Titans shaky, but rebuilding

Suspensions, power struggle, salary cap problems slow team's regeneration

November 10, 2006|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

The Tennessee Titans are 2-6 and tied for last place in their division, welcoming back a starting cornerback from a one-game suspension for his third off-field incident in two years, and resting their future on a rookie quarterback.

So pardon coach Jeff Fisher if he's feeling a little testy.

Fisher seemed to take umbrage after he was asked about the state of the franchise during a conference call with media that cover the Ravens.

"Have you followed this franchise? Have you followed the [salary] cap difficulties we've had over the last couple of years?" Fisher said Wednesday. "Typically speaking, when you have a handful of change in cap room and you have to let go starters and core players, yes, you are in a rebuilding phase. Our record is not reflective of where we want to be, but the franchise is very stable."

Not even Fisher, in his 12th full season as Titans coach, is immune from the distractions. He has been involved in a power struggle with general manager Floyd Reese, and several reports have tabbed Fisher as the coach Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has targeted as a successor to Bill Parcells if he chooses to leave Dallas after this season.

But Fisher was adamant that his primary focus is preparing the Titans for Sunday's visit from the Ravens, who are 6-2 and in first place in the AFC North.

Before Sunday's 37-7 drubbing by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee had won consecutive games against the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans. But the Titans - who field the second-youngest team in the league with an average age of 25 years and 281 days, according to the NFL - have also lost three games by 30 points or more.

"It's what happens I think when you have a young team," Fisher said. "We're learning how to win and how to keep games close and how not to do things. But it's part of a growing process."

A key cog in that maturation is the development of quarterback Vince Young, the third overall pick in April's draft who is expected to jump-start Tennessee's offense with his arm strength and running ability.

The performance has been what many would expect from a rookie quarterback. Young's completion percentage of .460 is the worst among all starting passers, his quarterback rating of 53.3 is better than only the 51.1 by the Oakland Raiders' Andrew Walter, and he has thrown five touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

Young's struggles are minor compared with the problems of cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones, who was suspended for the Jacksonville game by the team for being cited for misdemeanor assault after getting accused of spitting on a woman in a nightclub. It was his third incident since joining the NFL and second since August.

The Titans also will be playing without defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who is serving the final game of a five-game league-imposed suspension for stomping on the head of Cowboys center Andre Gurode.

Young said the team has tried to remain focused despite the distractions.

"We're working hard on our chemistry right now as a team," he said. "We're young. Guys are getting better each week, so to me, if we continue to make a lot of progress, we can win on any given Sunday. So we've got to continue using our effort and keep bringing a lot of effort to the game on Sunday."

Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, a former Titan, said it is somewhat disheartening to watch Tennessee's decline from afar.

"You kind of feel for them, but I kind of like the position that we're in, being 6-2," Mason said. "Jeff will get that team turned around. I know he will because he's done it before, and he'll do it again."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

>>>Ravens@Titans Sunday, 1 p.m., chs. 13, 9, 1090 AM, 97.9 FM Line: Ravens by 7

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