Speedy new Titans could give ‘returns’
Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 10:11 pm
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Titans are determined to improve their offense this season, and better kickoff and punt returns is an area that can provide an immediate assist.
That is why the Titans have stocked up on players to consider for the jobs in training camp.
Coach Jeff Fisher, himself a former punt returner who values production at that spot, isn’t happy how much the Titans dropped off in yards gained on returns.
“We dropped off significantly last year. Our average drive start was not where we wanted it to be on offense, nor was our punt return average, our net punt return average, and that’s a team effort. It starts with your returner. You need to complement the returner with players who know what to do,” Fisher said.
“It would appear we have an ample number of returners. We just have decide who to go with.”
The Titans went from having the NFL’s best punt returner in 2006 to 16th last season with Adam “Pacman” Jones, who had averaged 12.9 yards per return with three punt returns for touchdowns, suspended for 2007. Without Jones, they tried four different Titans trying to find a quality returner but didn’t have a return longer than 39 yards.
Kickoff returns weren’t much better. They ranked 27th in that category with an average of 21.1 yards per return using Michael Griffin, Chris Barclay and rookie Chris Henry. Griffin had a return of 48 yards, while Henry had a long of 46.
But it didn’t help as the Titans ranked 29th in the average drive start, beginning drives on average at the 25.6 yard line.
Top candidate for both jobs is Chris Carr, a restricted free agent the Titans signed to a multi-year deal in March that Oakland refused to match even though the three-year veteran was the Raiders’ all-time leader with 4,841 yards in kickoff returns. He also handled 77 punts for 454 yards.
He said the expectations here are high.
He was happy Monday to enjoy his first special teams practice Monday with the Titans, something he said the Raiders didn’t do. The extra attention helps with technique, blocking and other aspects that make a unit better.
The Titans also are looking at top draft pick Chris Johnson to help on special teams. He set a Conference USA roster with 2,715 yards on kickoff returns with two touchdowns.
There’s also receiver Chris Davis, who handled 31 punt returns in 2006 and averaged 9.5 yards with a long of 39.
But he struggled holding onto the ball, dropping six with three lost.
A fourth-round draft pick last year out of Florida, Davis said he knows he can make people miss and get yards.
“Got to correct the mistakes and hold onto the ball,” he said. “When you get into a crowd, hold onto tight to the ball. I think I was probably trying to do too much sometimes. Just be aware of who’s around and hold onto the ball.”
Others getting a chance to impress is three-year veteran receiver Brandon Jones. He handled six punts last season and had a long of 32 yards as a rookie in 2005. Jones said confidence is a big key in catching a punt along with the ability to get upfield fast.
“I take pride in it. If I’m back there, I’m going to do the best I can,” Jones said.