Titans have flexibility picking at No. 20 overall

The Tennessee Titans’ biggest move in free agency fell flat when

Peyton Manning chose Denver. They still have plenty of options in

the NFL draft.

They filled their quarterback needs last season by drafting Jake

Locker with the eighth pick overall and then signing veteran Matt

Hasselbeck to a three-year contract. They chased Manning as a free

agent only when owner Bud Adams decided to join the chase. Since

Manning chose Denver, new general manager Ruston Webster has been

busy meeting with a handful of veteran free agent centers and

signing defensive linemen.

Tennessee also has visited with some of the top receivers

available in the draft starting Thursday night. Webster said there

could be clues there, but the choice will be simple at No. 20


”You just want to make sure you take the best player,” Webster

said. ”If receivers are there and a level better than the

defensive player, it’s always a possibility. I think, though, it’ll

depend on who else is there.”

Webster was promoted in January to general manager when Adams

moved Mike Reinfeldt to chief operating officer. Webster has worked

drafts for a couple decades starting with Tampa Bay and Seattle

before coming to Tennessee. This will be his first making the final

call on a pick, and he has just seven, Tennessee’s fewest since


The Titans just missed out on a playoff berth in coach Mike

Munchak’s debut season, going 9-7 and losing out on tiebreakers to

Cincinnati as a wild card. It was an impressive record considering

Munchak had two new coordinators in Chris Palmer and Jerry Gray

with no offseason to teach their schemes thanks to the lockout.

Gray also had a bigger challenge with four rookies contributing

heavily on defense while still ranking eighth in the league in

points allowed, giving up 19.8 points per game. But the Titans

finished next to last with a measly 28 sacks, making improving the

pass rush a big key this offseason.

Lost in the news of Manning choosing Denver was Webster signing

Kamerion Wimbley to a five-year deal that will see the linebacker

play at defensive end in Tennessee. Webster also re-signed Dave

Ball to a one-year deal and brought in Leger Douzable in moves to

take some of the pressure off hitting on a defensive end in the

draft who can play immediately. They also expect more from end

Derrick Morgan, the 16th pick overall in 2010, with his first full


”Defense is a big focus of ours this year,” the general

manager said.

The Titans also signed five-time All Pro Steve Hutchison as a

free agent and plan to use him at left guard. They visited with

Chris Myers, Scott Wells, Jeff Saturday, Dan Koppen and Jeff Faine

only to see four sign elsewhere. It’s part of trying to improve the

interior of the offensive line after ranking 31st in the NFL in

rushing, averaging 89.9 yards per game, with Chris Johnson having

his worst season after signing his big contract extension.

On defense, Tennessee let cornerback Cortland Finnegan leave for

St. Louis as a free agent. They slapped the franchise tag on safety

Michael Griffin and signed safety Jordan Babineaux to a new


The Titans open their offseason program Monday and are counting

on that helping boost a defense that had so many rookies play so

much in 2011. Linebacker Akeem Ayers, the second pick overall, was

their first rookie to start all 16 games for Tennessee since safety

Tank Williams in 2002. Third-round pick Jurrell Casey started 15

games at tackle, while tackle Karl Klug started one and played in

all 16.

Colin McCarthy played in 13 and took over as the starting middle

linebacker for seven games down the stretch. Cornerback Tommie

Campbell, a seventh-round pick, played in 15 games himself.

”It’s going to be a huge help for our coaches, our players,

just for our players to be able to spend time with (strength coach)

Steve Watterson and be in the training room with any rehab they

have to do with (trainer) Brad Brown,” Webster said. ”All of that

is a positive and should definitely help us for next year. We still

hope to hit with all our picks.”

Nate Washington, Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins all had

career seasons at receiver, but Kenny Britt, their top pick overall

in 2009, tore his right ACL in September. He’s expected to be ready

for training camp but has missed games with injuries each of the

past two years. So the Titans met with Michael Floyd out of Notre

Dame, Baylor’s Kendall Wright and Stephen Hill out of Georgia


They also met with South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore and

defensive end Melvin Ingram.

So if Webster can follow up Reinfeldt’s success, this should be

a draft to remember.

”Hopefully, I’ll remember it fondly,” Webster said.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker