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Brian Billick's thoughts for March 23
Billick examines the Tennessee Titans' draft needs and weighs in on the latest NFL rule changes.
Titans must get help on offense
In the last 16 years under Jeff Fisher the Tennessee Titans have had just six winning seasons. The past two seasons they have hovered around .500 going 8-8 in 2009 and dropping to 6-10 in 2010.
It would be real easy to lay all the blame at the feet of the quarterback, but the fact of the matter is — with the exception of Chris Johnson — they are just an average team.
The Titans were minus four in turnover ratio and only plus three in explosive play differential. Even with Johnson they ranked 17th in the league in rushing this past season after being the second best rushing attack in the NFL the year before.
This is not to say that quarterback has to be the top priority for new head coach Mike Munchak and his offensive coordinator Chris Palmer.
Drafting eighth, the Titans will have some tough decisions to make regardless on which quarterback prospect/s is taken before the Titans’ selection. Are there two quarterbacks in this year’s draft worth taking among the first 10 picks?
In addition to quarterback, the Titans need help on the interior of the offensive line at both center and guard.
Inside linebacker and possibly an edge rusher to either replace Jason Babin or augment him depending on what happens in free agency.
Either way the Titans will need all the help they can get with their out of division games coming against the AFC North and the NFC South.
Kickoff changes to drastically change game
Teams voted to move kickoffs from the 30- to 35-yard line and prohibit a running head start of more than five yards for members of the coverage team. The original proposal was to also move the touchback placement to the 25 rather than the 20, but that failed.
The NFL also adopted a proposed instant-replay revision that will allow a booth official to review every scoring play regardless of whether either team has replay challenges remaining.
The competition committee expects the number of touchbacks will rise between five to 15 percent with kickoffs being moved to the 35-yard line for the first time since the 1993 campaign. I believe this is a more dramatic change than those subtle increases indicate.
The difference between a team having to drive 80 yards to score versus starting a drive on the 30 or 35-yard line is substantial. This may very well change coaches’ thinking about receiving the opening kickoff should you win the toss. I think with today’s kickers we will see substantially more touchbacks than the 15 percent (up to 33 percent in total) increase anticipated by the committee.
I am not sure the data on injuries of these plays is substantial enough to bring about the rule change. They also considered not allowing the current two-man wedge, but there was no indication it presented any additional injury risk. I think the league is perhaps just a little hyper-focused on the appearance of wanting to maximize player safety at a time they are confronting each other in a new collective bargaining agreement negotiation.
I applaud the instant replay change. In what committee chairman Rich McKay termed a “modernization” of the rule, we are taking another step toward what I have been advocating for a number of years: doing away with the challenge system and let the replay system work strictly from the booth. We have the technology today to make this seamless and less obtrusive to the game. I am also encouraged that the vote on this measure was 30-2. We are getting there.
I hope people appreciate how hard the league and particularly the competition committee work at trying to make the game better and safer. They don’t always get it right, but they are dedicated about the effort.
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