Throughout their 10-0 start, the Tennessee Titans have touted that they are all about team.
Perhaps nowhere does that team concept shine more brightly than in the ability of unknowns and role players to step in and fill the voids when the starters have gone down.
When Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch went out with a groin injury against Baltimore, the Titans asked two unheralded players in Dave Ball and Jacob Ford to step in and pick up the slack.
Neither had had a sack in his pro career to that point. Just over a month later, they have 7.5 sacks between them with each recording a sack of Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard.
Nowhere was the role of players stepping up on display more Sunday than in the play of Chris Carr. Carr, who came to the Titans as a restricted free agent from Oakland, was signed to shore up the punt and kickoff return duties. He has done that, but in Sunday’s 24-14 win, he did much more — coming in after Eric King — filling in for an injured Nick Harper — suffered a broken forearm.
All Carr did was play 54 snaps at left cornerback with a pair of pass breakups and a key interception that led to Tennessee’s final touchdown. And he still managed to perform his full complement of special teams duties as well, including an open-field tackle on a kickoff in the third quarter.
“I knew special teams was going to be my niche on this team, but I knew my capabilities, and if I got into a game [on defense], it wasn’t going to be a surprise,” Carr said. “I was like, ‘OK, this is my time and I’m going to have to go in and make some plays for us to win,’ and fortunately I did.”
Coming in and contributing in a pinch has become old hat for Ball, who was out of the NFL altogether last year, but has had a sack three weeks in a row and is tied for second on the team with 3.5 sacks. Probably no player on the Titans roster has a better appreciation for being 10-0 than him.
“I couldn’t have [walked into a better situation]. And this was like my only situation I could have walked in to. So it’s funny how stuff happens,” said Ball, noting that no other teams wanted to sign him this offseason.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher said he could see in training camp that the team was developing role players for valued depth when the inevitable injuries come in an NFL season.
“The staff has done a great job developing players,” Fisher said. “We expected to see it happen. It’s not a surprise to us that Jacob Ford and David Ball, and obviously the rookies, but those two in particular are playing well or filling in.
“We’ve been fortunate from that standpoint. That was an exceptional effort by Chris with the load that we continued to place on him throughout the game. It’s one thing to play corner in the National Football League, but it’s another to continue with your special teams responsibilities, and that was an exceptional effort.”
Tony Brown, now a starter at defensive tackle but once a journeyman and role player himself, appreciates the contributions of the back end of the roster.
“Those guys are on this team for a reason. People may not know them outside of this locker room and this organization, but every time their number has been called, they’ve done a great job,” Brown said. “It just goes to show that this organization is doing something right, because I’m one of those guys. I was one of those guys myself, and we have to show it every time.”
INJURIES: Fisher said the Titans would seek several opinions before determining whether or not to make a roster move with cornerback Eric King once he has surgery on his broken forearm. It is a re-fracture of the injury he suffered last year that landed him on injured reserve, and likely will take six weeks or so to heal.
“At this point, we’re not going to jump to conclusions and make a decision. We haven’t ruled Eric out [for the season],” Fisher said. “We’re going to evaluate the situation over the next couple of days, and we’ll see what we will do with it. There is a chance Eric could return. We just don’t know that. We’re waiting on several other opinions.”
If the Titans make a roster move, the most likely scenario is to pull seventh-round pick Cary Williams up from the practice squad.
Fisher also said the four players who were inactive because of injuries — Harper (ankle), Justin McCareins (concussion), Vanden Bosch (groin) and Jason Jones (foot) would have a chance to return and play this week against the New York Jets.
HEALTHY AGAIN: Receiver Justin Gage enjoyed the best day of his career with four catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Fisher said Gage is finally healthy after suffering an MCL sprain in his knee, and that is showed in his performance.
“The MCL is a difficult injury to overcome, specifically I think for the taller guys,” Fisher said. “He just didn’t have the stability even after coming back for a couple of weeks. But it’s there now. We see it on the practice field. He’s free of the brace. He concentration is back and he made the plays he needed to make.”’
MAN OF THE YEAR: Linebacker David Thornton was chosen as the Titans' Man of the Year on Monday for his charitable works in the community. He was one of eight finalists for the team award and now will compete with winners from the other 31 teams for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
“My motivation, first and foremost, from what I do in the community stems from my personal relationship with the Lord,” Thornton said. “Me loving God is part of me loving others and finding ways to go out and make a difference. That’s a big part of why I do what I do. I was raised in a Christian home. My mother and father did a tremendous job of raising me and my brothers to be men of integrity, men of character and men of passion.”
He said cherishes the stage he has an athlete to help others less fortunate.
“As professional athletes, we all have a platform that we’ve been blessed with that we can go out and get the attention of children and maybe some adults that most people maybe can’t do. I don’t take that platform lightly,” Thornton said.