42-yard play up the right side. Jones is going to make plays against a lot of corners.

And while Tommie Campbell came in early enough to have a couple chances against Jones and wasn’t victimized in a similar way, he didn’t do anything that should change the Titans' leanings.

Battle vs. Parmele: I thought Jackie Battle was getting a bit too much hype heading into the game. He was running better than Jalen Parmele, but special teams will be a huge factor in one of them winning the No. 3 running back job. I was told before the game, however, that he's close to Parmele on special teams. Battle got a game-high 13 carries for 41 yards. Parmele didn’t get one. Advantage Battle.

Referee change: Ed Hochuli was the ref in the first half, but by design, the game turned over to Wayne Mackie in the second half. He’s typically a field judge. The league is looking for opportunities to get people experience. Mackie communicated well when he had to use his microphone.

But Mackie was buzzed to review Alford’s interception of Fitzpatrick on a throw intended for Hunter. There was absolutely no reason for replay assistant Roger Ruth to buzz Mackie to review that play except to give him practice at it.

And whether the league needs to get a guy game experience or not, two teams, a crowd and a TV audience should not be subject to an unneeded challenge for such purposes.

Pending cuts? The first round of cuts come Tuesday, when the Titans have to get from 90 to 75. Healthy guys who don’t play in the third preseason game are typically being kept from getting hurt, because a team can’t cut an injured player.

Healthy Titans who didn’t play in this game were receiver Justin Hilton, defensive end Nigel Nicholas, guard Oscar Johnson, tackle Barry Richardson, tight end Martell Webb and receiver Rashad Ross. It'll be a surprise if any of them are on the roster Tuesday evening.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some observations from Friday evening’s Tennessee Titans training camp, the first open to fans...

In 7-on-7 work with no linemen:

Tight end Taylor Thompson angled away from a defender and was open about 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, but Jake Locker missed him with a wobbly ball that sailed too long.

Undrafted rookie receiver Rashad Ross was well-covered by corner Tommie Campbell, but quarterback Rusty Smith zipped a short pass completion to him anyway.

From his own 15-yard line, Locker looked for receiver Michael Preston but his terrible pass found cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick on Thursday.

In team periods:

Locker rolled left, against his arm, a few times by design. On one, he did very well to square his shoulders and hit Craig Stevens. On another he hit Justin Hunter, but cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson had it so well sniffed out he would have leveled the rookie receiver if allowed.

Locker threw a deep ball over Nate Washington's head up the right sideline. After he bounced one to Kenny Britt, Locker hit Damian Williams on a very nice pass down the middle for roughly 20 yards.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey showed great lateral movement and got nearly to the sideline to end one breakout running play by Jalen Parmele. Later Casey managed to knock the wind out of Shonn Greene after tracking him on a dump off pass closer to the line of scrimmage and the center of the field.

You can already see stretches where the Titans are working to mimic the sort of no-huddle, high-speed offense they will sometime have to defend. With a new batch of offensive players quickly taking over for the group that just ran routes and blocked, the defense had to race to get back into position for a snap.

On a “now” pass, the quarterback throws immediately to a receiver split wide who hasn’t really moved off the line of scrimmage. The ball has to arrive in a way that the receiver can run with it immediately. Locker threw one left to Kendall Wright, but Wright had to bend at the waste to pull it in from too low. That doesn’t lend itself to the play working.

Line of the day, from Britt to safety Bernard Pollard: “Your name’s Bernard, you ain’t THAT tough.”

Receiver Marc Mariani let a Fitzpatrick pass bounce off his hands that was picked off by linebacker Tim Shaw.

Campbell does look very confident and was in good position a lot. On another play, where Locker had someone in his face as he checked down short over the middle, Campbell closed and batted down a pass thrown for Hunter.

Backup kicker Maikon Bonani has a gigantic leg. But during the field goal period he had one atrocious miss, shanking his ball low and left and missing the wide screen set up well behind the goal posts.

I wanted to note one play in particular: Fitzpatrick lined up in the shotgun and the defense couldn’t get lined up. Multiple players were shouting calls, waving each other around and didn’t know what to do or where to line up. It’s a play where Fitzpatrick has to get his guys set -- maybe one was late, but I didn’t see it -- snap it quickly and take advantage of the defensive confusion. Instead, however, Fitzpatrick waited a long time and the defense found some semblance of organization. He wound up throwing a short incompletion that may have been a throwaway. The defense can’t win that play but did.

“Yes, we’d want him to snap it,” Mike Munchak said afterwards. “I don’t know if he was waiting for the defense or waiting for one of our guys. Generally, in a game we’d go. In a practice, I think he was making sure, because we weren’t in a hurry-up mode. The offense should have an advantage there, yes.”
Thoughts on the Tennessee Titans' decision not to place the franchise tag on tight end Jared Cook:

  • [+] EnlargeJared Cook
    Don McPeak/US PresswireThe franchise tag deadline expired Monday, and the Titans did not tag tight end Jared Cook.
    Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean indicated the team didn’t like the idea of fighting through an arbitrator with regard to whether Cook was a tight end, as they would have tagged him ($6.066 million) as opposed to the wide receiver tag he would have sought ($10.537 million). But had the team lost that arbitration, it would seem they simply could have pulled the tag if it got changed on them. Not intending to use it on anyone else, what would they have lost? What would have happened if, while a grievance was in process, Cook signed the tight end tag but then an arbitrator changed it to the receiver tag? There was room for a great deal of complication in a month during which the Titans have a lot of other issues to sort through. They decided they were unwilling to deal with those headaches in exchange for attempting to hold on to Cook.
  • Contract talks apparently broke down along the lines one would expect -- the Titans were looking at production and Cook was looking at potential. The question will now be what other team will pay him more for the potential than the production?
  • New tight ends coach George Henshaw was brought in to help get the Titans back to the short passing game that was a staple of the Steve McNair-Frank Wycheck era, when Henshaw previously coached the position. The Titans will have to get him a veteran to work with now. Options include Martellus Bennett of the Giants, Dustin Keller of the Jets, Brandon Myers of the Raiders and James Casey of the Texans, who’s been used as a fullback but has tight end pass-catching skills.
  • The Titans loved Taylor Thompson when they drafted him out of SMU in the fifth-round last year. He was a defensive end in college with a tight end background and looked raw as a first-year player. Tennessee can’t be envisioning him as its primary pass-catching tight end, he’s still very much a developmental player. Craig Stevens can make some plays, but is more of a blocker.
  • Since we learned that Mike Munchak would remain on as the head coach, there has been a distinct feel that he will sink or swim with his guys. I thought Cook ranked as enough of a playmaker to qualify as a guy he intended to swim with. But whether he was or wasn’t, a too-high price tag appeared to weigh things down and the Titans simply weren’t willing to go there.
  • When the Titans drafted Cook in 2009, they did so with a third-round pick they acquired from New England in exchange for a 2010 second-rounder. The production out of that expenditure: 59 games, 131 catches, 1,717 yards, a 13.1-yard average and eight touchdowns. The side effects: A lot of questions about his ability to be reliable and a lot of questions about how they failed to get the most out of him.
  • The Titans were already heading into free agency and the draft with multiple needs on the interior offensive line as well in search of a pass rusher and perhaps a safety even after signing veteran George Wilson. The big down side to this move is they've created another need.

Texans secondary has wattage, too

September, 30, 2012
9/30/12
7:50
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JacksonTroy Taormina/US PresswireTexans defensive back Kareem Jackson returns an interception for a touchdown against the Titans.
HOUSTON -- J.J. Watt is the attention-grabber, the show-stealer. With two sacks and a fumble recovery, the defensive end continued a torrid production pace in the Texans’ 38-14 beat down of the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Reliant Stadium.

“We joke around now on defense,” outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. “It’s a race to the ball to see if you can get there before he gets there.”

In this win, though, it wasn’t all about the front seven. The secondary jumped in at decisive moments, reminding us all that while the Texans have remarkable talent up front, the defensive backfield has serious playmaking potential as well.

“We can play back there and we knew that,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said.

Three plays helped set the tone and alter the scoreboard.

1. Safety Glover Quin jolted Jake Locker and knocked him out of the game with a left shoulder injury on a first-quarter sack off a blitz where he went untouched.

Phillips said the Titans were sliding toward inside linebacker Brian Cushing. Locker said he didn’t see Quin at all. Quin said he plays a lot of man-to-man on tight ends so it was easy to miss him and the Titans never pointed him out.

Locker will have an MRI and we’ll see what his status is. But it’s the same shoulder he separated in the opener and he was already wearing a harness. He will likely need some time to heal and be ready to land hard on it again. So it’s a play that may affect the Titans’ huddle for some time.

Matt Hasselbeck said he was somewhat tentative in some situations knowing he couldn’t get hurt as the Titans didn’t have another quarterback. (Receiver Damian Williams is the Titans' emergency option. Third quarterback Rusty Smith was not active.) How much that contributed to poor play is hard to say.

Hasselbeck was sacked three times, threw the two picks that were returned for scores and lost a fumble. All in all, an awful showing.

2. With the Texans only up 14-7 and the Titans hanging around and looking like they’d challenge, Hasselbeck threw a first-down pass for rookie tight end Taylor Thompson. Thompson reached back and got a hand on it, popping the ball in the air. Safety Danieal Manning pounced on it, then went on a nifty 55-yard cross-field sprint for a score that effectively broke the game open.

“That pick was timely,” Manning said. “It was great coverage by GQ, we had a great call. They actually ran a great route but we had great coverage and it forced the quarterback to throw the ball high. Tipped ball and I was able to make the play.”

In what hardly amounted to a vote of confidence for the rookie Thompson, Hasselbeck said he thought Jared Cook was in the game. The quarterback said he wouldn’t have made the throw had he realized who was running the route. No matter the intended receiver, it was an off-target toss that asked for trouble.

“That changed the game a ton,” Manning said. “Those guys were never able to get back in the game from that point. It changed.”

3. In the fourth quarter, cornerback Kareem Jackson jumped Williams’ route on the left side, brushing or bumping the receiver’s shoulder as he snatched Hasselbeck’s pass and took it 63 yards, high-stepping at least the last 10 on the score that made it 38-7.

Jackson is routinely seen as the weak link on the defense. He’s improved a lot and is fulltime now, not getting replaced in certain situations. And while “weak-link” may still fit, it’s increasingly because of how good everyone else is, not his deficiencies.

He understandably scoffs at that stuff.

In this instance, he said homework paid off.

“I got a pretty good read on it and it’s something I saw all week on film,” Jackson said. “I just kind of jumped in there and was able to make a play.”

So there are the three big plays.

Looking at the bigger picture ...

With Darrelle Revis out for the year for the Jets, Johnathan Joseph can stake a claim to playing as well as any cornerback in the league. Among the decisions made while putting the Texans together, the one where they chose to sign Joseph and Manning in 2011 rather than continuing to pursue cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was a key.

The free-agent half of the starting secondary gets better and better in Phillips’ system and shouldn’t be forgotten while we’re marveling at Watt, who Joseph has taken to calling Megawatt.

“You know we’re all brothers back there,” Joseph said. “We all like each other, love each other, care about each other, want to see each other have success. So to see those guys go out and make those plays, it’s just like I made the plays. I’m just as happy for those guys.

“It speaks volumes about this defense. Anybody can do it.”

In building a 3-0 record, the Texans had three picks -- one each for starting corners Joseph and Jackson and one for Cushing.

But the group wasn’t happy with the total and felt it botched a couple chances last week in Denver.

A fine system is in place, Joseph said. Drop a pick in practice and you pay $20. Boot one in a game and it’s $100.

“It can get pretty pricey if you happen to get your hands on a couple and don’t make the play,” Joseph said. “We’re on each other hard. It’s about turnovers in this league and making a play when the opportunity comes. Today was a prime example. Those two guys capitalized.”

Search for a soft spot in the Texans’ defense at your own peril. It will take a good while to find even something small, and the odds you can attack it effectively while holding up defensively aren’t great.

Of course bigger challenges named the Packers, the Ravens and the Patriots await.

In the meantime, Phillips will have to do what he can to find stuff to harp on in meetings.

“Our second team didn’t do very well (at the end),” he said. “I’m a little disappointed there.”

Rapid Reaction: Texans 38, Titans 14

September, 30, 2012
9/30/12
4:09
PM ET

HOUSTON -- Thoughts on the Texans' 38-14 win over the Titans at Reliant Stadium:

What it meant: The Texans are 4-0 for the first time and continue to make a case for being the AFC’s best team. They let the Titans stay in it through halftime, but then found the sort of big plays that put away an inferior opponent after intermission. The Titans are 1-3 a quarter of the way through their season.

What I liked, Texans: J.J. Watt continued to play dominant football on the defensive line, with two sacks, a fumble recovery and the sort of play that helped frustrate Titans right tackle David Stewart into a couple personal foul penalties. Danieal Manning grabbed an off-target pass from Matt Hasselbeck that was tipped by Taylor Thompson and weaved 55-yard for a beautiful interception return.

What I didn’t like, Titans: They really are a poor tackling team. Andre Johnson stiff-armed Michael Griffin off of him on the second play from scrimmage, and Griffin looked like he was playing flag football. On Owen Daniels’ 28-yard touchdown, Akeem Ayers dove fruitlessly after him before he easily slipped a weak attempt by Jordan Babineaux. And those are only two snapshots.

What I liked, Titans: Chris Johnson re-emerged. Just when you’re ready to give up, he does some darting and dashing and shows about all of the qualities that made him such a dangerous player early in his career. Where’s that been? Yes, some of it came late and didn't mean much, but it was a drastic improvement.

What I wonder: Boo whenever you like. But the Texans were still a 3-0 team with a seven-point lead early in the third quarter when the Reliant Stadium crowd was unsatisfied with play-calling deep in Houston’s own end. It didn’t take long for Houston to find the plays to put the Titans away. So maybe a bit more patience would have been more appropriate?

The big injury concern: Jake Locker suffered a left shoulder injury when he got slammed by an unblocked Glover Quin on a first-quarter blitz and the next we saw him he was in jeans on the bench wearing a sling. Matt Hasselbeck sparked the Titans briefly, but the quarterback wasn’t going to matter in the big picture on this day.

What’s next: The Texans will play at the Jets on "Monday Night Football," which should give the hype meter a nice boost. Tennessee plays at Minnesota in a game that looked like it should be a win when the schedule came out but is far from any sort of certainty now.

Wrap-up: Chargers 38, Titans 10

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
8:52
PM ET

Thoughts on the Titans' 38-10 loss to the Chargers in San Diego:

What it meant: The Titans are 0-2, two games off Houston’s pace in the AFC South, and they did little to solve their major issues from the opener. They didn’t run it well (10 carries for 38 yards) and while they got four sacks and a pick, they still didn’t get the basic plays they needed on defense. San Diego converted on 59 percent of third downs, had the ball for 43:39, gained 416 total net yards and earned 27 first downs. Tennessee gave up five touchdowns to Dante Rosario and Jackie Battle -- backups to guys who didn’t play.

What I didn’t like: Free safety Robert Johnson lined up a mile deep and the Titans are likely to tell us about how they didn’t surrender any plays longer than 31 yards. The determination to minimize big plays hasn't prevented two giant losses, so I am not sure how playing a safety so deep is helping them. ... Jake Locker missed throws all over the place -- with one overthrow of a wide-open Taylor Thompson deep being especially painful. … Tight ends continue to shred Tennessee. Antonio Gates didn’t even play, and yet three tight ends combined to make eight catches for 108 yards. Rosario had three touchdowns.

Continuing to fade: Something is broken with running back Chris Johnson and the run-blocking. Mike Munchak absolutely has to stray from convention and do something to shake things up and get it fixed. How can a coach who did so much to help create so many successful running teams while he was in charge of the offensive line be overseeing this mess? Johnson rebounded from his performance against New England (11 carries for 4 yards)with eight carries for 17 yards. At this rate of improvement, when will he get good again?

What’s next: Tennessee hosts the Detroit Lions in a matchup of two head coaches in Munchak and Jim Schwartz who came up under Jeff Fisher with the Titans.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some thoughts out of the Titans’ 32-27 win over the Arizona Cardinals at LP Field on Thursday night.
  • The Cardinals wanted to test out rookie left tackle D.J. Young as they look to replace the injured Levi Brown (triceps) for the season. Young failed this test, badly, as the Titans' big defensive free agent addition Kamerion Wimbley attacked him with great effect. Wimbley sacked John Skelton on his first play and Kevin Kolb on his first. He had a couple of hurries, too. The Cardinals' entire offensive line was bad in pass protection and the Titans rushed very effectively. Jurrell Casey is really turning into a well-rounded defensive tackle. He's an absolute handful.
  • Want variety? On the Titans' first four offensive plays from scrimmage, they lined up with an empty backfield, with two tight ends, with three wide receivers and with two backs. The only thing with the potential to make them predictable this season would seem to be down and distance.
  • Jake Locker was victimized by drops by Javon Ringer and Nate Washington, but finished the first half having hit on just 8 of 16 passes. Completing 50 percent, he still had a 115.6 passer rating since he had 124 yards and two TDs. Connections of 28, 29 and 35 yards have a way of helping out. He made better decisions and smartly took off a few times as he felt pressure.
  • On a first-quarter return, Marc Mariani suffered a gruesome broken lower left leg that was Theismann-esque. We’d been wondering about Darius Reynaud as someone putting pressure on Mariani for the return jobs. Reynaud comes out of the night as a lock to make the roster as the returner now because of Mariani’s misfortune. I don’t know whether Mariani would have been getting many, if any, receiver snaps at the expense of Kenny Britt (once healthy and when not suspended), Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams or even Lavelle Hawkins.
  • Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy has an excellent nose for the ball. But his two interceptions of Kolb on this night were absolute gifts. The first was thrown into an area filled with Titans, and he looked like the intended receiver on the second, which he returned for a 31-yard touchdown.
  • Aaron Francisco is a special-teams demon. I can’t see how he won’t be the fourth safety on this team, unless the Titans find better defensive depth elsewhere. If they do, special-teams coach Alan Lowry would surely shed a tear over losing Francisco.
  • Camp leg/kicker Will Batson was 3-for-4 on field goals, but accounted for only three points. He hit a 26-yarder in the fourth quarter, only to see it wiped away by a holding call against Taylor Thompson. Then Batson hit from 36... only to see it wiped away by a holding call against... Thompson. Then Batson hit from 46 and made it to the sideline without seeing a flag. Britt greeted him excitedly.
  • I don’t know what’s going on with the two-tone coloring of the Titans’ light blue uniform tops. But it’s incredibly distracting that the coloration is inconsistent from player to player. Quinn Johnson and Ringer, standing side-by-side, didn’t look like they were wearing the same jersey. Honestly. Nike, are you reading?
  • The new “Titantrons” at LP Field are really impressive. It’s a big benefit of the stadium’s open-end zone configuration. -- finding room to fit giant HD video boards wasn’t an issue. Some other buildings that might want to match these won’t have a spot for them. Stadium game productions are updated and far better. But the lyrics of "Folsom Prison Blues" on the big screens, intended to produce a sing-a-long between the third and fourth quarter, appeared to fail miserably. Put that one on the shelf.

Camp Confidential: Tennessee Titans

August, 14, 2012
8/14/12
12:15
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Like everyone in the NFL, the 2011 Titans were hurried together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THREE HOT ISSUES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

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

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

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

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

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

OBSERVATION DECK

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

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