Rookies don’t typically start for the Titans


One of our regular readers, Brad, raised a very good point in his comment on an article I wrote about starting jobs, asking why I didn’t include any rookies as possible starters. Brad named Kenny Britt, Sen’Derrick Marks and Jared Cook as starting candidates and I agree that all three should become starters — but not quite yet.
Jeff Fisher doesn’t believe in rookie starters. A veteran has to be injured or play very poorly to lose his starting job to a rook. If you look at the Titans’ history, not many rookies have started. Of those rookies who did start, there were some good reasons why they did.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at some rookies who might become starters this year, but first, let’s take a look back at some Tennessee rookies who did.
Note: I refer to a player being the starter for the year when he gets more starts than anyone else at his position (except for positions that usually have two starters (e.g. DE).) Therefore, rookies who started only a few games were not considered to be the primary starters.

1997 — DE Kenny Holmes and CB Denard Walker started in the team’s first year in Tennessee. Many fans only knew about Steve and Eddie, so just about everybody else on the team was “new”, not just Holmes and Walker.
1998 — Although it was a pretty good draft, which included Kevin Dyson, Samari Rolle and Benji Olsen, no rookies became starters that year. Those three went on to become very productive Titans later in their careers.
1999 — A team coming off three consecutive 8-8 seasons, which played their home games in three different cities, had a 13-3 record and went to the Super Bowl. Rookie DE Jevon Kearse made a huge difference on defense, was named Defensive Rookie of the Year and was selected for the Pro Bowl.
2000 — TE Erron Kinney was the only rook to become a starter in another Titans’ 13-3 season. Tennessee used a lot of two-TE sets, so Kinney and Frank Wycheck were both starters. Kinney went on to have a good career but it was shortened by a knee injury.
2001 — Second-round selection CB Andre Dyson joined his brother, Kevin, as first draft picks of the year for the team. The Titans had traded their 2001 first-round pick for Kevin Carter, choosing ADyse in the second round for their first pick.
2002 — Another second-round pick, Tank Williams, moved right in at strong safety, starting all 16 games. DE Carlos Hall, selected in the seventh round, became a starter by default after a foot injury to Kearse.
2003 — No rookies cracked the starting lineup. The Titans were 12-4 that year and it’s a good thing they didn’t need any of the rooks to start, at least not that year. It was not a good draft for Floyd Reese and would hurt the Titans in later years.
2004 — Two rookies became starters in 2004. Antwan Odom took over the left defensive end spot after Kevin Carter moved to LDT. Jacob Bell was the other rookie starter, filling in for the injured Zach Piller.
2005 — It was an anomaly, the first season after the infamous salary cap purge and we saw four rookies start. Michael Roos started all 16 games and Brandon Jones started eight times before a torn ACL sidelined him. On defense, Pacman Jones and Reynaldo Hill became the starting corners, replacing the departed Samari Rolle and Andre Dyson.
2006 — Vince Young was the only rookie who was a regular starter. It was obvious that as the third selection overall, he’d become a starter, but for him to start as early as the fourth game was a little unexpected by some. Young’s start in Week Four of that season was probably due just as much to Kerry Collins’ ineffectiveness as to pressure from Bud “VY is my guy” Adams to put his star pick on the field. Young garnered Offensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl honors.
2007 — First-round selection Michael Griffin became a starter in midseason. Lamont Thompson, the starter at free safety the previous year, was released before the season started and his replacement, Calvin Lowry, was ineffective. A year later, Griffin blossomed and went to his first Pro Bowl.

2008 — Chris Johnson started 14 games. “Dash” is a guy you want to have on first down more than LenDale White (“Smash”), who you’d prefer to use in short yardage situations. It makes sense then that CJ would be on the field for the first offensive play. It also makes sense that a first-round selection should be the biggest contributor among the rookies. Johnson was the only rook who was a regular starter last season. For the third straight year, a Titans rookie was selected for the Pro Bowl.

Some of those rookies were special players. Others became starters by necessity, either due to injuries, salary cap constraints or circumstance.
And even if a player will be special, or is a first-round pick, it doesn’t mean he’ll be a starter as a rookie. Albert Haynesworth only started three times in his rookie year. Keith Bulluck didn’t start at all.
Some quick ciphering shows that 16 rookies became the primary starter at their position in their rookie year, an average of 1.33 per year. This also means that 20.67 starters per year, or 94% of the starting lineup, were not rookies.
If only one rookie becomes a full-time starter this year, as history suggests, my money is on Kenny Britt. As the first-round pick, he should be the best of the Titans’ rookies. It doesn’t hurt that he plays a position which sometimes opens the game with three players at that spot.

3 Responses to “Rookies don’t typically start for the Titans”

  1. Brad Says:

    Yeah I think Britt will start at some point this season. I don’t think Gage or Washington will play poorly, but I just think Britt is that good. Maybe my expectations for him are too high, but I think he will be the best WR the Titans have ever had. Yes better than Mason, Bennet, Dyson, or whoever. As for Marks and Cook I don’t necessarily think they will start this year I just think they should compete for a starting job and possibly earn one. Britt is the only one that I would pencil in by Week 5-7.

  2. Bob Loblaw Says:

    Not much room on this roster for a rookie to start, but that’s definitely a good thing. If all the current projected starters stay healthy, I don’t see anyone other than Britt potentially starting a majority of games. Yet there are a couple of guys who might have a shot at starting if current starters are injured.
    If one of the Roos or Stewart is injured, Troy Kropog could get the nod over Mike Otto. With Faggins and Williams as the top candidates to start in the event that Finnegan or Harper go down, Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton would have a decent shot depending on how well they play. Also, if Chris Johnson goes down, Javon Ringer might get the start over LenDale White.
    With that said, let’s hope that none of these guys ends up starting a majority of starts at their position this year.

  3. Andrew Strickert Says:

    Yeah, one of the rooks probably will break into the starting lineup this year. If it’s because they’ve won the job, that’s great. I’m afraid, though, that it’s just as likely, if not more so, that it’s due to an injury. Let’s hope not. Thanks for your input, guys.

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