Titans' recent problems troubling but calm, cool Fisher not panicking
Issues with Chris Johnson, Vince Young, Gerald McRath are concerning
McRath's looming suspension will set back promising young linebacker
Fisher not worried about Johnson, says Vince Young made a mistake
From the vantage point of mid-June, it's always tempting to connect the dots of a team's offseason and then plot that graph line to project the fate awaiting that franchise in the fall. Tempting, but not always accurate.
But you have to admit the dots are starting to pile up a bit in Tennessee these days, what with All-Pro running back Chris Johnson's ongoing contract unhappiness, Vince Young's judgment again on trial and the four-game NFL suspension that promising young Titans linebacker Gerald McRath incurred Monday, as a penance for violating the league's steroids policy.
That seems like a lot of potential trouble for a team that finished last season as one of the hottest clubs in the NFL, winning eight of 10 games to claw its way to 8-8 after that shockingly bad 0-6 start. But it's also easy to overreact to bad news as summer starts to unfold, sensing a pattern at times where none truly exists. There's still almost two months until the Titans have to put a team on the field for the first time, and it remains to be seen how many of Tennessee's recent headlines will translate into real problems come the regular season.
This much I know: You're not going to get the Titans' Jeff Fisher -- the dean of NFL head coaches when it comes to continuous service -- to wring his hands and overreact in June. Fisher didn't give me the ho-hum routine when I asked him Monday if he was concerned about the way things were trending in Tennessee, but he doesn't do the Chicken Little thing either. Fisher got this gig way back in 1994, and he's not prone to public mood swings or taking his club's temperature every other week during the offseason.
"You don't want to say this, but things come up, every year,'' Fisher told me, just hours after he announced McRath's four-game suspension and listened as Young, his starting quarterback, apologized to his teammates and the organization for being involved in an early Sunday-morning altercation in a Dallas-area strip club. "Things always come up, and you deal with them. And that's what we're doing. We're dealing with them. We've had a few little issues, and they're all very different from one another.
"But I don't see any of these issues as being finite. I think they are temporary in nature. They might be little road bumps we have to deal with, but by the time we get to camp, hopefully the only issue we have is that Gerald will be out for the first four games. Once we get to camp, we can assume CJ's situation will have worked itself out, because those situations usually do, and with Vince, he has owned up to his mistake and knows he made a bad decision. He's not necessarily that kind of guy, and hopefully he'll learn from this. So even though we have had different issues of late, I'm not concerned about a trend here. All of this we will be able to put behind us.''
Though Johnson staying away from the team's offseason workouts in protest of his contract and Young's setback on the maturity front -- he was charged with a misdemeanor assault for his role in the strip-club incident and might be subject to league discipline -- have generated the biggest headlines in Tennessee, the Titans' real headache might be dealing with the first-month loss of McRath. The 2009 fourth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi started five games at outside linebacker as a rookie, and the Titans were excited about the prospect of him replacing veteran free agent Keith Bulluck in the lineup.
McRath's looming suspension seems likely to ensure the return of veteran linebacker David Thornton for the final year of his contract with Tennessee, although Thornton is recovering from offseason surgeries to his shoulder and hip and must prove himself healthy enough to get on the field in the preseason as McRath's short-term replacement. The trick for Tennessee will be to continue getting McRath playing time in the preseason and not stunt his development as a starter, while getting someone else ready to fill his spot in the lineup in September.
"In Gerald's case, it's a temporary setback,'' Fisher said. "We're going to have to be smart. He's only started five games and he needs the playing experience in the preseason. But we're going to be without him in the first month, and someone else has to play enough to be ready.''
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