Interview: The Tennessean's Paul Kuharsky
By Jeff Fuqua
Posted March 25th, 2006

Over the next few weeks, will interview a number of the media who cover the Tennessee Titans. Our third interview is with Paul Kuharsky, sports writer for The Tennessean who has covered the team since 1996.

What is your opinion on the recent free agency moves by the Titans and what other positions or players may be considered before the end of free agency?
It's hard to say anything but good things about the four FA signings. I was impressed and surprised they went as far as they did. But I also think people are getting carried away if they think the signings automatically make the Titans a 10-win team. That's a lot of imported leadership and it's going to take a while for that locker room to sort itself out, I believe. It's really a big chemistry experiment, and the Titans have done their best to give it a chance to go well with quality ingredients. I think they will do little else in free agency, certainly no more front line guys unless something too good to be true falls in their lap. Nick Greisen could wind up the middle linebacker, which I'd say would be about as big a move as they have left. But I'd say it's more likely a rookie is there. Then of course during/after camp they'll look to patch holes in their depth with a couple waiver claims.

How do you feel the Steve McNair contract situation will be resolved and what terms and amount can he expect in a new contract if one is reached?
I don't think they are willing to do anything more than ensure he gets his scheduled $9 million this season. They could extend him for a year giving him that money up front and spreading it cap wise on this year and next. I think if he demands more than that, they should let him have a try somewhere else. Baltimore's interest is legit. He's been a great player for Tennessee, but the quarterback of the future is coming and the last thing the Titans need to do it put McNair on the books in any big way beyond this year. Those kind of moves helped land them in a spot where they had to blow up the roster and they should be more reluctant to do it now. If they get the QB they want in the first round, they can survive this season with Volek/draft pick/Mauck to help themselves be healthier fiscally in the future. You can't pay McNair for what he's done, you have to pay him for what you expect him to do. How much do they realistically expect with his injury history/missed practice time, with his low-key demeanor that isn't ideal for kids who need to be pumped with energy and with the teams unproven weapons? They won four games with him, I'll bet they can win four without him.

What changes do you think Norm Chow will make to the offense to increase production in '06?

Well, the tight ends are gong to do more than catch passes, for starters. They'll be synched up with the offensive line more and tested as part of pass protection. I think Ben Troupe is going to line up more often as if he is a wideout. I'd look for David Givens and Bobby Wade and a new third-down RB to get a share of the balls that went to TEs last year with better potential for yards after the catch. I think a lot of other stuff is up in the air until Chow gets on the field with Givens and Mawae and the draft picks. With a year's experience I think Chow knows better what can work and what won't and he will tinker, but the basics of the system are going to be the same with the exception of trying to get the ball in the hands of playmakers more and TEs less. They need a third down back who's very comfortable catching passes that will help Chow do his thing. I think he'd like to be calling plays to a QB with more of a dynamic on-field personality and I don't think McNair or Volek fit that mold.

Will Jim Schwartz look to do anything defensively from a scheme standpoint to be more effective stopping the run?
I think David Thornton's speed will have a big bearing on stopping the run and a new MLB will be strained less to get to the edges and better able to plug the middle playing between Keith Bulluck and Thornton. I think Lamont Thompson absolutely has to be better at stopping the run, which starts with better geometry, and may move around better playing lighter. (I am not convinced he will, but I think they are.) The best thing for the scheme will be a more reliable secondary, and I think they have to be better with Pacman Jones and Reynaldo Hill with some experience in hand, with Vincent Fuller involved somehow and with Chris Hope being a significant upgrade even if he's not the greatest safety we've seen. I think Schwartz and the staff will do a lot of work on the mindset to get them back to a place where they believe that the one thing they do above all else is stop the run. They need a solid, complete season from Albert Haynesworth.

Who do you feel GM Floyd Reese will consider with pick #3 and why? How likely is a trade out and what would it take for Reese to be willing to do a trade?
I honestly think they expect this to be a once every 10 years chance to get a franchise QB. If they judge Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler and/or Vince Young as franchise quarterbacks and one they like is there at three, they take him. If they can move back a bit and still get the one they like and can get, I think they will try to do that, though at this point I don't have the sense people are going to pay big to get to No. 3 (No. 2 for Leinart is a different story.) Certainly to back out the Titans would need some sort of first day pick that would make up for what they gave up in the Travis Henry trade. If they decided not to go quarterback and stayed in the top-10 range, I think LenDale White would be very interesting to them. And based on their history with high picks and corners and defensive ends, you'd have to think Mario Williams is somebody they would think about. Though again, I think they go QB.

What would you consider the top draft needs the Titans will look to fill through the NFL draft beyond the first pick? Any particular player which the Titans have shown more than usual interest in?
It's too early to talk about them showing unusual interest in anybody. They are just now getting to know Young. They obviously got to know a lot of people at the Senior Bowl. The free agent signings really freed them up to draft players they like and not have to chase need, and to me Floyd Reese does far better when he can do that than when he has to have defensive ends (LaBoy, Odom, Schobel in '04) or receivers (Jones, Williams and Roby last year). I know everybody wants to see a name or two. They loved Chad Greenway at the Senior Bowl, but they won't have a chance at him. I think they'd love to see Abdul Hodge (ILB Iowa) fall to them in the second. I think they like Clemson CB Ty Hill. I think they wouldn't be afraid to roll the dice on Tennessee DB Jason Allen if he falls to the right spot. Joseph Addai (LSU RB) could fit the bill as a third-down type of back. Later on, I think they liked Jahmile Addae, the West Virginia DB at the Senior Bowl.

With both Fisher and Reese nearing the end of their current contracts and with back-to-back losing seasons, what record will the Titans need in '06 in order to save their jobs?
Honestly, I think so long as Bud Adams sees what he considers forward progress that they will both be around. He likes them. He sees how good things have happened for Pittsburgh, a team he really respects, without big changes over a long course of time. And I always say the same thing in any conversation about firing coaches or executives -- before you call for their heads, tell me who is going to be better? Or is it change for change's sake? Now if Pacman does something crazy and/or if the big FAs all bust and/or if there is another round of killer injuries then there could be, and probably should be, trouble. But I don't envision Bud as having a number of wins needed in his head in order to stay with the current regime. If the team is progressing, I think Reese and Fisher are safe. And this offseason hasn't produced any wins yet, but so far you'd have to say they are doing pretty well, no? If Bud were to make changes, it would slow down the bounce back, not accelerate it. And Fisher would get another job in two seconds if Bud sent him packing.

Which current Titans showed the most improvement towards the close of the 2005 season and may make the biggest jump in production next season?
Well, let's start with this: one of the big issues with the Titans is that people weren't getting better at the end of 2004. The free agent signings should give fans reasons for optimism. But the lack of a jump from Year One to Year Two for the draft class of 2004 was almost startling considering how much the team expects that big leap. Travis LaBoy started to show some consistency and toughness, but Antwan Odom was nowhere near the player he looked like he was going to be in the preseason and Bo Schobel stayed nearly invisible.(He only dressed for eight games!) No big surge from Ben Troupe or Michael Waddell. Randy Starks was about the same as he was as a rookie, best I could tell, solid and steady but not fantastic. If I have to pick a few names for a third-year leap, I'd say Troupe and LaBoy are top candidates.

From the 2005 group, Bo Scaife just gets it, and he'll be solid with whatever they ask of him. I expect Vincent Fuller, Michael Roos and Reynaldo Hill to plot better courses on the growth curve. Pacman Jones too, presuming he quiets down and works hard.

Many players indicated at the end of the '05 season that the Titans had some locker room issues and that the team lacked discipline and leadership. How will Fisher & Co get that resolved?
The first good sign was when KVB said he'll be a more outward leader in his second season with the team, he's just the sort of tone-setter they need to take a big role. It was also encouraging to hear Chris Hope talk of helping a raw Ike Taylor mature in Pittsburgh, and the Titans will hope he can have a similar effect on Pacman Jones. Think about the leadership this team lost with the purge -- Mason, Rolle, Carter, Miller -- and now with Hopkins gone. That's a ton to replace, and it seems they were short sighted in thinking that people would be able to fill in those holes and help keep a tough case like Pacman in line all in one year. (Also they simply couldn't afford to get or keep the kind of guys they needed to assert control in the locker room.) Fisher needs to be a little more heavy handed with Pacman, but so far so good as far as him staying out of the news. All they can do to resolve it is put better people in there, make the standards and repercussions clear and consistent and hope it works.

Though it is early, what would you predict as the final regular season record for the Titans in 2006? How will the AFC South play out? And how long until the Titans are playoff contenders again?
Colts, Jags, Titans, Texans still, but I think the Titans or the Texans could jump the Jags. All four will be bunched up a lot closer than last season. I'd say pre-draft, pre resolution of the QB situation, I'd expect the Titans to win six, maybe seven games but have potential to surprise. It's hard to really know about the schedule, but at this point it looks pretty rough.

Paul Kuharsky is a Columbia College and Columbia Journalism School graduate who's been covering the NFL since 1995 and the Oilers/Titans since 1996. He can be heard on The Wake Up Zone in Nashville on 104.5 FM Tuesdays from 8:00-9:00 a.m.

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