Titans have big plans for small players drafted in the third round

Friday, April 23, 2010 at 9:49pm

Jeff Fisher thought Damian Williams looked taller than he actually is when he watched film on the USC wide receiver. No one could have made the same mistake with Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran.

Either way, the Tennessee Titans measured the worth of both and decided they merited selection in the third round Friday, the second day of the 2010 NFL draft. Tennessee took Williams with its regular third-round choice (77th overall) and then grabbed Curran with the compensatory pick it received (97th overall) for the loss of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth through free agency.

At 5-foot-10 ½, Curran was by far the shortest of the nine linebackers drafted through the first three rounds. All of the others were at least 6-foot and two were as tall as 6-foot-3.

“As far as my height goes, I don’t play barefoot, you know,” Curran said. “When I put my cleats on and my helmet, I’m about 6-1 or 6-2.

“And I’m not weak either. I may be a little bit shorter but I’m not weak by any means. So I use my strength and my quickness to my advantage.”

He certainly amassed some sizable statistics in a three-year career at Georgia, which included 30 starts. He was a freshman All-American in 2007 and then became the first UGA player since 1996 and 1997 to record more than 100 tackles in consecutive seasons. He made 115 stops in 2008 and was second in the Southeastern Conference with 130 last fall.

His 298 career tackles are tied for 12th on the Bulldogs’ career list.

“The first topic people are going to bring up is height,” Titans’ scout Cole Proctor said. “He comes in a short package but a powerful package. (He is) a very instinctive football player. … Just a very, very solid football player. You just wish he was taller.”

His size apparently won’t limit his possibilities within the Titans’ scheme. Coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Mike Reinfeldt each said that Curran could play either inside or outside linebacker, although he likely would be used on the outside first.

“He’s kind of unique in that even though he doesn’t have the ideal height, he’s a long-strider.” Fisher said. “So he covers a lot of ground.”

Williams, who played one season at Arkansas, then transferred and played two for USC, has more respectable size at just under 6-foot-1.

He caught 128 passes combined in his three-year-career, including 70 for 1,010 yards last season when he was named the Trojans’ most valuable player in voting by his teammates.

“It’s interesting when you watch him on tape,” Fisher said. “I thought he was much bigger. Taller. He plays big. … He’s explosive. He’s got great hands. You can see him catch out of frame.”

Just as interesting – if not more so – to the Titans was the fact that he averaged 13.6 yards and scored two touchdowns on 25 punt returns in 2009, the only time in his career he had that job.

Tennessee was 25th in the league in punt return average and 29th in kickoff return average last season.

“I’m probably better at punts, but I’ve done both,” Williams said. “I’ve always worked at it. I’ve worked at every year since I’ve been in high school and I can’t wait to do it (in the NFL).”

The Titans considered Williams a second-round talent and even attempted to trade up to get him because they did not think he would last until the 77th pick. Ultimately they held on to all six of their choices for the final four rounds – one each in the fourth and fifth rounds and two each in the sixth and seventh rounds.

The fourth round is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. (CDT) Saturday. Tennessee has drafted at least one cornerback every year since 2001 and is expected to do so again this year. The other area generally considered in need of attention is safety.

“I think we made some positive steps,” Reinfeldt said. “I think the return thing (with Williams) is good. I think you have a receiver who has a chance to be your No. 1. We got an active linebacker who can play both inside and outside – we’ll probably start him at outside.

“So I think we accomplished some good things (Friday).”

Notice that he didn’t say ‘big’ things.