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Sports

Titans hoping to plug 'need' spots in draft

April 24th, 2007 12:48 am by TERESA M. WALKER



NASHVILLE - The Tennessee Titans believe they found a franchise quarterback in the NFL draft in 2006. Now it's time to find someone to play catch with Vince Young.


For a team that missed a playoff berth by one game last season, the Titans go into this draft with lots of holes to fill thanks to the season-long suspension of top cornerback and NFL punt return leader Adam "Pacman" Jones, and the decision not to pay too dearly for veteran players.


That is how Young, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, lost three of his top five targets. Receivers Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade signed for big money in St. Louis and Minnesota as free agents. The Titans released running back Travis Henry to avoid overpaying him.


Veteran David Givens, signed as a free agent a year ago, still is recovering from an ugly injury where his torn ACL may not have been the worst of his knee problems.


The Titans' only move to add receiving help so far? Signing 6-foot-4 Justin Gage, who caught four passes last year for Chicago.


"It's still a ‘need' position for us, and we're going to try to address it," coach Jeff Fisher said.


This will be new general manager Mike Reinfeldt's first draft since being hired in February. If he doesn't trade away any picks, the Titans would have at least 10 draft selections for a third straight year after having an NFL-high 34 picks in the previous three drafts.


Reinfeldt can help the Titans most by addressing the offense first.


Tennessee held the ball only 27 minutes, 17 seconds per game in 2006, which strained the defense far too often. Of the returning receivers, Brandon Jones is the only one who started any games last season, and he caught only 27 passes.


That should mean using the 19th pick overall on only the third receiver this franchise has drafted in the first round, and the first since Kevin Dyson in 1998. The other? Haywood Jeffires in 1987 by the then-Houston Oilers with their second pick in the first round.


The Titans have studied the top receivers available, including Robert Meachem of Tennessee, Ted Ginn Jr. of Ohio State, Dwayne Bowe of LSU and Dwayne Jarrett of Southern California. Ginn's abilities as a returner would make him immediately valuable in the absence of Jones, who averaged 12.9 yards per punt return.


But Meachem is a much bigger target at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds compared to the 6-foot Ginn. The Titans sent offensive coordinator Norm Chow and Reinfeldt to watch Meachem at his pro day last month, and the receiver was among the first to visit team officials in Nashville.


The Titans could draft a running back to replace Henry, whose 1,211 yards rushing is why Tennessee ranked fifth in the NFL. LenDale White, a second-round pick in 2006, came into the offseason program overweight and is working to get back in shape now.


That is why the Titans are bartering with San Diego, trying to get the Chargers to ease their demand of first- and third-round draft picks for LaDainian Tomlinson's backup, Michael Turner. Tennessee can't afford to give up that much, but has those 10 picks overall from which to entice the Chargers.


Even with Jones and his four interceptions, the Titans ranked last in the NFL in total defense.


Free agent signee Nick Harper will help replace Jones, but selecting Arkansas cornerback Chris Houston or Darrelle Revis of Pittsburgh would indicate the Titans are serious about not letting Jones return without drastic changes.


They also need a defensive end opposite Kyle Vanden Bosch after getting only 26 sacks in 2006 and could look at Adam Carricker of Nebraska. They signed Ryan Fowler to replace Peter Sirmon at middle linebacker, which should increase their overall speed, and added veteran safety Bryan Scott as a free agent.


But Young, who set a rookie quarterback record by rushing for 552 yards, needs someone to catch his passes before defenses figure out how to slow him down on the ground.


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