Boclair: End of the run-first era?

Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 10:05pm

As soon as the Tennessee Titans selected wide receiver Kendall Wright with their first pick in last weekend’s NFL draft, many began to wonder about Kenny Britt and his health.

After all, Britt, a first-round draft pick in his own right, is coming off reconstructive knee surgery that cost him most of last season. And he had hamstring issues in the two seasons prior to that.

Perhaps the team decided to hedge its bet in that regard or — worse yet — maybe there was a sense that the 2009 first-round pick never would be right again.

Here’s something else to consider, something no one in the building ever would say publicly. Maybe it had more to do with running back Chris Johnson.

Let’s be honest, C.J. did not exactly set the world on fire last season. In fact, he’s in a two-year slide at a point in his career when many running backs simply fall off the cliff.

With the selection of Wright, it is now abundantly clear that any repeat of the CJ2K phenomenon is out of the question. He’s simply not going to get the ball often enough to put up those kinds of numbers.

This is a team that wants to throw the football — a lot.

In discussing the selection Thursday night, offensive coordinator Chris Palmer even referenced his time as an assistant with the Houston Oilers during their days as a run-and-shoot offense.

“I think [Wright] reminds me of Drew Hill and Ernest Givins that we had back in the run-and-shoot days in Houston,” Palmer said. “He’s a guy that also can play outside. He closes the cushion between himself and the defensive back very, very quickly.

“I think he’s a guy that will allow us to move him around and complement our other receivers and give us a chance to be more explosive offensively.”

It was not that long ago that Johnson was unquestionably the game’s most explosive offensive player — not just in the present, but all-time. In one season, he set the NFL’s career record for touchdown plays of 85 yards or more.

Last fall, though, he was ordinary, excruciatingly so. That was Palmer’s first impression of him, and it was likely a lasting one.

Thus it looks as if the Titans are ready to throw in the towel and just throw the ball as many times as possible.

For that to happen, of course, Britt has to be healthy, which is not a foregone conclusion.

There is, however, plenty of science and history in regard to reconstructive knee surgery that tells the Titans what they can expect. The can count on Britt being able to run and jump, etc., within nine months to a year, which means he’ll be available and ready to go at the start of the season. It’s another six months after that when he’ll recover all his explosiveness and playmaking ability.

Wright’s selection does not suggest anything in regard to Britt’s status.

It does, however, signal the end of the days when the Titans were married to a run game. For the first time, they seem interested in having more than just pedestrian receivers on their roster — and there’s more to do in that regard.

All of a sudden, 2009 seems like such a distant memory. Then, C.J.’s big-play ability seemed to provide a modern sheen on an offense that for so long had been defined by Eddie George’s punishing but plodding style. At its core, though, it was still just a run-first approach in an era when the pass
is pre-eminent.

C.J. is still with the Titans — and will be for sometime, thanks to last season’s contract renegotiation. They’ve simply given up on him as their primary offensive option.

1 Comment on this post:

By: GuardianDevil01 on 4/30/12 at 4:37

Perhaps more telling is this: In spite of having an interior offensive line that did poorly in blocking for CJ2K, the Titans did not draft any guards or centers even though several good ones were available. DeCastro and Konz were selected several picks after the Titans' in the first and second rounds. Each was considered the highest rated at his position.