Young will be a one-man show if some of his teammates don't develop.
at Denver (M)
at New Orleans (M)
at Tampa Bay
at Kansas City
The King 500
212Nick Harper, Cornerback
Harper might seem an awkward fit for the Titans' man-coverage scheme, given his six years of experience in the Colts' Cover Two zone. 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 person and jumping routes while the ball was just going over my head," says Harper, who should feel more at home now.
Though he's without last year's leading rusher and top two receivers, Vince Young will keep this team in the playoff hunt
Lost amid the flood of negative Pacman Jones headlines in the last five
months is the series of off-season moves the Titans made to mitigate his
absence. Even before the All-Pro cornerback was hit with his season-long
suspension, Tennessee had signed veteran free-agent corner Nick Harper away from
the Super Bowl champion Colts.
After Jones was grounded by commissioner Roger
Goodell for a potpourri of off-field incidents, the Titans selected Texas safety
Michael Griffin in the first round of the draft (he was subsequently moved to
corner) and then snatched up another free-agent corner with Super Bowl
experience, six-year veteran Kelly Herndon, late of the Seahawks. Jones's
big-play ability (he returned three punts and one interception for touchdowns)
will be hard to replace, but the reinforcements -- teamed with holdovers Chris Hope
at strong safety, Calvin Lowry at free safety and corner Reynaldo Hill -- should
dramatically improve a defense that in 2006 ranked 27th against the pass and
dead last overall. Moreover, the team signed former Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Corey Simon on Aug. 28.
On offense the Titans lost their leading rusher, Travis Henry, and top two
receivers, Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade, to free agency, but they helped
themselves by signing receiver Eric Moulds. A late acquisition -- he signed two
days before camp started -- Moulds gives Tennessee a sure-handed target and a
steadying influence on a young offensive unit.
WHERE THEY'RE HEADED
While Moulds, 34, is not the explosive downfield threat he was in his
Pro Bowl heyday with the Bills, the 6' 2", 210-pound veteran is a disciplined
route runner who can put pressure on a defense and open up opportunities for
third-year pros Brandon Jones, who caught a team-high four scoring passes last
season, Roydell Williams and Bo Scaife. "A lot of people are saying we don't
have big-name receivers," says the Titans' big-name quarterback, Vince Young,
the '06 Offensive Rookie of the Year, "but these guys are gonna make a name for
Moulds, who is entering 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 in the league. Released by the Texans in February, he languished for
five months before 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 a mentor 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,"
says Moulds, who was equally taken with Young's ability to read defenses. "It's
getting to the point where he'll be like Peyton Manning and make his own
For Young to continue to develop, though, he'll need a running game.
Tennessee had the league's No. 5 rushing attack a year ago, behind All-Pro
center Kevin Mawae and one of the best offensive lines in the league, but the
Titans suffered a serious blow when they failed to re-sign Henry, who joined the
Broncos after rushing for 1,211 yards in 2006. Chris Brown and LenDale White are
the front-runners to replace him, with the winner expected to get at least 70%
of the carries.
Brown, who humbly returned to the Titans after receiving little interest in
free agency, has the edge 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 since Brown has never stayed healthy for a full season, expect
White to emerge as the team's workhorse at some point this fall. At his best
White is a bruising runner who delivers more blows than he absorbs. At his worst
he's an undisciplined liability. After a stellar career at USC he slipped to the
second round in the '06 draft because of character and weight issues, and this
off-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-pound White,
whose struggles prompted the Titans to select Arizona running back Chris Henry
in the second round of the draft as insurance. "But I also took responsibility
for working myself back into shape, for coming into [training] camp on time and
If White regains his lost luster, Tennessee might be able to end its playoff
drought. Over the years the Titans have proved to be one of the NFL's most
resilient teams, but the league's schedule-makers did them no favors this year:
They have two games against the division-rival Colts, road trips to play the
Saints, the Broncos and the Bengals, and a home date versus the Chargers. Still,
should they make it through October (Atlanta, at Tampa, at Houston, Oakland)
unscathed, they might have enough momentum to sneak into the postseason for the
first time since 2003.
Those headlines, the Titans could be proud of. -- Andrew Lawrence