Complete Titans season preview.
The Titans will stand pat at kicker Thursday night for their preseason finale against the Vikings at LP Field.
Maikon Bonani or Travis Coons could be able to put the team at ease and win the job. Or the Titans could come out of the night thinking the body of work is insufficient and turn to one of those three or another kicker who comes free as teams cut to 53 by Saturday afternoon.
The tryouts resulted in a question like this from several people on Twitter.
@PaulKuharskyNFL why didnt we just keep bironas if we are gonna bring in all these old kickers for a try out?— John James (@JohnJamesShep) August 28, 2014
I understand the fan base had a great affection for Rob Bironas, who had a very good career with the Titans.
But there have been at least nine other kicker competitions in the NFL this preseason, when 2,880 players have been on rosters. And no other team saw fit to bring Bironas in to be a part of things.
John Glennon of The Tennessean points out that the three veterans the Titans looked at were all lesser kickers than Bironas a year ago. That’s not good, but it doesn’t ensure they can’t be better in 2014 than he would be. (And the guy who resurfaces will assuredly have a better year than the guys who do not.)
Crush the Titans over moving on if you like. But please acknowledge that 31 other teams have also steered clear of him. That says a lot about his current value, even if he resurfaces at some point.
Here is a reminder of the things that factored into the Titans' decision when they cut Bironas in March:
- Bironas' performance on kickoffs has taken a step backward over the past three seasons; 56.4 percent of his kickoffs were touchbacks in 2011, 50 percent in 2012 and 38.6 percent in 2013. That’s a sign of diminishing leg strength.
- His field goal accuracy was still good, but compared to his peers, he's not what he once was. In 2010 he ranked third in field goal percentage, in 2011 fourth, in 2012 26th and in 2013 20th.
- He was due a $250,000 roster bonus in March and a subsequent $2.875 million base salary. With semi-diminishing returns, they didn’t think anticipated production lined up with cost.
But before he’s played a regular-season down for the new staff, defensive lineman Jurrell Casey ’s earned a four-year contract extension that his agent says is worth $36 million, with $20.5 million guaranteed.
Casey was a tackle in the team’s 4-3 in his first three seasons and is now an end in the base 3-4, shifting inside on nickel downs.
He brings a great combination of strength and quickness and expects to build on the 10.5 sacks he made a year ago.
The extension shows the Titans are ready and willing to invest in foundational pieces. Casey is a very good player, the best on a defense that seems, though three preseason games, to be lacking firepower.
No other player from the 2011 draft class is a candidate for an extension at this point.
The Titans declined to execute an expensive 2015 option for quarterback Jake Locker, who is playing to prove he’s the guy for beyond this season.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee defensive lineman Jurrell Casey came to work this year focusing on football, and he let his agent Drew Rosenhaus work with the Titans in agreeing to a new contract.
They finally reached a deal Wednesday on a contract extension for $36 million over four years, with $20.5 million guaranteed.
Rosenhaus tweeted out a photo with Casey and the lineman's mother preparing to sign the contract.
Congrats Jurrell on your contract extension pic.twitter.com/oJKziuWNIw
- Drew Rosenhaus (@RosenhausSports) August 27, 2014
"We are excited to come to an agreement on an extension with Jurrell," Titans general manager Ruston Webster said in a statement. "This is something Jurrell has earned not only with his play on the field but his work ethic as well. We appreciate Jurrell's professionalism through this process and look forward to many good years to come."
A third-round draft pick out of USC in 2011, Casey had one year remaining on his rookie contract. But he is coming off a career year with 10½ sacks, 90 tackles and 10 quarterback pressures. His sacks were the second-highest total in franchise history for a defensive tackle behind only Ray Childress' 13 sacks in 1992.
Griffin served a one-game suspension last year for a hit the league judged to be a rules violation, and the Tennessee Titans safety knows he will draw a suspension like Meriweather’s if he draws the league’s attention again.
Like most defenders who draw an extra look over hits because they are viewed as repeat offenders, Griffin is confused and feels he’s in a no-win situation. He’s hitting a moving target in a spilt second, and if that moving target’s head winds up in a different place than Griffin expected, he can’t change course that late.
“Last year when I went through the appeal process and when I went to the competition committee, I asked them, ‘What do you do to avoid these situations?’” Griffin said. “One answer I got was, ‘Sometimes you have to look at the situation and just make the judgment that there is no way to make a clean play, so you have to allow somebody to catch the ball.'
“My question to them was, ‘What do you tell your coach?’ Because if you do that, you’re second guessing yourself every time you go in [for a hit]. ‘Is this going to be clean? Is this not going to be clean?’ When it gets to that point, either you’ve got to make the play and take that risk or if you don’t make the play, they are going to find somebody else to make the play.”
Griffin is weighing the threat of a suspension that would cost him $729,412 versus the threat of failing to make plays and losing a job that current includes base salaries that add up to $19 million over the next three years.
He’s got to avoid headshots, but sometimes things happen.
The idea that sometimes there is no safe play and a defender has to allow a catch to be made is counterintuitive to a football player.
If he tries to do the right thing, if his intent is a clean tackle, I don’t know what else the league can reasonably expect.
“It’s not over 'til it’s over, so I’ll keep competing,” he said on Tuesday.
“Yeah, I’m not going to be excited about it,” Lewan said. “But it’s a unique situation. Most teams don’t have the opportunity to draft a tackle in the first round and also have two outstanding offensive linemen. I’ve been competing in camp and working on it and we’ll see."
Left tackle Michael Roos is in the final year of his contract, his 10th with the franchise. Right tackle Michael Oher was signed to a four-year deal as a free agent from Baltimore, well before the draft, when the Titans were surprised to get Lewan at No. 11 in the first round.
Lewan hasn't really had a chance to challenge for a starting job, and the bulk of his first-team work came at left guard for the stretch of camp at the start when Andy Levitre was recovering from an appendectomy.
It's clear Lewan would be the lineman of choice to replace not only Roos and Oher, but Levitre and starting right guard Chance Warmack if any of them became unavailable.
But as long as all of them are healthy, Lewan will be limited to a role as a special-teams player and perhaps a sixth lineman in a jumbo package for short-yardage blocking.
“Any situation I can possibly be on the field, I’ll be on the field,” he said. “Psychologically, I’m going to overcome it. When I get my opportunity, I’m going to do whatever I can to be successful and thrive.”
Veteran kickers Jay Feely and Rian Lindell will visit with the Titans Wednesday, says Wyatt.
To which I say: The Titans have slow played the competition between Maikon Bonani and Travis Coons. Now they are at least checking out veteran alternatives. Feely and Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt were together in Arizona.
Jurrell Casey’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, visited the Titans Tuesday, which could be a good sign about a contract extension, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
Zach Mettenberger thinks he’s played efficiently in the preseason, says John Glennon of The Tennessean. Now Mettenberger could start the preseason finale.
Quarterback Dominique Davis is eager for his opportunity with the Titans, says Joe Fann of the team’s website.
To which I say: The best scenario for the Titans is Davis doesn’t need to take a snap on Thursday night.
IR, waived-injured and an addition: Veteran linebacker Colin McCarthy (shoulder) was placed on IR. Undrafted rookie center Gabe Ikard (torn ACL) was waived-injured and will revert to the team's IR list if he goes unclaimed. The Titans added quarterback Dominique Davis as insurance for the preseason finale Thursday night against Minnesota. The cut to 53 needs to happen by Saturday at 3 p.m. CT.
What’s next: Six undrafted rookies are still on the roster, and they all could be among the 22 remaining cuts. The best chance to stick, at least for a while, is kicker Travis Coons. Another two qualify as first-year players and appear unlikely to stick. Even if they are all gone, another 14 will be called to visit Ken Whisenhunt in his office on Friday or Saturday and asked to hand in their iPad playbook.
Titans' cuts: LB Kendrick Adams, CB Marc Anthony, DL Lanier Coleman, OL Kevin Danser, LB David Hinds, OL Tyler Horn, WR Julian Horton, RB Waymon James, CB Micah Pellerin, WR Jaz Reynolds, S Hakeem Smith, WR Derel Walker, LB Jonathan Willard and WR Isaiah Williams.
From the beginning, the Tennessee Titans' new defensive coordinator said he knows recent transitions to 3-4 fronts in the AFC South have gone well and quickly.
(See “Altered defensive fronts don’t need time” from June 6.)
He expects to be able to game plan with what he has and produce results.
But familiarity and confidence in a new scheme -- no matter how simple it is, no matter how straightforward -- things are virtually certain to get better in time.
How long will it be before Horton has a good enough feel for his pieces and those pieces have a good enough feel for his scheme before the Titans are able to get close to what they will be defensively?
Horton said eight games total counting the preseason, so at about the fourth game of the regular season.
“When you look at it, probably by the fourth regular-season game guys are going, ‘Oh, I get it, I get it,’” Horton said. “Because there are a lot of nuances to it. In Arizona we had a lockout and we struggled the first four weeks, because it’s different. Then all of a sudden, the light comes on where it's, ‘Oh, I get it, I get it.’
“In Cleveland it was kind of the same thing. We started off good against the run and maybe not so well against the pass, but then all of a sudden we started getting better and better. Of your solid group of guys that are actually going to get 90 percent of the reps it probably takes about four actual games to do it.”
The number of series the starting defense will get in the preseason amounts to roughly one game, he said. That and three regular season games should get the Titans close to where they will get defensively.
The Titans open at Kansas City, against Dallas, at Cincinnati and at Indianapolis.
Those votes landed coaches in one of five tiers.
All of the coaches behind Whisenhunt have less experience as a head coach than he does. None of them has more than three years leading a team while he has six.
Sando writes that Bruce Arians producing a 10-win season as Whisenhunt’s replacement with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013 didn’t help perception.
One survey participant thinks Whisenhunt’s offensive experitise shows up better when he is a coordinator, not a head coach.
"The head coaches have to have a specialty, but as a head coach, I do not know that his genius comes out as much as it did when he was an offensive coordinator, whether in Pittsburgh or in San Diego. ... If they play lights-out above and beyond in Tennessee, I would gladly change my grade on him. I see him as damn good offensive coordinator."
That second act in Tennessee will do a lot to define Whisenhunt as a head coach.
There were, and still are, questions about the Titans' quarterback.
He's got more freedom and more responsibility than ever, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.
"I feel really comfortable and I really feel like I understand what we're doing offensively and I have ownership of it," Locker said. "So I thank (this coaching staff) for challenging me early. At this point, I really feel like I understand what's going on in this offense better than I have in the past."
Where, precisely, can we see an example of that?
Left tackle Michael Roos provided Glennon with an excellent one. Locker's actually allowed a blitzer a lane knowing he would find a beneficial throw out of it.
"There are times at practice when he's made himself the hot guy on purpose because he knows a receiver on that side is going to break off his route and it will be a good play," Roos said. "So there's that kind of stuff. It might not look right to us, but if he wants to do it and he knows what he's doing, then obviously it's going to work out."
That example is a solid development for Locker, and the Titans.
The last preseason game will be a factor in what the Titans do at kicker, where Maikon Bonani and Travis Coons are competing but there are sure to be outside options too, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
The Titans got a clear view of Ken Whisenhunt’s angry side during their preseason win in Atlanta, writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. He rated himself a seven or eight on the anger scale.
Chris Spencer returned to action and Charlie Whitehurst threw a bit, says Wyatt.
The Titans trimmed their roster to 78, says AP. When Colin McCarthy and Gabe Ikard go on IR, they’ll need just one more cut today.
Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter have gotten most of the talk, but Nate Washington still has plenty to offer, says Joe Fann of the team’s website.
While Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and Justin Hunter are locked in as the top three receivers, it gets complicated after that and there is significant drop off.
Michael Preston is big and has a nice catching radius, but he may be the slowest is of the Titans seven veterans. Marc Mariani was a seventh-rounder in 2010 and is a fan favorite who can be an effective returner, but he missed the last two years with camp injuries, probably isn't the same player he was before them and lacks explosiveness.
Hagan and Robiskie are journeymen. Hagan was a third-round pick by Miami who's also played for the Giants, Buffalo and Oakland. Robiskie was a second-rounder for Cleveland, and has also been with Jacksonville, Detroit and Atlanta.
The team's top seven receivers all had a chuckle as I polled them on who would win a race between Hagan (who ran a 4.45 way back at his scouting combine) and Robiskie (4.46).
Of course each player said he would win.
Wright, Hunter and Washington all said they'd take Hagan.
Mariani and Preston said Robiskie.
One defensive coach I talked to about Hagan and Robiskie called them "perennial bubble guys” and said "neither has real speed.”
We'll soon find out if the Titans see any role for either.
Receivers coach Shawn Jefferson told me last week they are all still in grind mode, putting together their résumé.
"We're in a tunnel marching, there's no light,” he said of the way the group is working. "... One days we'll see the train coming.”
The Titans could carry as few as four and as many as six.
Also still around are two long-shot kids: Isaiah Williams and Rico Richardson.
The disappointment from a depth perspective is that, before spending a first-rounder on Wright in 2012 and a second-rounder (after a trade up) on Hunter in 2013, the Titans had little success finding anyone of substance at the position in the draft.
Damian Williams was better than any of the four under consideration in my eyes, and he moved to Miami as a free agent after 2013. Kenny Britt, the first-rounder from 2009, was a huge headache for the team and flamed out in his final year. Sixth rounder Dominique Edison from Britt's class did nothing. Lavelle Hawkins, a fourth-rounder from 2008 has bounced around.
If they'd developed one of those guys and kept him, they'd be four deep and have a little wiggle room in case of an injury.
Instead it's a big concern on an offense that has the potential to be pretty good.
Look at what they’ve done in the draft over the last eight years: Six first-round picks on offense (Taylor Lewan, Chance Warmack, Kendall Wright, Jake Locker, Kenny Britt, Chris Johnson) and just two on defense (Derrick Morgan and Michael Griffin).
Of course through those drafts, teams can fill out rosters with quality picks outside of the first round.
But the odds of finding a star are highest nearest the top of the draft. The Titans have total a total of three first-rounders on defense when you include in Kamerion Wimbley, drafted 13th by Cleveland in 2006.
The offensive total is six: Locker, Wright, Warmack and Lewan. Chris Spencer and Michael Oher, offensive linemen who were first-rounders elsewhere fill out the count.
Per Evan Kaplan of ESPN Stats and Info, the Giants, Patriots and Jets each have eight first-round defenders. Only eight teams have three or fewer first-round players on their rosters right now.
Miami, Atlanta and Jacksonville each have two. Chicago, Indianapolis also have three.
Here’s what destroys the theory that a team needs more than that in order to have a chance to be good defense: Seattle also has just three.
The Titans have given up nine sacks through three games, including two of Jake Locker in Atlanta, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.
Chase Coffman is trying to beat long odds to make the Titans, says Glennon.
To which I say: He’s getting lumped in with undrafted free agents in some conversations. Coffman was actually a third-round pick by Cincinnati in 2009. He’s probably a better player than low-ranking receivers, but four tight ends would be a lot.
For the second year in a row, defensive end Ropati Pitoitua broke a hand during the preseason, says Glennon. He won’t play Thursday but is expected to be ready for the opener on Sept. 7.
Like new Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason, Ken Whisenhunt is in his first year in Nashville as a head coach and the expectation is to win now, says David Climer of The Tennessean.
With one game still to play, Zach Mettenberger has thrown for more yards (504) in the preseason than any Titans quarterback except Billy Volek in 2005 (541), says David Boclair of the Nashville Post.
Amie Wells of the Titans website sat down with Tim Shaw after he visited the team following his announcement that he has ALS. I missed it last week. (Video.)