Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Updated: August 19, 10:50 AM ET
Titans steady with Fisher at helm
By Chris Mortensen
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- You will never hear Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher screaming at players on his football field, a curious attribute for a guy who played safety and returned punts for Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan with the Chicago Bears.
The man has ice water in his veins and his composure is one reason why Titans owner Bud Adams has kept him around for 13 years, making him the longest-tenured coach in the NFL. Fisher is steady and the Titans are steady. No coincidence there. Just don't let that cool demeanor fool you. Just as he was tough as an undersized NFL player, he is tough as a coach when necessary.
That pretty much explains how Kerry Collins has become the starting quarterback of one of the NFL's most respected teams and why Vince Young will have to wait his turn. And few people are second-guessing him, either outside or inside the locker room.
"Without a doubt, this is Kerry's team," said 16-year veteran center Kevin Mawae. "He's the leader, indisputably in the locker room. There's no question he is the quarterback for this team."
Fisher added, "Kerry really had a good offseason, he's won a lot of games for us and he's better in the offense right now than he was last year."
Collins also has a cool veneer to him, which is another reason why Fisher didn't hesitate to push the organization during the offseason to reward the 37-year-old with a two-year, $14 million contract. The Titans had a 13-3 record and a playoff bye, and were dominating the Baltimore Ravens before rookie running back Chris Johnson injured an ankle in the first half during a gut-wrenching 13-10 defeat. A chance to host an AFC title game against the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers was also lost.
"This team right now has a deep wound, but we don't wear it on our sleeves," Fisher said. "We understand we had a great opportunity last year, and we didn't get it done. We've had a great offseason, the guys have worked hard and my challenge is to get them to realize we can't look back. We have to start well early, win some games, keep playing and then take advantage of the opportunities."
One key to the Titans' success will be whether Young will be prepared if anything should happen to Collins, either due to injury or decline in skill. While Young's drama has been played out mostly in public and subjected him to intense scrutiny and criticism, Fisher isn't ready to bail on him yet because Young has privately matured instead of constantly pouting about losing his job.
"Everything that happened last year is behind him and he's preparing himself to play once again," said Fisher. "He doesn't quite know when that's going to happen, but he's taken a healthy, solid approach, he's had a good camp and good game against Tampa this past week. If there's an injury, Vince's time will come; he has prepared for that."
Fisher typically did not overreact to some controversial interviews Young has given this summer, most recently stating that he still was going to be a Hall of Famer -- not that Fisher hasn't had some fun with it.
"Well, he's got to win a few games first but, you know, he's already in there -- he's got something there from his national championship game in college," said Fisher, an alumnus of USC, the team that Young's Texas Longhorns upset 41-38 in January 2006.
Not everyone joked about Young's comments. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch called it disrespectful. Mawae, among others, also disapproved.
"In light of the fact that we went to the Hall of Fame that week ... well, to me generations are different," said Mawae. "I have a great deal of respect for the game -- and I do think Vince does -- but we have a Hall of Fame player on the coaching staff [line coach Mike Munchak] and I have too much respect for those people who are already in the [Hall of Fame] to say I'm going to be the next guy because you just really don't know.
"All you can do is take care of business on the field and how you handle stuff off the field. Right now, Vince is doing some great things in the locker room and on the field. He's still got some growing to do, and that's just going to come with time."
Here's what else I learned at Titans camp, the 17th stop on my training camp bus tour:
Fisher said the Titans must replace defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (Redskins) with "numbers and development of our young players." Led by defensive line coach Jim Washburn, the Titans believe they might have something special in second-year DE William Hayes (Winston-Salem State), but they also think Kyle Vanden Bosch -- the team's hardest worker -- has prepared himself for another Pro Bowl-caliber season.
Fisher has no concerns about good friend Chuck Cecil replacing Jim Schwartz (now the Lions' head coach) as defensive coordinator. "Chuck's been with Jim all this time -- that was a no-brainer and it will be a smooth transition," Fisher said.
Sometime soon, Fisher wouldn't be surprised to lose offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who is on the head coach watch list for 2010. In the meantime, Fisher and GM Mike Reinfeldt provided Heimerdinger with more weapons for the passing game: free-agent WR Nate Washington, first-round WR Kenny Britt and third-round TE Jared Cook.
Cook may have a greater impact than Britt. A former high school receiver who bypassed his senior season at South Carolina, Cook appears to be a third-round steal for a player who topped all tight ends at the scouting combine in the 40 (4.49), vertical jump (41 inches) and broad jump (10-foot-3). At 6-foot-5, 246 pounds, he'll create some matchup problems for defenses. "Jared's having a great camp," said Fisher.
The Titans still won't get away from their bread-and-butter -- running the football with Johnson and LenDale White, who continues to have his best camp after dropping some serious pounds. Also, Fisher can see fifth-rounder Javon Ringer getting carries.
The offensive line? One of the best in the NFL with arguably the best bookend tackles in Michael Roos and David Stewart. Mawae is hoping to return for the regular-season opener against the Steelers after having triceps surgery in January, but the Titans believe Leroy Harris is as good a backup center as there is in the league.
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.