Category Archives: NFL

A League Deferred

“But I guess with all this money involved,
Who cares about my two cents?”

It’s great that Jake Locker has practiced with some of his new teammates, and it’s not so great that Kenny Britt is not growing up fast enough. Titans aside, the lockout is still in effect, but perhaps the end is near. In the meantime, here is Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Steve Breaston putting his unique spin on the dispute between the owners and the players.

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A tribute to Drew Hill

JW Nix, a prolific sportswriter who publishes the blog Crazy Canton Cuts wrote a thoughtful tribute to the late Houston Oilers wide receiver Drew Hill. The tribute has been published on multiple websites, but I was so impressed by Nix’s sense of football history and appreciation for the wide receiver that I’ve asked his permission to share it here at Titans Tracker.

I’ve extended an invitation for Nix to contribute more articles about the Oilers and Tennessee Titans. I hope you enjoy this article on Drew Hill.

Drew Hill: Titans, Rams and NFL Fans Say Goodbye to a Legend
When the Los Angeles Rams took a flier on wide receiver Drew Hill in the 12th round of the 1979 draft, they knew they were getting a 5’9″ player with excellent speed.

It was also a long shot that he’d make the team, having spent much of his time at Georgia Tech University blocking for running back Eddie Lee Ivory.

Ivory was the Green Bay Packers’ first-round draft pick that year. Offensive linemen Kent Hill and Roy Simmons were the only other Tech offensive players drafted that year. Hill happened to be the Rams first-round selection and would be Drew Hill’s teammate his entire career except for the 1985 season.

Hill made the team as a kick returner. He took a return 98 yards for a score in his second season and led the league in returns in his third. He was rarely used as a receiver in his first three years, as the Rams leaned on veterans like Ron Jessie, Preston Dennard and Bill Waddy.

Yet he did help the Rams reach their first ever Super Bowl as a rookie. After missing the entire 1983 year because of injury, Hill returned with luster. Los Angeles finally used him more on offense, where he teamed with Pro Bowler Henry Ellard and Olympic sprint Gold Medalist Ron Brown to comprise of a very exciting receiving trio.

Though the Rams leaned on Hall of Fame halfback Eric Dickerson and his then-record 2,105 yards off a whopping 379 carries, Hill averaged an amazing 27.9 yards on 14 receptions. Brown averaged over 20 yards and Ellard averaged over 18 yards per catch as well that season.

Despite just 60 receptions in five years, Houston traded two draft picks to acquire Hill to help out Warren Moon, who was signed in 1984. Moon, a future Hall of Fame quarterback, came to the Oilers with new head coach Hugh Campbell and quickly bonded with Hill.

Moon and Campbell won five Grey Cups together with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. Campbell won nine CFL titles total with the Eskimos. He was focused on stocking the defense in the draft. Campbell drafted two players, Steve Tasker and Mike Golic, who went on to help other teams.

Hill caught 64 balls his first year as an Oiler, while gaining a career best 1,169 yards. The nine touchdown catches he had that year would be the second best total of his career. Campbell was fired before the season ended, replaced by Jerry Glanville.

Glanville began getting Moon and Hill players on offense by drafting wide receivers Haywood Jeffries, Ernest Givens and Curtis Duncan in the 1987 draft. Kent Hill had come over from the Rams in 1986 to help Mike Munchak, Bruce Matthews and Dean Steinkuhler form an excellent offensive line. Munchak and Matthews would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Oilers reached the playoffs in 1987 for the first time since 1980. They would go to the playoffs every year until 1993. Though they lost in the first round four times and reached the second round just thrice, their “Run and Shoot” offense was prolific.

Though Hill weighed 170, he was the inside receiver for Houston. While he often would stretch the seam of defenses, he was tough enough to go over the middle and was a good blocker. He soon became the guy Moon could rely on most.

“Drew was a great receiver, one who knew the offense and was always in the right spot,” Moon said. “I always knew exactly where Drew would be. He had a low-key demeanor. He didn’t get upset. He was always cool under pressure.”

While the 1987 season is most noted for losing four games because of a players strike, Hill was still able to pile up 989 yards on 49 receptions. He then followed that up the next year with perhaps the finest season of his career.

While obtaining his first Pro Bowl nod, Hill set a career high mark of 10 touchdown catches while grabbing 72 passes for 1,141 yards. He got dinged up with injuries the next year, missing four starts but still was able to gain 938 yards on 66 receptions and eight scores.

The 1990 season was his last Pro Bowl year after Hill caught 74 passes. He followed that up with a career best 90 receptions the next season despite being 35 years old. Hill also has a knack of making his fellow wide receivers better too.

His leadership and influence helped Jeffries, Givens and Duncan all become Pro Bowl players as well. The quartet caught 315 passes as a group in the 1991 season. Hill and Jeffries had 190 by themselves. He left the Oilers after that year to go back to his home state and join the Atlanta Falcons.

He was the Oilers leader in career receptions and receiving yards when he left. He still ranks fourth in receptions and second in receiving yards and touchdowns. Hill caught 94 balls in two tears with the Falcons before retiring after the 1993 season.

Though he was a humble man who shunned the spotlight, Hill had over 1,000 yards receiving in five of his seven years with Houston. His 15.6 yards per catch average shows his ability to get deep into a defense despite working through the heart of the defense most of the time.

While he was old school, just doing his job in a steady fashion that was as reliable as the sun rising and setting, Hill never made waves or wanted superfluous attention. Yet his 634 career receptions for 9,831 yards and 61 touchdowns show he was beyond spectacular.

Former teammates said he lived his last years as an avid golfer who ran a business in the Atlanta area. Alonzo Highsmith saw Hill in December, saying Hill told him he was doing well. Yet he had two massive strokes Friday and passed away. News of his passing has slowly been trickling out at a low-key pace since.

Even in passing, Hill has found a way to temporarily avoid the spotlight. Yet now is the time for any fan anywhere, especially those blessed enough to actually get to watch him play, to take a moment of silence and appreciate the gridiron exploits of Drew Hill.

They Don’t Care About Us

I’m not interested in the National Football League’s PR campaign.

I’m not interested in supporting the current stance of the NFL Players Association.

I’m not enthusiastic about a shortened season, and I mourn the loss of trust among team owners, players and fans.

My frustration grows daily. I just want the world’s greatest game to continue growing strong.

Unfortunately, the National Football League and the NFL Players Association don’t really care about us, and I don’t care to take sides.
http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1

Do Titans lack sense of urgency?

Aug 9, 2009; Canton, OH, USA; Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fischer (left) poses with Titans owner Bud Adams on the sidelines during the Hall of Fame game against the Buffalo Bills at Fawcett Stadium. Photo via Newscom

http://view.picapp.com//JavaScripts/OTIjs.jsWhen will the Tennessee Titans make a personnel move that makes you say “whoa”?

The Minnesota Vikings made such a move on October 6 by acquiring receiver Randy Moss from the New England Patriots.

The Vikings are operating with a sense of urgency. Quarterback Brett Favre, who turns 41 in a few days, has said this will be his final NFL season. Viking head coach Brad Childress knows his team is loaded with All-Stars. Childress and his players want to win a Super Bowl, as does principal team owner Zygi Wilf, who also wants a new stadium.

How are the Tennessee Titans operating?

As usual, the primary concern seems to be maintaining the status quo. Unfortunately, the status quo in Nashville means the Titans will fall short of greatness.

How great it would be to wake up and find out that the Titans traded for a high-caliber player and signaled to fans that the team is serious about winning Super Bowls.

As of today, Tennessee is 2-2. No reason to panic, that is, unless the team doesn’t improve. Then, of course, we’re looking at another 8-8 season, which is intolerable for this passionate Titans fan.

According to media reports, team management had at least two occasions to reacquire defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth from the Washington Redskins.

Defensive end Derrick Morgan, the Titans’ 2010 1st round draft pick, was injured in the Broncos game and is out for the season.

The Titans need defensive line depth. They signed a defensive tackle. His name? Amon Gordon.

Congratulations to Gordon. I hope defensive line coach Jim Washburn motivates Gordon to do great things. But do I need to state the obvious?

Again, I ask: When will the Tennessee Titans make a personnel move that makes you say “whoa”?

Titans management is well-aware that Titans fans are among the most loyal in the NFL. Every game that has been played in LP Field has been a sellout. Outstanding, but a 3-13 season and a 13-3 season gives team owner Bud Adams the same financial reward. Why make a “whoa” transaction when fans will show up for home games no matter what?

But I suspect there is a sense of urgency in Bud Adams. He gave t-shirts to the team before the Steelers game encouraging them to dream big — by picturing themselves playing in Super Bowl 45.

In contrast, when asked about playoff aspirations, head coach Jeff Fisher usually responds by saying he’s only thinking about “winning the next ball game.”

I guess it’s the Texan in me that wishes Fisher would dream big. Maybe it’s why I like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. There is no doubt that Jones expects his team to be Super Bowl contenders every year and that he will do whatever it takes to put a competitive team on the field.

Every team in the NFL, including the Cleveland Browns, is capable of winning the next ball game. However, the Browns, a storied franchise, have never played in a Super Bowl.

The Titans have appeared on one Super Bowl, and Fisher was at the helm. Can he lead the current incarnation of the Tennessee Titans to another one?

I see the Titans as a team with a spectacular running back, a quarterback who’s under wraps, and a talented defensive with no dominant players. By “dominant,” I mean “feared by opponents.” Like DeMarcus Ware. Or Nnamdi Asomugwa. Or Haynesworth in 2008.

The 2010 season is still young, and I’d like to look back on it and say that Titans management, coaches and players took a giant leap forward. Will they?

Do the Titans lack a sense of urgency?

No Haynesworth deal this week

Washington Redskins defensive linebacker Albert Haynesworth walks off the field after practice at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Virginia, on August 5, 2010. Haynesworth has still not passed a conditioning test and is not practicing with the team.   UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg Photo via Newscom

http://view.picapp.com//JavaScripts/OTIjs.jsPut away the party favors.

Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan tried to put a damper on the Albert Haynesworth-to-Titans trade talk by saying the defensive tackle “will be with our team on Sunday.”

However, he might be with the Titans by Tuesday.

It is clear that Haynesworth is not happy with the prospect of playing nose guard and that he is exerting far less than 100 percent effort in his second season with the Skins.

Ironically, due to the improvement of Tennessee’s defensive linemen, the Titans may not need Haynesworth. Even so, you’d be foolish not to make a reasonable offer to the Redskins for a player who was the best player on the Titans’ roster in 2008.

I expect Haynesworth will be one happy and highly-motivated player if traded. Keep your fingers crossed.

Respect the fullback

NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 09:  Fullback Ahmard Hall #45 of the Tennessee Titans gets off the ball while taking on the St. Louis Rams during a pre-season game at LP Field on August 9, 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

http://view.picapp.com//JavaScripts/OTIjs.jsSince this is the third article in a row with fullbacks as its primary subject, it should be crystal clear that I’m a big fan of the running game, and that I wish fullbacks were featured more prominently in NFL offenses.

My heart literally skips a beat whenever a fullback is allowed to carry the football. Ridiculous, huh?

Perhaps the most emotional moment during Emmitt Smith’s Hall of Fame induction speech was his tearful tribute to fullback Daryl Johnston. Johnston was a key contributor to Smith’s success with the Dallas Cowboys in an era when the fullback’s role had been diminished and devalued.

There was a time when fullbacks used to run the football. As a small time, I was a Cowboys fan (most Texans are Cowboys fans by default) and enjoyed watching number 44, Robert Newhouse, who served as more than just a lead blocker for Preston Pearson and Tony Dorsett. In 1975, Newhouse carried the ball 209 times for 930 yards. He rushed for 4,784 yards during his 12-year career.

Not to be forgotten is big Tim Wilson, who carried the ball 126 times for the Oilers during Earl Campbell’s rookie season in 1978.

In the late 1970s, the NFL put new rules in place that made it easier for teams to execute in the passing game. Soon, teams frequently use formations with multiple wide receivers which took the fullback off the field and the ball out of his hands.

Wikipedia correctly notes that Jim Brown, Franco Harris and Larry Csonka were fullbacks. All three players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Roger Craig, the tremendous receiver and runner who made his mark with the San Francisco 49ers, may become the last player who played significant snaps at fullback to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Recently, fullback Mike Alstott concluded his career in 2006 with 5088 yards rushing. Baltimore Raven Le’Ron McClain had an anomaly of a season in 2008 as he rushed for 902 yards.

Will we see the triumphant return of ball-toting fullbacks? I doubt it. But the next time you see Chris Johnson, or any other running back, breaking long runs and scoring touchdowns, remember the man leading the way who will only get a handful of carries and very little glory.

Respect the fullback.

2010 Titans 53-Man Roster Prediction

Quarterback (3): Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Rusty Smith

Chris Simms hurt his chances by getting arrested for driving under the influence in early July. Rusty Smith has a great opportunity to earn a roster spot by demonstrating his grasp of the offense.

Halfback (4): Chris Johnson, Javon Ringer, LeGarrette Blount, Stafon Johnson

NFL.com thinks former Oregon Duck LeGarrette Blount is on the fringe. I say he’s a lock to make the Titans roster. Blount, signed as a free agent after his well-documented fracas, has first-round talent and a lot to prove. Stafon Johnson is a feel-good story in the making. He runs with ease and can help in the return game.

Fullback (2): Ahmard Hall, Willie Rose

I’m going out on a limb by saying that rookie Willie Rose makes the roster. If Chris Johnson weren’t on the team, I’d go a step further and say that Rose will beat out Hall for the starting fullback job. Nothing against Hall, but he is 30 and we all know how much the Titans and the NFL love older players.

Rose has serious skills. He is an elusive runner and can catch the ball effectively. I’ll keep a close eye on Rose during training camp.

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Wide Receiver (5): Justin Gage, Nate Washington, Kenny Britt, Lavelle Hawkins, Damian Williams

Lavelle Hawkins’ emergence during the offseason will affect the other young receivers currently on the roster. Seventh rounder Marc Mariani seems destined for the practice squad. Dominique Edison will have to outperform Hawkins to earn a spot.

Say goodbye to Paul Williams, whose ninth life is about to expire. I don’t see him making the team or being kept as a 26-year-old practice squad player.

Tight End (3): Bo Scaife, Craig Stevens, Jared Cook

No surprises here, other than the Titans will keep three tight ends instead of four. It’s been said many times, but I’ll say it again. Cook, last year’s second round draft pick, really needs to step up his game.

Offensive Line (9): Michael Roos, Leroy Harris, Eugene Amano, Jake Scott, David Stewart, Ryan Durand, Troy Kropog, Mike Otto, Kevin Matthews

Kevin Matthews, son of former Oiler/Titans Bruce Matthews, was signed as an undrafted rookie. I think he makes the roster for one reason, and it’s not simply because of his father’s legacy.

The Matthews family can play ball, period. Call it “the Matthews exemption.” Give the kid a shot, and I think he will become a solid player.

Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan celebrates after he was drafted by the Tennessee Titans as the number 16 overall pick during the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York on April 22, 2010. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg Photo via Newscom

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Defensive Line (8): William Hayes, Derrick Morgan, Dave Ball, Jacob Ford, Tony Brown, Jason Jones, Sen’Derrick Marks, David Howard

I think the Titans would like to keep nine defensive linemen, but their shaky situation at linebacker will force them to keep eight.

Dave Ball’s versatility gives him the nod over free agent signee Jason Babin. Sen’Derrick Marks has had a good offseason, which gives the Titans the opportunity to jettison the underperforming Jovan Haye. Derrick Morgan should start at right defensive end.

Linebacker (7): David Thornton, Gerald McRath, Will Witherspoon, Rennie Curran, Stephen Tulloch, Jamie Winborn, Colin Allred

The Titans linebacker situation is a mess. Keith Bulluck signed with the Giants, David Thornton isn’t healthy, and future starter Gerald McRath will miss the first four regular season games due to violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy.

The big winner here is veteran Jamie Winborn, who had little chance of making the team before McRath’s suspension.

Cornerback (5): Cortland Finnegan, Jason McCourty, Ryan Mouton, Alterraun Verner, Tye Hill

Rod Hood’s injury opened the door for Tye Hill. I think Hill has something to prove after falling short of expectations as a former first round draft pick.

Safety (4): Chris Hope, Michael Griffin, Vincent Fuller, Robert Johnson

Rookie and Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle is a great guy, but I’m not completely sold on his football skills. I do hope he is in the Titans’ long term plans, but he may have to spend 2010 on the practice squad. I wonder if he’s willing to sit out a season, knowing he’s capable of achieving greatness outside the gridiron.

Specialists (3): kicker Rob Bironas; punter Brett Kern; long snapper Ken Amato

The preseason will be fun to watch. Go Willie Rose! Go Titans!