With training camp closed, one preseason game to go, and the first round of cuts underway (Jonathan Orr, we hardly knew ye), it's time we check in on the only acceptable NFL team to follow for all God-fearing Longhorns who wish to follow the true path and do the right thing, except perhaps for certain sects of Pentecostals, who are free to choose any other team they wish. I plan on tailgating someday and frankly I'm afraid of the scorpions. And the strychnine punch. In fact, you guys should probably just stick with the Cowboys, for fan diversity reasons if nothing else. Throw a few copperheads around on Saturday and you'll get a prime spot in the lot.
Trivia Question: Did you know that 9 former Longhorns play for the Titans? It's true. Ahmard Hall, Bo Scaife, Sneezy Beltran, and Michael Ungar, to name a few. Did you know that the secondary coach, Chuck Cecil, went from a walk-on to an All-American under Duane Akina at Arizona? Or that Norm Chow gave Gene Chizik a copy of the Trojan playbook in December 2005, simply to make that smug S.O.B. Pete Carroll look like
more of an ass? The tie-in's are legion.
If that's not enough to convince you that following The Titans is a moral and ethical imperative, an obligation, then I have two words for you, and I think you all know what those words are. A little someone responsible for the most stunning turn of events in Longhorn history. Yeah. You with me? I'm going to whisper them softly, you tell me the first thing that comes into your mind. Ready?...
I really didn't want to have to do that.
If there are any other obvious reasons for paying attention to the Titans I may have missed, please email them to me at HenryJames AT barkingcarnival dot com. Let's get started.
The Offseason: Offense
Much has been made of the Titan's lack of progress in the offseason, and by much I mean at least three articles spanning ten or twelve lines in The Tennessean. The interesting thing about following a small market, back-water NFL team is that you get to read the same few sentences all summer long, over and over and over. Volume wise it's the equivalent of a Masters Thesis in English Literature at OU. Sparse. Sometimes, to spice things up, you can watch Rich Eisen and Marshall Faulk spend a few seconds saying exactly the same thing you were fortunate enough to have already read several hundred times, before cutting to a deeply researched, engrossing one hour piece on whether the size of Eli Manning's uvula translates to a more forceful tone in the huddle. Not to imply that some markets receive disproportionate attention, quite the contrary. Who amongst us doesn't feel that Eli has earned it? Not a man jack of us, I'll wager. I merely point out that by comparison, the lack of breadth or depth of coverage for our Titans is impressive. No worries, I'll bring you up to speed.
The three main free agent losses this season: Drew Bennett, Bobby Wade, and Travis Henry, don't really matter whatsoever. I realize that this is all anyone can talk about, especially my annoying Texan office mate, the one who came out of hiding this offseason and is convinced they are set now with Matt "Schwab" at QB. I know... the two biggest receivers last season... young QB without a lot of talent around him... yeah, I get it. The problem with that take is that I actually watched the games. Bennett was tall, Wade was decent in the slot. That about sums it up. Though I did enjoy watching Wade's antics after the Houston game, jumping around, out of breath, screaming "VY! VY! I luddat man!" Great moment in cinema. Me too Bobby, me too.
I suppose I would be more concerned about the lack of a proven number one if I wasn't so distracted by the completions to 8 different receivers last week in one half of work, which of course sums up VY's attitude towards receivers pretty much since high school. Throw to the open one, regardless of his fantasy draft rank. Seems to work. If no one is open, run around until someone gets open, or pick up 14 yards running over some Colts before going out of bounds and trying again. Of course it would be nice to have a guy routinely drawing double coverage, but it isn't going to be a prerequisite for this team to move the chains. If you can't grasp that point by now then I really can't explain it for you.
Not only do the receivers not need to be exceptional, all they really need to do is be able to bring down a jump ball and hang onto it. To this end, Vince has devised some motivational tactics to encourage his young receivers, flying them around, learning their names, slapping scrub DB's who mistreat them, ripping out their windpipe when they run the wrong route, you know, leadership stuff. My prediction is that Brandon Jones, Roydell Williams, and veteran Eric Moulds start the season. Chris Davis will see time in the slot and on returns. Justin Gage is a back-up, and Joel Filani and Paul Williams are pipeline guys at this point. The other dark horse candidate for you underdog followers is Biren Ealy, literally plucked off a Houston practice field and thrown into the mix. There's one more cut coming today, hang in there Biren.
The other thing to consider is that this is a TE heavy offense, and the Titans have two good ones in Scaife and Troupe. Troupe has more talent, but Scaife has separated himself this preseason as Young's go-to guy, and ultimately that duo and the backs are what is going to make the offense go. The other two TE's are a couple of huge white dudes named Cramer and Hartsock, who block well and occasionally accidentally catch the ball when it lodges in their facemask. Which brings us to the other loss, Travis Henry. Henry is a one-cut back, has good vision and is very nasty after contact. He'll wreck shit in Denver's scheme. He's also very replaceable. Aside from cuckolding women across two NFL conferences and being one drug test away from suspension, he didn't really separate meaningfully from White and Brown last season until you-know-who lined up under center. The tandem of White and Brown are set to replace him, with Chris Henry as the odd man out at this point. If last season is any indication Fisher is going to activate those 2 of the 3 each game unless Chris Henry does something dramatic next week, or gets in on special teams. He's an interesting guy. High draft pick, measurables off the chart, good combination of power and speed. He has a nice initial burst, right into the back of Michael Roos. He's a project, and the first order of business appears to be working on opening both eyes simultaneously during a play. Fisher and Co. stressed due diligence on him prior to the draft, and I have some faith in that I suppose. Then again they did draft Andre Woolfolk in the first round, which is something of a punchline around here for other reasons.
The Oline returns intact from a rotation that was very productive after Zach Piller went down last season, an injury which improved the line play considerably. He's already been cut by the Lions for reference. The starting line up settled out as Roos, Stewart, Mawae, Olson and Bell, they picked up a center and tackle in the draft in Leroy Harris and Mike Otto. It's a solid group, one of the better lines in the AFC given the youth they have there. They pass block well and tend to get downfield when VY breaks one, which is nice. Rounding out the skill positions we have Hall at FB- he ran well in two games last season and caught the ball well out of the backfield, mainly used as a road grader in the two back set. Overall you're going to see a lot more shotgun and rollouts this season. I don't know what's on Chow's ipod, but judging from the first three preseason games VY has gotten into his head regarding the playbook. When you see Kerry Collins line up in shotgun the bulk of a game where he was named the late starter strange things are afoot. The guy actually dropped the ball in surprise a few times, since he's adjusted to the the ballcap and clipboard so well.
As far as VY, the Madden curse, the sophomore slump, the lack of playmakers, DC's scheming to stop him, his lack of focus following a ROY campaign, the lingering effects of El Nino and all of the other factors ostensibly lined up against him, it's all crap. He won 8 games last season without really understanding what the hell he was doing about half the time, coupled with the worst defense in the league. It amazes me that you can find someone still willing to doubt. This year he's going to continue to do what he's always done, spread the ball around as much as possible and get everyone involved until the game is on the line, then say fuck it and take over. One or two fourth quarter comebacks as a rookie is a coincidence. Four is a pattern. At some point it's a perpetual fait accompli. It is a team game, true, but the difference now is that when the team wins everyone is happy, because Vince is happy. When they lose they take turns pulling his shoes out of the wall and avoiding eye contact. He's going to have around a 58% completion percentage, throw 22 TD's and run for 750+ yards and 12 more, and none of it will matter, because he's also going to win 11 games in the regular season and take the Titans to the playoffs.
Bold statement? Maybe. Next week we'll take a look at why the defense will be top 15 and the deeper philosophical implications of Fisher's change in facial hair.