Lost in the hubbub of Jevon Kearse being deactivated and then leaving the stadium is this little signal that could be the beginning of the rebuilding process.
In benching Kearse, an 11-year veteran who is a free agent at season’s end, the Titans handed the starting left defensive end job to second-year man William Hayes Sunday night. The question is whether or not the move is permanent, and whether it sets off the dominoes of rebuilding in a season gone wrong at 0-5.
Could now be the time the turnaround — not in the standings necessarily but in terms of personnel — begins?
Consider this: The Titans are one of four teams in the NFL still without a win through five weeks of the season. But their situation is decidedly different than their winless brethren in Kansas City, Tampa Bay and St. Louis.
Neither the Chiefs, Bucs nor Rams had any grand illusions of the postseason when the year began. In fact, all three are breaking in first-time head coaches in their first season.
The Titans have the league’s longest tenured coach in Jeff Fisher in place, and in training camp and preseason, most onlookers believed this was a strong contender that had upgraded in several areas after coming off a 13-3 season.
But here they stand winless through five games and with the New England Patriots staring down the schedule on Sunday, avoiding being 0-6 at the bye appears to be a tall order.
It’s a road the Titans have been down before, as they began 2006 with a similar record before finally going on the road to win at Washington.
That game was memorable for a couple of reasons. First, Casey Cramer blocked a punt in the end zone for a safety that was key in turning the game around, and finally Lamont Thompson, a favorite whipping boy of Titans fans in his final couple of seasons in Tennessee, sealed the game by intercepting a Mark Brunell pass.
That victory actually sparked a turnaround in ’06 that nearly saw Tennessee become the first team ever to ward off a five-loss start to the season and make the postseason. The Titans failed to take care of business in their final game against New England that year. Otherwise, they would have limped into the postseason at 9-7.
A similar turnaround this year would be even more difficult. Not only have the Titans been saddled with a tougher schedule than that team had, but all five of their losses have come inside the AFC.
At 0-5 in the conference as well as overall, the Titans are doubly behind when it comes to such things.
As it stands now, the Titans will soon be at a crossroads of how to finish the 2009 season, if they're not there already. Do they allow the current group one last shot to gather themselves and close fast, or do they accelerate the rebuilding process already going on in a number of NFL cities?
The first sign of change could have come Sunday night when Hayes stepped into in the starting lineup. Hayes began getting first-team reps late in the week last week, and the Titans pulled the trigger on the lineup switch.
Kearse is a free agent at year’s end, and given the rebuilding that has to be done and his disappearing act Sunday night, probably won’t be back in 2010. There are plenty others like Keith Bulluck, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Kevin Mawae, Alge Crumpler and others who are veteran free agents to be as well.
In a season lost, other young players could start getting a longer look as well. Kenny Britt and Jared Cook might be in line for more playing time on offense.
Rookie corners Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty are already getting their baptism the hard way on defense.
Is the time for other players – including Vince Young – that the Titans need to take a look at in real game action really that far behind?
Truthfully, it probably depends on what this team shows over the next two or three weeks. If there is a renewed spark that could fuel a strong finish, perhaps the Titans stay the course a little longer.
If it’s more of the same, the changes everyone foresaw with the free agents looming in 2010 could arrive a little bit early.