Lost amid theflood of negative Pacman Jones headlines in the last five months is the seriesof off-season moves the Titans made to mitigate his absence. Even before theAll-Pro cornerback was hit with his seasonlong suspension, Tennessee had signedveteran free-agent corner Nick Harper away from the Super Bowl champion Colts.After Jones was grounded by commissioner Roger Goodell for a potpourri ofoff-field incidents, the Titans selected Texas safety Michael Griffin in thefirst round of the draft (he was subsequently moved to corner) and thensnatched up another free-agent corner with Super Bowl experience, six-yearveteran Kelly Herndon, late of the Seahawks. Jones's big-play ability (hereturned three punts and one interception for touchdowns) will be hard toreplace, but the reinforcements--teamed with holdovers Chris Hope at strongsafety, Calvin Lowry at free safety and corner Reynaldo Hill--shoulddramatically improve a defense that in 2006 ranked 27th against the pass anddead last overall.
On offense theTitans lost their leading rusher, Travis Henry, and top two receivers, DrewBennett and Bobby Wade, to free agency, but they helped themselves by signingreceiver Eric Moulds. A late acquisition--he signed two days before campstarted--Moulds gives Tennessee a sure-handed target and a steadying influenceon a young offensive unit.
While Moulds, 34,is not the explosive downfield threat he was in his Pro Bowl heyday with theBills, the 6' 2", 210-pound veteran is a disciplined route runner who canput pressure on a defense and open up opportunities for third-year pros BrandonJones, who caught a team-high four scoring passes last season, Roydell Williamsand Bo Scaife. "A lot of people are saying we don't have big-namereceivers," says the Titans' big-name quarterback, Vince Young, the '06Offensive Rookie of the Year, "but these guys are gonna make a name forthemselves."
Moulds, who isentering his 12th pro season, must prove that he can still be productive. His'06 totals--57 catches for 557 yards--were his worst since his second year inthe league. Released by the Texans in February, he languished for five monthsbefore the Titans finally came calling. Moulds's deal (one year at $820,000,the veterans' minimum for a player with 10 or more years of experience)guarantees him nothing more than a chance for redemption.
So far, so good.Moulds effortlessly won a starting job just days into camp, eagerly became amentor to his fellow wideouts and has quickly found a chemistry with Young,whose development has impressed Moulds. "He's already giving hand signals.Generally, you see a quarterback in his fifth or sixth year do that," saysMoulds, who was equally taken with Young's ability to read defenses. "It'sgetting to the point where he'll be like Peyton Manning and make his owncalls."
For Young tocontinue to develop, though, he'll need a running game. Tennessee had theleague's No.¬†5 rushing attack a year ago, behind All-Pro center KevinMawae and one of the best offensive lines in the league, but the Titanssuffered a serious blow when they failed to re-sign Henry, who joined theBroncos after rushing for 1,211 yards in 2006. Chris Brown and LenDale Whiteare the front-runners to replace him, with the winner expected to get at least70% of the carries.
Brown, who humblyreturned to the Titans after receiving little interest in free agency, has theedge in experience (four years to White's one), career yards (2,295 to 244,including 1,067 in 2004) and, by all appearances in camp, work ethic. But sinceBrown has never stayed healthy for a full season, expect White to emerge as theteam's workhorse at some point this fall. At his best White is a bruisingrunner who delivers more blows than he absorbs. At his worst he's anundisciplined liability. After a stellar career at USC he slipped to the secondround in the '06 draft because of character and weight issues, and thisoff-season there were reports that he had ballooned to more than 260 pounds."There was no excuse for me being overweight," says the now 241-poundWhite, whose struggles prompted the Titans to select Arizona running back ChrisHenry in the second round of the draft as insurance. "But I also tookresponsibility for working myself back into shape, for coming into [training]camp on time and being healthy."
If White regainshis lost luster, Tennessee might be able to end its playoff drought. Over theyears the Titans have proved to be one of the NFL's most resilient teams, butthe league's schedule-makers did them no favors this year: They have two gamesagainst the division-rival Colts, road trips to play the Saints, the Broncosand the Bengals, and a home date versus the Chargers. Still, should they makeit through October (Atlanta, at Tampa, at Houston, Oakland) unscathed, theymight have enough momentum to sneak into the postseason for the first timesince 2003.
Those headlines,the Titans could be proud of.
COACH JEFF FISHER(105-93 in NFL), 14th season with Titans
ERIC MOULDS"NEW ACQUISITION"
HT 6' 7"
HT 6' 4"
HT 6' 4"
HT 6' 4"
HT 6' 7"
SACKS 1 1‚ÅÑ2
SACKS 6 1‚ÅÑ2
SACKS 2 1‚ÅÑ2
NICK HARPER"NEW ACQUISITION"
RYAN FOWLER"NEW ACQUISITION"
MICHAEL GRIFFIN(R) "NEW ACQUISITION"
> 2006 RECORD8-8 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 5/30/27 DEFENSE 30/27/32
(R) Rookie (college statistics)
2006 RECORD 8-8NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 5/30/27 DEFENSE 30/27/32
9 at Jacksonville
24 at New Orleans (M)
14 at Tampa Bay
21 at Houston
19 at Denver (M)
25 at Cincinnati
9 SAN DIEGO
16 at Kansas City
23 N.Y. JETS
30 at Indianapolis
NFL rank 4
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .520
Games against playoff teams 6
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ENEMY LINES AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THETITANS
> I absolutely love Vince Young. I think he's adifference-maker. I like the way he runs, I like the way he throws, I like theway he has progressed. He was the right player to take as the first piece ofthe puzzle. . . . Now they need some more pieces to help him. You look at theirreceivers, and it's kind of slim pickings there. At running back, I wouldn'tcount on LenDale White. . . . Defensively, they've got a great coordinator inJim Schwartz. He's doing some good things on that side of the ball. Kyle VandenBosch is a great defensive end, and Albert Haynesworth is a good defensivetackle. . . . The secondary is not supertalented, and that's a problem when youhave to play Indianapolis twice every year.
THE KING 500
Harper might seem an awkward fit for the Titans'man-coverage scheme, given his six years of experience in the Colts' Cover Twozone. In fact, though, he is more comfortable matching up with a receiver."I thought Indy was going to cut me because I was locking in on one personand jumping routes while the ball was just going over my head," saysHarper, who should feel more at home now.
Young will be a one-man show if some of his teammates don'tdevelop.