The Tennessee Titans’ decision to release tight end Taylor Thompson last week has attracted the attention of the NFL Players Association, according to an ESPN report.
At issue is whether or not the fourth-year tight end is injured, which has been an issue throughout the offseason and likely was a factor in the franchise’s decision.
Thompson missed virtually all of the Titans’ organized team activities (OTAs) and sat out all of last week’s minicamp because, he said, of a knee injury. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, however, said he knew of no health issues with Thompson, a fifth-round pick in 2012.
Teams can only waive an injured player if the sides agree on financial terms related to the severity of the injury.
From ESPN.com’s Adam Caplan:
Thompson is considering surgical options, which include a cleanup surgery or microfracture surgery. Should he have microfracture surgery, that would likely keep him out for the entire 2015 season.
The 25-year-old Thompson appeared in just three games last season due to the knee injury.
The Titans did not designate Thompson as waived-injured, which means the team considered him healthy. The NFLPA likely will argue that he is, in fact, hurt and, therefore, eligible for some degree of compensation.
It was clear weeks ago that it would be difficult for Taylor Thompson to make the Tennessee Titans’ roster this season.
In recent days, though, the fourth-year tight end made it easy for the Titans to release him. They did exactly that Thursday, the final day of their offseason training program.
Thompson was absent for most of the team’s 10 organized team activities (OTAs) and did not take part in any of this week’s three minicamp workouts because of what he said was a sore knee. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said this week, though, that he knew nothing of any health issues with 2012 fifth-round draft pick.
“To be honest with you, I don't know what to tell you,'' Whisenhunt said, according to The Tennessean. “When (Taylor) left here, however many weeks ago, he was healthy. We communicated, he said he was fine, no issues, other than some personal matters.”
Whatever the situation with his leg, Thompson had not been in good standing since the start of the offseason.
A college defensive end, he was drafted as a project when Mike Munchak and his staff were in charge of the team. In three seasons, he caught just 11 passes and scored one touchdown. He never became a reliable receiver, let alone the matchup issue the previous coaching staff envisioned.
He did get playing time ahead of veteran Craig Stevens early last season. Ultimately, though, he played just three before a knee injury (naturally) sent him to injured reserve.
A week into free agency, the Titans added veteran free agent tight end Anthony Fasano. A couple weeks later, Stevens accepted a pay cut, which put Thompson in a tough spot. Fasano and Stevens each got new deals and Delanie Walker established himself the last two years as an invaluable member of the offense.
Few teams keep four tight ends on the active roster, and the chances Tennessee might do so decreased even further when they drafted two running backs, one of the Jalston Fowler (fourth round) who can play fullback, H-back or running back.
Maybe Thompson really is hurt and has been unable to take part in on-field workouts in recent weeks.
Then again, maybe he knew he was going to get cut eventually and decided it was best not to risk his health in order to guarantee he would be at full strength to try and win a job with another club. In that case, saying he was injured — and sitting out of workouts — convinced the Titans to make that move sooner rather than later and gave him more time to seek out a new team.
Either way, it was going to come to this. So either his body failed him or his mind was sharp enough to make it happen.
The final day of NFL minicamps often is more about attitude than it is about execution.
Coaches reward players for hard work in the preceding weeks – and try to send them into the subsequent dead period in a good mood – by replacing the standard practice with a fun activity or just canceling the workout altogether. The Houston Texans, for example, canceled their final workout Thursday. Mike Munchak routinely did it in his three seasons as Tennessee Titans coach.
Ken Whisenhunt went a different direction with the Titans this year.
“Our guys worked (Thursday),” the second-year coach said.. “We certainly needed it. It was good to get a lot of young guys in there for those extra reps. Hopefully it will pay off for us.
Coming off a 2-14 season, the Titans opted not to pass on any offseason opportunity to get better. It was shorter than normal but Thursday’s on-field session, which capped the offseason training program, was competitive and energetic and from start to finish.
“One of the messages I said to the team afterwards was, ‘You got a chance to see what leadership looks like today because that’s what today’s practice was about – the way you worked,’” Whisenhunt said. “… Obviously, we’ve got work to do but I’m excited about doing it with these guys. The energy and the enthusiasm out here (Thursday) … it’s a really good indication of these guys. Let’s be truthful: We recognize that we’ve got work to do, but it’s exciting to be able to do it with them.”
During the course of 10 organized team activities (OTAs) and this week’s three minicamp workouts, Whisenhunt said players ran more than 1,000 total plays. There were some situations that were not included among that work – most notably goal line – but by the point players should have a working knowledge of most of what the team plans to do this fall.
Whether all that work adds up to an improved record remains to be seen. Even Whisenhunt declined to concede that would be the case.
“I’m not saying I don’t have confidence that we’re going to be a better football team,” he said. “I’m just saying, until we do it it’s hard for me to sit up here and say we’re going to do it.”
Up until now, all the Titans could do was work to get better.
Players will report July 30 for the start of training camp. Between then, the expectations is that they will maintain or improve their fitness and review all the work they put in during OTAs and minicamp, via the tablets that include detailed descriptions and video archives of all those workouts.
“The two points that you make to the team on a day like (Thursday), No. 1 is, obviously, their down time – staying out of situations that can get you in trouble – and No. 2, staying in shape,” Whisenhunt said. “Listen, you’re not going to make this team if you can’t get on the field. And if you’re out of shape and it forces you – because of pulls or things like that – to keep from practicing.”
There was nothing that stopped those healthy enough to do so from doing exactly that Thursday.
Being out is better than being gone.
At least the Tennessee Titans hope so.
For the second straight year, they have a rookie running back unable to participate in organized team activities (OTAs), which are now half finished following Tuesday’s session.
This time, it is fifth-round draft pick David Cobb, whose participation has been limited at best, because of a hamstring injury. Last season, it was second-round choice Bishop Sankey, who was prohibited from attending until classes at his school (Washington) were complete. He missed nine OTA sessions.
Sankey ultimately led the Titans with 569 rushing yards, which was eighth among all rookies but, coach Ken Whisenhunt said last week, never made up the time he missed. He averaged just 3.7 yards per rush and scored two touchdowns and never developed into the reliable blocker in pass protection the team needed.
“He was playing catch-up and it's hard to do that when you are thrown into the wolves per se in camp, and he just never seemed to really catch up,” Whisenhunt said last week.
Cobb (pictured), a fifth-round pick this year out of Minnesota, is at the OTAs but the injury has kept him out of most activities. That still should put him in a better position than Sankey was in last season.
“(Tuesday), for instance, even though he’s not quite full speed yet or can’t quite do it, he can at least go through the reps of the ball handling,” Whisenhunt said. “I mean, that’s much more than what Bishop had. Bishop wasn’t even here.
“Then, when you’re standing behind it and we’re doing a pressure period — where the defense is really coming — there’s communication about the protection and how we’re doing it. So that’s the kind of stuff that’s invaluable as opposed to maybe getting a tape later and not having an idea of how everything was put together or communicated.”
The Titans were 26th in rushing offense last season with an average of 90.4 yards per game, their second-worst average in the last 24 years. At this point, they’re happy for anything that might make them better this fall.
The Tennessee Titans hope to get second-round draft pick Dorial Green-Beckham involved in organized team activities as soon as this week.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt hardly was definitive when he discussed the rookie’s status Tuesday, though.
The wide receiver out of Oklahoma by way of Missouri has been limited throughout this offseason by a strained hamstring. He originally sustained the injury during the team’s rookie minicamp and hurt it again during the first organized team activity (OTA) with the entire squad.
Whisenhunt said Green-Beckham was limited again Tuesday when the Titans conducted their fifth OTA. They are allowed 10, which means he effectively has missed half of them.
The next OTA is scheduled for Thursday. There also will be three mandatory minicamp workouts this month.
“As long as we get it healthy,” Whisenhunt said. “… Would I like to see him getting some reps? Yeah. You always want that, especially when you get a guy where we got him. He could use this work. But we’ll still have a lot of reps in training camp.
“Hopefully he’ll get out here, maybe Thursday, but hopefully for sure by next week.”
Hopefully, maybe, hopefully, for sure. Got that?
DaQuan Jones could have looked around at what happened with other Tennessee Titans 2014 draft picks and been frustrated.
Instead, the defensive tackle focused on what — or who — was ahead of him.
“I’m a rookie in the NFL and I understand there are people in front of me — veterans — and they’re pretty good at their job,” he said. “So I understand that I was inactive for a couple of games. When I was up and ready to play, I was happy to go in there and do my role and try to help out as much as I can.”
For the most part, in his one season-plus on the job, coach Ken Whisenhunt has shown he is partial to his guys, the ones drafted or signed since his arrival in January 2014.
He quickly made two members of the 2014 draft class (running back Bishop Sankey and linebacker Avery Williamson) starters. He looked for opportunities to get first-round choice Taylor Lewan involved quickly and chose to play quarterback Zach Mettenberger before the halfway point of the season.
Then there was Jones, a fourth-round choice out of Penn State. He was inactive four of the first five weeks, didn’t play the second week he was in uniform and ultimately saw less action than any of the others.
PAID TO PLAY
A look at the number of games played and starts for each of the Tennessee Titans’ 2014 draft picks:
Taylor Lewan, T – 11 games, 6 starts
Bishop Sankey, RB – 16 games, 9 starts
Marqueston Huff, CB – 14 games, 1 start
DaQuan Jones, DL – 7 games, 1 start
Avery Williamson, ILB – 16 games, 12 starts
Zach Mettenberger, QB – 7 games, 6 starts
Jones did start the final game of the season. It was an otherwise meaningless matchup but he distinguished himself with six tackles, his first career sack, a forced fumble and two quarterback pressures.
Apparently, that was all it took.
One of the more notable developments of the first week of OTAs has been Jones’ spot on the first team defense opposite fellow defensive end Jurrell Casey. Whisenhunt confirmed Wednesday that coaches now consider Jones a starter.
“I’m more comfortable,” Jones said. “I’m not thinking out there. I can play faster and just play my game. So I feel pretty confident this year. … I feel real good out there.”
No doubt, it beats the alternative.
Zach Mettenberger believes the best way to make a difference is to approach his current situation no differently than he has any other.
“It’s the same thing,” he said Tuesday. “You show up and work every day. I know what type of player I want to be and regardless of where I’m at, what the situation is I’m going to have to compete for a job every day. That’s the same approach I’ve had for a long time.”
A year ago, when he was a rookie sixth-round pick and third on the depth chart he talked about his desire to be a starter. Eight games into the regular season he got there.
Now relegated to second string after the Tennessee Titans selected Marcus Mariota with the second overall pick in this year’s draft, he still wants to be the starter. So he’s going to try to repeat the process.
“I’m going to take it one day at a time, do what I always do and that’s work hard,” Mettenberger said. “At the end of the day I’m competing against a great competitor and we’re going to bring the best out in each other.”
Tuesday was the Titans’ first on-field OTA session of the offseason and Mettenberger’s first chance to meet the media since Mariota was drafted.
He called the rookie “a really good guy” and said he and fellow veteran Charlie Whitehurst have tried to help as much as possible. He also indicated that he wouldn’t be discouraged by what has transpired since the end of last season, in which he was winless in his six starts.
“I can control what I can control,” he said. “I’m either going to get better or worse. I’m going to take that one day at a time and I don’t want to look back a few years from now and regret something. So I’m going to keep controlling what I can control and just work my tail off.”
If nothing else, that approach has not gone unnoticed.
Plus, it’s important to remember that only once since Steve McNair’s final season (2005) have the Titans had the same starting quarterback for all 16 games of a season.
“Zach has done a great job,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “He’s worked very hard. I’ve been very impressed with how he’s handled himself and the business-like way he’s gone about it. … We’ve said already with Zach, ‘You’ve got to be ready. At some point you’ll get an opportunity.’”
(Photo: Getty Images)
Count Eddie George among those skeptical of whether Marcus Mariota’s prolific college career is an indication of what is to come now that he is with the Tennessee Titans.
He does have an idea about what would make things easier for the second overall pick in this year’s draft. Not surprisingly, the franchise’s all-time leading rusher told CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney late last week that an improved running game is necessary for Mariota to succeed in the NFL.
“The Titans were (26th) in rush offense last year,” George said. “You get the quarterback with the big numbers and all that, but to win championships, you got to play great defense. You got to have a running game.”
Two questions: Do the Titans have anyone who can actually provide consistent and productive yards on the ground and is their coach capable of running an offense that includes a high quality run game? Neither is obviously the case.
Bishop Sankey was the Titans’ top rusher last season with 569 yards. That was the fewest by a Titans/Oilers team leader since Alonzo Highsmith had 531 in 1989, the franchise employed the pass-heavy run-and-shoot offense.
Only five teams got fewer yards from their top rushers last season.
WHO’S THE MAN?
A look at the 10 NFL teams that had the fewest yards from their leading rushers in 2015:
Jonas Gray, New England – 412
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay – 494
Trent Richardson, Indianapolis – 519
Fred Jackson, Buffalo – 525
Darren McFadden, Oakland – 534
Bishop Sankey, Tennessee – 569
Matt Asiata, Minnesota – 570
Denard Robinson, Jacksonville – 582
Branden Oliver, San Diego – 582
Andre Ellington, Arizona – 660
Maybe it’s a coincidence but among the teams on that list are Arizona, where Whisenhunt was the head coach in 2012, and San Diego, where Whisenhunt was offensive coordinator in 2013. The Chargers did much better (13th in rushing offense) when he was their play-caller, but the Cardinals were last in the league in rushing offense in his last season in charge of that team.
In fact, as a head coach Whisenhunt never has had a team finish better than 24th in rushing offense. Three times his teams have been dead last.
RUNNING IN PLACE
A look at where teams coached by Ken Whisenhunt ranked in rushing offense:
2007: 29th (90.0 yards per game)
2008: 32nd (73.6 yards per game)
2009: 28th (93.4 yards per game)
2010: 32nd (86.8 yards per game)
2011: 24th (101.6 yards per game)
2012: 32nd (75.3 yards per game)
2014: 26th (90.4 yards per game)
If George is right, then Mariota’s chances don’t look good.
“It’s going to be more on the coaching staff surrounding him with the right talent, the right philosophy and catering to his strengths more so than anything else,” George said. “I think he’s a raw talent. He’s a project in the making. But they’re going to have to really refine his talent and his skill set to match whatever they’re trying to do.
“We’re going to find out more as we get into the minicamps, the summer ball, going into preseason and so forth about his transition from the college game to the pro game.”
Marcus Mariota was much more comfortable as the center of attention than he was when he lined up under center.
Even that wasn’t so bad, though. At least he didn’t think so.
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft was the star attraction Friday morning when the Tennessee Titans conducted the first of three practice sessions that comprise their rookie minicamp.
The bulk of the session was closed to the media so there was no public indication of potential trouble spots as he makes the transition from Oregon’s high-powered spread offense to the more traditional pro-style scheme the Titans employ. Mariota was quick to point out, though, that it was the first time he took a snap at the line of scrimmage instead of a few yards in the backfield.
“The biggest difference for me right now is when you’re under center, you’re really close to the [defensive] front,” he said. “It takes a little more to see the back end and the secondary. Other than that, your drops are the same. The play-action stuff is pretty much the same. It’s just playing football.”
It’s playing football in May. With a group of 30 other draft picks, undrafted free agents and select veterans plus another 30 hopefuls here on a tryout basis. It’s a long way from Sunday afternoons in the fall when he will play with and against experienced veterans for whom things like where they line up are second nature.
Still, for a franchise that has not made the playoffs in six seasons and tied for the league’s worst record in 2014, it was a notable moment. A sizable contingent of local and national media was on hand to document it and Mariota seemed completely at ease during a 10-minute question-and-answer session that followed.
“I was a little anxious,” he admitted. “It’s been a long process and to finally get on the field, you have that feeling. Again, it’s just football. You have to be able to be confident in yourself and do whatever’s asked of you.”
The Titans are asking an awful lot.
They expect Mariota to be their starting quarterback when they open the season Sept. 13 at Tampa Bay. They already have made him the focus of their marketing campaign and they need him to energize a roster that has had just one Pro Bowl player — on offense or defense — in the past four seasons.
“It was a good day,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “There’s a lot going on the first day for everybody. There’s a lot of guys out there that haven’t been with us for 24 hours even. So it’s a process, you know, going in but (Mariota) has put a lot of work in this past week and he is as prepared as he could be.”
Even though the year before he became the starter, he took over a team that went 12-2 the previous season. Even though a number of quarterbacks who ran spread offenses in college have had trouble in the NFL in recent years. Even though he’s never taken a snap under center in a game.
He can’t possibly be prepared for everything that is to come. The hope is that there is enough time between now and the start of the season for him to get that way.
“(Friday) was my first practice with the Tennessee Titans,” Mariota said. “I feel that everything I’ve done up until this point has prepared me for this. So I’m just going to take it with confidence and just do my best.”
The Tennessee Titans need to be right this time.
After all, they have been wrong more than anyone else over the past decade.
From 2006 through 2015, NFL teams used top 10 overall draft picks on quarterbacks a total of 16 times. Only two teams did so more than once. One was Jacksonville, which took Blake Bortles third overall in 2014, three years after it used the No. 10 selection on Blaine Gabbert.
With last week’s pick of Marcus Mariota at No. 2, the Titans did it for the third time. They took Vince Young third overall in 2006 and Jake Locker eighth overall in 2011.
That means 19 of the NFL’s 32 teams have not picked a QB in the top 10 once in the past decade. That group includes 10 franchises that have made a combined 17 Super Bowl appearances over that time.
So why should anyone believe the Titans finally drafted the guy who can turn around the franchise and end a playoff drought that is at six years and counting?
“He has many, many strengths,” General Manager Ruston Webster said of Mariota. “He throws the ball well. He’s an excellent decision maker. I think his intelligence is very important for the position. … He’s an accurate passer. He has the ability to avoid the rush and make plays on his own – turn a bad play into a good play. I think just his character and his leadership is also strong. He has a lot of good points.”
To be sure, it all sounds good.
Former franchise officials were equally optimistic about Young and Locker when those two were selected as well. Both were dual-threat quarterbacks who offered the ability to make plays with their feet.
THIRD TIME A CHARM?
A comparison of the college football statistics for the three quarterbacks the Titans selected among the top 10 overall in the last 10 years:
Passing: 779-1,167 (66.8 percent), 10,796 yards, 105 TDs, 14 INTs
Rushing: 337 carries, 2,237 yards (6.6 per carry), 29 TDs
Passing: 619-1,147 (54.0 percent), 7,639 yards, 53 TDs, 35 INTs
Rushing: 454 carries, 1,939 yards (4.3 per carry), 29 TDs
Passing: 444-718 (61.8 percent), 6,040 yards, 44 TDs, 28 INTs
Rushing: 457 carries, 3,127 yards (6.8 per carry), 37 TDs
Mariota, of course, won a Heisman Trophy (2014), which neither of the others did. Young, though, won a BCS title. Mariota failed in two tries to lead Oregon into a BCS title game but did get the Ducks into last season’s inaugural College Football Playoff championship contest, where they were whipped by Ohio State.
All three averaged between 12.3 and 13.8 yards per completion. Young was the most accomplished runner of the bunch in terms of total yards, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns. What distinguishes Mariota from the other two is his touchdown-to-interception ratio, a whopping 7.5:1. Neither of the other two even were 2:1 in that regard.
Perhaps most important is simply the fact that the Titans believe in him. Coach Ken Whisenhunt repeatedly has said that he expects Mariota to be the team’s starter when the season opens and plans to do everything necessary between now and then to make sure that is the case. Locker waited one full year until he got the chance. Young’s first turn came in the fourth game — at the behest of late owner Bud Adams.
“At Oregon, we talked about winning the day,” Mariota said. “That culture for me is kind of instilled. I’ll kind of bring that with me, and it won’t change who I am, and will hopefully provide some of that here. For the most part, just be who I am and get to know my teammates and earn their respect and move forward from there.
“… I’m looking forward to this challenge. Pressure to me is when you’re not prepared. For me, I’ve prepared myself for this moment, and I’m looking forward to it.”
It sure beats looking back on what has happened to the others in his position.
(Photo: Getty Images)
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