How much better can it get for the Tennessee Titans passing offense?
Last year, the Titans finished 27th in passing for the second consecutive season, relying mostly on Chris Johnson and the rushing attack to prop up a conservative offense. Included in those totals, the Titans passed for an average of just 176.2 yards per game.
But if preseason is any indication, the Titans’ upgrades in the passing game are beginning to take hold and give the team a much more explosive look, capable of making both down-the-field plays and yardage after the catch – something sorely lacking from the team in recent years.
Veteran quarterback Kerry Collins, 36, appears rejuvenated at the thought of the improvements in his supporting cast
Already rookie Jared Cook has been the talk of training camp and the preseason with his combination of size (6-5, 246) and speed (a 4.49 time in the 40-yard dash) and his ability to catch nearly anything thrown his way.
“It’ll be interesting to see how teams react to a guy like Jared Cook, who can run like a wideout, but he’s a big guy who can block and play tight end,” Collins said.
Now, after Saturday night’s five-catch, 89-yard performance, rookie Kenny Britt has created a similar buzz about his potential.
Collins liked what he saw in Britt’s debut, one that was delayed a week because of a hamstring problem.
“There are still some things from a route-running perspective that he needs to get better on and continue to work at, but he’s shown that he can separate,” Collins said. “He’s shown that he can threaten defensive backs, and the more that he gets comfortable with his route running and what we’re asking of him, I think the better he is going to be. He’s come a long way in really just a few short days.”
Britt said he made it a point to pay attention in practice, even when he wasn’t playing, so that when his opportunity came, he could capitalize on it.
“I feel like I was never that behind actually, because I took a lot of mental reps and that’s almost as good as the physical reps,” Britt said. “I’ve watching how Justin Gage runs his routes and Nate Washington, and how they do certain things and how Kerry likes receivers to be in certain places.”
Add that to the rapport Collins is already developing with Washington, the free-agent acquisition from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Titans look to potentially have their most explosive offense since maybe 2003 when they averaged 242 yards passing per game and Steve McNair was named co-MVP of the league.
Certainly, these Titans aren’t going to become pass-first as that club often resorted to, but they can at least achieve the desired feat of a more balanced attack that can move the football via the ground or the air.
“There are going to be times when you have to throw it. There are some games when you play a really good defense, and you’re going to have to throw the ball,” Collins said. “I think we’re committed to running the ball first, but we’re not going to beat our heads against the wall when it’s not there.”
There are still a few things to be worked out, of course. Case in point was Collins going 0-for-4 with an interception in trying to target Washington early and often last Saturday against the Buccaneers. But trying to familiarize himself with all the new targets is a good problem to have, says Collins.
“I think we’re definitely making strides, and I know my comfort level is getting better. It’s a getting-to-know-you process,” Collins said. “With Nate, those things happen in practice and they happen in a game. There were a couple of things that happened the other night, that hey, you know, we learned from it. It’s just part of the process. With Britt coming back and with Cook doing what he’s doing, we’re definitely getting on the same page.”
Washington agrees, and said the players now want to put their own stamp on the playbook as they becomes more familiar with each other.
“We’re definitely on the same page and in the same book. Kerry has done an excellent job of communicating not only with me, but with the whole receiving corps,” Washington said. “He does a great job putting us in our right spots, and that’s the type of person you need as a leader. I think the main thing right now is to continue to get better and get deeper into that book. I think our first couple of chapters are already there.”