Titans general manager Floyd Reese has been in the business for
25 years, so you can imagine the number of contacts he has around
the league. If he doesn't know enough about a free agent, chances
are he can call somebody who does. But when wideout Carl Pickens
sat before him in late July, intent on proving he would not be
the cancer he was reputed to have been with the Bengals, Reese
didn't have anyone he felt comfortable calling for a background
"I told Carl I didn't have much to go on with him except for
talk, and I'm not big on talk," Reese says. "So I told him we
would visit with him and see what happens. He turned out to be a
During that visit the 30-year-old Pickens explained his side of
the story in Cincinnati, which included his criticizing the
organization late last year for not firing coach Bruce Coslet.
That blast came three months after Pickens had signed a
five-year, $23 million contract. Pickens, who was released by the
Bengals on July 20, proceeded to convince not only Reese but also
coach Jeff Fisher and every other Tennessee decision-maker that
he wouldn't be a problem. As Fisher says, "It's this simple: Carl
wants to win."
"That's not who I am, and they know that," Pickens says of his
reputation. "That's why they signed me. It wasn't a positive
situation in Cincinnati, so there was never anything positive
coming out of it. Everything was negative, so anybody who tried
to change that became a cancer. They had to point the finger at
me because they could point it at Bruce Coslet and [team
president] Mike Brown for only so long."
August 27, 2000
Pickens received a five-year, $20 million contract from
Tennessee, but those numbers are deceiving. The Titans, who have
been looking for help at wide receiver, will fork over only $1.5
million in the first year of the deal. That's not much of a
gamble for a player who had 530 receptions in eight seasons with
At 6'2", 206 pounds, Pickens is a big target who can go deep. If
Yancey Thigpen can stay healthy (he is coming off left ankle
surgery and has played in only 19 games since joining the team as
a free agent from the Steelers, in 1998), and if third-year man
Kevin Dyson continues to improve, the Titans will have upgraded
one of the few question marks on a team that lost in Super Bowl
XXXIV to the Rams. Pro Bowl tight end Frank Wycheck has led the
team in receptions each of the last four years, and when Dyson
caught 54 balls last season it marked the first time one of the
team's wideouts had surpassed the 50-reception mark since 1995.
The reasons for the lack of production at wide receiver are
myriad. Players like Thigpen and former starter Chris Sanders
have been disappointments. The play-calling of offensive
coordinator Les Steckel, now in Tampa Bay, was predictable, and a
desire to ride the back of Pro Bowl runner Eddie George (1,304
yards rushing last season) came at the expense of the passing
game. Even the decision-making of quarterback Steve McNair can be
questioned--he's been too quick to look to Wycheck. New
coordinator Mike Heimerdinger's goal is to include more downfield
passing in the offense without significantly altering the
"If you're sitting in the stands, you won't see a difference in
what we're doing," Heimerdinger says. "Eddie will still get his
30 carries. Frank will still get his catches. Where we'll be
different is that we'll move our wide receivers around more to
see if we can create separation."
If they can do that, the Titans will be in even better shape to
contend for the NFL championship again. "I told our guys we
didn't fail last season," says Fisher. "We just put our success
on hold. Now we've taken our finger off the hold button, and
we're trying to regain the momentum of last season."
That momentum was built largely on the Titans' ability to win
close games (they were 5-1 during the regular season in games
decided by three points or less), but most of the players had
learned to weather a storm long before 1999. The franchise's
exodus from Houston, following the 1996 season, and the two years
spent without a permanent stadium in Tennessee formed a resolve
that may be the best thing the Titans have going for them.
"We've been through a lot together," George says. "Meeting in
trailers. Bad facilities. Fans cheering against us. We didn't
feel very wanted. All we had was each other, and we still do."
That's one reason why Reese wasn't afraid to sign Pickens.
Tennessee's leaders--McNair, George, Wycheck, guard Bruce Matthews
and safeties Blaine Bishop and Marcus Robertson--are low-key
types, and Fisher expects them to help Pickens feel comfortable.
"It's not going to be a problem," Reese adds. "Our locker room is
strong, and he's coming into a positive environment. I think
he'll fit right in."
Sept. 3 at Buffalo
10 KANSAS CITY
17 Open date
24 at Pittsburgh
Oct. 1 N.Y. GIANTS
8 at Cincinnati
16 JACKSONVILLE (Mon.)
22 at Baltimore
30 at Washington (Mon.)
Nov. 5 PITTSBURGH
26 at Jacksonville
Dec. 3 at Philadelphia
17 at Cleveland
25 DALLAS (Mon.)
1999 Record 13-3 (2nd in AFC Central)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 13/13 (tie)/13; defense
2000 Schedule strength NFL rank: 24
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .461
Games against playoff teams: 5
PLAYER TO WATCH
Keith Bulluck, who fell into the Titans' lap as the 30th pick in
the 2000 draft, played both middle and outside linebacker at
Syracuse, but he'll start his rookie season on the strong side.
Tennessee likes his athleticism (4.51 speed in the 40) and size
(6'3", 232 pounds), especially because the AFC Central has become
a haven for power backs and athletic tight ends. However,
handling such players may not be as big a challenge for Bulluck
as mastering the complexities of the defense. As former Titans
linebacker Barron Wortham, now in Dallas, says, "You had to be a
nuclear scientist to understand the scheme. You're thinking so
much that it takes away from your game." Says Bulluck, "So far so
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS
Coach: Jeff Fisher
Seventh season with Titans (45-41 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Steve McNair 34 331 att. 187 comp. 56.5% 2,179 yds.
12 TDs 8 int. 78.6 rtg.
RB Eddie George 7 320 att. 1,304 yds. 4.1 avg. 47 rec.
458 yds. 9.7 avg. 13 TDs
RB Rodney Thomas 272 43 att. 164 yds. 3.8 avg. 9 rec.
72 yds. 8.0 avg. 1 TD
FB Lorenzo Neal 314 2 att. 1 yd. 0.5 avg. 7 rec.
27 yds. 3.9 avg. 3 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Carl Pickens 39 57 rec. 737 yds. 6 TDs
WR Kevin Dyson 94 54 rec. 658 yds. 4 TDs
WR Yancey Thigpen 141 38 rec. 648 yds. 4 TDs
TE Frank Wycheck 117 69 rec. 641 yds. 2 TDs
K Al Del Greco 164 43/43 XPs 21/25 FGs 106 pts.
PR Derrick Mason 266 26 ret. 8.7 avg. 1 TD
KR Derrick Mason 266 41 ret. 19.6 avg. 0 TDs
LT Brad Hopkins 6'3" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Bruce Matthews 6'5" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Kevin Long 6'5" 295 lbs. 16 games 12 starts
RG Benji Olson 6'3" 315 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Fred Miller 6'7" 315 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Jevon Kearse 57 tackles 14 1/2 sacks
LT John Thornton 19 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
RT Jason Fisk 47 tackles 4 sacks
RE Kenny Holmes 19 tackles 4 sacks
OLB Keith Bulluck (R)135 tackles 2 sacks
MLB Randall Godfrey 98 tackles 1 sack
OLB Eddie Robinson 79 tackles 6 sacks
CB Denard Walker 47 tackles 1 int.
SS Blaine Bishop 75 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
FS Marcus Robertson 76 tackles 1 int.
CB Samari Rolle 69 tackles 4 int.
P Craig Hentrich 90 punts 42.5 avg.
 New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)
THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Titans
"They're still a ball-control team. Frank Wycheck is a nice
security blanket for Steve McNair, who would rather check down
to an underneath receiver than throw into coverage. McNair also
can hurt you with his mobility, and [after playing banged up
part of last season] it sounds like he's healthy....With the
addition of Carl Pickens, they can have a nice three-receiver
set to take some pressure off Eddie George, but the key is
Yancey Thigpen's health. He's big and, like Pickens, he can get
downfield and adjust to the ball in the air....On the line,
signing Fred Miller from St. Louis makes up for losing [tackle]
Jon Runyan in free agency....Defensively there are no superstars
aside from Jevon Kearse, but there aren't really any weak links
either....Randall Godfrey gives them more speed at middle
linebacker, and their safeties are physical and smart, which is
key in such a complex defense....They're just a solid team, and
they're riding the confidence wave. They believe they're the
team to beat."