Rookie class rescues rebuilding Titans

Friday, December 16, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 50

Rookies are not to be trusted in the NFL.

Someone told me long ago, when I first began covering the league, that for every rookie you start you can probably count on a loss.

But thus far, the Titans have been bucking that trend. In fact, the 2011 draft class might be one of the biggest reasons Tennessee is still on the cusp of playoff contention with three weeks left in the season.

Admit it, only the most optimistic of Titans fans would have given this team a chance to earn 10 wins and a playoff berth. But that is still a possibility, if the Titans can defeat the winless Indianapolis Colts on the road, the downtrodden Jacksonville Jaguars at home and in Houston at a time when the Texans might be in rest mode, depending on the playoff seeding.

While it’s always dangerous to say this group or that group could be the best draft class ever just one year in, the Titans current crop of rookies certainly looks like a keeper. Time will tell.

Remember, Vince Young dazzled enough in his first season to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, but that proved to be fool’s gold when his passing skills, dedication and aptitude for the pro game all were eventually shown to be lacking.

Similarly, Titans fans have gotten excited over early production from the likes of Ben Troupe, Travis LaBoy, Tyrone Calico, Randy Starks, Tank Williams and Reynaldo Hill in years past only to have them fade away. And that doesn’t even count Pacman Jones, who was a saga unto himself in terms of failed draft picks.

So until all the precincts have reported, it may be premature to judge the Titans Class of 2011 as one of the best to come through Baptist Sports Park. But even the most jaded and cynical have to admit there’s a lot to like thus far in this year’s group.

First-round pick Jake Locker’s skill and confidence have been evident in two cameo appearances.

Teammates praised his work Sunday in relief of an injured Matt Hasselbeck, not only for what he did with his arm and his legs, but for the command and presence in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.

“You wouldn’t know he’s a rookie from the way he’s handled it when he’s come in those two games. He’s come in and hasn’t missed a beat. He’s set up the plays, the formations, the snap counts, everything and he’s handled it like a vet,” says left tackle Michael Roos.

That’s the same Michael Roos by the way who once had to tell Young in the huddle that he had called a play the Titans couldn’t run because they had the wrong personnel on the field. And that was with Young a couple of years into his NFL career.

Speaking of rookies taking charge, the Titans have handed the defensive play calls to Colin McCarthy, who looks to be a difference-maker the defense has sorely needed this season. Yes, it’s too early to get a final diagnosis, but the fourth-rounder looks to be the team’s best middle linebacker since Randall Godfrey was in his prime. Fellow rookie linebacker Akeem Ayers also looks to be a player with significant upside as well.

And two rookie defensive tackles, Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug, have been as active and productive as any defensive linemen in the Titans rotation. Seventh-rounder Tommie Campbell has been a demon on special teams and his touchdown run on the kickoff against Tampa Bay exhibited his elite speed.

The Titans remain high on the remaining draft choices who are still awaiting the chance – running back Jamie Harper, tackle Byron Stingily and defensive tackle Zach Clayton.

Probably not all of them will pan out, but one thing is certain: For a group that was thrown together with no off-season work, the Titans draft class has blended amazingly well with the veterans, and the combination has the rebuilding process Mike Munchak and Mike Reinfeldt were put in charge of farther along that almost anyone could have anticipated.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.