It was difficult to tell who was happier – Mark Jones to be back on an NFL roster with the Tennessee Titans or the Titans to have Jones back handling their returns.
Jones, let go in final preseason cuts, admits he had gotten texts from a couple of Titans saying the team could have used him during their 0-3 start, something the return game has had plenty of culpability in. Last week, rookie Ryan Mouton lost a fumble and a kickoff in a 24-17 loss to the New York Jets.
“A couple said, ‘We could have used you’ But I had no control over that,” Jones said of receiving text messages from some unnamed Titans teammates.
After gambling on rookies Mouton and Javon Ringer on returns, the Titans decided Tuesday to go back to a veteran in Jones, who was still in Nashville and reported to Baptist Sports Park that afternoon to take a physical, which he passed.
Jones had failed a physical with the Carolina Panthers because of a hamstring issue just a few weeks ago after being released by Tennessee.
Jones, who signed a two-year deal with the Titans like he did in the off-season, said he doesn’t harbor any bad feelings toward the team for letting him go the first time.
“They have to make their decisions and I was fine with that. I wasn’t bitter. I knew I had to be ready and get my hamstring right, so that when that phone call did come I would be ready,” Jones said.
Jones said Coach Jeff Fisher welcomed him back when he went into the coach’s office on Wednesday.
“I came in there today and spoke to Jeff, and he said, ‘Glad to have you back’ with a big smile on his face, and he said, ‘I told you things would work out, and they did,’” Jones said. “I’m very happy and grateful for the opportunity to come back here. Despite what happened before, that’s behind me. I’m moving forward and I’m not going to think about what happened.”
Fisher said that Jones’ hamstring injury kept the Titans from getting as good a look at him in camp, which played a role in his release.
“He didn’t have enough of an opportunity. He missed three of the five preseason games, and he came back and was able to return, but we didn’t get an opportunity to look at him in the offense,” Fisher said.
There were others who were glad to have Jones back fielding punts and kickoff as well, including special teams coach Alan Lowry.
“It’s definitely been an area where we’ve had some problems, and it’s an area we’ve got to get shored up,” Lowry said.
In addition to the fumble problem, the Titans rank 26th on punt returns and 29th on kickoff returns.
As for the players, linebacker Keith Bulluck was much more blunt regarding Jones’ coming back to the roster.
“I definitely feel better about having someone who has experience returning kicks and handling the ball. [Expletive], it’s about time we got somebody back there with that,” Bulluck said.
Having a role
Punter Craig Hentrich’s season, and perhaps his career, came to an end on Tuesday when the Titans placed him on injured reserve. Hentrich suffered a calf injury against the Houston Texans, and according to Fisher, was still several weeks away from being able to return.
“It’s clearly a difficult decision to make. We were hopeful that we could go week-to-week on it, but with the injuries we just weren’t able to do that,” Fisher said. “[He would have been out 4-6 [weeks]. That’s optimistic I think, but somewhere in that range. It’s hard to tell with a calf.”
Hentrich was on the practice field for a time, and will serve as sort of an advisor to new punter Reggie Hodges, practice squad punter A.J. Trapasso and kicker Rob Bironas.
“Anytime we have a player go on injured reserve they rehab, they stay here,”Fishesr said. "In Craig’s case, he wants to take a little more active part, active role. Just helping Reggie and making sure Rob settles down. Making sure all the little detail things are taken care of.”
Ready to go
After being short-handed at the tight end position the past two games, the Titans could have their full complement available against the Jaguars.
Bo Scaife practiced on Wednesday fully and was not listed on the injury report after missing two games with a sprained MCL in his left knee.
“I feel pretty good,” Scaife said. “I want to play. I’ll leave it up to Fisher and the training staff, but if it’s up to me, I’m going to play.”
Likewise, rookie Jared Cook could be in for an increased role as well after having been limited by ankle problems the past two games.
“I’m ready to be back. It’s about time,” Cook said. “It’s just tough. Any injury is tough. You’ve got to fight through it, show some resiliency and bounce back. We’ll just have to get back in the game and find out [how the ankle is], but I do feel a lot better than I did.”
Out of practice
Those who missed practice included safety Vincent Fuller, who is out four to six weeks with a broken forearm, as well as cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who has a right hamstring injury. Stanford Keglar is also still out of practice with a hamstring issue.
Defensive tackle Jason Jones had a sore shoulder and did not practice, while LenDale White was out because of illness.
As for Fuller, he had to have a plate and screws inserted into his broken right forearm during surgery, and is hopeful more injuries don’t occur, allowing him to stay on the active roster while he heals.
“I just hope they can continue to hold on and wait and that we don’t have any other injuries that force them to make some other roster moves, so I can get a chance to come back,” Fuller said.
He suffered the injury making a tackle on New York Jets receiver Brad Smith.
“It was just a little bit of indecision on whether or not I was going to be able to make a play on the ball or get there in time to make the tackle. I just kind of got my forearm in front of everything, and that’s the first thing that made contact with him,” he said.
With Fuller out and Finnegan uncertain, the Titans have a couple of rookies who could see extensive action against Jacksonville in Mouton and Jason McCourty.
“It’s a learning process,” McCourty said. “A lot of older guys are giving me pointers, and telling me things to look out for. I’m just trying to listen and learn.”
If his number is called, McCourty said he expects to get plenty of tests, being a rookie.
“Just being a rookie and a backup guy, you’ve got to expect an offensive coordinator to make calls and come at you. You’ve just got to look at it as a positive and an opportunity to go out and make plays and play football,” he said.
Kevin Kaesviharn said he is getting a crash course in the Titans defensive system after signing on Tuesday as a backup safety and special teams player.
Kaesviharn is an eight-year veteran with stops in Cincinnati and New Orleans. He was in camp with Carolina this summer.
“I’ve only been here a day, but I feel like it’s coming,” Kaesviharn said.
The veteran said he figured he would get another chance to play, but just didn’t know where.
“I knew that I was going to be ready and knew there were opportunities out there. I’m just thankful that it’s here, and I’m going to try to make the most of it,” Kaesviharn said.
Fisher said the Titans are fortunate to have the veteran safety.
“We feel he’s going to fill in nicely for Vinnie on all the special teams responsibilities. He’s a smart guy. He’s in shape and he gets it. It’s a good decision for us, and I’m glad he’s on our team,” Fisher said.
Fisher indicated that running back Chris Henry, who was waived on Tuesday, could come back to the team’s practice squad soon.
Henry has $420,000 in guaranteed money coming from the final year of his rookie contract.
“I’ve not given up on Chris Henry. He’s practice squad eligible,” Fisher said. “When he played in games at the running back position in games, he was effective for us, but that particular position has to excel on special teams and he had not done it before. He is learning and he is clearly better at it than he was two years ago.”