For three seasons now, the Tennessee Titans have seen glimpses and flashes of receiver Brandon Jones’ potential.
Will they see him put it all together in 2008 as he enters the final year of his rookie contract?
Jones came to Tennessee as part of a group of three rookies the Titans were banking on rebuilding their receiving corps around. Three seasons later, Roydell Williams made a big jump last season with 55 catches, but now is in limbo recovering from offseason surgery from a broken ankle. The other member of that group, Courtney Roby, was released last season at the end of the preseason and now is with the Indianapolis Colts.
That leaves Jones, who has teased and tantalized at times, but partly because of injuries has yet to put together a full season. In his three seasons, he has caught 21, 27 and 23 passes. He has eight career touchdowns and 971 career receiving yards over that span. Jones’ rookie year was limited to nine games because of a torn ACL, and his season last year was shortened to 10 games because of a groin injury.
Does Jones feel that 2008 is a make or break year for him in Tennessee?
“You can call it whatever you want to call it,” Jones said. “I just feel like this is the year for me to stay healthy and stay on the field and do what I’m blessed to do. I just want to stay healthy and continue to stay out there on the field.”
When talking about the group of wide receivers he has been given, new offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger has been consistent in saying that everyone gets a fresh start under him.
“The good thing for them is that I’m new and I don’t care what they’ve done in the past,” Heimerdinger said last week. “So everybody at that position gets a fresh start. It’s a matter of who produces and makes plays.”
Jones hopes to project himself into the mix. While the pecking order is fluid this time of year, Jones has mostly been running with Biren Ealy on the second unit behind Justin Gage and Justin McCareins.
“You want to think that way, but either way it goes, it’s going to be a fresh start for us, having a new offensive coordinator,” Jones said. “Sometimes they might have favoritism with some guys they might trust or might like, but our job is to go out there and get the job done on the field.”
Heimerdinger is a stickler for details and counts on his receivers to make the correct reads along with the quarterback, as well as running precise routes.
“You’ve got to be prepared for it, if you want to get out there and you want to play,” Jones said. “You could tell that his offense is progressing, and he likes to get the ball into the receivers’ hands. You’re just going to have to pay attention and get whatever he wants you to do down pat and to a tee.”
As Heimerdinger reinstalls the system he had in Tennessee during his first go-around, the buzzword that helped take a Titans defense from last in 2006 to fifth in 2007 is making the rounds on the offensive side of the ball at some skill positions — competition.
“Anytime you can have competition at a number of positions and find the best 11 players, that’s what we’re going to do,” Heimerdinger said.
Those who find success with Heimerdinger’s system usually find the lion’s share of the reps. Unlike Norm Chow, Heimerdinger won’t rotate much at the position beyond his top three.
“It’s a good thing if I’m in there. It can go both ways,” Jones said. “Sometimes guys get tired. If I’m in there, I hope I’m a guy that doesn’t come out.”
RESTED AND RELAXED: Safety Michael Griffin said he believes the big jump players often make between year one and year two comes from being able to rest and relax.
“The most positive thing is I had rest,” the 2007 first-round pick said. “When you’re coming out of college and you’re going to make that transition, you go from training and then to the Combine and personal workouts and OTAs and stuff, it was pretty much football year-round. But actually getting to go home and take a little time off and going to school and to work out, I think it’s given my body a little bit rest. I’m rejuvenated and ready to go.”
WHY NOT?: While some prognosticators look at the Titans’ 10-6 record from last year, examine what they lost in free agency and forecast a step backwards, linebacker Keith Bulluck isn’t buying that.
“That’s easy. I don’t see why we shouldn’t [make the playoffs]. If we can stay healthy and keep progressively getting better, then there’s no reason we shouldn’t be in the playoffs and possibly get home-field advantage,” Bulluck said.