Kerry Collins recently spelled out for Kenny Britt exactly what it takes for him — at 37 years old — to be ready to play.
“He told me that when you hear a couple of clicks in your shoulder, you know you are ready to go out there and play,” Britt said, laughing.
For the Tennessee Titans, there is security in such sounds. It’s like an old house. It creaks and squeaks a bit, but there’s no reason to think the whole thing is going to come crashing down.
Collins’ presence kept the current season from unraveling when starting quarterback Vince Young was injured early in a Monday night game two weeks ago at Jacksonville. Collins guided the Titans to an easy victory that night, started the next week and led a come-from-behind victory against Philadelphia, which lifted them to 5-2 and into sole possession of first place in the AFC South.
“I’ve been in this offense long enough to know what I need to do when I get in there,” Collins said. “If I’m out for a couple weeks and don’t get reps, I feel comfortable enough to go in and execute what we’re trying to do.”
It was typical for Collins, whose best seasons with the Titans have been the ones in which he’s been Young’s backup. He went a combined 0-9 as the Week 1 starter (0-3 in 2006, 0-6 in 2009), but following the Philadelphia game was 14-3 as a replacement to Young.
Typically, Tennessee has been at its best in just such scenarios.
Beginning with the Super Bowl season of 1999, every playoff season except one (2002) has included at least one start by a backup quarterback. Much more often than not, the backup was victorious.
Neil O’Donnell set the stage when he was signed as a free agent in 1999 and then was thrust into action when back surgery sidelined Steve McNair after the opener. O’Donnell won four of five starts while McNair was out and helped the Titans build some much-needed momentum.
O’Donnell also won one game in 2000, when Tennessee had the league’s best regular-season record (13-3) and then capped his career with a memorable one-game stint with the team at the end of the 2003 season.
“It’s definitely important — when you lose the leader of your team and your starting quarterback, you always need a guy who can step in,” wide receiver Damian Williams said. “Obviously, Kerry is mature enough to handle it.”
In between O’Donnell and Collins, a relatively inexperienced Billy Volek played behind the more mature McNair. He did not fare quite as well. He won his first career start — on Dec. 14, 2003 — against Buffalo, but ended up in the hospital with a lacerated spleen. In 2004, he put together a record-setting three-game stretch in December but was just 2-6 in a year the team went 5-11. He started once more in 2005 — also a loss — before he was traded to San Diego early in 2006.
These days, at 34 years old, Volek remains the Chargers’ backup to 28-year-old Philip Rivers.
“Billy does a good job preparing and getting ready to play if he needs to play,” San Diego coach Norv Turner said. “He played last year extensively in that last game of the season against the Redskins, and played well and brought us from behind to win the game.”
It’s the exact opposite of the situation he was in with the Titans, but exactly the type of setup that has allowed the Titans to be their best.