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4 Tennessee TITANS

Sept. 05, 2005
Sept. 05, 2005

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Sept. 5, 2005

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4 Tennessee TITANS

After 32 years and great success in the college game, new offensive coordinator Norm Chow is daring to make a difference in the NFL

SOMETIMES PLAYERS listen to their coaches. Sometimes they just pretend to. On rare occasions, they are so inspired by what they've heard that they shave the sides of their heads and wear Mohawks. Or at least that's the effect that new Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow had on center Justin Hartwig. When Chow addressed his charges for the first time at training camp, he repeatedly stated, "Dare to be different." So Hartwig took the coach at his word, though what he did wasn't what Chow had in mind. When Hartwig proudly showed Chow his new 'do, the coach took one look and responded, "I said dare to be different, not dare to be stupid."

This is an article from the Sept. 5, 2005 issue Original Layout

Chow was joking, of course, and his easygoing personality is one of the reasons Tennessee players have taken to him. A college coach for 32 years and most recently offensive coordinator for two-time defending national champion USC, Chow was picked by coach Jeff Fisher to replace Mike Heimerdinger (who took the coordinator job with the Jets), in part because Chow works well with young players. And, as running back Travis Henry puts it, "There are a lot of young cats around here." Only 12 players at the start of training camp had four or more years of NFL experience; 11 were second-year players and 36 were rookies. The Titans' youth movement comes by design: They are following the Ravens' model of blowing up the roster and dumping salary, then rebuilding through the draft. In the off-season Tennessee ushered out such veterans as wide receiver Derrick Mason, cornerback Samari Rolle and defensive end Kevin Carter, all former Pro Bowl players--this a year after defensive end Jevon Kearse, running back Eddie George and defensive tackle Robaire Smith were allowed to leave.

Fisher thinks this is the perfect situation for Chow. "I was very impressed with what Norm has been able to do year after year after year with younger players," says Fisher. "And his system is such that he can run a sophisticated style of offense with young players, and that's where we wanted to go." Chow's immediate goals were to simplify the terminology, mix up the attack and protect 32-year-old quarterback Steve McNair, who had surgery last December to graft bone to his sternum. He missed half the season and briefly considered retirement. "We're placing a heavy premium on protecting the quarterback," says Fisher. "We have to do it better with Steve at his age." So the Titans will run a lot of play action, deliver the ball quickly and spread it around--"dispersing the defense," as Fisher puts it.

McNair endorses Chow's approach. "He likes to three-step and five-step and keep me on the move, and that's stuff I've been doing all my life," says McNair. "With me being healthy and the young guys coming in, I'm real energized."

McNair will be working with a new face at running back (Henry) and a new starter at wideout (Tyrone Calico). In the backfield Henry--whom Titans fans know from his time at the University of Tennessee and already serenade with his college nickname, Cheese--came from the Bills, where he had lost his job to Willis McGahee despite rushing for a total of 2,794 yards in 2002 and '03. He'll split time with Chris Brown, an explosive if injury-prone runner. On the wing McNair's primary target will be Drew Bennett, the converted UCLA quarterback who, after three nondescript seasons, suddenly morphed into Jerry Rice; in the final eight games of '04 he had 859 receiving yards, second most in the league over that time, behind the Panthers' Muhsin Muhammad (now with the Bears).

Chow loves Bennett's versatility, and teammates consider him a freak. "He catches anything, anywhere," says Henry. That isn't by accident; after practices Bennett catches 100 balls in 10 minutes from a Juggs machine, turning at different angles to simulate tough grabs. "I go over the shoulder, turn in, turn out," says Bennett, acting out the positions. "In a good practice you're only getting six or seven balls with the team, so you have to get your work in."

The young Titans will be getting a lot of work this season. Though some optimists believe the team will be in the fight for a wild card, it's more likely that Fisher and Chow will use this season to prepare for a big run next year. That means there could be some long, disappointing Sunday afternoons this fall--no matter how daring or different the Titans try to be. --C.B.

PLAYMAKER

Adam (Pacman) Jones has the breakaway speed and lateral movement to be a game-changer at cornerback and as a punt returner. The first defensive player taken in the 2005 draft, Jones left West Virginia after his junior year having allowed only one touchdown catch in his two seasons as a starter--and he says that was because he lost the ball in the sun. If he can quickly familiarize himself with the Titans' schemes, he could instantly become one of the league's better cover corners.

ENEMY LINES: AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW

Norm Chow is going to have a tough time running his system at this level. He's going to see better coaching, better personnel and better schemes. It was hard for people to match up with USC because they had more talent than everybody else, but that won't be the case with the Titans.... Drew Bennett is a talented player who benefited from having Derrick Mason on the other side. Now Bennett becomes the focus [of the passing game], and he's just not that kind of player.... Erron Kinney blocks well, runs good routes and catches the ball consistently, but he hasn't gotten much recognition because their offense hasn't featured the tight end.... On defense Albert Haynesworth has got to show that he can be a leader on the line. He's going to get double-teamed a lot, so he has to avoid getting frustrated.... Linebacker should be the strength of this unit. Keith Bulluck can cover, blitz and play the run as well as any player at the outside position. Peter Sirmon is instinctive and handles himself well in space.... They're solid at safety with Lamont Thompson and Tank Williams, but their big questions will be at cornerback. Pacman Jones and Andre Woolfolk need to grow up fast.

"Albert Haynesworth has got to show that he can be a leader on the defensive line."

 

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics

 

OFFENSE

CHRIS BROWN

POS. RB

PVR 51

ATT. 220

YARDS 1,067

AVG. 4.9

REC. 20

YARDS 147

AVG. 7.4

TDs 6

 

STEVE MCNAIR

POS. QB

PVR 167

ATT. 215

COMP. 129

% 60.0

YARDS 1,343

TDs 8

INT. 9

RATING 73.1

 

TROY FLEMING

POS. FB

PVR 309

ATT. 7

YARDS 40

AVG. 5.7

REC. 19

YARDS 164

AVG. 8.6

TDs 2

 

ROB BIRONAS* (NEW ACQUISITION) (R)

POS. K

PVR 321

XPs MADE 18

XPs ATT. 18

FG 12 MADE

FG ATT. 16

PTS. 54

 

DREW BENNETT

POS. WR

PVR 68

REC. 80

YARDS 1,247

TDs 11

 

ERRON KINNEY

POS. TE

PVR 226

REC. 25

YARDS 193

TDs 3

 

BRAD HOPKINS

POS. LT

HEIGHT 6'3"

WEIGHT 305

GMS. 11

STARTS 11

 

ZACH PILLER

POS. LG

HEIGHT 6'5"

WEIGHT 321

GMS. 1

STARTS 1

 

JUSTIN HARTWIG

POS. C

HEIGHT 6'4"

WEIGHT 305

GMS. 15

STARTS 15

 

BENJI OLSON

POS. RG

HEIGHT 6'4"

WEIGHT 320

GMS. 15

STARTS 15

 

MICHAEL ROOS (R) (NEW ACQUISITION)

POS. RT

HEIGHT 6'7"

WEIGHT 320

GMS.13

STARTS 13

 

TYRONE CALICO

POS. WR

PVR 96

REC. 2

YARDS 13

TDs 0

 

DEFENSE

KEITH BULLUCK

POS. OLB

TACKLES 152

SACKS 5

INT. 2

 

KYLE VANDEN BOSCH (NEW ACQUISITION)

POS. RE

TACKLES 13

SACKS 0

 

ALBERT HAYNESWORTH

POS. RT

TACKLES 37

SACKS 1

 

BRAD KASSELL

POS. MLB

TACKLES 102

SACKS 0

INT. 0

 

RANDY STARKS

POS. LT

TACKLES 28

SACKS 4 1/2

 

ANTWAN ODOM

POS. LE

TACKLES 21

SACKS 2

 

PETER SIRMON †

POS. OLB

TACKLES 86

SACKS 0

INT. 0

 

PACMAN JONES (R) (NEW ACQUISITION)

POS. CB

TACKLES 76

INT. 3

 

TANK WILLIAMS

POS. SS

TACKLES 52

SACKS 1

INT. 1

 

LAMONT THOMPSON

POS. FS

TACKLES 65

SACKS 0

INT. 4

 

ANDRE WOOLFOLK

POS. CB

TACKLES 41

INT. 1

 

CRAIG HENTRICH

POS. P

PUNTS 73

AVG. 42.7

 

2004 RECORD: 5-11

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):

OFFENSE 14/10/11

DEFENSE 18/26/27

COACH: Jeff Fisher; 11th season with Tennessee (93-73 in NFL)

 

NEW ACQUISITION

Rookie (college stats) *1998 college stats †2003 stats

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)

 

SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

11 at Pittsburgh 18

BALTIMORE 25 at St. Louis

 

OCTOBER

2 INDIANAPOLIS

9 at Houston

16 CINCINNATI

23 at Arizona

30 OAKLAND

 

NOVEMBER

6 at Cleveland

13 Open date

20 JACKSONVILLE

27 SAN FRANCISCO

 

DECEMBER

4 at Indianapolis

11 HOUSTON

18 SEATTLE

24 at Miami (S)

 

JANUARY

1 at Jacksonville

(S) SATURDAY

 

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T18 Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .492 Games against playoff teams: 5

PHOTOWESLEY HITT/WIREIMAGE.COM  FRESH START Acquired from the Bills, Henry expects to carry a big load for the Titans. PHOTOJEFFREY C. RIDLEY/WIREIMAGE.COMTHOMPSONPHOTONFL/WIREIMAGE.COM