Tennessee Titans: Kamerion Wimbley
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
This week I set about finding out just how different and just how similar the two outside linebacker spots will be.
Coaches say all the outside linebackers need to be able to rush, stop the run and play in coverage. Certainly the team will play to strengths, however. Akeem Ayers hasn’t played very well in space since he’s been with the Titans. Derrick Morgan is a 4-3 defensive end moving to outside linebacker who has never been asked to drop into coverage.
The strongest and clearest answer about the roles of the outside backers came from Kamerion Wimbley, who is back at the position after a couple years miscast as a 4-3 end.
“I think a lot of our stuff is based on how the offense lines up and where the ball is spotted,” he said. “At our position we really have to know both sides. So (if we need to flip sides) it’s possible. I think we’re just in the position we’re in now, no one is really set in anything. I don’t think there are set sides, it depends on who’s in.
“Right now we’re just going through reps, we’re right and left. All of the linebackers really have to know both sides. It’s the mirror technique. Pretty much you’re playing the same assignments depending on the formation. I believe we’re all capable of playing both sides.”
They have been 4-3 ends, undisguised in their attempts to create pressure, a hand in the dirt as they dug in to get off the ball as fast as possible.
In the new 3-4 base defense, there will be far more mystery about who is coming after the quarterback and who is not.
Derrick Morgan figures to be on the line when the Titans are in their nickel package. Defensive line coach Giff Smith said Morgan is an end in that situation.
“He could be two- or three-point,” Smith said. “First of all, you’ve got to see can they rush out of either or? If they can only rush out of one, then you’re going to make them do everything out of one position.
"If you can rush out of both down and [a] two-point stance, then it enables you to disguise some stuff when you might be zone-pressuring and dropping in coverage. And what we do, we chart how much he’s up rushing, how much he’s down and how much he’s rushing and dropping, so there is not a tendency for [the] offense to [exploit].”
A guy like Morgan better be able to rush out of both, right? He’s experienced as a rusher out of a three-point stance. And if he’s an outside linebacker in the base defense, he will be off the line standing up.
Smith said Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley, the two hybrid outside linebacker/ends, are both showing they can rush standing up or with a hand down. Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips has done both as well.
“Those three right there are confortable down or up.” Smith said. “So the disguise factor really helps us.”
The advantage of being down, from Smith: “You can explode quicker. I equate it to if you watch the Summer Olympics, you don’t see anybody in a two-point stance in the 100-yard dash.
The advantage of being up, from Smith: “I do think sometimes you have more of a visual part for an edge rusher to be able to stem. Because he can tell the slide of the center and whether the counter is there or not quicker from the up position.”
To the ones that answered the question with a question about what I was looking for, I tried to just repeat it rather than steer them.
Nov. 10, 2011
Oakland 24, San Diego 17
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Wimbley: 4 sacks
"The best game that I’ve ever played, the first game that comes to mind was a Thursday night game in San Diego where I had four sacks. That was in Oakland, I believe my second year, it might have been 2011, I’m not too certain. I think it was a combination of both feeling it and having a good matchup. I was able to pretty much get around the edge at will, it was a night game, you know the whole world is watching. We were playing against Philip Rivers and whenever I play against him, I love it. I would say he’s one of those quarterback’s who’s super competitive, he’s going to talk trash. He’s a tough guy. So it makes you raise your game up. Also playing in Oakland, that’s one of your division opponents, so that makes it extra special."
A draft pick or two could be added to the mix, and coaches have plenty of time to assess players and skill sets and try people in different spots.
Derrick Morgan was a defensive end in the Titans’ 4-3 defense, but the Titans identified him as a linebacker in a recent news release about their upcoming caravan and yet they have him as "LB/DE" on their roster.
He worked with the linebackers during the on-the-record portion, a position drill piece of practice, as did Kamerion Wimbley, who also carried the double designation.
Morgan said he moved around playing some linebacker as well as end in his junior year at Georgia Tech and anticipates working some with the backers and some with the line as the team assesses where he fits best.
“It’s not too different, not too foreign for me to stand up and get out of a two-point stance some,” Morgan said. “I've just got to continue to work at it to get a lot more comfortable, but it's not too bad.
Wimbley agreed to a lesser contract to stay. He's played his best NFL ball as a 3-4 outside linebacker but has worked as a 4-3 end since signing with the Titans in 2012.
Meanwhile, another veteran outside linebacker, Shaun Phillips, said he ran with the second team and that was not any sort of concern because no one is making the team or securing a role on April 29.
“The great thing about our coaches is that they are very honest with us and they told us, ‘This is how we’re lining up right now,’” Phillips said. "'We're going to rotate, mix and match, and find out what works best for us and put our best football players on the field.'
"But right now, everyone has to start somewhere or you don’t get no reps. You try to rotate three, you can’t do that. Now everyone gets an equal number of reps, and is able to learn the defense and have their opportunity."
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans…
Details on the redone deals of Kamerion Wimbley and Craig Stevens and the new contract for Chris Spencer, from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
Jason McCourty says the Titans have quality in-house options after the departure of Alterraun Verner, per Jim Wyatt.
Wesley Woodyard looks as the new Titans defense and says it is made for linebackers to make plays, per Craig Peters on the team’s web site.
New right tackle Michael Oher could force the Titans to use tight ends for blocking help more often, says Will Lomas of Music City Miracles.
In two largely unproductive years miscast as an end in the team’s 4-3, he collected $15.5 million.
He was scheduled for base salaries of $6 million this year, $6.5 million in 2015 and $7 million in 2016.
The Titans new regime, which will run a base 3-4, wanted to keep him. But a that $6 million base salary it wasn’t going to happen.
Wimbley agreed to a reduced three year contract that Adam Schefter and Adam Kaplan report is worth up to $9 million.
I think Wimbley is primed to return to form from earlier in his career playing as an outside linebacker who will have some advantages getting out into space.
Both sides can look smart for finding a way to stay together.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
A consideration of the cost-versus-production equation for Chris Johnson, from David Climer of The Tennessean. “Johnson is averaging 3.5 yards per carry and is on pace to finish the season with 983 yards. In Eddie George’s final season with the Titans, he averaged 3.3 yards per carry and finished with 1,031 yards.”
Wins haven’t arrived when Ryan Fitzpatrick has played well at quarterback, and he’s frustrated by that, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
Kamerion Wimbley was fined $10,000 for his low hit on Carson Palmer, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.
Three reasons to believe the Titans will beat the Jaguars, and three reasons to believe they won’t, from David Boclair of the Nashville Post.
Offense, 62 snaps
LT Michael Roos, 62
LG Andy Levitre, 62
C Brian Schwenke, 62
RG Chance Warmack, 62
RT Mike Otto, 62
QB Jake Locker, 62
WR Nate Washington, 48
RB Chris Johnson, 47
WR Kendall Wright, 47
TE Craig Stevens, 43
TE Delanie Walker, 29
FB Collin Mooney, 28
WR Justin Hunter, 17
TE Taylor Thompson, 15
RB Shonn Greene, 15
WR Kenny Britt, 11
WR Damian Williams, 10
The Titans went big, with a heavy emphasis on creating running room. So Stevens, who had a lot to do with the 198 yards rushing, played even more than well-rounded primary tight end Walker. Mooney was also a big part of things, a week after he didn’t play at all on offense.
Defense, 70 snaps
CB Alterraun Verner, 70
CB Jason McCourty, 70
LB Akeem Ayers, 70
SS Bernard Pollard, 70
FS George Wilson, 70
LB Zach Brown, 68
DE Derrick Morgan, 65
DT Jurrell Casey, 61
LB Colin McCarthy, 42
DE Ropati Pitoitua, 40
CB Coty Sensabaugh, 33
DT Sammie Hill, 30
DE Kamerion Wimbley, 29
DT Mike Martin, 25
DT Antonio Johnson, 14
DE Karl Klug, 11
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 2
We’ve covered the increased role for Ayers, who played way more than he has. We probably saw the most base defense we’ve seen all season as the Rams don’t have the weapons or desire to spread things out. Wimbley got more action than usual and while he held up Kellen Clemens to keep him from recovering his own fumble. But Wimbley did not show up on the stat sheet at all.
MVP: Cornerback Alterraun Verner. Even as the interception rate has slowed, he’s continued to make plays. He’s got four picks and regularly breaks up plays and kills momentum for offenses and quarterbacks. This is a defense built around having a bunch of good guys and some guys who are good at a couple things and are put in good situations to succeed. It lacks a real star. But Verner has been really good.
Biggest surprise: Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua. The giant defensive end was brought in as an edge-setting run stopper. He’s been good at that job, but he’s done a lot more. He’s a disruptive pass-rusher as well, and is tied for the team lead with four sacks. He symbolizes the success the Titans have had with some lesser profile veteran additions.
Style points: The Titans are varying their fronts and blitzing more and excelling at the man-to-man coverage they wanted to employ more of this season. Senior assistant/defense Gregg Williams has been a big influence in those areas, and the changes on defense have all helped produce better results.
Not seeing it: The Titans talked a lot about what a crucial piece Akeem Ayers would be as the strong-side linebacker and a nickel defensive end. He’s been fine, but he’s not been the breakout, standout player I was expecting. And for how much nickel and dime they are playing and for the quality play they are getting from other options at end, he’s not playing as much as I expected he would.
AWOL: Defensive end Kamerion Wimbley. The Titans keep saying Wimbley’s lack of playing time is about packages. But if they really liked his ability to rush the passer, he’d be getting more chances to rush the passer. He’s a good guy and a pro, but he doesn’t fit in what they want to do now. They grabbed him as a free agent when he was cut by Oakland in 2011 after the failed pursuit of Peyton Manning slowed them down and meant they missed out on other options, like Mario Williams. Wimbley’s too expensive to have around beyond this season.
I applaud: The packaging. The nickel and dime sets haven’t only featured quality work from Coty Sensabaugh and George Wilson in the defensive backfield. The pieces up front change as well. A guy like Karl Klug is getting maximum chances to work in advantageous roles. There are a lot of situations where guys are being used to their strengths and using them that way is keeping most people fresh in the process.
Biggest beef: Zach Brown’s playing time. When healthy, Moise Fokou is the every-down linebacker. The Titans like the way Fokou gets the defense lined up. But, for a time, at least, offenses were faring better in third-and-long than in third-and-short against Tennessee. Part of the reason for that could be that they are playing a run-stopping linebacker ahead of Brown, a more explosive player who’s better in pass coverage. I have a hard time watching him leave the field.
Looking forward to: Seeing how this defense deals with two games against Andrew Luck and the Colts and two games against a Jacksonville offense that has the league’s worst rushing offense.
Get well: The linebackers have been a mess health-wise, but only Fokou’s knee issue has cost them a game for a starter. They need healthy backups and special teamers and are optimistic that special teams captain Patrick Bailey and rookie Zaviar Gooden will be ready to return to action after the bye.