The Tennessee Titans’ 2009 report card: Special teams

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Craig Hentrich holds for Rob Bironas' kick. Photo by Andrew Strickert for Total Titans

I’ve never seen such a mess as the Titans’ special teams were in 2009. Ten different Titans returned kicks, five players returned punts and four men punted. Many of their efforts had less than desirable outcomes.

Amid all of these helter-skelter inconsistencies and personnel changes, there were several bright spots.

As I did in the report cards for the offense and defense, I’ll have a few comments along with the grades. This time, grades are given only for special teams play and do not include or reflect upon a player’s contributions on offense or defense.

Kicking: C
Rob Bironas connected on five of six field goal attempts from 50 yards or more. His 83.3% success rate on long attempts was almost as good as his overall percentage for the season, 84.4%, which in turn is several points less than his previous two seasons. It’s also very average. Bironas’ kickoffs were also a few yards shorter than the last two seasons and he had only seven touchbacks, the fewest in his five-year career.

Punting: B-
This grade is an average of the three regular punters’ grades. Bironas also punted once in relief but it was not factored into the grade.

Craig Hentrich: B
We may have seen the last of Hentrich, who punted only nine times, and punted well, before being lost for the season in Week Two.

Reggie Hodges: D-
The former Jet filled in for Hentrich for four games but his performance could hardly be considered satisfactory.

Brett Kern: B
The Titans were fortunate Kern was available when Hodges wasn’t performing satisfactorily. Kern’s net average of 41.4 was two yards better than Hodges’ gross, a very telling stat. Kern was a huge upgrade and also turned out to be a pretty good holder. I’m hoping the Titans will be able to keep him for a long time.

Kick returns: F
As Drexel pointed out in his recent article on Chris Carr, the Titans were 29th in the league with only 20.5 yards per kickoff return. I agree with him that Kenny Britt should not be the return man of the future.

Kenny Britt: D+ 24 returns, 21.8 avg
Mark Jones: F 13, 20.3
Javon Ringer: F 9, 20.1
Alvin Pearman: D+ 8, 21.8
Michael Griffin: B 6, 23.8
Jason McCourty: B 3, 24.0
Ryan Mouton: F 1, 14.0, 1 fumble
In addition, Alge Crumpler, Ahmard Hall and Craig Stevens all returned short kicks.

Punt returns: D
The Titans were 25th in punt returns with a 6.7 yard average. It was fortunate that Alvin Pearman was available late in the season or the return game would have been worse.

Alvin Pearman: B 11 returns, 10.2 avg
Kevin Kaesviharn: F 9, 3.8
Ryan Mouton: F 6, 6.2, 1 muff
Cortland Finnegan: F 4, 3.5
Mark Jones: C 3, 7.7

Kick coverage: D
The Titans were tied for 23rd at 24.1 yards per return. Most of this grade should be blamed on the kicker.

Punt coverage: B
As with kick coverage, punt coverage is also highly dependent upon the man who initiates the action. With Kern as the punter, the coverage unit allowed only 3.9 yards per return. When Hodges was the punter, opponents gained 10.7 yards. Opponents returned three of Hentrich’s punts for a 8.3 average.

There are some individuals on the cover units who deserve mention, as follows.

Craig Stevens led the Titans with 12 special teams tackles. Donnie Nickey had 11, Ryan Mouton 10, Gerald McRath 9, Kevin Kaesviharn 8 and Jason McCourty 7. Michael Griffin, Colin Allred and Stanford Keglar registered six tackles apiece. Mouton also had two fumble recoveries and snapper Ken Amato had one.

Another late season roster addition, DE Erik Bakhtiari, twice had two tackles in one game. It’s not normal to see big defensive linemen sprinting downfield to cover kicks but this guy is able to do it. I mention this because he could be competing very strongly for a roster spot this summer.

Overall grade for special teams: C-
This is a composite of the grades of the different facets of special teams play.

What do you think about the Titans special teams and the grades I’ve given them?

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4 Responses to “The Tennessee Titans’ 2009 report card: Special teams”

  1. Scott Says:

    This report card seems about right. Bironas did though seem to get better as the year went on. He missed those two kicks against the Steelers, but after that he seemed to make most kicks that were within his range. I wonder Andrew, did his kick-off distances improve as the year went on?

    Perhaps he was dealing with an injury or a little too much extra weight early in the year. I recall that he was sent home from practice by Fisher in pre-season for some unspecified reason. I wonder if maybe he wasn’t in the best shape of his life at the start of the season but once he worked himself into shape he was a better kicker. Do his stats bear that out?

  2. Bob Loblaw Says:

    Yeah, Bironas’ kickoffs were relatively short by his standards, but all things considered, I would give him a B-.

    The universally poor performance of the kick returners makes me wonder whether it was a matter of the returners themselves or the blocking schemes used. Maybe changing the three-man wedge hurt the Titans more than we know. I know the Titans didn’t use a lot of it last year, but maybe that was a function of Carr and his particular return style. While nobody really looked spectacular, I can’t recall once seeing a big hole for one of the returners to run through.

    From a coaching standpoint, Alan Lowry doesn’t particularly impress me. The Titans’ special teams have been very inconsistent over the years. When the Titans have a great return man, the return game is decent, but it seems to be completely contingent on having a great return man – the blocking is generally just okay. Of course, maybe it’s just a function of the players he has to work with.

  3. Andrew Strickert Says:

    Scott, you asked a good question, I’m glad I took the time to compile his kickoff stats. Actually, Bironas kicked longer early in the season and shorter later on. He had more squib kicks and short kicks near the end of the half than I had remembered and two onside kicks which brought his average down a little. However, every kicker in the league probably had a similar number of squibs and onside kicks and Bironas’ kickoff average was right in the middle of the pack, not as high as in previous years. What really hurt was the unusually large number of 60 to 65 yard kicks.

    Something else that I noticed was he had 32 kickoffs of 70+ yards, yet had only 7 touchbacks. This tells me that opposing returners didn’t respect the Titans kick coverage team, returning 80% of balls that could have been touchbacks.

    I recall that Bironas missed about a week of training camp, maybe more, but injuries didn’t seem to be an issue. I checked the weekly injury reports and Bironas was included on it twice, in Weeks Three and Thirteen. In those games, he had kickoffs of 71, 72, 70 and 68 yards, so injuries didn’t seem to be a factor.

    Here are his kickoff distances for the season:
    Wk1 67, 62, 74, 72
    Wk2 78, 71, 70, 68, 34, 75
    Wk3 71, 55, 36, 72
    Wk4 73, 69, 70, 15
    Wk5 70, 72, 71, 66
    Wk6 60
    Wk8 70, 69, 70, 65, 70, 70, 73
    Wk9 68, 66, 70, 69, 67, 63, 68
    Wk10 69, 68, 63, 70, 67, 70, 65, 64
    Wk11 66, 67, 51, 44, 53
    Wk12 72, 70, 67, 69
    Wk13 70, 68, 43, 4
    Wk14 72, 70, 65, 62, 66, 70, 68, 72, 74
    Wk15 64, 69, 70, 60, 65, 70
    Wk16 61, 66, 59, 63
    Wk17 64, 56, 61, 70

    Bob, thank you as well for reading and taking the time to comment. Floyd Reese and I agree with you on Lowry. ;)

  4. Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: Defensive end « Total Titans Says:

    […] Bakhtiari rounds out the position group. As I mentioned in my special teams report card, he should compete for a job in training camp this summer. A former 3-4 linebacker for the […]

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