There is little doubt the Titans will look towards free agency and the NFL Draft to strengthen their defensive line, and it’s a good year to do it, says Titans GM Ruston Webster.
“I think it’s a really good crop. Defensive line in general, I think is good,” Webster said. “Typically, those guys are going to be in the first round because everybody needs them. They’re rare birds. Outside of quarterback, the one position that’s the toughest to build, and the one position where you have to be really strong in order to win consistently, is up front on the defensive line and the offensive line.”
The Titans could use the help. They struck gold on defensive tackles Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug in last year’s draft, but are thin at defensive end with William Hayes, Jason Jones and Dave Ball set to become free agents.
“It’s definitely a need,” head coach Mike Munchak said. “Derrick Morgan is really the only guy playing a lot who is under contract, so that’s definitely an area we’re going to have to look at from both ends — in free agency and the draft. And when the smoke clears, we’ll have some good defensive ends. It’s a matter of where they’re going to come from.”
Munchak would like to possess a combination of veteran leadership and young talent at defensive end. Webster covets a playmaker, similar to what the Titans had in Jevon Kearse back in 1999.
“He changed things,” Webster said of Kearse. “When I was in Tampa, we had Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp. They made everybody else around them better. Those type of special rushers really can affect your defense. They help the guys on the back end, and if you can get a lead on people and rush the passer, you’ve got a great chance to win.”
Munchak spoke of the special player he’d love to find either in free agency or April’s draft.
“You’d like to have a guy that the offense is worried about, a guy that when there’s two minutes left can take the game over, knock the ball out of the quarterback’s hands and win it for you,” he said. “I think we’re looking for those kinds of guys, someone on the edges that can create those kinds of problems for an offense.”
Tags: Derrick Morgan, Mike Munchak, Ruston Webster
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For the Titans, the re-signing of Hawkins ensures that they will have one more veteran in their wide receiver corps, another player who will know the offense the minute that the team steps back onto the field in April. Because of the way Hawkins played last November and December, that is a good thing.
For Hawkins, the rationale in why he wanted to re-sign with the Titans shows his continuing maturity, a maturity that is evident on and off the field.
That is significant because that maturity wasn’t always evident.
After a 2009 practice, Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger was frustrated with Hawkins’ play. That frustration was obvious in one particular segment of practice, as Heimerdinger thought Hawkins might have some opportunities to contribute during an approaching game. Hawkins’ work on the practice field, however, did not inspire confidence in the veteran coach.
In our weekly production meeting with Heimerdinger, I asked the coach about what happened, trying to gain some insight into his view of Lavelle Hawkins.
Heimerdinger smiled the frustrated smile that many of us do as parents.
Heimerdinger liked Hawkins. It’s virtually impossible not to like the affable Hawkins. Heimerdinger wanted to see him succeed. He saw potential in the former California Bear. He saw the flashes of Hawkins’ talent.
But to paraphrase Heimerdinger, he could not trust Hawkins to be where he was supposed to be on certain plays. And so from 2008-2010, Hawkins only got on the field enough to catch 19 passes.
In 2011, a season-ending injury to Kenny Britt moved all of the receivers up one spot. That meant chances for everyone, including Hawkins. Sensing that this was his big moment, Hawkins made the most of his chance.
Hawkins caught at least one pass in the Titans’ final 15 games. Of his 47 catches, 23 went for first downs. 207 of his 470 receiving yards came after the catch. He scored his first career touchdown against Cincinnati.
Lavelle Hawkins had proven to be reliable.
In our final production of meeting of 2010, offensive coordinator Chris Palmer praised several of the Titans’ receivers for their improvement during 2011. Palmer heaped lavish praise on Hawkins because of number 87’s improvement throughout the season.
Chris Palmer was proud of Lavelle Hawkins. Mike Heimerdinger would have been, too.
Hawkins’ 2011 season was four years in the making.
He gets what it took to get there and clearly understands what it will take to build on it. That’s why he re-signed with the Titans.
Hawkins could have rolled the dice and chosen to head into free agency next month. Maybe some team would have offered him a bigger contract and a bigger role. Maybe not.
But instead of spending the next month wondering where he might be in 2012, instead of taking trips in March, instead of seeing if he could get an extra couple hundred grand in salary, instead of trying to learn a new offense—Hawkins made it clear that he wanted to stay with the Tennessee Titans.
Impressive. A player who realizes that the grass—and the money—isn’t always greener somewhere else.
More impressive, a player who realizes that he needs to keep working if he’s going to reach his potential. His rationale in making the decision leads one to believe that he’s going to keep getting better.
Here’s what we know about NFL receiving corps—you need as many good players as possible. Guys are going to get hurt. Guys are going to get double-teamed. Guys are going to have off-days. The more good players that you have in the group, the better off that you are.
Ask the Giants. It wasn’t their star wide receivers who made the big catches in their two recent Super Bowl wins.
Not only did David Tyree have the miraculous, hold-the-ball-against-helmet catch to set up the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII, but he also caught a touchdown pass earlier in the game. Tyree caught four passes for 35 yards during the 2007 regular season and never caught another pass after that Super Bowl.
This year’s Super Bowl hero, Mario Manningham, is much more accomplished than Tyree, but he was an unlikely hero on the game’s final drive for the Giants. His phenomenal 38 yard catch to spark Big Blue overshadowed an injury-plagued season that saw him catch just 39 passes and lose his starting spot.
It takes a bunch of receivers to make it work. It takes stars and role players. It takes fast guys and guys who know who to run routes. It takes five or six good football players who do different things.
Hawkins has proven that he is a good football player. He did it with hard work. He earned it.
The Titans may well add more talent at wide receiver through free agency and/or the draft. One more guy with extreme speed certainly would not hurt the Titans offense. I think personnel people call them “weapons”. Another “weapon” couldn’t hurt.
But Lavelle Hawkins’ decision to stay with the Titans and the Titans’ decision to bring him back is a win-win for the Tennessee offense right now.
Tags: Lavelle Hawkins
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However, he took time out of his schedule to connect with Titans season ticket holders on Tuesday, spending 45 minutes on a conference call that covered topics ranging from the team’s approach to free agency and the NFL Draft, to the progress of wide receiver Kenny Britt and recent rumors swirling around Colts QB Peyton Manning.
Tags: Ruston Webster
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As afternoon turned to evening on November 26, 2006, you could have located no man, woman or child who would have ever believed that Eli Manning would later win two Super Bowls, outdueling one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in both.
At that moment, Eli Manning was barely hanging on to his job as the New York Giants quarterback.
The Giants had just blown a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead at LP Field, losing to the Tennessee Titans in dramatic fashion, 24-21. In the game, Manning was incredibly shaky, especially in the fourth quarter. He threw for just 143 yards in the game and his two interceptions in the final fifteen minutes were crucial to the amazing Titans comeback/Giants collapse.
At that moment, Eli Manning wasn’t a bust, but he seemed close. His signalcalling draft mates from 2004, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers, both appeared to be much better quarterbacks.
In the sports megatron that is New York, Eli Manning could find few friends.
Today, barely more than five years later, he is now “Mr. Fourth Quarter,” a mix of Willis Reed, Derek Jeter and Joe Namath — a two-time Super Bowl winner who has beaten Tom Brady head-to-head twice and outplayed him in both title games.
What a game, this NFL football.
In the latest Harris Poll that asks Americans “What is your favorite sport?”, NFL football ranked #1 again. It has been that way every year that Harris has asked the question since 1985.
There are lots of reasons to love the NFL, but two come to the surface.
First, any team truly can beat any other team on any given Sunday. The NFL is predictably unpredictable. We love that.
Second, all that really matters is the Super Bowl.
Life is complicated, we have very little “simple” in what we do. The NFL is simple — win the Super Bowl and nothing else matters.
Giants fans had to keep that in mind on December 11, when they trailed the Cowboys, 34-22, with 5:41 left in the game. Big Blue was on its way to its fifth straight loss and was going to miss the playoffs again. If you believe what you read and heard, Tom Coughlin was going to get fired. Eli Manning’s one Super Bowl win was just that, one Super Bowl win.
But Manning rallied the Giants and they won that Sunday night game in dramatic fashion. Two weeks later, they handled the hated Jets. The following week, they eliminated the Cowboys and made the playoffs.
You know the rest of the story.
Any given Sunday.
Super Bowls are all that matter.
And a team that was dead at 10:15 p.m. on December 11 is the World Champion on February 5.
What a game, this NFL football.
November 26, 2006 was a nightmare at LP Field for Eli Manning and the Giants. After that crushing loss to the Titans, few would have ever believed that Manning would become what he has become.
But he has and it is hard not to be pleased for the youngest of the Manning brothers. We will probably get tired of the story quickly, as we will be awash in “Eli Love” for the next few days and weeks. Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian will get a break.
For Manning and the Giants, this is the end of the season. For everyone else in the NFL, it is a beginning.
Welcome to the 2012.
You can dream any NFL dream that you wish, starting today.
As Eli Manning and the Giants have learned, your past — both distant and recent — doesn’t matter any more when the page is turned.
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New Titans GM Ruston Webster was the guest speaker today at the Golden Bison Luncheon on the campus of Lipscomb University. He addressed a group of strong supporters of Lipscomb’s athletic program, offering his thoughts on several topics relating to his new role with the team, the direction of the club and the type of players he and his staff will be looking for in free agency and the upcoming NFL Draft.
Here are a few highlights:
(on his philosophy of building the team)
“You have to have a solid foundation with the right type of guys and players that work hard and are dedicated to football. They have to be tough and smart. I know that’s what Mike Munchak wants. It’s important to him that we have solid guys to do the things he wants them to do and buy into what he does.
As a team, I want us to get back to being the old Titans. I remember when I was with the Bucs, when we played the Titans, they played a fast, aggressive, nasty defense. They were physical and they could run the ball. They were always a tough outing. That’s what I’d like for us to get back to – that kind of style of play. Mike Munchak feels the same way. He was here during all of that. That’s really what I want to see us be.”
(on that style of play helping the Titans get back to the playoffs)
“We haven’t won a playoff game in a long time – since the 2003 season. It’s time for us to win a playoff game and go further. And for us to do that, you’ve got to be that type of team. For all the passing yards and great quarterback stats this year, when it came down to it in the NFC Championship game, it was the New York Giants tough, old-school football and it was the San Francisco 49ers tough, old-school football. To get to the playoffs and win, you have to be able to go in the cold weather and run the ball.”
(on the challenge of free agency)
“Unfortunately the business side gets in the way sometimes. You can’t keep everybody you would like to and you have to make tough decisions. Those decisions are not always easy and they’re definitely not always popular. For the most part, I feel like when we make our decisions, and in the past when we made our decisions, we had all the information. You just do the best for your team and for your owner. I think we’ll draft well and continue to build a good, young core.”
(on what his immediate goals are to build the team)
“My immediate goal is to help improve our offensive line and our defensive front seven. That’s going to be our focus moving forward into free agency and the draft. If we can do that – get a little bit more of a pass rush and run the ball a little better — I think we’ll be okay.”
(on Jake Locker’s potential)
“I think we have a good, young quarterback in Jake Locker who just has natural leadership ability, and he brings that toughness and type of temperament in his game. I think you’ll see our guys rally around that.
I was with the Seahawks when Jake started playing at the University of Washington, so I saw Jake play probably two or three games a year all through his junior year until I came here. Jake was a star the minute he stepped on campus at Washington because everybody knew who he was. He was a high-profiled recruit from a little town – Ferndale, Washington – who wanted to stay and play for a state school. He was loved and revered there. You could see early on that he had talent. He has a lot of physical skills and he’s continued to develop his skills as a quarterback. He works so hard at it.
That’s the other thing. He kind of has that ‘it’ factor and people rally to him, gravitate to him. He’s a good guy. He’s solid, and he cares about his teammates and they feel that. We were interviewing a linebacker who got drafted in the third round by the Bucs who played at the University of Washington with Jake and we asked him about Jake – like we do with other players when we ask about their teammates because players know players. If they don’t like their teammate, then there’s probably some issue there. He said, ‘I’ll tell you about Jake Locker.’ He said he would drive from one end of the town to the other to pick up a teammate that didn’t have a car or was having car trouble – and Seattle’s a big city – to get him to workout. That’s leadership, and that’s one of the big reasons we drafted him.”
(on working with Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden in Tampa)
“Tony changed everything because he brought stability to an organization that didn’t have any. He came in with a plan and executed the plan, no matter what anybody said. Tony just did the right thing. His decisions were made based on what he thought was right for the organization and for his team. And then as a person, I’ve been around a lot of guys, coaches and people in high positions and Tony treated everybody the same. No matter what your position was, you never felt like you had to get loud to get your point across. You just had to let him know and he was going to listen and he was going to make his decision. He was awesome in that way, and he, in my mind really saved the organization because of the stability he brought. And then we got good players in there and they all bought into him and loved him. One of the unfortunate things was we couldn’t quite get to the Super Bowl and so Tony was let go, which was unfortunate. It did work out for us when Jon (Gruden) came in and we had always struggled on offense and Jon got the offense going. Jon brought juice to the offense and to the team. He made it to where he put the offense on equal footing to the defense and they challenged each other and it made us really good. They were different guys. Jon’s a good friend and a great guy. It was enjoyable. There was a contrast, but I’ll always look back fondly on both. I learned a lot from both of them.”
Tags: Ruston Webster
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One of the great people in this business is leaving the Titans today.
Senior assistant coach Dave McGinnis is joining former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher’s staff in St. Louis as assistant head coach. McGinnis has been with the Titans since 2004 when he signed on as linebackers coach.
Like most coaches, McGinnis burned the midnight oil here at Baptist Sports Park. But he was never too busy to talk to staff members, getting to know each of them and often taking time to simply stop by and say hello. His door was always open.
He would ask about your family, reminisce and tell stories from his 27 years in the NFL — or even offer up a great restaurant tip in a town you might be visiting — all the while getting his players prepared for the upcoming game.
McGinnis told The Tennessean he’ll miss the people within the organization and the greater Nashville community.
“It’s hard to leave Nashville and the Titans organization. I had eight great years here, seven with Jeff, and this past year with Coach (Mike) Munchak, and it couldn’t have been better. The people in this organization and the city, everyone has treated me fabulously,” he said.
“It was just another blessing in my 27 years in the NFL. I thoroughly enjoyed everything, and whatever little bit I was able to contribute, I am grateful for.”
And the Titans are equally grateful for the impact he made and relationships he built during his time here.
Tags: Dave McGinnis
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And with 14 years of coaching experience under his belt, Maxie is ready for the opportunity.
“That was a big key for me,” Maxie told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “They’ve got a lot of young talent. It’s a great opportunity for me.”
Maxie turned down a two-year deal to stay with the Cowboys, instead opting to join Mike Munchak’s staff in Tennessee.
“Everywhere he’s been, he’s made a difference in the secondary,” Munchak told The Tennessean. “His guys do a heck of a job with interceptions. And he’s been around a lot of great defensive minds. He’s a very impressive guy, and we think he’ll be a great fit for our guys and our secondary and defensive staff.”
Maxie told The Tennessean he’ll seek out the leaders of Tennessee’s secondary in an effort to get everyone on the same page.
“The players that have played with me in the past know they can count on me, and I’m going to try to earn the same respect of them, that I can always count on them.”
Tags: Brett Maxie
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Mason, a fourth-round draft pick by the Tennessee Oilers in 1997, played his first eight NFL seasons in Tennessee, becoming the franchise’s fifth-leading all-time receiver with 453 receptions for 6,114 yards (13.5 avg) and 37 touchdowns.
He was part of a core group of legendary Titans players, including the likes of McNair, Eddie George, Frank Wycheck, Bruce Matthews, Jevon Kearse, Blaine Bishop, Samari Rolle and Kevin Dyson that led Tennessee to a Super Bowl appearance and the NFL’s best combined record from 1999-2003.
But severe salary cap issues forced the Titans to part ways with Mason following the ’04 campaign. He went on to sign with arch-rival Baltimore, where he became the Ravens’ all-time leading receiver with 471 receptions for 5,777 yards and 29 touchdowns from 2005-10.
Mason’s longevity began to wind down in 2011. The Ravens released him prior to the season, and he later spent time on the New York Jets and Houston Texans’ rosters. Mason’s decreased playing time and production in 2011 were factors in him announcing his NFL retirement last week following a 15-year career as one of the most underrated receivers in recent history.
“I’m done,” Mason told Scout.com last week. “I won’t be playing football. I only knew one way to play football, going all-out and having fun out there…That’s one thing, I leave it healthy and able to run and walk and not take a half-hour or 45 minutes to get out of bed. I can jump right out of the bed and go. I don’t have lingering pains as of now. Me leaving now, even though it didn’t happen the way I wanted it to happen, I had a good run. It was fun while it lasted.”
Mason’s 15-year offensive totals include 943 receptions for 12,061 yards and 66 touchdowns. He also returned 156 kickoffs for 3,496 yards (22.4 avg) and one TD, and 182 punts for 1,590 yards (8.7 avg) and 2 TDs. Not bad for a player who initially made his living as a kick returner before blossoming into a Pro Bowl wide receiver several years later.
Mason was not always the best receiver on the field, but no one gave more effort than the feisty, 5-foot-10, 190-pounder. He would go head to head with any defensive back, often times relying on his strong will more than his natural talent.
“I tried my best because I knew I wasn’t the biggest guy out there,” Mason said during a recent interview with Kevin Ingram, Mark Howard and Frank Wycheck on Nashville’s 104.5 The Zone. “I had good speed and I was quick, but there were a lot of guys bigger and faster than me. One thing they were not going to do was out-compete me and try to manhandle me out there. I wanted to be more physical to them than they were to me.”
Mason’s strong route running often compensated for his lack of size.
“I think the highest praise that I got came when I was here and I was told that if the route says 15 yards, Mason’s going to run it 15 yards. If the route says 12, Mason’s going to run it 12. He’s not going to go shorter and he’s not going to go longer,” he said. “That was a huge compliment to me.”
The early Titans years were special times, and the bond he built with several teammates, including McNair, Wycheck and George – and the receiving core of Isaac Byrd, Joey Kent, Chris Sanders and Kevin Dyson — forged memories he’ll never forget.
“We had a special chemistry and we were winning consistently,” Mason said. “I’ve always told people that group of receivers I played with was probably the most fun group I was ever with. We all had so much fun in that locker room because we were all growing up in this sport together.”
Mason, only the 13th player in NFL history with at least 900 receptions, said he leaves the game with no regrets.
“I didn’t want to leave anything on the football field,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that I gave everything I had out there each Sunday so that after a game I was physically, emotionally and mentally tired, and each time I was. I made sure that in the offseason I worked extremely hard so when I got to the season the games were easy for me. “
Mason certainly impacted the Titans’ record book. Here’s a look at some of his accomplishments in Tennessee:
- Led the Titans in receiving four consecutive seasons from 2001-04, including a career-high 96 receptions (3rd in club history) for 1,303 yards and 8 TDs in 2003 when he made the Pro Bowl for the first time as a receiver.
- Set the NFL record for combined yardage in a season (2,690 yards), breaking the previous record held by Lionel James (2,535), en route to his first Pro Bowl in 2000.
- Ranks 5th in club history in receptions (453)
- Recorded 12 receptions in a game three times (tied for 4th in team history)
- Ranks 5th in club history with most seasons of 50 catches or more (5 from 2000-04)
- Ranks 1st in club history with four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (2001-04)
- Registered 13 career 100-yard receiving games (ranks 5th in club history)
- Big games included 9 receptions for 186 yards and 2 TDs vs. Cincinnati (1-6-02) and 6 receptions for 177 yards and 3 TDs vs. Houston (10-12-03)
- Returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown in Tennessee’s 33-14 victory at Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game that led to the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance
Tags: Derrick Mason
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Stevens has played an important role in Tennessee’s run game, helping pave the way for Chris Johnson’s 5,645 rushing yards and 38 rushing touchdowns.
General manager Mike Reinfeldt was able to lock in Stevens before he became an unrestricted free agent and hit the open market in March.
“Craig is one of our young core guys for us. We will continue to see him improve into one of the better combo tight ends in the league,” Reinfeldt said. “This deal came together very quickly. He wanted to be a part of what we are building here and this is a deal that was good for both sides.”
Stevens was regarded as one of the best blocking tight ends coming out of the University of California in 2008. The former third-round pick has also developed into a solid pass-catching tight end that runs smooth routes and makes big plays in the clutch.
That was never more evident than in Week 3 of the 2011 season when he hauled in a 58-yard pass from Matt Hasselbeck that led to the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter of Tennessee’s 17-14 come-from-behind victory over the Denver Broncos at LP Field. You can watch Stevens’ big catch right here.
Stevens and teammate Jared Cook have plenty of up-side and can arguably form one of NFL’s top, young tight end duos in the coming years.
Tags: Craig Stevens, Jared Cook
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When asked during his season-ending press conference if he would let the two quarterbacks compete for the starting job next season, Munchak said he expects both players to compete just like they did last season.
“I hope it’s always going to be a competition, they should always be competing,” Munchak said. “I felt they competed this year and I would think when we get back and start work in OTAs in June that they are going to come out and compete.”
Munchak said both players are competitive and it would not be fair to tell Locker or Hasselbeck that they would not have an opportunity to play next year.
“I think it will be obvious when the time comes just like it was this past year when Matt was the guy that was most ready to help us win,” he said. “I think it will be the same decision that we will make next year and that it will be an obvious decision to us as to who should start.”
And that’s fine with Hasselbeck, who joined Warren Moon as the only player in franchise history to throw for over 3,500 yards in a season in 2011. His 18 touchdowns were also the most by a Titans quarterback since Billy Volek’s 18 TD strikes in 2004.
He spoke on the topic when asked about it earlier this week on the debut show of ‘The Midday 180’ on 1045 the Zone. You can listen to the entire interview right here.
“I’ve talked with Coach Munchak and I’m happy with everything he’s done with our team, how he’s run everything and the message that he’s sent,” Hasselbeck said. “I have no issue at all with anything he has said and intends to do.”
Hasselbeck recounted his first meeting as a rookie with the Green Bay Packers when then head coach Mike Holmgren told players that every single job was open.
“He gets up and he says, ‘Listen, every job is open, every single job. Now I’ll be honest, I expect Reggie White to be the starter at defensive end, I expect Brett Favre to be the starting quarterback this year, but I’m just telling you right now the best players will play, I don’t care where you were drafted. I don’t care how much money you make. I don’t care about any of that,’” Hasselbeck recalled.
“Here I was secretly hoping to get an autograph from some of these guys and the head coach is saying, ‘Hey, your job if you’re sitting in this room, if you’re sitting in a chair, is to try to beat everybody at your position — not only the guys in this room, but everybody in the world that we can find to come in here and do your job.’”
That speech set the tone for Hasselbeck, who was a sixth-round draft pick coming in during the prime of Favre’s career.
“My role was try to push this guy and make him better, and in the process see how far I could take it, see how good I could be,” Hasselbeck said.
“That first year I was on the practice squad and the next year I was the #2 quarterback for the Green Bay Packers and beat out a bunch of guys that were drafted in the first round. And Coach Holmgren was true to his word. Now he took off (for Seattle), but the next coach that came in had the same philosophy. We had three head coaches in three years with the same philosophy. I think that’s still kind of the philosophy of the Green Bay Packers, and you can see why they’ve been successful for so many years.”
Tags: Jake Locker, Matt Hasselbeck
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