"This year is the 'tween year," says general manager Floyd Reese.
"Last year was the salary-cap purge year. Next year all the pieces will be
in place to contend." Only five of the 87 players Tennessee brought to camp
were 30 or older, and a 23-year-old-first-round pick Vince Young-is the future
of the franchise. He'll take the starting quarterback job from Billy Volek or
the newly signed Kerry Collins at some point this year. The free-agent market
was a source for much-needed playmakers and leaders: wideout David Givens and
safety Chris Hope, who started in Super Bowls for the Patriots and the
Steelers, respectively, plus center Kevin Mawae (formerly of the Jets) and
linebacker David Thornton ( Colts).
No question this team will be better than the one that went 4-12 and was
outscored by 122 points last season. Longtime quarterback Steve McNair was beat
up and couldn't be counted on to play an entire season; his trade to the Ravens
was best for all parties, including his prot�g�, Young, who idolized McNair
though high school and college. Young is devoted now to offensive coordinator
Norm Chow, who's trying to get him ready to play at least one series in the
first half and another in the second, beginning as soon as the opening game, to
throw opposing defenses a changeup every week.
"He needs to
not get confused by all the bells and whistles, the motion and shifting, on
defense," Chow says. "When he does, he'll be all right." Young
grabbed the reins of the offense right from the start of camp. Two
?On one gallop he
saw 312-pound defensive tackle Randy Starks steaming toward him. Instead of
stepping out-of-bounds, Young leveled him with a forearm.
seven-on-seven drill Young sprinted right, looking for a receiver. Under
pressure he abruptly spun around, ran to the left, threw across his body with a
three-quarter delivery and lasered a 55-yard spiral for a touchdown to wideout
Tramain Hall. After seeing that, coach Jeff Fisher said, "That's just not
The question is,
How soon will Young master the routine plays? "How long do we wait to play
him?" says Chow. "That's the question of the year for us."
conceding nothing, but the signing of 11-year veteran Collins to a one-year
contract spoke volumes. "As of this minute, Billy's our starter," Reese
said late Monday. "But I don't know what next week will bring."
The question on
defense is, Can cornerback Pacman Jones, the No. 6 pick out of West Virginia in
last year's draft, get his head together? He's had several off-the-field
incidents-the latest an arrest last week for disorderly conduct and public
intoxication-and against the Jaguars he complained about a call with such
vehemence and profanity that Fisher yanked him from the game. Tennessee needs
Jones to grow up fast because he hits like a safety and his tight coverage
skills will help reduce the league-high 33 touchdown passes the team allowed in
2005. Players such as Jones are the reasons why the Titans brought in free
agents like Hope and Thornton, veterans as valuable in their roles as leaders
as they are on the field.
Tennessee may be
a year away, but it's one of those teams that could sneak into contention if
the youth movement suddenly comes of age.