Tight end playing key role for Titans’ offense

Try naming the one player on offense the Tennessee Titans may
not be able to live without.

Quarterback Vince Young? All Pro running back Chris Johnson?

The answer is Craig ”Cat” Stevens – the two-year veteran with
only one NFL catch.

”If Cat got hurt, we’d be in big trouble,” Titans offensive
coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said Tuesday. ”Right now he is the
one guy that can block at the point of attack, and he gives us a
guy who can stretch the field. He’s always been able to run well.
That’s one of the things we liked coming out (of college). You
can’t always get that guy that can block and run.”

The Titans drafted the 6-foot-3, 268-pound Stevens in 2008,
taking him in the third round out of California. He had impressed
the Titans by running a 4.59-second 40-yard dash at the combine,
and he was considered a top blocker for both the run game and
protecting quarterbacks.

But they already had veteran Alge Crumpler and Bo Scaife, so
Stevens stayed busy on special teams playing in 28 games. His lone
reception came in Dec. 28, 2008, when he started at tight end and
had a 9-yard reception at Indianapolis. Heimerdinger said Stevens
was a bull in a china closet as a rookie.

But Stevens spent the past two seasons listening and watching
Crumpler on the angles he used and how to set up defenders when
blocking. He studied the offense, stayed busy in the weight room
and waited for his time.

”I learned a lot from him,” Stevens said of Crumpler. ”Also,
I had time to get comfortable with the system. I wasn’t just thrown
into it so it was good.”

Heimerdinger credits Crumpler, who signed with New England this
offseason, of a great job helping develop Stevens.

”He’s doing everything right. The most important thing for us
was to get someone that could block at the point of attack when we
lost Alge. Cat’s done it. He’s gained weight over the offseason,
got much stronger, worked with (Steve) Watterson from Day One. He
made every day in the offseason. He carries the extra weight well.
He’s still running well,” Heimerdinger said.

Stevens has shown off his passing skills this preseason with
four catches. Young found him for a 30-yard reception Aug. 23
against Arizona, and they connected again on a 23-yard catch.

Young said he thinks people are sleeping on Stevens, thinking
he’s mostly a blocker. The quarterback expects Stevens to be a big
target for him in the offense.

”He’s a blocking threat, but he can catch the ball as well.
That’s a weapon that we have. … I feel like Craig is going to do
a lot of things for us this year,” Young said.

That gives the Titans a potentially potent group of tight ends.
Scaife goes into his sixth season with 215 career catches for 2,065
yards, and he’s been a favorite target of Young’s since both played
together in college at Texas. Jared Cook is the 6-5, 248-pound
tight end the Titans traded away a second-round pick in 2010 to
draft in the third round last year.

Cook was timed at 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the
combine, first among all tight ends. He also posted a vertical jump
of 41 inches and jumped 10 feet, 3 inches in the broad jump to earn
100 pairs of cleats for his high school in North Gwinnett Georgia
from a combine sponsor.

But it’s Stevens who is being counted on to help fill the void
left by Crumpler’s departure. Fullback Ahmard Hall doesn’t think
there’ll be any drop-off in production.

”Being a veteran, you can sneak in things. You know the little
tricks of the trade. Craig will get that as he goes along. Craig,
he’ll figure it out. He’s a smart guy. He’ll figure it out. He went
to Cal you know. I think he’ll do really, really well,” Hall
said.