Love in Tennessee

DON'T LOOK NOW, but if things go well for four Crimson Soliders, the Tennessee Titans may soon be renaming themselves the Cougars. After taking defensive tackle <b>Rien Long</b> in the fourth round of this past weekend's draft, the Titans added three more Cougars to the roster last night with the free agent signings of QB <b>Jason Gesser</b>, receiver <b>Jerome Riley</b> and All-American guard <b>Derrick Roche</b>.

How the Titans became so familiar -- and enamored -- with Washington State football players is yet to be told. Assistant coaches Gunther Cunningham and Chuck Cecil have old ties to the Pac-10, but no obvious links to Ol' Wazzu that would suggest the crimson bounty they've tapped.

Regardless, the signings look promising -- especially for Gesser, a guy many pundits thought might go to San Francisco in a late-round pick. The Titans, like the 'Niners, like agile QBs and are looking for a third-string signal caller to back up All-Pro starter Steve McNair and three-year understudy Billy Volek, whose brother Joe was the senior QB at Walla Walla High in the late 1980s who was beat out by a sophomore named Drew Bledsoe.

Unless they pick up a veteran or add another college free agent, Gesser's sole competiton for that third spot looks to be Alabama's Tyler Watts, whom the Titans also signed yesterday. In two years as a Tide starter, the 6-3, 222-pound Watts passed for 2,739 yards, 17 TDs and 7 INTs. His two-year efficiency rating was 135.6.

Gesser, a three-year starter, is among the Pac-10's all-time passing leaders with 69 career TD passes and more than 8,800 air yards. He twice led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. Along with USC's Carson Palmer, he was named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year this past season.


Cougar receiver Mike Bush also signed a free agent deal yesterday, joining Dennis Erickson with the San Francisco 49ers. Erickson, by the way, used that last pick in the seventh round to take Miami QB Ken Dorsey.

All-world Cougar cornerback Marcus Trufant, Seattle's No. 1 pick and the 11th overall in the weekend's draft, said today that his first order of business after he signs his contract will be to buy a new home for his mom and dad.

Beside the four Cougars who are now Titans, there's another local product already on the squad: Former Walla Walla High and Oregon Duck star Peter Sirmon. Former Cougar All-American OT Scott Sanderson was with Houston/Tennesse from 1997-2001.

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