The kind of player a team picks up and the kind of players a team lets go shows a lot about philosophy. No position on the team shows the Titans' hand more than tight end.
Before last season, it was easy to assume that the Jeff Fisher-style run-first offense was going to continue when they signed Daniel Graham.
Graham was a Mackey Award winner at the University of Colorado who never became a featured pass catcher in New England or Denver. The Titans signed him to block, not catch. The proof is in the stat line as he caught two passes all year, although one was a game-winning TD snag against his former team, the Broncos.
The Tennessee Titans signed Graham to a three-year, $8 million contract before last season. He had more holding penalties than catches, and Craig Stevens replaced him in the starting lineup. Hey, someone needs to block.
Craig Stevens has been a typical block-but-don't-catch tight end his entire career. He has 21 catches in four years. With the emphasis on the pass game, he could catch that many balls this year. Even if you take his 58-yard catch against the Broncos, he averaged more than 13 yards a reception last year.
Stevens doesn't have the speed or moves of Jared Cook. Cook finally "got it" with 21 of his 49 catches in the final three games. He had a similar season-finishing stat bulge at the end of 2010, so it would be nice for him to show a little more consistency from game to game. If the Titans can throw a few more times when Stevens is in the game and run a few more times with Cook in the game, defenses aren't going to know what's coming next.
Instead of taking a Shad Meier-type who couldn't block or catch, the Titans made an unusual move by trading up to take a player who is going to switch to tight end as a pro. Taylor Thompson was a high-school tight end who signed at SMU as the team hired June Jones. Jones' offense has no tight end. Thompson moved to defensive end, and could have been drafted as such.
At the Players All-Star Classic college all-star game, Thompson played tight end. There was enough potential in a week's worth of practices for a fifth-round pick. He impressed the coaches enough that they let Daniel Graham go. A third tight end's going to log some snaps this year. No one else on the roster, Cameron Graham or Brandon Barden, has played in the NFL.
The Titans are not becoming a pass-first team. They are a pass-first team. The tight ends on the roster are the giveaway.
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