AFC South: Tennessee Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With a new staff in place, plenty of Tennessee Titans have to show what they can do in order to earn a chance to be around long-term.

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
That comes on top of the final year of Casey’s rookie deal, which calls for a $1.431 million base salary. He was a third-round pick out of USC in 2011.

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. -- Barring an injury to a starting tackle or guard in the next 10 days, Tennessee Titans first-round pick Taylor Lewan is primed to be playing on special teams and a spectator when the offense is on the field when the team opens the season in Kansas City on Sept. 7.

“It’s not over 'til it’s over, so I’ll keep competing,” he said on Tuesday.

Lewan
But if that is the way it plays out?

“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.”
Most significant move: There really isn’t one. Linebacker Jonathan “Tig” Willard pulled people out of a burning car on his way to camp a year ago. Cornerback Micah Pellerin was a waiver claim from Dallas last year. But no one on the list of the first cuts was expected to make this roster.

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.
ESPN.com Insider Mike Sando asked a broad range of NFL people -- eight current general managers, four former GMs, four personnel directors, four executives, six coordinators and four position coaches -- to provide a 1-5 rating for every head coach in the league.

Those votes landed coaches in one of five tiers.

Whisenhunt
Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt landed in the third tier, tied for 20th with San Diego’s Mike McCoy.

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.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- From early on in his first offseason working with Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff, Jake Locker said he felt empowered.

There were, and still are, questions about the Titans' quarterback.

Locker
But rather than breathing life into those doubts, Whisenhunt wasted little time showing confidence in the quarterback. It seems to me that has been a key in Locker's progress. And while we tend to make too much of preseason developments, Locker's been good.

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.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Derek Hagan has seven credited NFL seasons and Brian Robiskie has five.

Robiskie
Hagan
The two veteran receivers have fared better than I expected when the Titans brought them in over the summer, but indications are that the Titans could wind up looking for outside help to supply receiver depth after they cut to 53 by Saturday.

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.
Examining the Tennessee Titans' roster.

QUARTERBACKS (3)

If all are healthy, Locker starts and Whitehurst is the backup on game days with Mettenberger not dressed, at least at the beginning.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

Battle beats Collin Mooney because he can carry the ball and is a good special teams player.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)

The first three are locks, and after that it's wide open. I don't think they feel real good about Preston, Hagan, Brian Robiskie or Marc Mariani right now and think they will scour the waiver wire to see if they can do better.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Walker has said he expects to play on the line more and Stevens is a blocker. Thompson now ranks as a lock. Chase Coffman would be fourth, but I'm not ready to give them four.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

A starting caliber tackle is on the bench (at this point, Lewan). That means Stingily is less needed than backups for the interior such as Spencer (who's hurt) and Olsen. But Stingily gets my last spot right now as he's a better player than Robiskie, Mariani or Moise Fokou.

DEFENSIVE LINE (7)
Lavar Edwards doesn't make it, and Antonio Johnson's time lost to a knee injury has allowed the Titans to see they are fine at nose with Hill as the starter and Jones and Woods able to play there as well. Klug isn't a great fit for the system, but he's one of the Titans' best 53 players. Martin has missed a good deal of time with a bad hamstring, which is allowing others more time to show what they can do.

LINEBACKERS (9)
Colin McCarthy recently had shoulder surgery and will land on IR. Fokou doesn't seem a system fit. Neither does Bailey, but he's getting the final spot now because of his special-teams capabilities.

CORNERBACK (5)

Campbell has settled down some. Depth here is insufficient after the top three, and I think the Titans should be looking for outside help at cut time. For now Campbell stays because he can force fair catches, and he outranks the inconsistent rookie Huff, who also looks to be a good special teamer and is a roster lock as a fourth-round rookie.

SAFETY (4)

Stafford now appears to be a lock as Pollard's backup. I've actually liked Khalid Wooten's practice work at corner and he could be a swing defensive back.

PUNTER (1)

A solid guy who had a bit of an off year in 2013.

KICKER (1)
Maikon Bonani's big leg makes him intriguing. He was good in Atlanta. Overall, Coons has less leg but is more accurate. And his trajectory issue appears to be getting better. They could well turn to an outsider before the season starts.

LONG-SNAPPER (1)

There has not been much chatter about a position player snapping, but it still surprises me a team would dedicate 1/53rd of the roster to the position.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Zach Mettenberger has played a very solid three games in the preseason so far.

He’s hit on 68.6 percent of his passes at 9.88 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and two interceptions, four sacks and 97.2 passer rating.

The Titans are pleased.

But their quarterback depth chart has not changed.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Mark Humphrey/AP PhotoBarring an injury situation, the Titans pecking order at quarterback will be: Jake Locker folllowed by Charlie Whitehurst followed by Zach Mettenberger, above.
Backup Charlie Whitehurst didn’t play Saturday in Atlanta because of an injured pinkie on his throwing hand. But his limited preseason work has also been good -- 68.9 percent, 9.02 yards per attempt, a touchdown, no interceptions and two sacks for a passer rating of 105.6.

“Zach is (getting) more comfortable," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I still think at times he struggles with some things. Which is not uncommon for a young player. It’s been invaluable, the amount of reps that we’ve gotten him and how he’s performed. I think it’s been fantastic.

“He’s done a good job, he’s really made some plays for us. I think some things that really stand out about Zach is he’s got a good pocket presence, he’s made some accurate throws. It was nice to see him throw balls only to our team last night. He’s taking advantage of his opportunities to improve. That’s good to see.”

But with all of that, Whitehurst remains the guy the Titans will turn to if Locker goes down.

I asked if it’s in the realm of possibility that Mettenberger would be the backup on Sept. 7 in Kansas City.

“Unless it was an injury situation, no,” Whisenhunt said. “Charlie’s had a very good preseason, too, and a very good camp. And I’ve said Charlie was the two coming in. I don’t think that’s going to change. I think we’re very lucky that we’ve got a group of quarterbacks that we feel comfortable with.”

A good percentage of fans won’t like that.

I know it’s hard not to get caught up in a shiny new thing. And watching Mettenberger throw is fun. He's got a tremendous arm and has anticipated pretty well. But Whitehurst has been better than I expected and it makes sense, if you’ve got to insert a cold backup without much practice work, for it to be a guy who’s got more experience in, and understanding of, the team’s offensive system.

If the Titans need a long-term sub then Mettenberger should be considered, and I expect he will be, particularly if that need comes later rather than sooner.

For a game-day insert, Whitehurst is the right choice at this point.

Things can evolve to be different, but not based on Mettenberger’s work against mostly third-teamers in August.

Whisenhunt’s been intentionally -- and I would argue, unreasonably -- vague about playing time plans in advance of preseason games. He left open the possibility Mettenberger will start the preseason finale against Minnesota at LP Field Thursday night.

I can’t see it.

While Jake Locker is in a good spot, he talked after the game in Atlanta about how the offense still needed to communicate better. The offense isn’t at a point where it would not benefit from the starting quarterback and offense getting a bit more work together.

We don’t know if Whitehurst’s finger will allow his return or be best served by another game off.

Either way, Mettenberger will play a lot on Thursday.

And then he and Whitehurst won’t play for a good while if things break the way the Titans are hoping they will.
The Tennessee Titans wrap up their preseason schedule Thursday night at LP Field against the Minnesota Vikings.

A crisper effort by the first team would do a lot to help the Titans be ready for Sept. 7 against the Chiefs in Kansas City.

Sankey
One concern I see for the offense at this point is the lack of first-team reps for Bishop Sankey in a game setting. He put his recent fumbling issues behind him in Atlanta, with 16 carries for 44 yards coming without incident.

But all those carries came from handoffs from Zach Mettenberger.

And none of his carries on a regular-season Sunday should come from Mettenberger.

Sure, he gets work with Locker in practices. But the running back-by-committee approach is going to be working for the Titans this season. To ensure Sankey is as ready as possible, he needs to feel what it’s like to work against a front-line defense behind what should be a top offensive line.

The Titans have a chance to give him that against the Vikings, along with some work with Locker in a live setting.

Locker said the offense still needs to work on communication and focus.

I think it would also benefit from Sankey getting a little work with the starters before they are pulled.

Observation Deck: Tennessee Titans

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
11:45
PM ET

ATLANTA -- The Titans were not crisp enough for coach Ken Whisenhunt early during their 24-17 win in Atlanta, and Whisenhunt let them know about it at halftime.

Some starters on defense played through the third quarter as punishment.

"I was pissed,” Whisenhunt said. "I was upset. I was asked this question earlier, about how long they were going to play, and I said some of it was performance-based. We started off the game too tentative. To give up slants and third downs and let them run all the way down the field on us. We don't do that in practice. So I was upset about that. But they responded. ... I think they got the message now.”

Bernard Pollard missed a chance to stop Devin Hester short of the goal line on a 31-yard catch-and-run TD and followed Coty Sensabaugh's missed tackle with one of his own on Julio Jones's 52-yard scoring play.

Pollard said Whisenhunt was understandably upset and that those two slants killed the Titans -- accounting for 14 of 17 points and 83 of Matt Ryan's 224 passing yards.

Here are some other thoughts on the Titans' second preseason game:
  • Jake Locker was quite good, completing 12 of 17 passes for 188 yards and a 63-yard touchdown to Nate Washington. He had a 126.6 passer rating. He missed one deep shot where Washington was open in the end zone. Pressure was on him, but he could have thrown earlier. He had a great 12 yard scamper on a second-and-17 and a 7-yard dart to Leon Washington in one sequence that really stood out to me as illustrative of how he can hurt defenses.
  • Whisenhunt said the offense didn't do enough to help Locker. "We didn't run the ball effectively enough, I think we made too many mistakes, we had a tremendous amount of plays out there that we left on the field because we didn't run the right routes, we didn't get lined up correctly," he said. "I don't understand that. That's another thing I was irritated about.”
  • The Titans starting defense has given up a touchdown on the opening series of all three preseason games. "I don't care about that,” Whisenhunt said. "What I care about is us getting better.”
  • Running back Shonn Greene tried to help save a play blown up by blitzing Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow. That play, however, wasn't Greene's responsibility. Worrilow looped around and between center Brian Schwenke and left guard Andy Levitre and sacked Locker. Schwenke said they could have reacted faster, but were dealing with more dangerous players first and that it was a well-designed and executed blitz. Later, Greene missed a block in pass protection that got Locker sacked by cornerback Robert Alford.
  • Maikon Bonani had a solid kicking night, with 44- and 51-yard field goals, a PAT, a touchback out of the end zone and two other deep kickoffs. Travis Coons didn't kick off as well and hit a 39-yarder. He was well short on a 63-yarder just before the half that was as much to test the field goal unit on a return situation as anything.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s early, for sure. We don’t know the 53-man roster. We won’t see the Tennessee Titans in action using a real scheme until Sept. 7 in Kansas City.

Acknowledging those caveats, I look at this team right now and think: It’s got to be an offensive football team.

I’ve said that at times in the past, that they needed to be, that they should be, that they had to be.

Things with this franchise in Nashville have always reverted to defense.

Longtime head coach Jeff Fisher was a defensive guy. While his successor, Mike Munchak, is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, the overall tone didn’t change much in the last three seasons. That was part of why a change happened.

Things are different a lot of ways now.

Ken Whisenhunt came to Nashville with an extensive offensive background and a reputation as a clever playcaller able to get the most out of players.

The Titans have dedicated major resources in the last couple years to the offensive line, to pass-catchers, to running back.

The Titans should block well, they should pass protect well, they should catch and run well.

There is less to see/expect/count on from the defense.

This needs to be, should be, has to be an offensive football team.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Neither Coty Sensabaugh nor Blidi Wreh-Wilson has stood out in a way that suggests one is the clear leader as the Tennessee Titans sort out the pecking order at cornerback opposite Jason McCourty.

Both will play, as both will be part of the nickel package and the Titans will field five defensive backs plenty.

I suspect Sensabaugh will play the nickel. He has experience there and seems to have a feel for playing the spot, which is a lot different than playing outside.

Sensabaugh
But playing inside in sets with five defensive backs doesn’t mean he couldn’t play outside in base. (And it's possible it could go the same way for BWW.)

“I would actually love that; I actually prefer it to a nickel coming in off the bench,” Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “What it means is the guy is pretty smart and pretty athletic. Not only can he run with the Megatrons and the A.J. Greens and all these big wide receivers, but they can also get down and run with the Wes Welkers and the smaller guys.”

Sensabaugh said he likes the idea of shifting inside to nickel from a corner spot, as he’d already be in the flow when he moved to the slot.

“If you have a guy who’s capable of that, I think it’s a really good thing,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind doing that because I like playing both positions. …

“It was tough for me my rookie year, because normally the first snap I would come in would be third down. I’d normally be in the slot receiver and they would normally go to him on that first play.”

Versatility remains a big theme for corners in the system Horton has brought to the Titans.

“We have a couple corners, maybe three, maybe four, that can play corner, that can play nickel, that can play safety,” Horton said. “That is ideal to me. When they want to go multiple wide receivers, I can bring a corner inside or I can put him back at safety.

"That’s my dream corner, that he’s smart enough and agile enough to play inside, outside or deep. We have that right now. We have three of them in training (Sensabaugh, Wreh-Wilson and fourth-rounder Marqueston Huff) and Tommie Campbell is coming along where he may be the fourth.”

Ken Whisenhunt said there is no deadline for when the staff will decide who will play which role.

Sensabaugh said he doesn’t really see an end to the competition for spots, roles and playing time.

“Both players are talented and we have some other guys that can play,” he said. “It’s going to be a season-long thing.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ken Whisenhunt and Charlie Whitehurst aren’t ready to declare the Tennessee Titans' No. 2 quarterback out for Saturday’s game at Atlanta.

But Whitehurst has not practiced since injuring the pinkie on his throwing hand on Friday night against the Saints in New Orleans.

He was vague about what’s wrong with it in a way his coach will surely appreciate.

“It’s just sore right now, it is pretty sore,” he said. “It’s not broken. There is some stuff going on, but hopefully it’ll be quick.”

As for his status for Atlanta, he said: “I can’t really say either way, but I think you guys can figure that out.”

Without Whitehurst the Titans will go straight from Jake Locker to rookie Zach Mettenberger.

It's a pinkie on a backup quarterback and he said it won't be a regular-season issue. In the meantime, more Mettenberger, which is a good thing.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tim Shaw joined a growing NFL fraternity when he revealed he has ALS.

He joined former NFL players O.J. Brigance, Steve Gleason and Kevin Turner, who also have the disease.

“I don’t blame football,” Shaw said.

But there are more NFL players suffering the ravages of the illness. In 2010, HBO’s Real Sports reported that 14 former NFL players had ALS. That same year the New York Times reported:

...(A) leading journal of neuropathology, however, suggests that the demise of athletes like (Lou) Gehrig and soldiers given a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, might have been catalyzed by injuries only now becoming understood: concussions and other brain trauma.”


Wednesday the entire Tennessee Titans team and many members of the support staff took the Ice Bucket Challenge in front of Shaw.

Later, on the Nashville radio show I co-host, Shaw said players should know if they are putting themselves at any additional risk, and he hopes studies will ultimately offer that information.

Two Titans who played with Shaw discussed the risks that come with the game.

“With the way this game is, there could be a connection to a lot of things,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “Hopefully they can find some kind of connection -- anything that could help guys, you just never know. It’s definitely possible...

“I don’t know if you can correlate football to (ALS). I’m sure this doesn’t help it. But there are a lot of risks in this game. You can’t let anybody fool you, we all know enough of them and we all know you’re doing something to your body that’s not good. You can’t say you didn’t know something could happen to you, not necessarily something that bad, obviously. But you put your body through a lot of stuff and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Said cornerback Jason McCourty: “It’s a rough, violent sport. We all enjoy the game, we love to play and we kind of know what we signed up for when we take part. It is what it is.”

McCourty saw Shaw Sunday night at a charity event held by linebacker Moise Fokou, then learned Tuesday night of Shaw’s diagnosis.

“Now for Shaw, he’s fighting a different battle,” McCourty said. “As teammates, former teammates, all we can do is encourage him and be there when he needs us.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A couple members of the Tennessee Titans have done the Ice Bucket Challenge to help raise funds and awareness for ALS.

But there has not been large-scale participation, and Tuesday evening we learned the reason: The team has been waiting for an announcement from former Titans linebacker and special-teamer Tim Shaw that he has been diagnosed with the disease, and players are expected to answer his challenge soon, collectively.

Shaw revealed his diagnosis in a short video posted on the team’s website, then challenged the Titans, the Penn State football team and the community where he went to high school, Clarenceville (Mich.).

Shaw was a popular role player in Tennessee after the Titans added him and Patrick Bailey before the 2010 season in hopes of bolstering their special teams.

Shaw is a proud Penn State alumnus who willingly discussed Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky and the sexual abuse scandal that unfolded on campus and landed Sandusky in jail.

His diagnosis is terrible news, but he has quickly put himself in position to help the cause. The Ice Bucket Challenge is raising awareness of the disease and helping to raise funds to research a cure.

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