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Apr 20

Anthony Fasano Brings Experience, Veteran Leadership to Titans

Veteran tight end Anthony Fasano brings a wealth of experience both catching the ball and as a blocker in the all important run game.

Apr 20

Titans Agree to Terms with LB Kaelin Burnett

The Tennessee Titans have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with LB Kaelin Burnett, who originally joined the club late last season.

Apr 20

Strength of Ravens schedule impacts how team drafts

In Ozzie Newsome we will continue to trust.

There is no secret ingredient for success. A pinch of luck, a batch of perseverance and few teaspoons of preparation will land you the position of your dreams. (There’s more to the recipe but I’m still developing my own.)

You ask why I’m comparing cooking to the Baltimore Ravens? Our 53-man roster is – imagine – a list of produce, seasonings … stop?

We’d be remiss to say that the team is not missing key components for success. Maybe the bread’s running out, the scallops are losing freshness. Fine tuning the nuances is invaluable, but looking at this season from outside-in, I’m beginning to notice that a holistic approach will help our team’s case, specifically this season. Thankfully for us, the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t too far of a drive. (The 10 picks that the Ravens own in the Spring’s Thanksgiving — six in the first four rounds.)

While every coach and staff in the league sweat through their socks trying to build a well-rounded, well-conditioned roster, our brass kills Draft Day with more suave than Usher’s footwork.

This April feels a lot different than 2014 April. Why? The primary reason, a disconcerting one, is wearing turtle floaties and swimming in the bird pool of my thoughts. The Reason, AKA The Ravens 2015 Schedule, wasn’t this buff last year. The scrawny kid was sporting a pair of Atlanta Falcons thong sandals, rocking Tampa Bay Buccaneers shorts, and wore a crusty, faded Carolina Panthers crew neck. And ah, almost forgot the Cleveland Browns visor and the Miami Dolphins shades.

But the taunting must have fueled his fire to get jacked. This time he’s wearing a Russell Wilson jersey, drying off an Arizona Cardinals tattoo on his bicep, one that he’s nicknamed Peyton Manic. Jokes don’t slide around like penguins around this gym rat anymore. The Ravens can tackle this brute by clothes-lining their needs this offseason.

What moves must be made to build the foundation to brace for the wrath of this savage beast?

>> Implement, Adapt and Enforce a Run-Block First Mentality: Losing tight end Owen Daniels (DEN) and former fourth-round draft pick offensive linemen Gino Gradkowski (DEN), naturally, perforates Marc Trestman’s plans.

Six of the 13 defenses Baltimore will face this year finished in the Top-16 against the run in 2014; Denver, Seattle, Pittsburgh and San Francisco earned Top-10 honors.

Whether it’s a setback or not, losing two players who were once acclimated with the offense’s scheme is a loss, no matter how well you word the eulogy.

>> Trust In Dean Pees: Our secondary is a sad sight, thinning like my hair. The quarterbacks on this season’s menu are scary efficient: Wilson, Peyton Manning, Colin Kaepernick, Nick Foles, Alex Smith and Phillip Rivers. Pees will look to deepen our secondary with talent and/or beef up the defensive line.

>> Joe Flacco Needs to Build Chemistry With Offense ASAP: The quarterback will not survive this season if he doesn’t release the ball a hair earlier than usual. The defenses we face isn’t a standup comedy lineup like 2014′s. We don’t “need receivers,” as owner Steve Bisciotti stated in the past (I agree), however it’s a stark fact that if Flacco doesn’t get the rhythm down early, the whole team will suffer a cold, bitter winter.

A pinch of luck, a batch of perseverance and few teaspoons of preparation will lead to success. The only catch: there is no predetermined cooking time. Some will take longer than others.

Apr 20

Ravens return for voluntary workouts

With the NFL season fast approaching, now is the time for players to hit the weight room and knock off some of the rust from vacation.

With the NFL season fast approaching, now is the time for players to hit the weight room and knock off some of the rust from vacation.

At the Under Armour Performance Center, Ravens players returned to the clacking of weights and the smell of sweat. Monday morning marked the start of the team’s voluntary conditioning program. Broken into three phases, the offseason program is all about strength, conditioning, rehab and classroom work. Sadly, the Collective Bargaining Agreement limits the workouts to these areas as coaches are unable to lead any players through on-field workouts. The first phase started today and will last two weeks. Phase two will begin on May 4th and will last for three weeks. During phase two, 11-on-11 drills are allowed and coaches will be able to see how players are running and competing. Phase three begins May 25th and includes the Organized Team Activities (OTAs) that we hear so much about.

Players during this phase come in looking to get back into game shape or rehab some nagging injuries that might have caused offseason surgery. While completely voluntary, the Ravens have always had a strong presence at these events from veterans and important positions. Harbaugh had this to say:

If you don’t like being around when the players come back, you’re in the wrong business. This is what we do. This is football, man. When the football players come back in the building, everybody should be excited about that.

Naerly every year, we hear about players that fail the conditioning test for various reasons. This year, it seem that Harbaugh is putting out the call to his players to be ready well before the season or spend the extra time to get ready.

We fully expect our guys to be in shape when they walk in the door. And if they’re not in shape, they’re going to have to work extra hard to get caught up. Most of our guys, if not all of our guys, are already going to be in phenomenal shape.

Hopefully for the Ravens, guys didn’t eat too much cake and have keep on the roadwork, because big things are expected this season from everyone.

Apr 20

Ravens receiver woes

The Ravens are great at drafting and developing players from all positions, except one. Wide receivers are the bane of the Ravens draft portfolio. We look at a few of the reasons why it is so hard to judge that position.

The Ravens have been one of the top teams in the NFL at drafting and developing talent. When you think of the Ravens, your mind immediately goes to greats like Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Peter Boulware, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed and so on. Guys that the Ravens drafted and were able to stay Ravens for the majority of their career and be looked at as pillars of the community as well as on-field greats.

However, while fans can easily point to every position on the field with examples of at least one great player the Ravens drafted and developed; there is a serious lack of names at the receiving position.

The closest the Ravens have come to having a top receiving prospect was the second round selection of Torrey Smith in 2011. A figure that had his uses in the Ravens passing attack, but ultimately took his skill set to San Francisco this offseason as the Ravens didn’t feel he deserved the type of money other NFL teams were ready to shell out for him. After Smith comes a long list of guys with promise, but a lack of execution or further development.

Tandon Doss, Patrick Johnson, Travis Taylor, Mark Clayton, Yamon Figures, and Devard Darling are all guys the Ravens have drafted in the third round or higher. Not exactly a list of All-Pros there. So why could the Ravens have such difficulty at a single position when the rest of the draft board is on point?

The receiving position is one of the toughest to truly get a grasp on through measurables. Teams around the NFL are attracted to elite speed as is necessary, but speed isn’t the only skill necessary to become a true number one receiver. A player must be able to catch the ball consistently and run crisp routes. A receiver can get away with running sloppier routes if they are physically dominate in their size and speed over the defender, but even that is starting to go away as cornerbacks are getting larger and quicker themselves.

Another thing that is near impossible to tell just by looking at game tape is a player’s heart. There are more than enough examples of a guy missing some of the physical traits you’d look for in an elite prospect, but being able to make up for that in just pure will. Guys like Steve Smith are perfect examples of that type of mentality fixing physical limitations to become fantastic players.

A large thing that teams must keep in mind when judging receivers is how much their college quarterback helped or hurt them. Watching film this offseason, it was at times obvious to see how a player was hurt by a quarterback being consistently off in their throws. However, how do you properly judge a player that might not have gotten the same types of throws as another player? How do you rank those players side by side and have expectations for them as a pro?

It is apparent that the Ravens will be looking hard at the receiving position this draft. With a crop of players that is expected to rival the draft class of 2014 (three first round selections put up over 1,000 receiving yards last year), it is the perfect time to study and focus on receivers throughout the entire draft. Quarterback Joe Flacco undoubtedly will be watching the draft this year to see if he will get any assistance and a replacement for Torrey Smith.

Now we just have to hope that the Ravens have learned from their previous woes and will be able to correct the ship.

Apr 19

Mock Draft Monday: Less than Two Weeks Remain

With the NFL Draft less than two weeks away, sports writers and draft analysts attempt to solidify their latest mock drafts.

Apr 19

Michigan Wolverine receiver Devin Funchess will thrive in Baltimore

The Ravens are all about this five-syllable word (say it with me): ver·sa·til·i·ty.

Spring’s version of Thanksgiving is right around the corner, less than two weeks away. Droves of draft needs headline Ravens‘ talk and publications, but I already am at peace with Baltimore’s 26th pick (barring trades, of course). That’s right: as long as Ozzie Newsome (check his I.D.), is picking the apples, I vow not to file complaints.

For those who didn’t sense the imminence — Torrey Smith’s adios with the team — I’d hope by now that you understand the decision to not re-sign him was wise and for the mejor. Quite frankly, the move was inevitable, especially after the third-year pro dropped 18.33 percent of his catchable targets last season. (No worries, 49ers fans, the weather is warm year-round in California.)

After scanning some articles and evaluating the Wolverine on tape, I am convinced that the ideal, monster-sized wideout the Ravens need will hail from Michigan.

Devin Funchess (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) 
2014 Stats as a Junior: 62 receptions, 733 yards, 4 touchdowns

Why not Jaelen Strong from Arizona State? Or Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman? Because — as the man upstairs as my witness — the Ravens are all about this five-syllable word (say it with me): ver·sa·til·i·ty.

I’m no prophet but I can visualize defensive coordinators growing wearisome strategizing for Funchess all week. Who should we assign to cover Jimmy Graham? Vernon Davis? These hybrids pose matchup problems for many teams, including ours, and OC Marc Trestman can attest: size and speed obliterates back ends. Former Bears coach Trestman watched Brandon Marshall (6’4″, 230), register 279 receptions and 31 touchdowns in three seasons (he only started and played 13 games in 2014). Trestman bred Alshon Jeffery (6’3″, 216), into one of the most-feared receivers in the league. His second and third campaign numbers are astounding: 174 receptions for 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns. And there’s more. We, fans, fought back tears while the behemoth Rob Gronkowski (6’6″, 265), basketed in seven passes for 108 yards and a score in the AFC Divisional Round. Speed and size could potentially serve as a roadblock for a chance at another Ravens’ Super Bowl title.

Why not get one of our own?

Don’t forget how Martellus Bennett (6’6″, 265), turned from ‘zero’ to ‘hero’ after stagnant seasons in Dallas. His career stat sheet received a major makeover in two seasons with the Bears, catching 155 passes for 1,675 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Funchess played both tight end and receiver positions in college, and similar to The Gronk (4.68), runs a 4.70-second 40-yard dash. The Wolverine’s value as a run-blocker and possession-receiver is undeniable – both assets imperative to Kubiak’s system and success. (I write Kubiak because Trestman admitted to keeping the majority of the schemes and system implemented last year.) Whether or not Dennis Pita returns, Funchess is a respectable three-down player. Under former head coach Brady Hoke, the wideout finished with 126 receptions, 1,715 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Sure, Funchess didn’t make my bossman Jason Butt’s list. Still, the Wolverine would complete the package of a talented group — Marlon Brown, Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, and Michael Campanaro, or spice up the tight end competition this offseason.

Far as next year’s potential headlines go, Funchess Belichick-mates the Patriots.

Poll
What are your thoughts on Devin Funchess?






  228 votes | Results

Apr 17

Titans Set for NFL Draft; Hold Second Overall Selection

The Titans are scheduled to make their highest draft pick since the team moved to Tennessee when the 80th Annual NFL Player Selection Meeting commences on Thursday, April 30 in Chicago, Ill.

Apr 17

ESPN Draft Analyst McShay: Rivers Trade Would Benefit Titans, Chargers

In the fourth version of his mock draft, ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Todd McShay has Oregon QB Marcus Mariota going No. 2 overall – but not to the Titans.

Apr 17

No Limit on What Titans Should Spend to Bring Philip Rivers to Tennessee

The NFL draft is coming into focus, and with Florida State’s Jameis Winston reportedly all but assured he’ll be the No. 1 overall pick, the next domino to fall is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota

If hunting man is the most dangerous game, then hunting quarterbacks is surely the most expensive. The Robert Griffin III trade left a smoking crater in Washington‘s draft allotment that they’ve only now begun to recover from. 

And so the stage is set for a trade that makes too much sense to not happen: The Tennessee Titans own the No. 2 pick, have no quarterback of the present, aren’t particularly sold on Mariota and can reportedly send that pick to the San Diego Chargers for quarterback Philip Rivers.

 

How We Got Here

Reading the tea leaves will give us the easy answer: Rivers doesn’t want to play in Los Angeles. The Chargers have been making noises about fleeing San Diego for years, and Rivers went on the record with U-T San Diego‘s Kevin Acee about a potential move in March:

What we’ve established here with my growing family is hard to recreate. It’s hard to up and recreate that. I know that moves are part of life. But that certainly is fair to say that (not being sold on moving to Los Angeles) is part of it. The good thing is I’m not under contract in a year where we’d potentially be in Los Angeles.

If you listen to Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole, though, the real answer may be that the Chargers won’t redo Rivers’ contract. 

Either way, the Chargers have been on the fringes of playoff contention essentially since LaDainian Tomlinson’s career finally petered out. Rivers is enough to turn a roster barren of talent into a borderline contender, but not enough to get it there all on his own. 

If they truly believe that Mariota is a franchise quarterback, and they believe Rivers A) won’t go to Los Angeles with them and/or B) isn’t worth a restructure because of concerns about his health, then they’ve got to be jumping at the chance to rebuild around a new quarterback.

 

How Rivers Fits With the Titans

As we’ve established, Rivers has spent the last five years of his life dragging teams without enough talent to actually contend to the fringes of it. He’d be asked to do essentially the same thing in Tennessee, for a team with perhaps the weakest roster in the league right now, but with the added benefit of playing in a division that’s still pretty weak. 

The schematic fit would be downright seamless. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt was previously Rivers’ offensive coordinator in San Diego, and offensive coordinator Jason Michael was also on San Diego’s coaching staff at the time. By all accounts, Rivers is a Southern boy who would fit in well in Tennessee.

There’s no question that Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks of this era. The question is: How much does he have left, and how long will he maintain it? 

While I have no doubt that San Diego’s concerns about Rivers’ injuries are real, remember that talent often plays no matter what. Rivers has that talent, and the last few times a player like this became available due to concerns about injuries, Drew Brees went to New Orleans and Peyton Manning went to Denver. I’d say those teams were reasonably pleased with the returns they received from those players. 

Rivers turns 34 in December, and given the recent staying power by quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Manning and Brees, I think it’s fair to assume that Rivers can deliver three or four more years at his current level of play. While that makes him more like the next Kurt Warner for Whisenhunt than the future star every general manager dreams of, it also means that the Titans aren’t taking the risk that Mariota isn’t so great. 

Look, I love Mariota as a professional prospect. I think higher of him than I think of Winston. I’ve advocated that the Titans should pick him rather than trade down. But I also understand the doubts. I understand the people who worry about him as a professional prospect because he hasn’t been asked to make many NFL throws. I also understand that the NFL draft is a crapshoot, and that getting attached to players to the point where you pay a premium for them is, long-term, a losing strategy. 

Lay out a wide range of outcomes for Mariota. Look at his best-case and worst-case scenarios. He’s got such a high ceiling in my view that he could be better than Rivers. But the odds that he reaches that are low. The odds that he is a bust aren’t ridiculously high, but I think they are very real. I think the concerns about Mariota are founded in scheme rather than traits, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be a stumbling block. 

The issue here is that Rivers is already a sure thing. Over the next four seasons, Rivers is going to wind up being better than Mariota pretty often—I’d attach about an 80 percent chance to it if forced to throw a number out there. 

And if Mariota fails? Titans fans have already played this game. They’ve been through Jake Locker. They’ve been through Vince Young. If being an NFL general manager is all about managing risk, then acquiring Rivers is the safest move the Titans could make with the No. 2 pick. 

 

The Price

Now here’s the funny part about this: I did a reasonable amount of research for this piece. I couldn’t find many columnists advocating that Rivers is the more valuable chip here.

Cole reported that Rivers and the No. 17 pick would be “a start.” Grantland’s Bill Barnwell advocated a trade that sent the No. 2 pick to San Diego for Rivers and San Diego’s second-round pick. Will Brinson of CBS Sports thinks that the Titans should be sending an extra third-round pick to get the deal done, but they should also be receiving that same second-round pick. Acee believes that “they may, according to some around the league, have to throw in a selection in a later round,” but adds that it’s all speculation. 

I find it amazing that in today’s NFL, one of the best quarterbacks could be traded for an asset that may not yield equal production and could be looked at as an underpayment. In fact, if I were the Titans, I’d be willing to go as far as to include my 2017 first-rounder to get a deal done for Rivers. I think he’s clearly the most valuable asset in the deal. 

And this is from someone who believes in Mariota. What if Mariota is just the next Colin Kaepernick? It’s the same skeptical reasoning that Washington should have used with Griffin, where the price they paid for him already valued him as the best before he even stepped on the field. It’s wonderful if Mariota follows the footsteps of Andrew Luck and becomes a star-caliber, cost-efficient asset, but it’s not a scenario that I’d consider likely. 

And all the Titans have to do is look up the road to Indianapolis to see how far a star quarterback can get you in today’s game. Indianapolis hasn’t exactly created a juggernaut roster, but Luck has kept them afloat while that retooling is in progress. As long as Tennessee can get an extension done with Rivers, this is a move that can replicate that process for the Titans. If they can get Rivers without having to give up anything but the No. 2 pick, this move goes from “smart” to “a total no-brainer.”

It doesn’t fix things forever. Rivers doesn’t have all the sheen of “the next great” quarterback, but Rivers and a few smart moves can make the 2016 Titans a true contender. Given the schedule of AFC South teams, it’s honestly not out of the question that adding him would be enough to make them a playoff team in 2015. 

With Mariota, the 2015 Titans are a rebuilding team looking for players for their next relevant team. With Rivers, they are that relevant team. 

 

All DYAR and DVOA numbers cited are courtesy of Football Outsiders. Learn more about DVOA here.
 
Rivers McCown is an NFL Analyst for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Three-Cone Drill podcast. His work has also appeared on Football Outsiders and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at @riversmccown. 

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