These days when the Tennessee Titans run the football, they have a lot of, well, options.
In a time when NFL teams are always searching for another way gain an extra yard or two, the Titans have decided to experiment with an offensive system most league experts were certain would never work — the option.
Certainly, no team is going to make it their offensive livelihood, but with Vince Young being reinserted into the lineup and paired with speedy running back Chris Johnson in the backfield, the Titans are making it work in small portions, and to keep opposing defenses guessing.
“It changes a lot. The defense has got to choose,” Johnson said. “Do they want to stop 10 [Young] or do they want to stop 28 [Johnson]. That is what me and Vince say every day. Whichever one you choose to stop, the other one is going to have a good day.”
Coach Mike Heimerdinger said the option package has actually been in the Titans’ playbook all along, but there was no need to ever use it unless the mobile Young was under center.
“With Vince’s ability to run and Chris’ ability to run, we tweak it and block it up for the looks we want. It’s not like we’re gonna wishbone it or veer it and do a lot of other options,” Heimerdinger said. “It’s the same blocking schemes, it’s the same stuff. We’ve had it in before when Vince was playing. With Kerry, that’s not his forte, so we put it to bed for awhile.”
Monday night, Young and the Titans will be in Houston for Monday Night Football, a great homecoming for the quarterback who was a high school star in Houston and led the University of Texas Longhorns to their first national championship in more than three decades.
And Young help carry Texans with his arm and his legs, so is some sort of option an option Monday night?
During all the time Young was on the bench last and at the beginning of this season behind Collins, many outsiders wondered why the Titans didn’t use Young occasionally in a wildcat formation, the single-wing style brought back into vogue last year by the Miami Dolphins.
Heimerdinger says the option is his change-up formation, a la the wildcat, to give opposing defenders something to think about.
“It’s our version of what you do with the wildcat. We’re just using our people in a different way with what they’re good at,” Heimerdinger said. “You’re not gonna make a living running the option in the NFL, or you’ve got to stop paying quarterbacks $32 million a year. It’s a nice wrinkle, and it takes care of some things and makes people work on some stuff.”
The option is old hat to Young, who ran a version of it in high school and at the University of Texas. Naturally, he has picked it back up very easily, even though it’s certainly different on the pro level than college or high school.
“The speed of the game is definitely fast up here, and you’ve got to be on your point. But it all goes back to preparation and the different schemes that they show,” Young said. “There’s different ways we block it, so we’ve got to be on the same page when we’re reading the defense. But at the same time, I’ve been running the option since high school, so I’m very familiar with it.”
While Young is a master at it, it’s all new to Johnson and some of the other Titans on offense. Johnson has become a quick learner, however, and is a big reason why the scheme works, because of his speed.
“I’ve never run the option before, and to be able to run it on this level is good,” Johnson said. “Vince ran it in college. I never ran it. I know defenses want to stop me and stop Vince. Basically, the two caliber of players that running it are probably a big deal as to why it’s working.”
Fullback Ahmard Hall agreed, saying, “When you’ve got two great athletes out there in Vince [and Chris]. Vince can take it and run with it, and C.J. Guys are so worried about Vince taking off and running, when you get C.J. on that edge, it’s over.”
Of course, part of the key is that the Titans have been able to catch people off guard with it, as they did Sunday against the Bills.
“It will work if it ain’t game planned. If it’s not game planned, it’s gonna work,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “You might have someone for the edge, but then you don’t have someone for the pitch. You saw that had someone for Vince, but they didn’t have anyone for C.J. I’m sure defenses will look at that, see how effective it was for our offense and plan accordingly.”
So that means that the offense has to stay one step ahead of what they show in games, so defenses can’t keep up.
“I had to watch a lot of extra film just to see how guys are going to try to stop it,” tight end Alge Crumpler said. “Everybody is going to throw a little wrinkle in there. If we just go into a game with that just being the basis of our offense, I don’t think we’d be highly successful. But it’s good to add in.”
Young is convinced that he and Johnson can continue to make the package work successfully.
“You’ve still got me and C.J. running it, and if our guys on the edge block it right, and the receivers block downfield, you’ve still got to stop me and C.J. It’s a great play for us,” Young said.