The Titans will be at destiny's door again in 09 but will they find the key to open it?

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When the Titans were the Houston Oilers, then head coach Buddy Ryan said that they had knocked on the door of the AFC Championship a couple of times and promised to kick it down next year. They didn’t and he was gone a season later.

For most of last year, the Titans were considered by nearly everyone the best team in the AFC if not the NFL. Then they lost to the Jets and that seemed to take the heart out of the team. They ended up doing what they have for all the Super Bowls but 2000—watching from the sidelines. This year could be different, but don’t bet the house on it unless you have a balloon payment due on it soon. Chances are 4-1 they will be the second or third best team in the conference. It will take luck and avoiding injuries to get the Titans to big game.

Former starting quarterback Vince Young will be fighting a possibly terminal case of splinters from carrying the clip board all year. Kerry Collins is the starter and Young has done absolutely nothing to win over the coaching staff or the team other than run his mouth. Collins is calm, accurate, very instinctive and has an above average arm. Young has an above average mouth and arm but has yet to put in the time to learn the playbook or read defenses on the fly.

The Titans have an outstanding running game. The Titans knew that rookie Chris Johnson was fast but they had no idea that he could run inside the way he does. He is establishing himself as one of the top half dozen runners in the league and can take a simple plunge or wheel route to the endzone. USC second banana LenDale White will have the same role this year in Tennessee. White has slimmed down to 229 and looks faster while not losing his power. He is in a contract year and won’t be back in 2010. FB Ahmard Hall is vastly underrated.

The Titans got Steeler UFA WR Nate Washington to sign and he will start opposite last year wideout Justin Gage. Washington was the 3rd WR last year in Pittsburgh but is expected to be the deep threat and top option in 09. He is not a top 15 WR. Gage will be the possession pass catcher and is good at that role. The reserves are thin with that group including the talented but baby bean green Kenny Britt and a bunch of stiffs.

The team will use 2 TEs a lot again and have a couple of the best in the league. Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler can both block and catch. Neither will get deep but can control the short middle of the field.

The O line isn’t full of brand names but the line works well together and is rock solid. LT Michael Roos, C Kevin Mawae and RG Jake Scott are all pro bowl quality and starters LG Eugene Amano RT David Stewart are good in this system and getting better. Backup C/G Leroy Harris is capable of filling in any of the inside spots.

The one question mark on the team is the D line’s ability to continue to play at a high level without the traded DT Albert Haynesworth. Tony Brown who played LDT will probably get that job with Jason Jones replacing Brown unless either Jovan Haye or Sen’Derrick Marks take his place. RDE Kyle Vanden Bosch is going to have to return to top form after a groin problem last year and Dave Ball will play opposite him on first and second down. The freak Jevon Kearse returns to the Titans this season and should be a force again in passing situations.

RLB Keith Bulluck leads the backers and is outstanding. LLB David Thornton, MLB Stephen Tulloch are both fine but there is no quality depth so all three will have to stay healthy. Their success will in large part be determined by how well the D line makes up for Hayesworth’s absence.

The Titans have one of the very best D back groups in the league. CBs Nick Harper and Cortland Finnegan join FS Michael Griffin and SS Chris Hope to form a group all playing at a pro bowl level. Backups FS/Nickel back Vincent Fuller and SS Donnie Nickey provide both experience and ability.

OVERALL: The Titans are among the top 5 teams in the league in terms of talent. They have to stay healthy as do their competitors to get to the big game. But the Titans also have to overcome their tendency of losing to the Steelers, Pats and Colts in big games. Each of those teams seem to have the mental edge against Tennessee. This year they could well overcome their past losses and get to the Super Bowl but I doubt it. But at the very least, they should make the playoffs and be among the last 4 AFC teams on the board.

That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.

Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .

 

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Roethlisberger hoping for a little more protection in 09.

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Big Ben Roethlisberger has gotten his bell rung a lot more often than he would like. He was sacked 139 times over the last 3 years and that has to stop. A lesser man like backup Charlie Batch who is coming back after a broken collarbone last year wouldn’t have lasted as long as Ben. The only obvious weakness in the Steelers this season looks to be the O line.

Roethlisberger has 2 Super Bowl rings but has yet to play well in the big game. He has been the beneficiary of the run first Pittsburgh offense. To get to the Super Bowl, he is going to have to play better this season. The Steelers have an easier schedule on paper but some of the key competitors are better. Every team will be pointing to knock off the Steel men.

The Steelers shuffled their O line a lot in 08. Four starters were new to their positions. The only sure thing on the O line is C Justin Hartwig. LT Matt Starks lost the RT position to Willie Colon but is expected to try to hold down the left side this year. The guards are nothing special.

The running game did not produce as well last year as in the past due mostly to RB Willie Parker being hit in the backfield. Getting hit as he gets the ball slows Fast Willie down. Reserve Rashard Mendenhall missed the last 12 games of the regular season and the playoffs due to injury. If the running game is going to get back to the top of the league, he has to contribute.

There is very little behind WR starters Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. 3rd WR Nate Washington left via free agency and will be missed. FA pickup and ex-Lion Shaun McDonald could be the slot receiver to replace him. At TE Heath Miller has to stay healthy because there is nothing behind him. Miller is Ben’s security blanket and is one of the best combo block/catch TEs in the league.

The D line is solid and deep. Ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel keep the linebackers clean and NT Casey Hampton is a load and three quarters. Chris Hoke and Travis Kirschke have experience and I like rookie DE Ziggy Hood.

As always in Steel town, the linebackers are the heart of the D. LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison are as good a unit as there is in the league. They are tough against the run and the pass. Add the Blitzburgh scheme and your QB will need Tylenol 34 because Tylenol 2 won’t be strong enough. There is no experienced depth and that could become a problem.

With the exception of SS Troy Polamalu, the D backfield is only slightly above average. They look a lot better with the great pass rush that the system and the front 7 generates. Quality depth is a problem as well. Bryant McFadden is gone and at 33 Deshea Townsend may not make the final roster. The Steelers added vets Roy Lewis and Keiwan Ratliff who should help.

The key to the Steelers 2009 season will be the O line. If they can protect Ben and get some push to help the running game, the team will be in the playoffs and will challenge for a title again.

That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.

Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .

Technorati Tags: Steelers,NFL,NFL Draft,Roethlisberger,Parker,Ward,Holmes,Hartwig,Super Bowl,McDonald,Hampton,LaMarr Woodley,James Farrior,Lawrence Timmons. James Harrison,Polamalu

Saturday Niblets for 6/6/09

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Today is the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. My Dad was the first American on Omaha Red beach 2 hours before the invasion. Today, we salute all those that risked or gave their lives to help free Europe from Hitler.

Best Email of the last 2 weeks: from James on “The Cavs are a 1972 Comet with a Ferrari engine.” too bad Lebron and the Cavs failed to reach the championships… was rooting for them! I just do not know what will happen of the team if Kobe comes in… the dynamics of team will likely change, but if they get past that they’d get a huge chance in grabbing the title next year…

James: The chances of Kobe coming are very slim. But you are exactly correct in that the team is going to have to have a rebuild this off season to become a championship caliber team in time to win a title for LeBron next season. Thanks for your comment.

Updates on previous columns:

Mangenious and his Magical Bus trip

The NFLPA is investigating the Magical Bus trip of 10 hours each way to the football camp outside of Hartford Conn. that Eric Mangini forced on the 19 Browns rookies. Of course Mangini flew to Hartford and was planning to fly back until someone smarter than him suggested how bad that would look. Let’s hope the league fines Mangenious a couple of hundred thousand dollars and gives it to those that took the bus.

LeBron is LeGone

Lebron James was fined $25,000 by the NBA for failing to speak to the media after the loss to the Magic in game 6 of their Eastern Conference Finals. Initially, the league announced that he would not be fined. In an interview on ESPN Radio, Comm. Stern the day after that announcement was made, Stern said he was looking into the issue.

What do you do with a young benched starting QB?

Titans coach Jeff Fisher told the press that “eventually” Vince Young will be the starting QB. Fisher told the press that Young has been spending time in the weight room.

My Advice: Vince, get out of the weight room and camp in the film room. The problem is your understanding of the playbook and reading coverage not your arm strength.

Niblets fresh off the cob:

The NFLPA reaches a settlement with retired players

Retired NFL players had filed suit against the NFLPA to get a part of the money flow of the various marketing deals that the NFLPA gets. According to ex-Packer and Hall of Fame DB Herb Adderley who filed the suit, the settlement gives retired players 26.25 million dollars. This is only one issue between current and retired players.

Exec. Dir. DeMaurice Smith told a meeting of active and retired players that benefits for retired players would be reduced by 80% if the NFL Owners lock the players out after 2011. This will be one more potential suit for Adderley to file against the NFLPA.

The Lakers win game 1 by 25.

The Lakers looked good Thursday night against the Magic. According to several sources, the Lakers are much more focused in the finals because of their loss last year to the Celtics. We will see. If they play the way they did against the Nuggets, the Lakers will lose again. Magic C Dwight Howard is not going to score just 12 points often. Neither returning all star PG Jameer Nelson or Rafer Alston played particularly well. Nelson, coming off an injury, should get better with more practice to shake off the rust.

The NHL series is all tied up.

After Pittsburgh won the first two games at home, many pundants wrote that the series was over. Not so fast. The Red Wings looked tired and slow compared to the younger Penguins. The scheduling of back to back games has helped the Pens. But to win, the Pens are going to have to win game 5 at Detroit. I don’t believe that they can win a game 7 in hostile territory against a seasoned team like the Wings.

That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.

Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .

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Defensive sleepers in the 2009 NFL draft.

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Yesterday we looked at a few unknown offensive players that have NFL potential. Today, we look at the D side of the ball.

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Ty Steinkuhler Nebraska—Stein is an under tackle in a 4-3 that is very disruptive. He is rock solid against the run and can rush the passer. He can penetrate by getting around the G or just pushing him back into the QB. I really like him. None of the experts seem to think he is worth a draft choice but he will make a team and become a regular in the DT rotation.

Stryker Sulak Missouri—What a great name for a D player! Sulak is a 250 pound DE that may well be a conversion project to OB. He can play the run fairly well but his strength is rushing the passer. Some team will take him in the 6th or 7th round and be very happy. At 6-5 he has the frame to put on 30 pounds and be a 3-4 DE, or stay at 250 and learn to play standing up.

Matt Shaughnessy Wisconsin—Matt is not your typical Badger grinder. He has the ability to rush the passer and knock down balls by timing his jump when he fails to get to the passer. He is also in that 250-260 range so he may be switched to OB in a 3-4 or at 6-6 he could also beef up to be a 4-3 or 3-4 DE. Like Sulak, he does tend to get tied up with an OT that gets their hands on him. He should be gone by the end of the 3rd round.

Nick Reed Oregon—Reed is a 6-3 248 pounder that will be converted to OB. He shows well above average pass rush but has to work on taking good angles to runs and getting control of his body when rushing the passer. He tends to hurry the throw but fail to make a sack due to missing the QB. That can be taught. He will be a late 2 early 3 round pick.

Myron Pryor Kentucky—Pryor is a nose tackle type that has gone under the radar. He is 80 percent run stopper 20 percent pass rusher. He does help to collapse the pocket which is a critical quality for a NT. Most experts have him going in the 5th or 6th round but because the lack of true NTs in the draft, he will go higher and be productive.

Lawrence Sidbury Richmond—I wish this guy could keep his emotions under control. He will make 2 great plays in a row then commit a stupid penalty on 3rd down that gives the O a first. He is a relentless pass rusher that hits the run hard but sometimes over runs the play. If he goes to a team that can focus that emotion, they will get a real bargain in 5th or 6th round. At 6-4 265, he can bulk up and not lose much speed.

LB

Scott McKillop Pittsburgh—He is an IB with excellent instincts and is a hard worker. He sometimes misses a tackle trying to rip the ball out, but plays the run sideline to sideline. He should be 4th round pick.

Marcus Freeman Ohio State—Freeman is the unknown of the OSU linebackers. In 08 he played better in some games than the big names. He does everything well. He can cover a receiver, force a sweep inside and blitz the passer. He just isn’t great at any one thing. He will be a surprise 2nd round pick.

DB

By far, the hardest position to evaluate on TV is the DB. However, there are a couple that deserve mention as under the radar high potential players.

Tony Clark S Georgia Tech—Clark is a LB that will play safety or a hybrid LB/S at the next level. He is smart, tough, and is an above average tackler. He is another guy that is not on many draft boards but is a player that deserves to be drafted or signed to a URFA contract.

Morgan Trent Michigan—Trent is a guy that could be outstanding if he kept his focus. He will make a great play then totally blow his responsibility. With coaching, he can be refocused and should be a contributor. He will be a 7th round pick or a URFA.

That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.

Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .

My email is [email protected]

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