Tennessee Titans: David Stewart

Mike Reinfeldt was the Tennessee Titans' general manager from 2007 through 2011.

He was promoted after that, but after just one year working as the team’s senior executive vice president/chief operating officer, he was fired over a failure to push aggressively enough in the Peyton Manning free-agent derby.

It was Reinfeldt who struck a deal to end Chris Johnson's contract holdout in 2011, with a six-year deal worth $53.9 million with $13 million guaranteed.

The Titans got out of the remaining $23 million of that deal when they officially released Johnson.

That left me wondering how the biggest signings of Reinfeldt's five-year term as GM has panned out.

That deal was too much for Johnson, though at the time it didn’t look so bad given his production, the brightness of his star and the Titans' need for a dynamic playmaker.

It’s probably unreasonable to think Reinfeldt should have seen or anticipated what would unfold in the following three years in terms of the economics at running back.

How about Reinfeldt’s other primary deals? There weren't too many major ones.

RT David Stewart: A seven-year, $36.8 million deal with $10 million guaranteed.
Current status: Cut to avoid a $6.4 million base salary in his final year.
Overall: They locked up a physical guy who helped anchor the line before he broke down.

WR Nate Washington: A six-year, $26.8 million deal with $9 million guaranteed.
Current status: About to play out the final season of that six-year, free-agent deal, something that’s basically unheard of in today’s NFL.
Overall: Matured in time and has been a steady player.

LB Will Witherspoon: A three-year, $11 million deal with $5 guaranteed.
Current status: With the St. Louis Rams.
Overall: A decent veteran who played OK and didn’t cost a great deal.

QB Matt Hasselbeck: A three-year, $21 million deal and a $6 million signing bonus.
Current status: With the Indianapolis Colts.
Overall: Did a lot for the locker-room tone and played solidly in leading the Titans to a 9-7 record in his first year. Backed up Jake Locker and played some in his second season. Released before his third season.

TE Daniel Graham: A three-year, $8.25 million deal with a $2 million signing bonus.
Current status: Out of the league.
Overall: Caught two balls in 14 games and was cut after one season.

DT Shaun Smith: A three-year, $7.25 million deal with a $1.5 million signing bonus.
Current status: Out of the league.
Overall: They wanted to get bigger, but he didn’t really fit their scheme and only played with the Titans for one season.

So ... Reinfeldt didn’t have a particularly distinctive record on contracts. His five No. 1 draft picks -- safety Michael Griffin, Johnson, Kenny Britt, Derrick Morgan and Locker -- haven’t formed a core the way they needed to either.

While coaches often get second chances in the NFL, general managers rarely do. Bud Adams surprised Reinfeldt, and a lot of other people, when he fired him right after the 2012 season. It was really over what Adams viewed as Reinfeldt’s insufficient pursuit of Manning.

I think the Titans are better off with Ruston Webster as GM.

But under his leadership, the Titans have crafted some deals that were also questionable. Michael Griffin got $35 million, Kamerion Wimbley got $35 million and Craig Stevens got $14.4 million.

To Webster's credit, as the market has become more clear for some of those guys, he’s been able to reduce their prices. Stevens just got his 2014 base salary cut from $3.4 million to $1.6 million. And Wimbley just trimmed the base salaries in his final three years by $13.05 million.
Tuesday marks a week since free agency opened. Let's look at what has unfolded for the Tennessee Titans to this point.


RB Dexter McCluster (Kansas City) -- He looks to be more a running back than a receiver in their initial thinking. Catching passes out of the backfield will likely be his biggest role in Ken Whisenhunt’s offense.

DL Al Woods (Pittsburgh) -- The Titans have looked at a lot of versatile defensive linemen, and Woods is the one they’ve managed to add so far. He can play anywhere on a three-man line but provides a nice option in the middle.

LB Wesley Woodyard (Denver) -- He’ll bring quality leadership and is expected to fit comfortably as a 3-4 inside linebacker, a spot at which the Titans need to continue to upgrade their options.

QB Charlie Whitehurst -- A veteran quarterback who’s hardly played but was in Whisenhunt’s offense last year in San Diego. Will have more of a chance at playing time behind Jake Locker than he did behind Philip Rivers.

RT Michael Oher -- A big, durable, physical offensive lineman who’s in line to take over at right tackle. He’s been penalty prone and hasn’t progressed a ton in five years with the Ravens, but if he improves, he could be a big answer.

Visitors who remain unsigned

LB Akeem Jordan (Kansas City) -- Could be a good option as the short-area inside linebacker.

DT Pat Sims (Oakland) -- A run stopper who could likely contribute on run downs.


SS Bernard Pollard -- The outspoken thumper did a lot to help restore the Titans to relevance last season and fits very nicely with Michael Griffin in the middle of the Titans' secondary. Sounded fired up about the new regime.

DE Ropati Pitoitua -- A giant defensive end who did some good work in the 4-3 last season. He’s even better cast for the new hybrid front that will have a significant 3-4 element.

KR Leon Washington -- He settled the return game down substantially after he joined the team late in the season. McCluster could render Washington redundant, but starting out with multiple options for the return game is a good thing.

RB Jackie Battle -- The Titans are heading toward a committee of running backs. Battle should be the backup to the Shonn Greene piece of it plus a special teamer.

Signed away

CB Alterraun Verner (Tampa Bay) -- A very productive corner who was the Titans’ lone Pro Bowler in 2013. They never expected to get him back, and though his price wasn’t what his agent expected, he bolted to be part of the Cover-2 Lovie Smith will run.


RT David Stewart -- Beat up and expensive after nine seasons, he sounded like he’s leaning strongly to retirement after he got the news from the only organization for which he’s played.

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick -- Interception prone and too streaky, he still ranked as a serviceable veteran backup in a bleak landscape for them. Whitehurst takes his place and saved the Titans a $500,000 roster bonus.

Still out there

WR Kenny Britt -- Interest in a reclamation project is reportedly coming from St. Louis, New England and Washington.

G-C Chris Spencer -- He’s a player the Titans could use back to work behind Andy Levitre, Brian Schwenke and Chance Warmack.

DT Antonio Johnson -- Has 3-4 experience from Indianapolis but with Woods added Johnson hardly ranks as a priority at this point.

WR Damian Williams -- A smart and versatile receiver. He can be good as the fourth or fifth guy, but it's a loaded free-agent pool and draft class at receiver.

Also: C Kevin Matthews, OT Mike Otto, QB Rusty Smith, C Rob Turner, RS-WR Marc Mariani.
David Stewart was a tough, nasty right tackle for the Tennessee Titans, drafted in 2005 out of Mississippi State.

He did a lot of tone-setting and a lot of mauling.

But he broke his leg two seasons ago, and rarely practiced last season with a variety of injuries, some connected to his recovery and some new.

At $6.4 million his 2014 salary was prohibitive and Wednesday the Titans officially parted ways with him, waiving him with a failed physical.

"Dave was a fixture for us at right tackle over the last eight years," said Titans general manager Ruston Webster. "He played the game with passion and brought a toughness that every team needs. Dave was a player we have always been able to count on and in our mind he will always be a Titan. We wish him and his family the best moving forward and thank him for his time with the Titans."

Byron Stingily is the in-house option to replace him. A mid-level free agent or a mid-round draft pick could be the answer too.

The Titans have second year players at right guard, in chance Warmack, and at center, in Brian Schwenke. Another kid would make them a very young line, but give them a lot of potential to grow together.

A best-case scenario could be to draft a player who can man right tackle this year and be ready to move to left tackle to replace Michael Roos after that.

Stewart did good work for them, but it's time to move on.

The Titans had just over $10 million in salary cap room before signing Dexter McCluster and Leon Washington. They gain Stewart's full scheduled salary of $6.4 million now.

Earlier Wednesday I asked Ken Whisenhunt about waiting on making cuts, as Stewart and Chris Johnson are players the team is not married to who can bring extensive savings.

"I think we have to do what's in the best interest of the Tennessee Titans and that's really what it's all about," he said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Running back Chris Johnson, right tackle David Stewart and defensive end/outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley are expensive members of the Tennessee Titans.

Their contracts make their fate uncertain.

But don't expect their status to be resolved Tuesday, when the new league year starts at 4 p.m. ET (3 p.m. CT).

I'm hearing the Titans "don't anticipate" cutting anyone yet.

They have about $10 million in cap room according to recent records from ESPN. If the team waits too long to show someone the door, it will get some backlash over "holding a guy hostage."

If the Titans don't intend to be in the Chris Johnson business or the David Stewart business, they shouldn't wait too long before setting them free to maximize their alternative opportunity.

That said, until the franchise needs the cap space, those guys are under contract and the team isn't obligated to make decisions or moves. There are no upcoming bonuses for those three. They won't cost the Titans any money until the regular season starts.

I believe the Titans have made decisions and will wait until additions require subtractions.

Johnson and Stewart and maybe Wimbley could have to wait for others to enter before they exit.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Did the Titans get their money’s worth in 2013?

Michael Mountford of Pro Football Focus thinks not.

He looks at how players performed last season according to PFF’s grades, and measures that against their prices using the site’s "Jahnke Value Model" to determine who outperformed their cost and who underperformed.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, cornerback Alterraun Verner and Kendall Wright were the best values. That’s no surprise as they were three of the team’s best players. Verner is about to become a free agent.

Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is also on the positive side of the ledger.

On the negative side are three guys unlikely to return -- running back Chris Johnson, right tackle David Stewart and defensive end Kamerion Wimbley.

It leads us to an unsurprising conclusion: The Titans are going to need to pay their top people soon, and they need to part ways with some overpaid elements of their roster.

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Titans

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
With the 11th pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Tennessee Titans select ... Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, Michigan.

Well, so says Mel Kiper in his first mock draft Insider.

Lewan would certainly fill a need. The Titans have to move on from the banged-up David Stewart, who is due a $6 million base salary.

But the Titans just spent a first-round pick on right guard Chance Warmack, 10th overall last season, as well as a fourth-rounder on center Brian Schwenke. Before that they signed free-agent left guard Andy Levitre to a six-year, $47 million contract with a $10.5 million signing bonus.

That's a ton of resources on the line.

Perhaps Lewan could be the right tackle for a year, then take over for Michael Roos at left tackle. That would make him more attractive, and make the pick more first-round worthy.

Still, I think the Titans need to be able to find a tackle outside of the first round considering the needs they have elsewhere.

Given the shape of Kiper's first round, I'd be more inclined to go with Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley for a hybrid defensive front that lacks playmakers.
Ndamukong Suh is the most feared player in the league, according to ESPN.com's NFL Nation poll of more than 320 anonymous NFL players.

The Titans don't have anyone nearly so scary.

Two Titans did show up in the ballot, though: Strong safety Bernard Pollard got two votes, and right tackle David Stewart got one.

Both play with a nasty attitude, and both might not be Titans much longer. Pollard played under a one-year deal and Stewart, who's breaking down, is due $6 million in 2014.

I think the guy whom people should fear most on the Titans is defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who dominated some games this season and recorded 10.5 sacks in 2013.

"He's a great player," said Matt Williamson, ESPN.com's resident scout. "Total stud. He can play big or small -- by that, I mean beat his opponent with quickness and athletic ability. He has become a very good and consistent interior pass-rusher and has always been a force versus the run."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner is allowing room for sentiment on Sunday.

As he takes the field for the Tennessee Titans against the Houston Texans, it will creep into his head that it could be the last time.

Verner has a great feel for the game and a knack for being around the ball and breaking things up.

“Definitely that thought has occurred to me, but it’s not overriding where I am letting that emotionally distress me or get me away from the game,” Verner said. "It’s definitely crossed my mind that this could be [it]. Could be.”

[+] EnlargeTennessee Titans' Alterraun Verner
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderThe price tag looks to be high for defensive backs Alterraun Verner, No. 20, and Bernard Pollard, both free agents at season's end.
He’s timed things up well. After such a solid season, his price may be at an all-time high. I’m sure the Titans would like to keep him. But they’ve spent two recent offseasons trying to give his job away to Tommie Campbell and clearly see Verner's speed as a deficiency in an otherwise solid game.

Future: They should certainly try to keep him. But at this stage, there is no reason for him not to wait for free agency and check out the market. And I’ll bet a team that thinks it’s a corner away will offer him something bigger than the Titans will.

A look at other guys for whom Sunday could be The Last Time.

Running back Chris Johnson

We’ve written frequently about the cost-versus-production equation for Johnson, most recently here. St. Louis fifth-round pick Zac Stacy has a few more yards and a slightly bigger yards per carry average this season. Stacy made $581,500 in 2013. CJ made $10 million.

Future: It’s not working, as Johnson hasn’t been the playmaker he sold himself as when he got the big contract after three years. He won’t take less money – or sufficient responsibility, for that matter. They should move on.

Right tackle David Stewart

He broke his leg late in the 2012 season and has never returned to form, with all sorts of nagging injuries slowing him down this year. He’s questionable for this game with a shoulder injury. He’s been a tough, physical presence for the team for a long time. But he’s due $6.4 million in 2014.

Future: The Titans cannot pay him that much next year.

Strong safety Bernard Pollard

He’s delivered on what the Titans asked when they signed him for one year, providing attitude and toughness to go with solid play. They’ve used him smartly and if he’s not back they will have a hole that will be difficult to fill in both production and leadership.

Future: They should try to keep him, but it’s unclear what the market will offer. Surely there will be a multi-year deal to be had. Will the Titans offer one?

Defensive end Kamerion Wimbley

He’s not been a fit for the Titans, who grabbed him in 2011 after their failed pursuit of Peyton Manning. When they focused solely on him meant Mario Williams went to Buffalo. Even if there's a new staff and it wants to run a 3-4 that’s more suited to Wimbley, he’s not worth $6 million in 2014.

Future: It’s long been presumed he will be cut.

Wide receiver Damian Williams

He got benched for the Arizona game because of a violation of team rules, but such a slip was totally uncharacteristic. He’s a bright guy who can play every receiver spot. He’s ideal as a fourth with potential to be a solid third.

Future: They should re-sign him.

Wide receiver Kenny Britt

The last year of his initial contract has been a disaster during which he lost confidence and was unable to catch the ball consistently. He’ll likely be inactive again Sunday. In a new setting, perhaps he can recover. But he’ll get a minimum contract or something close to it, when a big season would have set him up as a free-agent prize.

Future: It’s elsewhere.

Quarterback Rusty Smith

He’s been the team’s developmental quarterback for four years, and he could never work his way to a place where the team wanted him to be the No. 2. He ended up in that spot only because of injury.

Future: If he’s not a No. 2 by now, it’s time to move on. Tyler Wilson was a late signing, and should take over the Smith spot as the developmental quarterback.

Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua

Started very strong but hasn’t been as good down the stretch. He gives the Titans good size in their run-down front and would benefit from better linebacker play.

Future: Worth keeping at the right price and contract length.

Defensive tackle Antonio Johnson

He’s a workmanlike run-down defender who’s a good piece as a role player.

Future: Shouldn’t be hard to keep.

Also with expiring contracts: Returner Leon Washington, returner Marc Mariani, running back Jackie Battle, wide receiver Kevin Walter, offensive tackle Mike Otto, interior offensive linemen Rob Turner and Chris Spencer.

The case for and (more) against Munchak

December, 27, 2013
Mike MunchakJim Brown/USA TODAY SportsMike Munchak has a .091 winning percentage versus teams finishing the season with winning records.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Monday the Titans begin the process of deciding what to do with Mike Munchak, who’s under contract for one more year as head coach.

Let’s set aside all the predictions and expectations.

We know very little about how team president and CEO Tommy Smith will operate in his new role and how he will balance his family’s long-term relationship with Munchak against the results he’s produced as a head coach. We don’t know if Munchak has the backing of general manager Ruston Webster going forward.

We do know what goes into the case for him and the case against him. So let’s examine those and then delve into things I consider significant issues where I don’t see a clear counterargument in his favor:

For: The Titans are on the verge. They’ve lost six one-possession games this season. Make the jump in just half of those and they could be a 10-win playoff team.

Against: They are unable to finish games, and there is no reason to expect they find it all of a sudden under the same leadership.

For: The division is bad and there is room to get better in a hurry against rebuilding Houston and Jacksonville.

Against: The Titans are 3-8 in the division in the past two seasons and 1-4 this year heading into the finale against Houston. Tennessee lost to the Texans and Jaguars this year when it should be sweeping those teams when they are having down years. That’s the path to actually competing for the division.

For: This roster has stood firmly with Munchak. There has been no dissension. They haven’t quit on him and have been playing hard to the end. His message is working. They work hard to execute what is asked of them.

Against: Having a roster of guys committed to following a coach who’s not doing a good job is nice, but if he’s not doing a good job it doesn’t matter as much. What is asked of them isn’t right often enough. This team’s in-game adjustment to what opponents do is typically poor.

For: Smith has pledged another big offseason, and the Titans will create a spring and summer buzz much like last year’s, when they spent over $100 million on free agents and had the 10th pick in the draft.

Against: The fan base is angry and/or apathetic. The tickets are bought, in part because so many people are financially committed with PSLs. But that hasn’t meant they have showed up. A new coach and staff will also have a free-agent class and draft and that will do a lot more to get Nashville interested.

For: Though they were overmatched, the Titans stood toe-to-toe for a good while with some of the NFL’s best -- Seattle and Denver. They lost twice to the AFC South champion Colts by a combined 11 points.

Against: Munchak is 2-20 -- not a misprint -- against teams that finish the season with a winning record. Whether they are close to the caliber of those teams or not, that is a .091 winning percentage against winning teams. How can Smith endorse that?

For: They could be one player away, and we’ve seen them make a big addition and a big jump before.

Against: The odds of landing Jevon Kearse are small, and the 1998 Tennessee Oilers had more pieces in place than the 2013 Titans do.

For: They’ll move away from Chris Johnson and by doing so they’ll be in line to have the run game they expected this year. This offensive line needed time to jell. In 2014, Shonn Greene and a mid-round draft pick will be more effective.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsMike Munchak wanted the Titans to be a run-first team but inconsistency in the run game plagued Tennessee all season.
Against: Three years in and a Hall of Fame offensive lineman as a head coach with a Hall of Fame offensive line coach still haven’t produced a team that can run consistently. How can they possibly say, “We need more time” and get it? How did lines with injuries in Seattle and Miami manage to play well enough to win? They have to replace David Stewart at right tackle, right? Another change positions them for more excuses about needing time to jell.

For: The Titans didn’t have their starting quarterback for nine games this year. Who wins without their starting quarterback? Injuries to Greene and center Brian Schwenke also hurt.

Against: It would be a good argument if Jake Locker was a proven NFL franchise quarterback. He is not and they sold Ryan Fitzpatrick as a top-flight alternative. We know Locker has potential and is injury prone. Pinning hopes on that for 2014 seems dangerous. The Greene and Schwenke injuries should not be regarded as hugely impactful and are on par with the sort of thing every team in the league deals with.

For: He doesn’t care about the peripheral stuff; he’s not going to play the game. He just wants to coach and do things the right way.

Against: Tough for him. A head coach is a CEO and the responsibilities require more. You have to be a PR guy and a marketer. He doesn’t embrace that stuff and it hurts the franchise. You can’t play the “I just want to coach” card until you’ve proven you can win.

A few other things don’t fit as neatly in a for-and-against format and mostly qualify as arguments against his return.

I think it’s very difficult to make a case for him based on his work in the division, his record against winning teams and his inability to explain what’s wrong.

Warped thinking: Munchak endorsed a foolish onside kick approach with an unconventional, tee-less spinner that kicker Rob Bironas clearly did not like. Worse, the coach judged his team to be 1-for-3 with it rather than 0-for-3 because San Francisco bobbled the kick before recovering it. Note to Munchak: Such a kick is judged a success if, and only if, you recover it. We know it’s very difficult to do. We also know it’s ridiculous to deem one a success when the other team comes out with the ball. Lo and behold, the Titans recover a conventional, high-bounce onside kick during a furious comeback against Arizona.

Straying from his philosophy: Over and over Munchak spoke of how the 2013 Titans would be able to get the tough yard on the ground. These Titans were going to throw it when they wanted to, not when they had to. But given a chance to win the Arizona game with 10 seconds left with a two-point conversion play from the 1-yard line after a penalty, he chose overtime. The team he promised shouldn’t have even considered kicking the extra point. In sharing more about his logic a day later, he said the team hadn’t run it in an hour as it played hurry-up to overcome a big deficit. Shouldn’t a team built around the offensive line and backs be able to run for a yard whether they’d been running it or not?

Salesmanship: He’s a better salesman than he is a head coach. In memorializing Bud Adams when he died, he spoke about how he used to walk the hallways of the team’s facility on a Saturday before the game with Adams and Adams’ friends, looking at the pictures of the team’s history and telling stories. It showed me that Munchak was shrewd in how he dealt with the owner, playing right into what the owner liked and taking Adams right where Adams liked to go. It endeared him to his boss and did a lot to make him the choice when the team and Jeff Fisher parted ways. I expect he will do well selling Smith on the plan going forward. But the team gets better by adjusting the plan, not by selling the plan better to a new person at the top of the organization. Old-time Oilers memories should mean nothing now.

Lame duck: His résumé certainly doesn’t warrant an extension. That means he and his staff would be working as lame ducks in 2014. Lame-duck scenarios aren’t typically healthy. They make it hard to attract players and assistants. They make it easy for a team to tune out if and when things don’t go well.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A ticking clock for the Tennessee Titans and the team’s offensive line helped get it going last Sunday in St. Louis, offensive line coach Bruce Matthews said Tuesday on Nashville radio.

“More than anything it’s the sense of urgency, realizing we have a great opportunity right now. …We’re at the point of the season where, if we want to be around and be relevant in December and hopefully January, then we’ve got to start making some hay right now,” he told The Midday 180, of which I am a part. “There is definitely a heightened sense of urgency. That’s what you play for, you start winning these games and every game starts taking on that bigger quality and kind of amps up what’s at stake."

It took too long for the Titans to get to a game with a combination of big carries (35) and big rushing yardage (198), and they’ve got to go out Sunday against Jacksonville and show it wasn’t a one-week thing.

Matthews spoke of the time it takes for all involved to get a comfort level with the scheme and an understanding of each other.

But he also admitted the obvious: it’s taken too long for the Titans to get to such a point. Last year there were massive offensive line injuries in play. But coach Mike Munchak and Matthews, Hall of Fame offensive linemen, have not crafted the sort of run success they expect in their first two and a half years in their roles.

This year they didn’t get rookie center Brian Schwenke, hurt in camp, in the lineup until the seventh game, have missed right tackle David Stewart for a lot of practices and one game, and didn’t have running back Shonn Greene for five games.

“Our expectations are really high,” Matthews said. “I think we have the pieces in place to have that happen if we continue trending the way we are. And still because of the injuries and the nature of how things have gone through the first eight games, we’re still kind of emerging as far as, ‘All right, what scheme best fits our guys?’

“I think we’re figuring that out, especially with the two young guys [Schwenke and Chance Warmack] being in there and them being more comfortable and obviously it’s an adjustment for Andy [Levitre] too, and I thought he played his best game last week. Yeah, there is frustration, but there is a lot of optimism, too."

One final side note on a funny exchange we had with Matthews:

I said I know there was a time he didn’t even picture himself doing this job, and he said “nope.” And I asked if he could see himself following in Munchak’s path if he ever got the opportunity to be a head coach.

“Nope,” he said.

Hear the whole interview here.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For years the Tennessee Titans faced a vicious duo of speed pass-rushers twice a year.

So when offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains says the Rams’ Chris Long and Robert Quinn evoked Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis of the Colts, then that’s a big deal.

The Titans widely rate Long and Quinn as the best set of speed pass-rushers they will have faced this season.

Tennessee's tackles, Michael Roos and David Stewart, will be tested. While Roos has been solid in pass protection, Stewart’s suffered from a variety of injuries, missed a bunch of practices and isn’t moving well at all.

Stewart will primarily face Quinn, who was super impressive Monday night against Seattle. He's got 10 sacks and Long has 5.5.

Titans No. 2 tight end Craig Stevens is a huge piece of the pass protection and will certainly be called on to help.

“They have the speed and athleticism,” Stevens said. “They are really good on the edge, bending toward the quarterback. Everyone is going to have to help our tackles out on those guys. They will be, by far, the best pass-rushing ends that we’ve faced.”

Bye-week report: The Titans' offense

October, 24, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In the first of two bye week reports, we review the good and the bad of the offense through seven games:

MVP: Jake Locker. He showed steady progress in the first four games and then got hurt, missing two games with a sprained hip and knee. The Titans were terrible offensively when he was out. He wasn’t great in his return against San Francisco, but there is reason to expect good things going forward.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsThe Titans' most valuable player through seven weeks is quarterback Jake Locker, despite the fact he missed two games.
Most disappointing: The run game. We can’t just say Chris Johnson, though he’s got a good share of responsibility for his 3.2-yard average. The offensive line had underperformed, and a group that was supposed to be physical and able to help the Titans get the tough yard has not lived up to expectations. The play calling of Dowell Loggains doesn’t looked to have maximized chances.

Best play: Locker threw a 34-yard TD pass to Justin Hunter with 15 seconds left to provide the winning margin in a 20-17 victory over San Diego at LP Field on Sept. 22. It could be the play we look back on as the moment when Locker graduated into an NFL starting quarterback.

Worst play: Running Jackie Battle up the middle for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line against the Chiefs at LP Field on Oct. 6. There are a lot of plays that show how the Titans aren’t the team they are determined to be, but this one -- a fourth try from the 1 that didn’t get in -- is the biggest symbol.

I applaud: The team’s willingness to demote underperformers. Kenny Britt's poor play has resulted in a dramatic reduction of his playing time. Rob Turner’s poor play got Brian Schwenke into the lineup as the starting center. And while Darius Reynaud is a special teamer, his drop as a receiver contributed to him getting cut.

Biggest beef: The idea that “we want to throw it when we want to throw it, not when we need to throw it.” It’s archaic thinking and when the team struggles to run, as it has, the team is going to need to throw it, and needs to be more prepared to do so and better at it.

Looking forward to: Shonn Greene playing. Greene got hurt in the first game and didn’t make it back until the seventh, when the shape of the game didn’t allow the Titans to use him. Greene is not a great running back. But in tandem with CJ and with the way the Titans run block, he should have some effective rushes. They’ve got to dictate some games where they can run the ball with Johnson and Greene.

Give us more: Justin Hunter. I understand the rookie receiver isn’t ready for a full load and I wouldn’t want him blocking on a lot of run plays. But he’s shown an ability to go up and get it with touchdowns on his first two catches. With Britt in the doghouse, the Titans should continue to look for more opportunity to use Hunter.

They under-thought: Their offensive tackles. The Titans got three new starters for the interior offensive line and presumed that Michael Roos and David Stewart would return to their previous levels with better guys next to them. But Roos hasn’t run-blocked well and Stewart’s mobility is limited because of nagging leg injuries.

Coming of age: Kendall Wright is the team’s leading receiver with 40 catches. He’s dangerous, and I think he’ll be even better after the bye. The Titans need to continue to feed him, and when he gets in a bit of a rhythm, they shouldn’t hesitate to force feed him until a defense proves it can slow him.

Testing out our Titans' hindsight

October, 16, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- My 20-20 hindsight is the only good vision I have.

So it’s time for a big round of second-guessing. Six games into the 2013 season, the Titans are a lot better team than they were a year ago, but they don’t have a ton to show for it at 3-3.

Five things worth some consideration after the fact, if not a full second-guess:

[+] EnlargeDarius Reynaud
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTitans return man Darius Reynaud isn't impressing anyone on special teams.
Special teams: Mike Munchak fired long-time special teams coach Alan Lowry, moving up assistant Nate Kaczor. The result through six games has been largely bad. The team got a great, long touchdown return from special teams in Seattle. But the group makes the same mistakes on a regular basis, highlighted by return man Darius Reynaud’s willingness to let punts bounce and his determination to bring kickoffs out from deep in the end zone. (I won't even mention he took the first kickoff of the season back into the end zone for a safety. Actually, I just did.) Munchak thought the team was starting to tune out Lowry. But he was pretty good at having his group ready for anything. It’s a far bigger adventure now.

Which begs the question: Was firing Lowry a mistake?

Marc Mariani: While we’re on the subject of Reynaud... At cut down day, the Titans put Mariani on injured-reserve with a shoulder injury that would have only cost him a few more weeks. Their roster wasn’t so drenched with talent that they couldn’t have found space for him until he was healthy. Defensive end Keyunta Dawson stuck, but was cut weeks later when Jake Locker got hurt and they needed space to add Rusty Smith. It turns out Mariani is a way better decision-maker than Reynaud.

Which begs the question: Do they privately regret that they didn’t create a way to have access to Mariani this year?

Sorting out center: Rob Turner won the center completion in the preseason, that was pretty clear. But did the Titans project what he could do correctly? They don’t want to single him out and he’s hardly the only guy having trouble. But they are invested in the other four in a big way and they all have higher ceilings. Turner brings a nastiness, but the attitude doesn’t matter if people are regularly getting past him.

Which begs the questions: Should they have stuck with Fernando Velasco, who’s now with the Steelers? Should they be turning to rookie Brian Schwenke now?

The tackles: All the focus has been on the interior offensive line. But the issues aren’t only with the middle three. Right guard David Stewart has a calf/leg issue having broken that leg less than a year ago. On a good week he practices twice, on a bad week just once. And Michael Roos isn’t run-blocking as well as he has in the past, particularly near the goal line.

Which begs the question: Did they err in taking it for granted that they were fine on the edges?

Paying Chris Johnson: The extension he got in 2011 included a provision that if he was on the roster five days after the Super Bowl in 2013, $9 million of his $10 million salary for this year would be guaranteed. I endorsed the $55 million extension when he got it. The Titans had long lacked an explosive playmaker, and at that point he definitely was one. But since he got it, he’s certainly not proved worth it. Only a knee injury to Shonn Greene has prevented a role reduction so far this season. They could have found a primary back who could do better than CJ’s 3.1-yard average for far less money.

Which begs the question: Is this going to be his final season with the Titans? He’s due $23 million more over the next three years. Unless his production spikes, it will be hard to justify it if they measure cost per yard.
A look at the snap report from the NFL for the Titans in their win over Pittsburgh.

Offense, 67 total snaps
LT Michael Roos, 67
LG Andy Levitre, 67
C Rob Turner, 67
RG Chance Warmack, 67
RT David Stewart, 67
QB Jake Locker, 67

TE Delanie Walker, 51
TE Craig Stevens, 49
RB Chris Johnson, 43
WR Kenny Britt, 43
WR Nate Washington, 38
WR Damian Williams, 27
TE Taylor Thompson, 25
RB Jackie Battle, 19
WR Kendall Wright, 19
FB Collin Mooney, 17
RB Shonn Greene, 4

Greene got hurt early or would likely have had most of Battle’s snaps. The team said Wright’s preseason knee injury wasn’t going to be an issue, but he should get more than that if he’s fine -- especially when Britt is ineffective.

Defense, 53 total snaps
CB Jason McCourty, 53
LB Moise Fokou, 53
LB Zach Brown, 53
FS Michael Griffin, 53

CB Alterraun Verner, 52
SS Bernard Pollard. 51
DE Derrick Morgan, 49
DT Jurrell Casey, 45
CB Coty Sensabaugh, 36
LB-DE Akeem Ayers, 29
DE Kamerion Wimbley, 27
DL Karl Klug, 23
DE Ropati Pitoitua, 19
DT Mike Martin, 17
DT Sammie Hill, 17
S George Wilson, 3
DT Antonio Johnson, 3

The Titans are supposed to be reducing Morgan’s snaps, but Ayers is coming off an ankle injury and they were clearly measuring his work. He wasn’t very effective. Pitoitua showed well. Hill was a big free-agent addition. He had an elbow injury in the preseason and I would expect more action from him.

Four Titans played 18 special-teams snaps: Patrick Bailey, Tommie Campbell, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Daimion Stafford.

Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was the only active player who didn't take the field.

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September, 7, 2013