Does the 1,000-yard receiver still matter for the Titans?

Monday, August 8, 2011 at 10:49pm

Wouldn’t it be grand if the Tennessee Titans had a 1,000-yard receiver this fall?

It’s something we all might think is a no-brainer, but those with the most at stake say not necessarily.

“With an offense like this, it’s a number that doesn’t apply,” said veteran receiver Justin Gage. “It doesn’t matter to us [as long as] we have consistency at the receiver spot. And that’s what we really need — we need each guy to be able to make plays and be accountable.”

The images of Chris Johnson’s 2,000-yard rushing season remain relatively fresh in everyone’s minds. That can make the thought of someone getting even half that amount on the back end of thrown balls seem unrealistic, although 1,000-yard rushers and receivers are not mutually exclusive in the NFL.

Then again, the approach (pessimism, perhaps?) of Titans receivers in regard to the pursuit of 1,000 yards might have more to do with the fact that it has been so long since anyone who inhabited their meeting room reached that notable number. It makes the prospect seem impossible.

The last time the franchise actually had someone get there was 2004 — and two players did it. Drew Bennett had 1,247 yards and Derrick Mason added 1,168 to cap a stretch of four straight seasons in which at least one player got there.

Kenny Britt’s 775 yards last fall is as close as anyone has come since. None of the receivers on the current roster has had 1,000 yards catching as a pro. Nate Washington’s highest total was 631 in 2008 with Pittsburgh, a run-heavy team. Gage’s best was 750 in 2007, his first year in Tennessee after three seasons with run-happy Chicago.

“Some of the veteran guys understand that, ‘Hey, my role might be 25 times a game to go block a safety. Then if five or six balls come my way, that’s what the job description is,’ ” first-year wide receivers coach Dave Ragone said. “So I give those guys credit. Receiver is about catching the football and all that, but there’s a lot of little things that can make them successful.”

Little things, not necessarily big numbers.

In the six seasons since Tennessee’s last 1,000-yard receiver, players around the NFL have hit that mark 124 times — an average of slightly more than 20 per season.

The Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals each have had 10 get there, and the Indianapolis Colts have had nine. There have been as many as 23 in a single campaign.

Last season alone, half of the NFL’s 32 teams had at least one, which was down slightly from previous years. The Cowboys were the only franchise with more than one.

The Titans are one of three teams — the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears are the others — without at least one 1,000-yard receiver since 2004.

“It will be a great point to set my goals at to get 1,000 yards, but in my mind, my goal right now is to do whatever the team wants me to do and whatever I can do to help take us to the big [game],” Britt said. “That’s exactly where our minds are at, and our minds are playing as one team with one goal.”

There’s some hope the addition of free agent quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will provide more stability and consistency in the passing game. It might not necessarily add more pop, though. Hasselbeck was a starter in Seattle for the past 10 years, where he had five 1,000-yard receivers, the last of whom was Bobby Engram in 2007.

“Whether we throw for 1,000 or run for 2,000, as long as we win — that’s all that’s important,” offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. “I think both the pass and the run complement one another. You can’t allow [the defense] to have eight people in the box. You have to be good enough to throw the ball.”

In each of the last four seasons, Tennessee has ranked among the NFL’s top 10 in rushing offense and the bottom 10 in passing offense. It earned a pair of postseason appearances in that time but failed to win a playoff game.

The franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance came in 1999, when it was the picture of offensive consistency if not greatness. Then, the Titans were 13th in both rushing offense and defense.

It would seem to make sense, then, that if Johnson tops 1,000 yards rushing for the fourth time in as many professional seasons, a 1,000-yard receiver might be a nice complement.

“I don’t think we’re searching for that, especially the way we’re going to do things,” wide receiver Marc Mariani said. “We just want to be solid as a unit.”