Titans Notebook: Finding bright spots for next season
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While the Titans haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008 and won’t this year after being eliminated by Sunday’s 37-34 overtime loss to Arizona, there have been several bright spots with promising futures to emerge.
Offensively, it’s second-year wide receiver Kendall Wright, who set career highs against the Cardinals with 12 catches for 150 yards. With 1,007 yards and 85 receptions, he became the first Titans’ receiver to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season since Nate Washington (1,023) two years ago and have at least 85 catches since Derrick Mason (96) in 2004.
"People would think that we’ve stopped playing," said Wright, the 2012 first-round draft pick out of Baylor who shared the lead for NFL rookies last season with a team-high 64 catches. "We’re playing for much more than people think."
With the Titans (5-9) finishing Sunday at Jacksonville and Dec. 29 against visiting Houston, Wright’s receptions total of 85 this season is already seventh-best in team history and leaves him only 17 catches short of surpassing the franchise record of 101 in a season set by Charlie Hennigan in 1964. One short of the team record Sunday, Wright became the 11th player in franchise history to have at least a dozen catches in a game.
"Kendall was getting open on some of them," Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick of hooking up with Wright on Sunday. "On some of them, we kind of made some stuff up, made some throws up, bought some time. I was trying to find him in some of those crucial situations."
Defensively, third-year tackle Jurrell Casey continues to have a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Against Arizona, he had one-and-a-half sacks to reach 10-and-a-half for the season and 16 for his career. Since sacks became an official NFL record in 1982, he became just the second defensive tackle in franchise history to record double-digit sacks in a season, trailing only 13 by Ray Childress in 1992.
"We can’t think ahead and we can’t think behind," said Casey, a third-round draft pick out of Southern Cal in 2011. "So, it’s something that we’ll keep on fighting and go forward and hope that things get better next year."
Over the past 10 seasons in the NFL, Casey became just the seventh defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme or nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme to have at least 10 sacks in a season.
Walker named Titans Man of the Year
The Titans have announced that tight end Delanie Walker has been named the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner. He is now a finalist for the league-wide Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for 2013 that will be awarded during Super Bowl week.
Walker was lauded for community service efforts in support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Last February while he was still a member of the 49ers, Walker’s aunt and uncle — Alice and Bryan Young — were killed by an alleged drunk driver after attending at Walker’s invitation the team’s Super Bowl postgame party.
From that moment, Walker vowed to raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving and later became an active spokesperson for MADD.
"Since arriving in Tennessee, I’ve been inspired and energized by the culture of giving back, exemplified by the ownership and empowered every day by my teammates," Walker said. "I will continue to do my best to represent the team on and off the field in a way that lives up to these standards and hope to touch and inspire others in the process.
"The best part about this recognition is the continued awareness of my work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a cause that is very dear to me and my family."
Walker was chosen for the team’s award over finalist teammates Rob Bironas, Moise Fokou, Michael Griffin and George Wilson. Since moving to Tennessee in 1997, other Titans named Man of the Year include Al Del Greco (1997-98), Chris Sanders (1999), Kenny Holmes (2000), Jason Fisk (2001), Kevin Carter (2002-04), Steve McNair (2005), Keith Bulluck (2006-07), David Thornton (2008), Kyle Vanden Bosch (2009), Cortland Finnegan (2010-11) and Jared Cook (2012).
"Unfortunately, Delanie’s experience of losing loved ones in a drunk driving crash is not unique," MADD national president Jan Withers said. "However, his reaction to that tragedy has been extraordinary. MADD is appreciative of Delanie’s tireless efforts to encourage fans and fellow players alike to always plan ahead for a safe way home because drunk driving is senseless and 100 percent preventable."
Johnson needs 140 for 1K yards
The disappointing season of sixth-year running back Chris Johnson continues. On Sunday, he gained only 40 yards on 13 carries, giving him 860 yards for the season at an average of only 61.4 yards per game.
At that rate with two games remaining, he will not reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark for a season for the first time in his career. And at a current 3.7 yards per carry, he is on pace to finish below 4 yards per carry during a season for the first time.
"We’re not in the playoffs, but we still have games, people still have personal goals and stuff like that," said Johnson, the franchise’s No. 3 all-time rusher with 7,748 yards that includes rushing for 2,006 yards in 2009. "I just want to win these next couple games, so I’m going to go out there and fight hard and try to win."
Johnson did score on a 25-yard reception against the Cardinals for his fourth scoring catch of the season and finished the game with three catches for 51 yards. Johnson had only five TD catches his first five seasons.
But with Johnson due a base salary of $8 million the next two seasons and $7 million in 2016, there is a general consensus that his productivity does not match his salary and the team might be better off cutting ties before next season. Whatever the future might bring, the 2008 first-round draft pick out of East Carolina said the team will continue to play hard.
"Basically, (you) just got to stay focused and know that everybody else out there is giving it their all, just not let your teammates stay down," Johnson said. "Basically, at the end of the day, you just got to go out there and fight for your brother."
Titans sign QB Wilson
The Titans have signed quarterback Tyler Wilson to their 53-man roster and released veteran quarterback John Skelton to make room for the acquisition. A fourth-round draft pick in April by Oakland, Wilson was released during training camp, cleared waivers and added to the Raiders’ practice squad.
Wilson, a former Arkansas quarterback, eventually was promoted to Oakland’s 53-man roster and was backup for starter Matt McGloin for two games before being released on Nov. 27. Wilson joins starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, who replaced injured Jake Locker, and backup Rusty Smith as quarterbacks on the current Titans’ roster.
Wilson is the all-time passing leader for Arkansas with 7,493 yards, including 3,387 yards and 21 touchdowns en route to be named first-team All-Southeastern Conference last year as a senior. As a junior, he passed for 3,638 yards, including 510 yards against Texas A&M, and 24 touchdowns.