Commentary: Hentrich a classy final link to Titans early success

Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 1:13pm

On Wednesday, the first official chapter in Tennessee Titans history came to a close.

When long-time punter Craig Hentrich announced his retirement after 17 years in the NFL and the past 12 with the Titans, it officially meant that the last continuous link to the franchise’s only Super Bowl in 1999 was gone.

Yes, Jevon Kearse is still on the roster currently, but he returned for an encore after leaving as a free agent for Philadelphia in 2004. Besides, free agency begins in two weeks, and Kearse will be out the door for a second time as a Titan, given his mid-season benching and being mostly a non-factor after that.

As the Titans officially close the book on that chapter in team history, the team is at a crossroads in a number of areas.
Not only are Hentrich and Kearse gone, it appears too that long-time linebacker Keith Bulluck, stalwart defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and other familiar faces like Kevin Mawae and Nick Harper won’t return either.

The Titans have had little to no dealings with any of their agents about a potential return, which likely signifies the end for all of them in Tennessee.

Back to Hentrich, the veteran punter’s value to the Titans went way beyond sheer numbers, and even those were strong. He had 1,150 career punts and averaged 42.9 yards per kick for his career.

But Hentrich was more than that. He was a football player. And before you say, “Well, duh,” consider that punters and kickers aren’t always accorded that honor. Usually, they’re regarded as isolated or even weird in the eyes of many of their offensive and defensive teammates, who sometimes see kickers as needed and important, but not necessarily athletes in the same regard as a linebacker or wide receiver might be considered.

But Hentrich wasn’t your normal punter or kicker. His longevity in the transient world of kicking specialists is evidence of that.

Throughout his tenure with the Titans, Hentrich was viewed by both teammates and management as a gifted athlete, who happened to play a very specialized role on the team.

Hentrich earned his keep by doing more than just punting the ball and trotting to the sideline until the next fourth down. He was valuable as a holder, working with Titans kickers ranging from Al Del Greco to Joe Nedney to Gary Anderson and finally to Rob Bironas.

He even was able to handle place kicks himself when needed, serving as the kickoff specialist and long field goal kicker during a portion of his career.

His athleticism also gave special teams coach Alan Lowry the options to always have trick plays in the game plan each week. Hentrich was adept enough as a passer to fill the Titans emergency quarterback role and good enough as a runner to execute whatever shenanigans might be called to pick up a first down off a fake punt.

Then, of course, there was Hentrich’s famed “knuckleball” punt, which he basically created by experimenting and kicking the ball off a different spot on his foot. Hentrich kept the secret under lock and key for several years, but an indication that his time as a Titan might be coming to a close came when, after a torn calf muscle landed him on injured reserve, Hentrich took the time to teach the knuckleball kick to his replacement, Brett Kern. That gesture showed what a class act Hentrich was during his time as a Titan.

Not only was Hentrich a class act, but in regards to being the last link to the early success that established the franchise here in Nashville, he was also the final act.

4 Comments on this post:

By: fishfry on 2/19/10 at 8:30

Sorry to see him leave us - but he has earned his retirement and leaves with our thanks for a job well done!

By: TitansFan035 on 2/19/10 at 12:19

Thanks Craig!!! Now lets get the ball rolling down hill!!! By the way why in the freak would you bring back Nick Harper, would someone please explain!!!! Let me guess coach 500 decision because he give us the best chance to win mentality again right???

By: wayneCaluger on 2/19/10 at 1:58

By the way why in the freak would you bring back Nick Harper, would someone please explain!!!! I too would like someone to not only give me reason why we keep Harper, but why in the world re-insert him back into the starting line up when his replacement Rod Hood make more interceptions in 3 games than Harper made all season?

When you have a player who is not producing before an injury that took him out of the mix why would you think he would suddenly bounce back overnight after rehab becoming a pro-bowl contender. You stick with whats working inserting a player like Harper to give Hood a breather and he shows can play well enough to win back his starting spot so be it. This sends the wrong message in that once deemed a starter you have been annotated for the season no matter how well you play. For the hard workers who get a chance to prove themselves and do why give the 100% effort if its back to the bench once the annotated one heals.

It appears Keith Bulluck down fall is being to vocal about all the confusion within the defensive coaching staff. Cannot be about the money or how long of a contract he might want since no one has talked to him to see what he is looking for. I was concerned when he made some comments to the media as off handed as they were this might happen. Could be the same with Kyle Vanden Bosch since we don't know about all the behind the scene issues between the defensive players and coaches. Kevin Mawae outside of being the head of the players union as we head into a possible 2011 lockout not a clue either since again no body has made an effort to talk to these guys to see what they are looking for.

At this point I have to agree that Keith Bulluck, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Kevin Mawae are no longer wanted period by the Titans. I suspect Keith Bulluck and then Kyle Vanden Bosch to be gone within the first two weeks of free agency.

By: wayneCaluger on 2/20/10 at 8:51

Not sure if anyone will see this post or not but guess whose agent the Titans called per the morning paper?

Keith Bulluck? NO! Kyle Vanden Bosch? NO! Kevin Mawae? NO! It was none other than Nick Harpers agent! Go figure!