|Titans accelerate rebuilding with nasty defense, ready for more|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 07 January 2008 12:02|
Now if Vince Young can adapt to NFL defenses the way they learned to stop him, the Titans might be ready to do more than just reach the postseason.
``Vince said it: We'll be back,'' veteran receiver Eric Moulds said.
For a franchise busy rebuilding through the draft and thrifty spending on free agents, they got early results with their first winning season and playoff berth since 2003. Not even a 17-6 loss Sunday to the San Diego Chargers could dampen their enthusiasm over what the future holds.
``For this team with how young we are, it was something to build on,'' linebacker Keith Bulluck said.
``A lot of feelings are hurt in here, but that's a good thing because a lot of the feelings that are hurt have never experienced playoff football. Now they see what it is really about to be in this league and get to the postseason.''
Coach Jeff Fisher, who had his contract extended through 2011 in September, said his team has nothing to be ashamed of after finishing 10-6. The challenge now is competing in the AFC South with Indianapolis and Jacksonville.
``Last year, we took an opportunity well into the end of the season to have a chance to get into the playoffs,'' Fisher said. ``This year our goal was to get in, and we did so. For that, I am very proud of them. They understand now how these games go.''
First, the Titans must deal with the one issue that hung over their entire season: What to do with troubled cornerback Adam ``Pacman'' Jones?
Suspended for the 2007 season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, his status won't be reviewed again by the league until after the Pro Bowl on Feb. 10. He can work out at the Titans' building now that their season is over.
The biggest offseason decision will be if the Titans want to risk the chemistry built in their locker room by returning the talented but polarizing cornerback. He is under contract through 2010 because of the suspension, and he could boost their weak return units.
But Fisher, who had been Jones' defender, seems to have lost patience with someone he could only call ``the player'' when asked about the cornerback only a few weeks ago.
The Titans earned the AFC's sixth and final playoff spot thanks to Pro Bowl kicker Rob Bironas and a tough defense that went from allowing the most yards per game in the NFL in 2006 - with Jones - to the fifth-stingiest in 2007 without him.
They protected a team that lost 34 turnovers by allowing only three touchdowns and tied with Indianapolis with 22 interceptions - second-most in the NFL.
Tennessee will have approximately $40 million in salary cap space, and team officials' first decisions involve three players on the defensive line.
Pro Bowl tackle Albert Haynesworth likely will be tagged as a franchise player after the best season of his six-year career, allowing the Titans to see if he can be as dominant and disruptive for a second straight year before giving him a big contract.
They also must decide if they want to keep defensive ends Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy. Both blossomed - finally - in their fourth seasons, and Odom managed to start every game and had a career-high eight sacks.
A top priority will be finding more help for an offense that scored only four more points than the defense allowed in the regular season (301-297).
Young lost receivers Roydell Williams and Brandon Jones to injuries late. Veteran Eric Moulds proved a good mentor to a young group that needs a speedy receiver. Justin Gage, a one-year contract gamble, paid off by catching 55 passes for a career-high 750 yards.
``Definitely seeing the youth of the team, how the team works, how the team's growing, I'd definitely like to come back here,'' Gage said.
Right guard Benji Olson might retire after his back caused him to miss four games in his 10th season, and left guard Jacob Bell is a free agent.
LenDale White proved durable in his first season as a starter and ran for 1,110 yards, never missing a game despite a sore knee down the stretch. Fisher said last week that White, who struggled with his weight in the offseason, has learned what he needs to do to prepare for next season.
``It depends on us how far we can go,'' White said.
He helped the Titans finish with the fifth-best rushing offense, a drop of only one spot from 2006 when Travis Henry was the starter.
Young may be 17-12 as a starter, and he led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing with 395 yards, but the quarterback some projected as a three-year project still has lots to learn.
He improved his completion percentage to 62.3 percent, up from 51.5 percent his rookie year. Yet he threw only nine touchdown passes with 17 interceptions, and he had trouble at times holding onto the ball, losing three of 10 fumbles.
Those nine TD passes? Fewest ever by a playoff team in a 16-game season.
Young sounds eager to get started.
``I'll take two weeks off, and then I'm going back to work. Seeing how this team has come from ... nothing to now something, that's inspired me and I hope the whole team gets back to work,'' Young said.
``We are young. Not to use that as an excuse, but we have learned a lot through this season.''