Saturday night, the Titans took the field against the St. Louis Rams for the first game of the 2008 season, and proceeded to run their way to a 34-13 victory. Sure it’s just pre-season, but the team gave a packed house a whole lot to cheer about and look forward to this season. The weather was perfect, the seats were great and the outcome couldn’t have been better.
I was thoroughly impressed with the team’s performance from top to bottom. If last night was any indication of the team that the Titans are going to field this year, then I think we’ll be in good shape. Titans football has always been about controlling the line of scrimmage, and that they certainly did just that, finishing with 340 yards on the ground and 495 yards of total offense. Here are a few of my notes from the game:
- Holy crap can we run the ball. In a league where the offensive mindset of a lot of teams has turned more and more towards the passing game and a hybrid west-coast style of offense, the Titans have stayed true to there motto winning games in the trenches. First round pick Chris Johnson showed exactly why the Titans spent the 24th overall selection on him with one play in the second quarter. With just under 5:00 left before the half, Johnson took a hand off from Kerry Collins on the first play of the drive and scampered 66 yards for his first NFL touchdown. No one even touched him as he read the zone blocking and blew past defenders on his way to the end zone. “I didn’t blink, I saw it,” tight end Alge Crumpler said. “Everybody else looked like they were running for their lives and he was just so smooth. … I’m anxious to see the replay because it happened so fast.” If you blinked, you probably missed it. He’s the fastest football player I’ve ever seen. Johnson finished the night with seven carries for 77 yards. Look out NFL!
- Quinton Ganther, a seventh round pick out of Utah in 2007, also looked really good. We mentioned him in our notes from training camp a few weeks back, and after seeing him again I was just as impressed. He finished the night with eight carries for 115 yards and two touchdowns, including a nice 45 yard run in the third for his first score. The Titans found a roster spot for him last year, so hopefully he can hang around again this year for special teams and RB depth purposes. And if Chris Henry continues to be unimpressive, he could very easily be the teams third running back at some point.
- As for first string running back LenDale White, he too was impressive in the limited time that he played last night. He hit holes hard, and looked to have a little extra boost running through the line downfield. His knee seems to be healthy, and if the team can rely on Johnson to be the home run threat, LenDale can be the one to move the chains. And even though the rookie’s presence may cut in to some of White’s playing time, it sounds as though LenDale would welcome the extra help: “I am so impressed. I am ecstatic. I am a fan of football as well as my teammates. How can you not like that?” White said. “I see a guy that breaks off a 66-yard run and makes it look so easy. … I love it. I feel like they did the right thing by drafting him, and the 1-2 punch is definitely there. I am just excited to get this thing going. It’s going to be fun.” We all remember those great USC teams teams led by Reggie Bush and White. Can anyone say “Thunder and Lightning Part II”?
- Rookie defensive lineman Jason Jones was very effective starting in place of the injured Tony Brown on the first team. During the first defensive series in which the Titans eventually scored on Keith Bulluck’s 13-yard interception, Jones was the one who made the big stop on second down by stuffing RB Brian Leonard at the line. He looked good shedding tackles, and has already impressed All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth: “He’s been flashing all camp,” Haynesworth said. “He’s ahead of any rookie I’ve ever seen, including myself, over the last six or seven years. He’s going to really help us this year.” Good to hear from maybe the best defensive tackle in football.
- Jevon Kearse made some really nice plays as well, including a batted pass thrown by Marc Bulger out of his own end zone during that same series that led to the Bulluck pick. He looked quick out of his stance and actually pursued a couple of running plays that got into the second level. It brought back memories of a young “Freak” chasing down running backs from behind during his first stint with the team. Please stay healthy Jevon; we’re gonna need you.
- With All-Pro kicker Rob Bironas out nursing a groin injury, Nashville native and former Auburn Tiger (War Damn Eagle, hey!) John Vaughn filled in and performed quite admirably. He hit two 40+ yard field goals (43 and 48) and put through all four extra attempts as well. I got to watch Vaughn while I was at Auburn and the kid has got an NFL leg. This could be a great audition for work with another club if he doesn’t stick here. I wish him the best of luck.
- Quarterback Vince Young only played two series, so it was hard to really get a feel as to where he is at right now. On the first play from scrimmage, Young found tight end Alge Crumpler in the flat on a little play action pass for an 11 yard gain. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a whole lot of that this year. He did have an awesome 35 yard scamper where he made about eight defenders miss and go to the sidelines, mostly untouched. We didn’t see nearly enough of that last year, and as VY gets more comfortable in Heimerdinger’s offense, I think we’ll see that happen a lot more. No need to make a bad pass when you can tuck the ball and run for positive yards. He has to learn to be smarter with the football, and that play was a very good example of Vince at his best.
- The secondary was good all night and should be a big part of any improvement that the fifth overall rated defense from last year makes. Cortland Finnegan was solid once again. Watching him come out of nowhere (2006/7th round/Samford) and blossom over the last year or so has been really neat. So was 2007 first round draft pick, safety Michael Griffin. His progress has been pretty amazing. Backup Vincent Fuller made had a nice QB sack of Bulger on a safety blitz. Starting cornerback Nick Harper left the game after the first play from scrimmage when he sustained a mild concussion while pursuing Rams running back Brian Leonard. He stayed on the ground for a while before woozily making his way to the sidelines. He should be fine and reserve Reynoldo Hill filled in well in his absence.
Overall, it was a very impressive evening for this young Tennessee Titans team. The offense gained almost 500 total yards and the defense held the Rams to only 241 total yards. They limited their penalties (6 for 44 yards) and controlled the time of possession by almost ten minutes. Jeff Fisher always has his teams well prepared, and even though it was a pre-season game, last night was no different. Titans fans should have a lot to be excited about for this upcoming season, and if what we saw Saturday night was anywhere close to the team that the Titans will have this year, Sundays will be even more fun…
Topics: Albert Haynesworth, Alge Crupler, Auburn Tigers, Brian Leonard, Chris Johnson, Cortland Finnegan, Jason Jones, Jeff Fisher, Jevon Kearse, John Vaughn, Keith Bulluck, LenDale White, Marc Bulger, Michael Griffin, Mike Heimerdinger, Nick Harper, Quinton Ganther, Reggie Bush, Reynoldo Hill, Rob Bironas, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans, USC Trojans, Vincent Fuller