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Sports

Titans go for defensive boost, selecting Texas safety Griffin

April 29th, 2007 8:15 pm by Associated Press



NASHVILLE - The Titans saw a run on defensive players in the first round of the NFL draft. Having the NFL's worst defense in 2006, they had to bolster a porous secondary depleted even further by the season-long suspension of Adam "Pacman" Jones.


Tennessee used the 19th pick overall Saturday on Texas safety Michael Griffin, choosing to wait before addressing major offensive holes at wide receiver and running back. Coach Jeff Fisher said they loved Griffin's versatility and thinks he can be their third cornerback as a rookie.


"Our plans with Michael are to play him at a number of different positions. Safety, nickelback, corner. But he is a football player, and we're very excited to have an opportunity to have drafted him," Fisher said.


The Titans still had major needs after losing receivers Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade to free agency. They cut Travis Henry rather than pay an $8 million bonus even though he ran for 1,211 yards last season.


Tennessee talked with San Diego about trading for LaDainian Tomlinson's backup, Michael Turner. The Titans also talked for days with Detroit about receiver Mike Williams but gave up Saturday. Fisher said both deals fell through when the teams asked for more than they would give up.


The Titans selected Arizona running back Chris Henry with the 50th pick overall, then receiver Paul Williams of Fresno State in the third round at No. 80 whose older brother, J.D., was a first-round pick by Buffalo in 1990.


That left Tennessee seven picks in the final four rounds today to work on other needs.


"We still do have needs," general manager Mike Reinfeldt said. "The defensive end, the O-line, cornerback. There's still positions we need. Fortunately, the good thing is we have seven picks to help ourselves in that regard."


The 5-foot-11 Henry, who left Arizona after his junior season, impressed teams with his speed at the NFL combine even though he had only 269 carries for 892 yards in his career. Fisher said they researched Henry and consider him a victim of the system.


"We are confident he will have the stats and have numbers at this level," Fisher said.


That left them looking for receiver with eight picks remaining. Brandon Jones is the only receiver on the roster who started last year with David Givens recovering from a torn ACL.


But Jones, a cornerback, was the best player on the Tennessee defense, and his suspension by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell left a gaping hole on a unit that gave up 369.7 yards per game. Jones can't even ask to return until after the Titans play at Denver on Nov. 19.


So the Titans had to address the secondary.


They already had signed free agent cornerback Nick Harper away from the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, their AFC South rival, who should replace Jones at starter. They also have Reynaldo Hill, who has started 24 of 30 games since being a seventh-round draft pick in 2005, and Cortland Finnegan.


The Titans have five safeties on the roster led by starter Chris Hope with Vincent Fuller and Calvin Lowry taken in the previous two drafts. But Tennessee uses a third cornerback on the field enough that Fisher considers the nickelback as a third starter.


"He'll fill in where needed," Fisher said of Griffin.


The Titans started to worry after watching LaRon Landry, Darrelle Revis and Leon Hall go off the board that Griffin might not be there when they selected. This is the third time since 2003 the Titans selected a defensive back with the first pick and fourth in franchise history but first ever on a safety.


"We're very excited," Fisher said.


Griffin played free safety in 2006, but the 5-11, 202-pounder said he also had to know all four spots in the secondary at Texas where he previously backed up Michael Huff. He had eight interceptions, recovered seven fumbles and had four sacks. He also blocked six punts on special teams.


He had visited the Titans, but he said he was very shocked when Tennessee drafted him. This will reunite him with former Longhorns teammate and current Titans quarterback Vince Young.


"Hopefully, ... we get to make the plays we did in the Rose Bowl. Hopefully, we can bring a championship to Nashville," Griffin said.


The Titans now couldn't be much younger at running back with Henry joining LenDale White, a second-round pick last year, and Quinton Ganther, a seventh-rounder in 2006. Assistant coach Sherman Smith said Henry has a work ethic similar to that of Eddie George, which should push White.


Their challenge? Pick up where they left off last year with the NFL's fifth-best rushing offense and protect Vince Young.


"We're going to get it done in the run game, and we'll protect our quarterback ...," Smith said.


The Titans watched teams select receiver in six of the seven picks before they grabbed the 6-1 Williams. He has been called a pro-type receiver with size, speed and long arms but is a converted cornerback who caught only 21 passes in an injury-filled season in 2006.


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