Accentuate the positive

It’s natural for friends to diss each other’s team. If you don’t diss your friend’s team, even the two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, people might start to worry. So, as the guys gathered to watch the family film of the year, Sin City, one of my friends made an offhand comment about the Titans. At the time it was just one of many innocent sounding pre-draft comments. Later it started to bother me.

“Don’t expect much from the Titans this year.”

Naturally trash talk is a tough nut to crack when your friend can always pull out the “Why don’t you come over and watch my Patriots Super Bowl DVDs?” The best thing we have on him is Tom Brady’s use of a man bag. Actually that one works pretty well. On the edge of every football-related comment is an edge of arrogance. And you know what, he has every right to act that way. If my team perpetually sucked and suddenly became the flagship franchise of the league I’d be even more of a bastard.

That comment, though, it went too far. What in the name of the San Diego Chargers was he thinking? There are many reasons why the NFL is so popular. It’s America’s sport. The game is perfect for television. It’s a socialist league, but the kind of socialism that Americans can respect. Everyone shares, but they’re sharing a pile of loot the size of Hawaii. The best part is any team can compete in any given year. That’s right, even the Titans.

Every mention of the Titans this offseason is about their recent salary-cap related hara-kiri. Yes, they had to let several key players go due to poor financial management. You’re darn tootin’ that it’s going to be one big stomach punch when Derrick Mason and Samari Rolle show up to the Titans’ home opener wearing the purple and black of the hated Ravens. Anyone can be negative. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do. I’m going to accentuate the positives.

What went right for the Titans in 2004:

Letting Eddie George was tough, even though deep down in our hearts we knew that he had become Ron Dayne. Behind him was an untested, injury-prone rookie who did nothing last year but did score two playoff touchdowns. Chris Brown exceeded all expectations. Sure, he only played nine second halfs all year and missed five games, including the last three. Here’s the good part. Eddie George averaged 3.3 yards a carry in 2003. Chris Brown averaged 4.9 yards a carry. That’s a 50% increase in production.

The next guy who had a breakout year is our best player from the 2001 draft. The problem is, we didn’t even draft him. Drew Bennett was a tall, lanky backup quarterback at UCLA. The Titans thought that he’d make good roster filler and they signed him. Both he and Justin McCareins broke through in 2003 and when the Titans offered both players contract extensions Bennett signed and McCareins said thanks but no thanks. McCareins was shipped off to the Jets for a second-rounder and Bennett became the Titans’ number two receiver. He did all right. In the first few games of the season he’d break free at least once a game on a deep pattern and every time he’d drop the pass. When McNair got hurt Volek came in and Bennett became a star. He caught ten touchdowns in the last eight games. My mouth was agape when he caught 12 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns on Monday night against the Chiefs. One reason is I was winning my weekly fantasy game by 30 points and my opponent had Bennett. He won.

Jacob Bell was a fifth-round draft pick out of Miami of Ohio. While a former teammate of his got all of the well-deserved publicity, Bell, became the Titans’ rookie of the year. When Zach Pillar left the lineup due to injury Bell took over and played well. He was such a solid performer that he’s currently penciled in as the team’s starting right tackle. That’s great news, except that Bell tore his ACL in November and recently had shoulder surgery. It’s hard to be 100% positive in these reports.

Other breakthrough players from 2004:

Billy Volek threw, threw, and threw some more after taking over the QB position. Chris Brown’s injury, a decimated offensive line, and an even more decimated defense meant that the pass was in. Volek threw about ten fade patterns to Drew Bennett in the Chiefs’ game and it worked every time. It’s good to know that Volek can step in and perform at a high level.

Randy Starks was projected as a possible first-rounder when he left the University of Maryland after his junior year. Bad workouts and a questionable attitude had him drop to the third round. The Titans gladly took him and he was a standout in the defensive tackle rotation. Starks will be a starter at DT this year.

Brad Kassell played so well as a fill-in MLB that the Lions just made a $1 million contract offer to the fourth-year linebacker. The Titans have a week to match the offer.
Troy Fleming is of the new breed of fullback. He’s not much of a lead blocker but he can catch some passes out of the backfield. He’ll help on special teams, but not in a kick-returning role. Please, Jeff Fisher, don’t ever put him back to return kickoffs. Ever.

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