My good friend, Mr. Keith Bulluck, took the time out of his afternoon to chat with me on the current state of the Tennessee Titans franchise, and answer some of my questions. Below is the transcript of our conversation:
Churchill: "What has impressed you the most about the Titans from what you've seen so far in camp and in the preseason?"
Bulluck: "You have to start with Marcus Mariota. We've obviously (only) seen him in limited action that he's had, but he's had some success. People want to talk about his first few series, but that's his first few series as a professional quarterback in the NFL. What he did show is how he can rebound and lead a team. He's handling everything that comes with being an NFL quarterback with great responsibility right now. You have to like what we've seen out of him."
Churchill: "Most of the focus has been on the offensive side of the ball, for obvious reasons; the Titans drafting Mariota and surrounding him with offensive talent in the offseason. But to switch gears, with Dick LeBeau coming in and coaching this group alongside Ray Horton, and sort of reinforcing what this defense is going to be asked to do, they are moving to the next step after installing the scheme last year. At linebacker they brought in Brian Orakpo, and re-signed Derrick Morgan, who have both looked good in the preseason, and I have certainly been impressed. But there have been some real concerns about the depth behind them. Are you concerned about the depth at linebacker?"
Bulluck: "Depth is always big. Orakpo definitely brings an element and intensity to the Titans defense that they haven't had in some years. I think that him being in that linebacker room will raise the level of a lot of guys in there. Derrick Morgan just got a new contract, and I think his level of play will be up. But they let some guys go, and brought some new guys in. They are still shuffling, trying to find those pieces of the puzzle at the backup spots."
"You figure, they brought in Jonathan Massaquoi who has had some time with the Falcons and made some plays, but was injured and I guess didn't show enough. So they're still trying to figure those roles out, which is obviously important. They can't go overlooked, because it's a long season. Orakpo, when healthy, is obviously an all pro player. But sixteen games is vigorous. Those backups, as the season comes along, they can learn as the time goes on, and when they get in, they need to be ready to hold their own."
Churchill: "Definitely. I don't think Derrick Morgan in particular gets enough credit for what he did last year; his first as a stand-up outside linebacker in this scheme. I think pairing him with a guy like Orakpo can only mean good things."
Bulluck: "Yeah. I think the Titans bringing in Orakpo, he (Derrick Morgan) can learn a lot from him because that's the scheme Orakpo is comfortable with, and the little intangibles that Brian can give to Derrick will definitely help. We've seen a lot of times, especially against the 3-4, offenses will try to take advantage of one of those outside linebackers' and make them cover, and I think for him never doing it, he did a great job of playing in space, and I think he'll look really good heading into year two in this defense."
Churchill: "Sticking with this linebacker group for now; one of my favorite guys who came out an played last season was rookie Avery Williamson. Now he's penciled in to start alongside Zach Brown at inside linebacker. Brown has obviously been sort of an X-factor, or an unknown. He's been up and down ever since the Titans drafted him; had the impressive rookie season, then a year or so later he's being benched. Then last season he was injured on the first series in this new defense. Not a lot of people know what to expect out of him. But what have you seen in these two guys that could give Titans fans some optimism?"
Bulluck: "Williamson is still young, and he is out there running around. He understands the defense, and he understands where he needs to be now. I think at some point this year, he needs to take his game to the next level, and understand how the offense is trying to attack him, and how the offense is trying to attack this defensive scheme. He'll put himself in a better position to make plays. For right now, we've seen as a first year guy he was right there. He's comfortable, and this year you'd like to see him take a much bigger step..."
"As for Zach Brown, he has all the talent that he needs to be a big time player in this league, but he's got to want it. I feel that a lot of times you get in position to make plays, and he does that, but then he doesn't make that big play. He maybe doesn't use that burst that I know he has. He needs to show more consistency from play to play. But as far as overall talent and can he be a big time 3-down linebacker in this league? Without a question. I think he has to have a little more consistency, and to play with a little more passion."
Churchill: "I can't disagree with you. I think what we've seen even from transitioning from the Munchak era to Whisenhunt and this new staff, you see some of those flags come up, where maybe they weren't convinced he was going to be that consistent kind of player. This defense struggled against the run badly last season, and having a guy like Brown come up and play to his potential would be a huge thing for them."
Bulluck: "Stopping the run is a mentality. I feel like Jurrell Casey brings that mentality into the game. We'll see what Orakpo brings. But there are other guys on that defense that play with a certain mentality, but it can't just be one or two guys. Stopping the run has to be an eleven man commitment, from the corners to the nose tackles."
Churchill: "I really want to gauge your take on the decisions they've made over the last year; about the free agents, the draft, the things they they seem to be implementing on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, do you think they are heading in the right direction?"
Bulluck: "I think that they're taking the right direction. With getting the new QB, getting him a wide-receiver in Green-Beckham...They have Delanie Walker who is very reliable, and I think his production will only go up this year with Marcus, who is a very accurate passer. I think Kendall Wright is primed, and hopefully this is the year when he can fill that connection with the QB who can get him the ball consistently. (If he can do that) he can show his talent to the league. I think we are yet to see the best out of Kendall Wright."
"I feel that the running back position was key for the Titans in the past with guys like George, Chris Johnson, and I have been thinking to myself over the offseason about it. Bishop Sankey didn't particularly impress me last season with his production, and coming back this year, he showed some nice things in the preseason, especially in the second game (vs St. Louis). But it also showed that the coaches feel the same way, bringing Terrence West in from Cleveland. I don't know how much he's going to play week one because he's still getting his nose into the playbook. With David Cobb being hurt too, the backfield is a question mark. The offensive line has seemed to shore up a little bit, when they took Levitre out, and moved Bell to left guard, there seems to be more cohesion offensively."
Churchill: "I agree. I think they've made some good decisions thus far with the squad. I think we gave them a lot of flak for some things last year that didn't work. But it was year one in this new system, and secondly there is that starting-over approach with the new QB. Overall though, what are your expectations of this 2015 Titans squad?"
Bulluck: "I don't have any. I expect them to go and play hard, and compete. I feel like, not just with last year, but the last few years, there are games that you would watch and they didn't compete whatsoever. So I think that is the first thing, to see them go out and compete and play physical, play with an attitude, and enjoy the game. I feel the Titans have just as much talent as anyone else in this league, and I would love to see some guys step up and emerge, and help the Titans get back to being a team that people have to notice on their schedule."
Churchill: "This team has suffered from being overlooked nowadays. It's a shame for everyone who watches them so passionately. You can see it on the players faces that they want to be taken seriously as well."
Bulluck: "It's easy to happen here in Nashville. It's a small market. I feel like I've been there, you've got to go out and make it happen. I feel like they'll do that. They're a solid team. Coach Whisenhunt and this staff have a mission for these guys, and the squad is on board."
I have to say a massive thank you to Keith for taking the time out to talk with us here at MCM. Hopefully he will be joining me again later in the season, and stopping in with me and Jimmy on MCM Radio.
For those who are interested, particularly some of you MCM newcomers, here is an article I wrote on Keith last year.