What to Watch for in Tennessee Titans 2009 Training Camp
Who I want to hear a lot more about: Chris Johnson
Not as a running back, because all this speculation about the Titans’ backfield situation bores me. Smash and Dash are still in place for at least another year. Whether Tennessee keeps LenDale White or moves on to Javon Ringer in 2010 is irrelevant right now, because it is premature to speculate about that.
I’m interested in Johnson moving out wide once in a while. Towards the end of the 2008 season, the Eagles had a play where they would have Brian Westbrook and Corell Buckhalter in the backfield at the same time.
Westbrook would motion out wide, and defenses would focus on him at receiver. The defense would ignore Buckhalter, who’d run up the middle for a pretty good gain.
This play could be even more successful with White and Johnson in the backfield. If Johnson motions out wide or into the slot, this could give defenses a huge problem.
If they are in man coverage, not only does one man have to cover him, but a safety would probably have to play deep zone coverage just for the purpose of trying to stop Johnson, who is capable of outrunning the entire defense. This safety playing deep would leave more running room for White.
There’s also the advantage of a personnel mismatch. If a team has two running backs in the backfield, and then a tight end to block and two wide receivers, it looks like a running formation. For that reason, defenses are usually going to be in their base 4-3 or 3-4 packages instead of a nickel or dime.
If Johnson motions out into the slot, a team then has a very pass-heavy formation, with four players lined up in position to run deep routes. This creates a mismatch in the secondary, as there are only four defensive backs. If Johnson is covered one-on-one, he can just go deep on a streak and will have a very good chance of getting open.
If he is double-covered by two defensive backs—you’re not going to assign a linebacker to help cover someone who runs a 4.24 in the 40-yard dash—then the tight end will probably be covered by a linebacker, which is not a favorable matchup for the defense.
Not only could the Titans stretch the defense by passing deep from this formation, the emphasis on the pass would cause the defense to create more running room for LenDale White. If the defensive backs are playing a few yards off of the line of scrimmage to prevent Johnson or the receivers from outrunning them, the Titans can hit them with short passes, or even set up a screen to Johnson.
Last year, Johnson didn’t display the greatest hands. I’ve read that he worked almost exclusively out wide during OTAs, so I’m thinking if he can improve his pass-catching, he could be a much more complete threat to defenses.
Who I don’t want to hear another word about: Vince Young
If he sneezes during practice, hundreds of Titans fans will be on the Internet that night discussing who said “Bless you” to him and who didn’t.
It’s this simple: He is probably one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the league right now. He’s got a big frame, great height, and phenomenal speed.
His throwing motion is questioned, but his height makes his sidearm release almost a non-issue. He has good arm strength and accuracy and is able to fit passes through the smallest holes in coverage, but his problem is finding those holes.
Young has nobody to blame for his lack of success but himself. He’s never going to win the starting job back through the media, so he has to stop talking and improve his game.
As I just said, Young has all the physical tools to be great. If he dedicates himself to learning the Titans’ offense and reading defenses better, he can win the starting job back. Though Kerry Collins fans point out the Titans went 13-3 without Young, they ignore that Collins had a much better team to work with than Young did in 2006 and 2007.
In 2006, Collins was 0-3, while Young was 8-5. Similarly, when Collins played against the Texans in 2007 in lieu of an injured Young, the Titans needed a record-setting eight field goals in order to win by two points. When Young returned for the second game against the Texans, the Titans won by eight.
Their stats for those games: Collins completed 25 out of 42 passes for 280 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions and a 79.5 QB Rating. Young’s rating was 99.9, as he completed 21 of 31 passes for two touchdowns and one interception.
Similarly, when they both played in 2006, Collins threw one touchdown versus six interceptions and went 0-3 as a starter. Young, a rookie, threw 12 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions, won eight out of 13 games, and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Talent-wise, there is no way you can say Collins is better than Young. Ninety percent of the people who claim Collins is better weren’t saying that a year ago.
Talent isn’t keeping Young out of the starting quarterback position.
What’s keeping Young out of the starting rotation is his lack of dedication to the game. If he truly gave 110 percent this offseason, there will be no way the Titans couldn’t eventually hand him the starting job.
Aside from studying the playbook obsessively, here’s another suggestion for Young. It sounds crazy, but read my reasoning behind it before you dismiss it as too "out there."
Vince Young should play a lot of Madden.
I’m not talking about playing against his buddies while eating pizza and having a good time. I’m talking about going into practice mode, playing through one play, and then watching the replay four or five times.
Think about it: Where else can you see a play, know the exact defensive play that was called, and then see that defense on the "field?"
If used as an actual study tool, Young’s Xbox 360 could be his best bet of regaining the starting job. This way, he can practice reading defenses on his own time, instead of just during practice, accelerating his development.
No matter what happens in practice, every move of his will be overanalyzed and repeated endlessly. For the sake of all the money the Titans invested in him, I hope he becomes the Titans’ starting quarterback eventually.
For the sake of my sanity, I hope I don’t hear about him until then.
Player under the microscope: Center Leroy Harris
With Kevin Mawae still nursing an elbow injury, Harris will get a lot of time with the starting offensive line. He did a pretty good job in the Divisional round against the Ravens, but that was overshadowed by two botched snaps that led to Collins fumbles.
With Mawae getting up there in age, we will probably see Harris as a starter sooner rather than later. The coaches know this, too, so they will be paying special attention to Harris, and expectations will be high.
Player under the radar: Defensive Tackle Jovan Haye
“Nobody can replace Albert Haynesworth” has become a catchphrase among writers discussing the Titans.
All offseason, we’ve been hearing about how the Titans’ defense is going to have to blitz more in order to make up for the loss. We’ve been hearing about a constant rotation at defensive tackle to try and make up for the impact Haynesworth had.
Haye must be excited. He was a good defensive tackle in Tampa, but he wasn’t a big name among football media and fans. Now he’s in Tennessee, where almost nobody expects the defensive line to be as good as it was last year.
There is no pressure whatsoever on him, so he might just surprise a lot of people with a great year.
Players we’re going to miss: Brandon Jones and Chris Carr
On paper, the Titans upgraded at wide receiver this offseason. However, Kenny Britt is still a rookie and will have a tough transition to the NFL.
If both Britt and Washington have a good season, the Titans’ passing game will be able to compensate for defenses that try to put eight men in the box. If either one of them struggles this year, then the Titans’ depth at receiver will be very suspect.
Jones showed a lot of promise with the Titans, but moved on to the 49ers this offseason. Had the Titans matched the 49ers’ contract offers, they’d be even better equipped to enhance the vertical aspects of their offense.
Carr had a very solid year returning kicks and punts in 2008, and he could constantly be relied on to give the Titans’ offense great field position. With no clearly designated kick returner, the special teams unit might not be as impressive as it was last year.
Also, as a backup cornerback, he had a great game against the Jaguars. The Titans’ depth at corner has gotten very thin this offseason, and keeping Carr would have done a little bit to remedy that.
Player we’re not going to miss: Justin McCareins
All he did was occupy a starting spot, preventing Brandon Jones or even Lavelle Hawkins from getting valuable playing time and contributing to the offense.
Player we’re going to wish we had acquired in the offseason: Any of the various corners that hit the free-agent market.
I like DeAngelo Hall, but I wouldn’t advocate giving him the money he got from the Redskins. But Dre’ Bly, Chris McAllister, Ken Lucas, or even Samari Rolle would have been nice to add.
It seemed to me that there were a lot of free-agent corners this offseason, but the Titans only got Demarcus Faggins. Rumor has it that Texans fans are laughing at the Titans the way Titans fans laughed at the Texans for signing Chris Brown.
One thing you wouldn’t expect to see that you probably will see a lot of: Passing
Though the Titans are a run-first team, and will continue to be so, they worked out of the Shotgun for a majority of OTAs. I think they feel that improving in the passing game will help augment their offense tremendously.
One thing you’ll expect to see a lot of, but probably won’t see: The Wildcat Formation.
Though I believe that the Titans are going to use it early and often in the regular season, I don’t think they’ll want to display it in practices that are open to the public.
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