Tennessee Titans: Dexter McCluster

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans are moving away from having a one-back workhorse -- Chris Johnson was cut in the spring -- and will have a running game by committee.

The committee will feature Bishop Sankey, their best all-around back; Shonn Greene, a short-yardage power back; and Dexter McCluster, a change-up pass-catcher. Fullback Jackie Battle can back up the Greene role, while return man Leon Washington can back up the McCluster role.

I figure, when things aren’t good, there is the potential for rumbling about backs being unable to get into a rhythm.

Running backs coach Sylvester Croom says that should not be a complaint.

“I don’t worry about it at all with this group, because the strength is the group,” he said. “They are great people. Each of them has a unique skill set that we need and I think that is really the trend in the National Football League.

"It’s going to be very difficult to find the guy who’s got the power of Shonn Greene, the blocking ability of a Jackie Battle, the change of direction and speed of Dexter McCluster, the veteran experience and hands and quickness of Leon Washington. You’re just not going to find that in one guy these days.”

“They’ll all contribute, and the great things about it is they are all fans of each other, and that’s going to be a big plus for us.”

Johnson used to suggest that when he couldn’t get going it was because he didn’t get enough touches.

Without talking about Johnson, or, I am confident, intending to take a shot at him, Croom said it doesn’t take many carries to show what you can do to get going.

“If you’re out there on a drive and you get four or five carries, I mean how much longer is it going to take you to get rhythm?” he said. “Certain guys are going to get reps on certain things. And so when they get into the game, there will be a rotation. I’ve done it before and never had a problem.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Every team in every training camp talks optimistically. Every team with a new coaching staff talks about how things are different for the better.

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

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

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

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

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Titans Camp Report: Day 10

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
7:17
PM ET
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:
  • The Titans got no one injured Monday in a joint practice with the Falcons at their facility, always the best development to come out of a preseason practice. Defensive linemen Antonio Johnson and Mike Martin and tight end Dorin Dickerson came in with injuries and didn’t practice.
  • The first fight turned out to be the only big fight. It came as the Titans and Falcons worked on punt returns and Coty Sensabaugh swiped a helmet off Robert McClain and a lot of players from both teams came onto the scene to get involved. It may have settled itself down, but Tommie Campbell came flying in to shove two Falcons, Bernard Pollard got involved and Ri’Shard Anderson came in with helmet in hand and swung it into Atlanta’s Ricardo Allen “We got it over and out of the way and moved on,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We thought it might come, it came early and we settled down.” Whisenhunt doesn’t fine players for practice fights, but Anderson should be fined for a foolhardy and dangerous move.
  • Later, Falcons center Joe Hawley got tossed by officials for his role in a smaller scrap with Michael Griffin.
  • Whisenhunt was audibly upset when Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora hit Jake Locker’s arm on a pass. “He grabbed his arm, he hit his hand,” Whisenhunt said. “Osi apologized. He knows he can’t do that.”
  • Marqueston Huff looked like he’s got the potential to be a quality gunner on punt returns. I saw him quickly burst between Kimario McFadden and Jordan Mabin to get en route in a hurry.
  • On a very early snap in one-on-ones matching Titans defensive backs against Falcons receivers, Jason McCourty was right with Roddy White on a quick throw from Matt Ryan, got an arm in and watched the ball pop loose. Another pass for White with McCourty on him was overthrown. McCourty was very solid in that period. The rest of the defensive backs were not as good. Griffin drew two flags for contact. (Khalid Wooten made a nice play and had a near pick of a Jeff Matthews pass for Tramaine Thompson. I think Wooten is steadily improving though he's not playing against the high-caliber guys.)
  • In one-on-ones, the Titans' offense connected on a big play early as Justin Hunter ran away from corner Robert McClain, collecting a throw from Charlie Whitehurst. Hunter caught another deep one from Zach Mettenberger.
  • Locker didn’t throw deep much, as the Falcons seemed to be offering open stuff underneath far more often. Some plays worked great against it. Locker hit Kendall Wright out of the slot and Wright ran away from Josh Wilson for what would have been a touchdown. On another play, Dexter McCluster worked into open space in the short middle and had a ton of space from there. Whitehurst found room for some shots. One of them connected up the right side with Derek Hagan over corner Javier Arenas and safety Sean Baker.
  • In many practices Locker still seems to have one moment that could be deadly. He held the ball and shuffled left as the pocket began to collapse and threw for Delanie Walker. But Desmond Trufant got to it and dropped what should have been a pick. “For any quarterback, there is always at least one you wish you could have back,” he said when I asked him about that specific play.
  • Both of the Titans' kickers attempted field goals against the Falcons field goal defense from 33, 36, 39, 42 and 46 yards. Travis Coons made them all, Maikon Bonani missed his attempt from 46 wide right.
  • Andy Levitre took three snaps in each team period before rookie Taylor Lewan replaced him. Levitre had his appendix removed on July 24. He still didn’t participate in the high contact one-on-one pass-rush drills.
  • In one team period, the offense worked exclusively in “penny,” its three-cornerback, one-safety package.
  • Falcons receiver Harry Douglas made a catch over Sensabaugh after the Falcons had the Titans jumping around before the snap. Derrick Morgan started with his hand down at left end, stood up and backed out, then returned to his initial position while multiple defenders shouted out multiple signals and waved each other around in what appeared to be confusion.
  • Akeem Ayers made a couple plays, including batting down a pass from Sean Renfree. In one-on-ones he made a great spin move against tackle Lamar Holmes that got him to the quarterback. But in a seven-on-seven period, T.J. Yates threw to running back Devonta Freeman and Ayers had no chance against him in space.
  • Avery Williamson impressively ran step for step with running back Josh Vaughan on a deep route and the pass glanced on the rookie linebacker’s helmet.
  • Moise Fokou worked as high in the linebacker rotation as I can remember, pairing with Zaviar Gooden as the inside tandem with the second team at least some.
  • On a snap where DaQuan Jones and Al Woods were the two defensive linemen, neither put a hand on the ground. The Titans played that one with everyone starting off standing up.
  • On one snap of nickel where nose tackle Sammie Hill came off the field, the standing up, off-the-line outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley actually lined up inside of right end Jurrell Casey.
  • There were a bunch of penalty flags on both sides. The most popular offense was illegal contact by defensive backs. The second biggest was offside. More to come on that
  • It’s always amazing to see how many guys know each other when two rosters of 90 and their coaching staffs combine. Titans linebacker Zach Brown saw Yates and exclaimed, “T.J, what’s up buddy?” Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter chatted with Hagan. Falcons owner Arthur Blank got off his cart to hug Titans tight ends coach Mike Mularkey, who used to be Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. A lot of it was pre-practice, a lot was during the kicking period when non-special teamers had time to chat. I watched Chris Spencer and Griffin talk with Devin Hester as Pollard shouted to the Titans, “Y'all be careful with making friends right now.”
  • Find pictures at pkuharsky on Instagram.
  • The Titans are off Tuesday, then have an open practice at 9:20 a.m. CT Wednesday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Jake Locker scans the field and runs through his reads, he’ll be picking from a nice smorgasbord of options.

Of the Titans’ top six pass-catchers right now, no two really look alike. That’s a nice feature to have, that variety.

A run through, in roughly their order of importance and quality:

WR Kendall Wright: An excellent slot guy who’s shifty and fast enough to cause problems. Ken Whisenhunt is likely to line him up outside, too, and to send him on more than just underneath stuff. He was dynamic downfield and can add that to his NFL game.

Backup situation: There is no one else like him on this team, though Dexter McCluster and Leon Washington could do a bit of what Wright does.

[+] EnlargeKendall Wright
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsKendall Wright caught 94 passes for 1,079 yards and two touchdowns last season.
WR Nate Washington: Can line up in all three receiver spots. Lacks top-end size or speed, but makes up for it with reliability and craftiness. He’s going to be where he’s supposed to be and looked to be a Jake Locker favorite when the quarterback was healthy last season.

Backup situation: The Titans don't have another all-around receiver who's proven himself over a long career.

WR Justin Hunter: The blazing downfield X receiver who should be threatening and stretching defenses even when the ball is not coming his way. He had a catch in the camp opener Saturday that is the sort the team hopes he can make with regularity -- climbing over Coty Sensabaugh and collecting a pass on the boundary.

Backup situation: No one else among the receivers has speed in the same range as Hunter.

TE Delanie Walker: A tough and athletic tight end who can muscle his way to success. The Titans feel he gives them mismatch opportunities, as he can outrun a linebacker and overpower a defensive back.

Backup situation: Craig Stevens is a better pass-catcher than he was given a chance to show last season, but he's not in Walker's class. Taylor Thompson should be at least OK in the department, but is no roster lock yet.

RB Dexter McCluster: More quick than fast (though he says he’s both), he’s just 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds. He has played more receiver than running back in his first four years in the league. He’ll get shots to lone up in the slot or to motion there, but he’ll come out of the backfield and give the Titans far better receiver skills than Chris Johnson showed in recent years.

Backup situation: Leon Washington can do some of the same things, but doesn't match McCluster's quickness.

RB Bishop Sankey: Projects to be the Titans best all-around back once he learns the ropes. He’s completely comfortable as a pass-catcher, and while not likely as dynamic as McCluster, defenses will have to account for the possibility of him working as a receiver when he’s on the field.

Backup situation: If he went down, McCluster would likely catch even more passes. And Shonn Greene would be expected to do a bit more in the area.

***

“It’s become a matchup game, and you’re trying to create those mismatches,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We have a number of guys that we feel can do that, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get some guys that step up during camp in those backup roles that we have confidence can do that.

“When you get to the season, it’s more about week to week, what their roles are. If we don’t have somebody, then we’re going to lean more heavily on some of the others that we know what they can do.”

“I’ll give you the perfect example. Wide receiver that we had in San Diego last year, Tutu (Seyi Ajirotutu) wasn’t even on our team at the start of the season. We’re playing Kansas City in a critical game late in the year, on the last play of the game in a 2-minute situation as an X, he catches the touchdown pass. You never would have expected that to win the game, but that’s what this league’s all about. He came in, he showed up, earned more trust from the quarterback, and he made a play for us.”

The Titans are going to throw downfield more, and they will be counting on Hunter to make a big contribution as they expand in that department.

That, in turn, will help create opportunities underneath.

“Wideouts may not be wide open down the field, but we can leak out and still make plays out of the backfield,” McCluster said.

In 2-minute drills, Whisenhunt expects McCluster and the backs to be big contributors as well.

“If you’re efficient with that, a lot of times the back is going to make big chucks for you,” Whisenhunt said. “If the down-the-field throws aren’t there, they are playing off coverage, if you can do that it’s big. It takes discipline. But we’re working at it.”
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans…

Dexter McCluster was the offensive star of the day as the Titans opened training camp, writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Taylor Lewan got some work at left guard as the Titans began to fill in for Andy Levitre during his recovery from appendix surgery, writes John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Zach Mettenberger gets “Roll-Tided" a lot since someone used it before sucker punching him recently at a bar, writes Wyatt.

A Day 1 training camp slide show from photographer George Walker of The Tennessean.

Mike Keith hosted “Titans Live” from opening day of training camp. He visited with GM Ruston Webster and former Titan great Frank Wycheck during the first part of practice. This will be a regular feature for the other seven practices that are open to the public.

Jurrell Casey is the 22nd best player under 25 in the league according to Mel Kiper and Mike Sando of ESPN.com.

Kamerion Wimbley and Michael Oher make the team of the worst contracts in the league from Grantland’s Bill Barnwell.

Camp preview: Tennessee Titans

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

NFL Nation's Paul Kuharsky examines the three biggest issues facing the Tennessee Titans heading into training camp.

Jake Locker: It’s now or never for the Titans’ quarterback, at least in Tennessee. The fourth-year quarterback started last season well, then he got hurt, didn’t shine when he came back and ultimately suffered another season-ending injury. Now he’s got his third offensive coordinator in Jason Michael and a new playcaller and head coach in Ken Whisenhunt.

The Titans would love to see him blossom into the player they thought he could be when they tabbed him eighth overall in 2011. But they began to line up a contingency plan for beyond 2014 when they drafted LSU's Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round.

The team declined to execute Locker’s option for 2015, and he’ll be a free agent after this season. He needs to prove himself worthy of a new contract or the Titans will be prepared to go a different direction next season -- or maybe even sooner.

Things are set up for him to succeed with an upgraded coaching staff, a running game that should be better with a committee instead of Chris Johnson’s deteriorating vision, a reshaped defense and what should be a far easier schedule. But plenty of league insiders and outside critics have little faith Locker can be an effective long-term starter on a winning team.

The new 3-4 defense: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will bring people from different spots and has some rushers who can play as deeper outside linebackers or line up in a three-point stance as if they are defensive ends. We don’t know if they added enough, but out of Kamerion Wimbley, Shaun Phillips, converted end Derrick Morgan and Akeem Ayers, there could be ample edge rush.

The team’s best defensive player, DT Jurrell Casey, will now be playing a lot on a three-man line. But the Titans promise his duties will not change much and say he actually will get more one-on-ones -- because offenses won’t be able to help on him before getting to a linebacker who will be at the line of scrimmage a lot sooner.

Horton quickly won the respect of the team based on his fine résumé and calm but purposeful no-nonsense demeanor. He said small guys who can hit and big guys who can run will have a major say in whether the Titans are successful.

Houston and Indianapolis made the playoffs in their first seasons following recent transitions to a 3-4. The Titans know the scheme change doesn’t buy them patience.

Whisenhunt’s weapons: The Titans signed pint-size Dexter McCluster to be a weapon in Whisenhunt’s offense. McCluster played receiver and running back in Kansas City, but the Titans will look to him as part of the backfield committee, where he figures to catch a lot of passes coming out of the backfield.

Bishop Sankey was the first running back taken in the draft and should be a more direct, decisive back than Johnson, though he certainly doesn’t bring CJ’s speed. Shonn Greene will have short-yardage chances. Are those three enough to take heat off the passing game?

The Titans are counting on a big jump from blazing outside receiver Justin Hunter. Kendall Wright was the best player on offense. And while Nate Washington is aging, he has been dependable and productive. Along with tight end Delanie Walker there are options for Whisenhunt to be inventive with, but we don’t know what will work.
Resuming our series on the best games members of the Tennessee Titans have ever played...

Dexter McCluster, running back

McCluster
McCluster
Nov. 14, 2009: Ole Miss 42, Tennessee 17
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.
McCluster: 282 yards, 324 all-purpose yards, 4 touchdowns

"It was at Ole Miss against the Tennessee Vols. I had four touchdowns, I believe 282 rushing, 300-some all purpose. That was probably the best game of my life. I’m usually a player that leads by example on the field, but before that game, I got in front of the team and I said, ‘I’m going to run so hard that someone is going to have to carry me off the field.’ That morning I didn’t know that I was going to go for that many yards and that many touchdowns, but first handoff of the game I broke a long one and I was like, 'OK, something special is about to happen.’ The reason I got up in front of the team and felt that hyped about it was because coach Ed Orgeron, he actually recruited me to Ole Miss, and my first two years I played under him. And he was actually with Tennessee. So I wanted to show him, 'Hey I appreciate you getting me here and this is the product that you brought in.' I didn’t get a chance to talk to him after, my dad did, and he said ‘That’s what I brought him here for, that’s what I saw in high school’ and he was just proud of me."
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans…

The Titans talked after their first practice of voluntary minicamp, and players expressed all positives about first impressions, writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. Said coach Ken Whisenhunt: “"They'll find out pretty quick if you can coach or not. These guys have been in football for a while.”

Shonn Greene feels like everyone will have a good chance to contribute out of the new mix in the backfield, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Justin Hunter is 15 pounds bigger and feels stronger, writes Glennon.

Practice film tells Whisenhunt what really happened, per David Boclair of the Nashville Post.

Defensive backs rate as a five on a scale of 10 in terms of need for the Titans, says Boclair in his look at the position and the draft.

Receiver is an underrated draft need for the Titans, says Tom Gower of Total Titans.

Dexter McCluster and the Titans were about a fast tempo as the Titans ran their first practice of the offseason, says Craig Peters of the team’s website.
Additional thoughts on the Tennessee Titans' schedule:

1. I knew who the opponents were, but until I looked at them in schedule form it hadn’t quite struck me how few top quarterbacks the Titans and defensive coordinator Ray Horton will have to scheme for. Nick Foles was the NFL’s top-rated quarterback last year. They’ll also see Andrew Luck twice, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Tony Romo. Those guys are not locks to be great every Sunday. There is no Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers. And the Titans will see the Cleveland Browns, the New York Jets, the Jacksonville Jaguars twice and the Houston Texans twice. That’s six games against teams who aren’t yet set at quarterback.

2. If the Titans are as bad as they were last season, those paltry crowds for late-season home games are less likely based on opponents. The New York Giants and Jets will bring a lot of interest and fans no matter how they rate in December, and the Colts' Luck may rate as the biggest star visiting LP Field all season.

3. Chris Johnson’s Dec. 14 return to LP Field with the Jets is slated to be one of just three games in that 3:05 p.m. CT window. But it’s the least attractive of the three. Denver is at San Diego and San Francisco is at Seattle in the same window before Dallas at Philly in the night slot. The Cowboys and Eagles could be flexed out of that late slot though it's typically a ratings-grabber regardless of records.

4. A less notable homecoming will take place in Week 1, when Dexter McCluster returns to Kansas City. A second-round draft pick out of Ole Miss by the Chiefs in 2010, McCluster spent time as running back and wide receiver in Kansas City but never really took off. The Titans grabbed him at the start of free agency and will use him as a pass catching running back. He’ll start the second stage of his NFL career going against a familiar defense. Right tackle Michael Oher will travel back to Baltimore for Titans-Ravens on Nov. 9. Defensive lineman Al Woods will also play against his former team when the Titans host Pittsburgh on Nov. 17.

5. The Titans will play their first nine games and 13 in all at noon CT, with a 3:05 p.m. CT start at home against the Jets on Dec. 14, a "Monday Night Football" game at home against Pittsburgh Nov. 17 and a Thursday night game at Jacksonville Dec. 18. All Sunday afternoon games beginning in Week 5 are subject to a time change based on the potential for a game being flexed into Sunday night and others being shuffled to fill the resulting gap.
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans…

When Shaun Phillips played in Denver, the Broncos paid special attention to Dexter McCluster when they played Kansas City. Phillips offered a review of his new teammate, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Nate Washington embraces his role as the old man of the Titans’ receiver group, says Wyatt.

With coaches not allowed on the field with players at this stage, Charlie Whitehurst is serving in that role in some ways, writes Glennon.

Though Chris Johnson was periodically critical about his offensive line, left tackle Michael Roos said there was never a rift. Glennon’s story.

The Titans hired Tre' Stallings as director of player engagement, says Wyatt.

Shaun Phillips’ quest for 100 sacks and the Titans' need for pass pressure mesh nicely, says David Boclair of the Nashville Post.

McCluster is a gadget back, but Ken Whisenhunt can help make him an effective player, says Tom Gower of Total Titans.

Jake Locker can’t drop back yet, but Washington is impressed the quarterback is throwing go routes standing still, says Craig Peters of the team’s website.
Shonn Greene came to the Tennessee Titans as the No. 2 back, a guy the team intended to use mostly in short yardage situations and as it needed a more powerful guy.

Greene
With Chris Johnson now gone, Greene is at the front of the Titans' running back line, though the Titans are going to make it a committee and the guy with the best chance at the biggest role will probably be a draft pick.

Greene said Friday on SiriusXM NFL Radio he won't be disappointed if he doesn't wind up No. 1 on the depth chart.

"I'm not going to look at who's starting, I'm not getting this time, that time. That's for the coaches to figure out. As for the players, we've got to do what they say and when we're called upon, do our jobs…"

"Nowadays it's not just one back getting the job done, it's done by committee. I take that as a good thing, because it keeps guys fresh, it keeps guys healthy, no one takes a beating like you once did when you had one back, when you used a [work]horse back. So I welcome all those guys on the roster to come help the team out so we can get where we need to be."

As I was around him some last year, Greene stuck me as an especially mild-mannered back. A lot of running backs show at least a hint of an I-need-the-ball attitude, and selfishness in terms of wanting carries isn't automatically a bad thing.

He's doesn't fit that mold, which will help make life easier for that draft pick and for Dexter McCluster.

Greene suffered a knee injury last season in the opener, needed surgery and missed five games. He never really got on track with 77 carries for 295 yards for a 3.8 yard average and four touchdowns.

The Titans expect much more from him in his second go-round.
For his first three years in the NFL, Chris Johnson was one of the most underpaid backs in the NFL. He made about $7.7 million.

For the last three years, he's been more than fairly compensated -- collecting $34 million.

So to those who think life is unfair for Johnson right now, I'd say it's as easy to look at him as fortunate as well as unfortunate.

If Johnson was drafted years earlier, he would have been very well paid. But if he was in the 2014 draft, he would never line up for anything close to $41.7 million in his career.

His career has straddled a seismic shift in the economics for running backs.

ESPN.com's Ashley Fox runs through the harsh realities of that.

It's tough timing for CJ now. He'll likely get a reduced role and a contract with an annual value of $4 million or less. But at least he had six years of the old economics.

Going forward, here's a look at the Titans and running back money:

Titans' running back base-salary cash costs in 2014: Shonn Greene $2.3M, Dexter McCluster $1M, Jackie Battle $855k, draft pick $435k. Total $4.589M.

Titans' running back salary-cap costs in 2014: Greene $3.23M, McCluster $4M, Battle $570k, draft pick $435k + prorated piece of bonus. Total $8.235M + prorated bonus for the rookie.
ESPN.com Insider Mike Sando has teamed up with some of our personnel people to offer grades on free agency so far.

They gave the Tennessee Titans a "C." Fourteen of the teams were given a better grade at this point.

The group rated Dexter McCluster, whom the Titans regard as a running back, as the best of the five outside additions.

"Of the guys they added, the only one that will make somewhat of a difference -- and I wonder how much -- would be McCluster," Louis Riddick said. "They are already pretty strong at wideout. Who is he going to replace in the slot? He will not take Kendall Wright's reps. He is not an outside receiver. Will he be more of a (Darren) Sproles type?"

I think that's exactly what the Titans intend McCluster to be.
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans ...

Dexter McCluster figures to be more than just a third-down back. John Glennon of The Tennessean looks at how McCluster was used in Kansas City the year Jamaal Charles was hurt and how Ken Whisenhunt used Danny Woodhead a year ago to take a stab at how the Titans might use McCluster.

The Titans’ last two backup quarterbacks went on to division rivals, with Matt Hasselbeck in Indianapolis and Ryan Fitzpatrick in Houston, says David Boclair of the Nashville Post.

Whisenhunt was a good hire and Ruston Webster is doing well assembling a team, says John Clayton of ESPN.com.

Who’s the best fictional quarterback of all time? Bill Barnwell and Shea Serrano of Grantland consider.

How often will the Titans pass?

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
11:14
AM ET
The 2012 Tennessee Titans gave up a franchise-record 471 points, the most in the league.

Last season the team fared far better, cutting that 19.1 percent to 381.

The old regime and players spoke a great deal about how the improvement was substantial as the Titans went from suffering blowouts to losing close.

But these charts from Pro Football Focus reveal some interesting nuggets.

While the Titans allowed 90 fewer points in 2013 and scored 32 more, those changes didn't lead to a significant difference in the amount of time the Titans had the lead.

The Titans led just 24 percent of the time, and that was actually down 1 percent from 2012.

The other chart details how frequently the Titans passed overall (59 percent), when they had the lead (47 percent), when they trailed (65 percent) and when they were tied (55 percent).

All four of those numbers were below the league average.

That’s not surprising. Under Mike Munchak the Titans pledged to be able to run when they wanted to. In 2013 they made a significant investment in revamping the offensive line and remained dedicated to leaning on Chris Johnson more than Jake Locker or Ryan Fitzpatrick. Both quarterbacks had limitations.

I expect those numbers will change with Ken Whisenhunt running the offense.

Free-agent addition Dexter McCluster is a running back to whom the Titans plan on throwing a lot of passes. Some of those short passes will function as an extension of the running game.

That means the Titans are likely to pass the ball more and run it less.

In six seasons, Whisenhunt’s Cardinals threw the ball 65.1 percent of the time, maxing out at 67.1 percent in 2008 and with a low of 61.6 percent in 2007.

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