NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Yet another week, and there are still more questions than answers when it comes to Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt.
In Sunday’s 26-17 loss to the Chiefs, the former first-round draft pick had only one catch for nine yards. More notable, he had two glaring drops — one in the end zone for a touchdown and one on a crucial third down-and-2 late in the game — from passes thrown by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“I don’t know if he’s pressing so hard because he wants to make a play that the easiest catches are becoming hard catches,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said of the fifth-year pro, who was expected to be the team’s lead receiver this season in the final year of his initial contract.
Britt has caught only six passes this season, although being targeted 22 times, for only 52 yards and no touchdowns. With a long of 15 yards, he is averaging only 8.7 yards per catch. Conversely, fellow Titans receivers Kendall Wright (26 catches for 266 yards and one touchdown), Nate Washington (22-362-2) and Damian Williams (8-79-0) are more productive and dependable.
Tight end Delanie Walker (16-156-2) has also emerged as a favorite target of Fitzpatrick and No. 1 QB Jake Locker, who is out for a month with a hip injury. Rookie receiver Justin Hunter, the first-round draft pick out of Tennessee, has caught only two passes, but both went for touchdowns.
“I don’t know, it’s hard to explain exactly why,” Munchak said of Britt’s play that also includes costly penalties at inopportune times. “Obviously, his position is to catch footballs, and he’s having so much trouble in the games.”
All that has left Britt off the field in crucial late-game situations, to which he voiced his displeasure through Twitter a few weeks ago. Coming off several years of knee injuries and off-the-field incidents, Britt was hoping to have a big season for contract purposes.
Yet, his lack of production is nearing the point of counter-productivity, and there is a growing concern about how much longer the Titans can keep putting Britt — the most athletic of receivers at 6-foot-3 and 223 pounds — on the field ahead of the other receivers, if at all.
“He’s dropped some balls,” Munchak said of Britt, whose season high in yards (775) and touchdowns (nine) came in 2010, his second season. “Does that mean he’s not going to get any opportunities the rest of the year? Where do you draw the line at, ‘OK, you’re not going to get a chance to catch anymore footballs.’
“That’s a tough little deal there. We still feel he’s a very good football player. We still feel his attitude is very positive about trying to do the right thing. We know he wants to contribute. All those things are correct, so that’s why he continues to get an opportunity to play.”
Johnson off to slow start
After three sub-par rushing seasons compared to the 2,006-yard campaign of 2009, this was supposed to be a big year for sixth-year running back Chris Johnson. That was enhanced by the promise of a rebuilt offensive line that featured three new additions.
But through five games, Johnson has rushed for 294 yards on 94 carries for an average of only 58.8 yards per game and 3.1 yards per attempts. Things hit rock bottom Sunday when he gained only 17 yards on 10 carries after rushing for 21 yards on 15 carries the previous week.
“I don’t think it was them (the Chiefs),” Johnson said of Sunday’s rushing production that had the team gaining only 105 yards on the ground. And 50 of that came from Fitzpatrick after he was flushed from the pocket.
“I think it was us,” Johnson added. “A lot of mistakes were made on our behalf. This is just a work in progress. We need to get better.”
The Titans’ offensive line is anchored by tackles Michael Roos on the left and David Stewart on the right, but Stewart has been unable to practice full speed because of a calf injury. The Titans signed free agents Andy Levitre at left guard and Rob Turner at center before drafting Alabama’s Chance Warmack with the No. 10 overall pick to play right guard.
“If we want to be the type of team that we want to be and make it to the playoffs,” Johnson said, “we have to get the running game corrected. It’s on everybody, the running backs, the line, everybody.”
Fokou hit on Smith debated
Titans middle linebacker Moise Fokou was flagged for a controversial personal foul for roughness after a hit on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith while it was apparent he was still in bounds and a few yards away from making a first down. The penalty came on third down and kept the fourth-quarter drive alive that eventually led to the winning touchdown.
After reviewing the play, Munchak said Monday that he thought Fokou made a clean yet hard hit on a quarterback running out of the pocket and that both players were just trying to make a clean play.
“I thought he had a guy that was trying to make a play on both sides,” Munchak said of referee Bill Vinovich, who called the penalty. “They had a guy, the quarterback, trying to get a first down. Moise tried to make a great play for the defense, which I thought he did.”
Munchak conceded that if the player running with the ball were not a quarterback, then the flag probably would not have been thrown.
“That’s something you hope the league looks at next year and how to adjust that when the quarterback’s out of the pocket,” Munchak said. “I’m all for protection for the quarterback and all that, obviously. But that’s hard on the defense at that point in the game on a third down when that’s so critical getting the stop there.
“We thought the contact came before he got out of bounds. But again, they’re deciding to protect the quarterback at all costs, so in that case, that hurt us.”
Titans add two to practice squad
When it was learned last week that Locker would be out for a month or so with a hip injury, Tennessee promoted fourth-year Titans quarterback Rusty Smith from the practice squad Saturday to be the backup to Fitzpatrick. To make room for Smith on the 53-man roster, the Titans released defensive end Keyunta Dawson, who played in two games for the Titans last season.
Tuesday, the Titans signed two players — running back Kendall Gaskins and linebacker Brandon Copeland — to the practice squad, while releasing offensive tackle Al Netter. Out of the University of Richmond, Gaskins (6-1, 238) was signed by the Bills as an undrafted free agent, but was waived at the end of training camp.
A product of Penn, Copeland (6-3, 260) was signed by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent. After being cut at the end of training, Copeland was signed to the Ravens’ practice squad before being recently released.