3 Tennessee Titans

Bring Vince Young along slowly? Don't count on it. He'll get a sniff of the action early, and then ... let's see what happens
September 03, 2006

THE BELIEF
"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 bein place to contend." Only five of the 87 players Tennessee brought to campwere 30 or older, and a 23-year-old-first-round pick Vince Young-is the futureof the franchise. He'll take the starting quarterback job from Billy Volek orthe newly signed Kerry Collins at some point this year. The free-agent marketwas a source for much-needed playmakers and leaders: wideout David Givens andsafety Chris Hope, who started in Super Bowls for the Patriots and theSteelers, respectively, plus center Kevin Mawae (formerly of the Jets) andlinebacker David Thornton (Colts).

THE REALITY
No question this team will be better than the one that went 4-12 and wasoutscored by 122 points last season. Longtime quarterback Steve McNair was beatup and couldn't be counted on to play an entire season; his trade to the Ravenswas best for all parties, including his protégé, Young, who idolized McNairthough high school and college. Young is devoted now to offensive coordinatorNorm Chow, who's trying to get him ready to play at least one series in thefirst half and another in the second, beginning as soon as the opening game, tothrow opposing defenses a changeup every week.

"He needs tonot get confused by all the bells and whistles, the motion and shifting, ondefense," Chow says. "When he does, he'll be all right." Younggrabbed the reins of the offense right from the start of camp. Twoexamples:

•On one gallop hesaw 312-pound defensive tackle Randy Starks steaming toward him. Instead ofstepping out-of-bounds, Young leveled him with a forearm.

•In aseven-on-seven drill Young sprinted right, looking for a receiver. Underpressure he abruptly spun around, ran to the left, threw across his body with athree-quarter delivery and lasered a 55-yard spiral for a touchdown to wideoutTramain Hall. After seeing that, coach Jeff Fisher said, "That's just notfair."

The question is,How soon will Young master the routine plays? "How long do we wait to playhim?" says Chow. "That's the question of the year for us."

Volek isconceding nothing, but the signing of 11-year veteran Collins to a one-yearcontract spoke volumes. "As of this minute, Billy's our starter," Reesesaid late Monday. "But I don't know what next week will bring."

The question ondefense is, Can cornerback Pacman Jones, the No. 6 pick out of West Virginia inlast year's draft, get his head together? He's had several off-the-fieldincidents-the latest an arrest last week for disorderly conduct and publicintoxication-and against the Jaguars he complained about a call with suchvehemence and profanity that Fisher yanked him from the game. Tennessee needsJones to grow up fast because he hits like a safety and his tight coverageskills will help reduce the league-high 33 touchdown passes the team allowed in2005. Players such as Jones are the reasons why the Titans brought in freeagents like Hope and Thornton, veterans as valuable in their roles as leadersas they are on the field.

Tennessee may bea year away, but it's one of those teams that could sneak into contention ifthe youth movement suddenly comes of age.

2006 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

10 N.Y. JETS

17 at SanDiego

24 at Miami

OCTOBER

1 DALLAS

8 atIndianapolis

15 atWashington

22 Bye

29 HOUSTON

NOVEMBER

5 atJacksonville

12 BALTIMORE

19 atPhiladelphia

26 N.Y.GIANTS

DECEMBER

3INDIANAPOLIS

10 at Houston

17JACKSONVILLE

24 at Buffalo

31 NEWENGLAND

SCHEDULESTRENGTH
NFL rank T6
Opponents' 2005 winning percentage .527
Games against playoff teams 7

ENEMY LINES
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE TITANS

> PacmanJones is the best cover corner in the division and one of the NFL's top fivephysical corners. But can he act like he's older than 13?

> If AlbertHaynesworth had a more consistent motor, he'd be the best defensive tackle infootball. He should be more physically punishing against the run.

> Defensiveend Kyle Vanden Bosch is a poster child for everything that's right about theNFL. Even after two major knee surgeries, he showed last season that he canstill get around the corner to the quarterback pretty well.

> SteveMcNair should have been shown the door earlier. He held that offense back thelast two years.

> For $25million I'd want a receiver to be faster and more physically gifted than DavidGivens.

Bill Volek trieshard, but his arm isn't strong enough. I expect Vince Young to be starting bymid-October.

BREAKOUTPLAYER
David Thornton
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

Though twiceelected defensive captain in four seasons with the Colts, the lead-by-exampleThornton, 27, never got much attention in Indy. Playing over the tight endisn't a glamour job, but Tennessee recognized his value and signed the formerNorth Carolina walk-on to a five-year, $22.5 million free-agent deal in March.Helping to shut off running attacks that averaged 118.4 yards per game againstthe Titans last year (they ranked 22nd in the league in rushing defense) willearn him notice on a unit that is devoid of stars.

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PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP

WITH 2005STATISTICS

COACH JEFF FISHER(97-85 in NFL), 13th season with Tennessee

OFFENSE

DREW BENNETT
POS WR
REC 58
YARDS 738
TD 4

CHRIS BROWN
POS RB
RUSH 224
YARDS 851
TD 5

BILLY VOLEK
POS QB 
ATT 88
COMP 50
PCT 56.8
YARDS 474
TD 4
INT 2
RATING 77.6

TROY FLEMING
POS FB
REC 10
YARDS 69
TD 1

DAVID GIVENS (NewAcquisition)
POS WR 
REC 59 
YARDS 738
TD 2

ROB BIRONAS
POS K
FG 23-29
POINTS 99

BEN TROUPE
POS TE
REC 55 
YARDS 530 
TD 4

MICHAEL ROOS
POS LT
HT 6'7"
WT 315
G 16

ZACH PILLER
POS LG
HT 6'5"
WT 315 
G 16

KEVIN MAWAE (NewAcquisition)
POS C
HT 6'4"
WT 289 
G 6

BENJI OLSON
POS RG
HT 6'4"
WT 320 
G 16

JACOB BELL
POS RT
HT 6'4"
WT 295 
G 9

DEFENSE

DAVID THORNTON(New Acquisition)
POS LLB
TACKLES 81 
SACKS 2
INT 0

KYLE VANDENBOSCH
POS LE 
TACKLES 65
SACKS 12 1/2

RANDY STARKS
POS LT
TACKLES 47
SACKS 3

ALBERTHAYNESWORTH
POS RT
TACKLES 52
SACKS 3

TRAVIS LABOY
POS RE
TACKLES 41 
SACKS 6 1/2

KEITH BULLUCK
POS RLB
TACKLES 138 
SACKS 5 
INT 2

CRAIG HENTRICH
POS P
PUNTS 78
AVG 43.2

PACMAN JONES
POS CB
TACKLES 53 
INT 0

CHRIS HOPE (NewAcquisition)
POS SS
TACKLES 96 
SACKS 0
INT 3

PETER SIRMON
POS MLB
TACKLES 69
SACKS 2 1/2
INT 0

LAMONTTHOMPSON
POS FS
TACKLES 80
SACKS 1
INT 1

REYNALDO HILL
POS CB
TACKLES 48
INT 3

2005 RECORD4-12
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL) OFFENSE 23/9/17 DEFENSE 22/17/19

PHOTOBILL FRAKESVOLEK PHOTODEHOOG/TDPPAC OF WOES A prodigy at cornerback, Jones, 22, needs a veteran to school him on conduct outside the lines. PHOTOBILL FRAKES TWO PHOTOS PHOTOHELMET PHOTO BY DAVID N. BIRKWITZ

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)