Diminishing Returns: Can Tennessee Stop The Bleeding on Special Teams?
The task seemed simple enough.
Catch the ball, and run towards the end zone.
It's something that kickoff and punt returners do every week in this league.
Yet for a young Chicago Bear named Jeff Fisher, it proved to be the beginning of the end one fall day. He was met by a Philadelphia Eagle named Bill Cowher, who broke his leg on a tackle, and he never played another game of significance again.
Of course, we know how it all ended up. Both went on to head coaching glory after hanging up their cleats in 1985.
But now, over a quarter of a century later, Fisher yet again finds himself in dire straits when it comes to special teams play.
After two costly turnovers in the return game led to fourteen points from the New York Jets last Sunday, many are questioning the decision making of the coaching staff. Much has been written about the Titans' as-yet-untapped potential on offense and defense, but football is a game of inches.
Field position is paramount. Trouble is, you have to be able to actually hold onto the ball to acquire it.
Tennessee swallowed their pride this week by re-signing return man Mark Jones, whom they cut about a month ago. But when your punt and kick return units rank 27th and 29th, respectively, just about any roster move is fair game.
"We're glad we got him," Fisher told The Daily News Source this week. "I think he'll solve the problem that we've had."
He'd better hope so. While no one in Nashville is calling for his job just yet, an 0-3 start tends to procure more than just a few sideways glances. Especially when considering the Titans' prior Super Bowl aspirations.
The good news for Tennessee is that Jones has years of experience in the return game.
"I am a return man...it's what I've been doing for my whole career now," Jones told the media after his re-signing. "I just want to make smart decisions, catch the ball, and try to make things happen."
Regarding the much-maligned return game, many pundits cited arrogance on the part of the coaching staff. Critics argued that more than just speedy rookies were needed for success; experience was crucial as well.
As it turned out, they were right. Lucky for the players and their fans, Titans' brass saw the err of their ways and have (hopefully) righted the wrong.
Another development occurred this week that, while not garnering as much press attention, has proven to be the classic "injury to insult" scenario.
Veteran punter Craig Hentrich was placed on injured reserve, effectively ruining his season. He injured his calf muscle Sept. 20.
Third-year journeyman Reggie Hodges takes his place.
One month ago, as the dawn of a season filled with promise loomed, the Titans' lack of experienced returners was but a mere afterthought. Now, three games and no wins in, it has come back to haunt with a vengeance.
With nearly a quarter of the season down, Tennessee can ill afford to have any more loose ends in need of tying.
Mr. Jones, the task is simple enough.
Hold on to the ball.
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