Titans look good, bad and ugly

After fumbling on the first play of the game and having it returned for touchdown, the Titans were able to get their ground game going with a trio of backs including Eddie George, who looked like his old self, Robert Holcombe and John Simon, and wound up beating the St. Louis Rams, 28-26.

There was the typical good, bad and ugly for the Tennessee Titans in Saturday night's preseason opener against the St. Louis Rams.

But not necessarily in that order.

In fact, ugly went first, followed by bad and finally good as the Titans claimed a 28-26 victory at The Coliseum.

On the first play from scrimmage, the Titans quickly found themselves in a 7-0 hole as the Rams' Jeff Zgonina hit Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair who fumbled. After an aborted attempt by Titans guard Zach Piller to claim the loose ball, Rams linebacker Don Davis scooped it up and ran 23 yards for a touchdown. To add insult to injury, a holding penalty on Fred Miller was declined on the play.

"He took a three-step when he should have taken a five-step drop," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. It would get better for the Titans, but not immediately as penalties, poor throws and multiple mistakes limited Tennessee to just two first downs in the first period.

Penalties were prevalent early on as the Titans starters were flagged six times in the first four minutes of the game.

"I lost my voice after the first seven plays because we had penalties on the first six," Fisher said. "That has been a point of emphasis as a staff and as a team you get frustrated at those kinds of things."

In addition, the passing game was slow to come around as well, as McNair misfired on his first nine throws of the game. It all added up to McNair and most of the first-team offense staying on the field well into the second period and finally producing a scoring drive with 4:35 left in the half.

"I never really got into a rhythm," said McNair, who finished 3-of-12 for 19 yards. "We got off to a really slow start. We need to do better on offense, and I need to do a better job of getting the offense into a rhythm. We finally started getting into a rhythm on my last drive, but I have to do a better job at making things happen." "I'd have to talk to Steve, but I think losing the handle on the ball on the first play of the game had some effect on him," Fisher said.

When the Titans did make something happen, it came in the form of something that was missing for most all of the 2001 season – Eddie George and the running game.

George picked up 44 yards on eight carries, then turned it over to backups Robert Holcombe and John Simon, who turned out to be Saturday's offensive co-stars for the Titans. In all, the Titans racked up 206 of their 307 total yards on the ground.

"The offense was a little rusty. We didn't start off the way we wanted to obviously, but personally it felt pretty good out there," George said. "I didn't play the best I could have played, and I know a lot of other guys feel that way," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "But the main thing is we got the running game going. I know that was a question mark in a lot of people's minds outside the organization, whether Eddie could come back, and he showed them. He ran tough and hard."

Holcombe, by design, was the Titans' workhorse, logging 16 carries for 62 yards and Tennessee's first touchdown.

"I felt I did some good things out there, but it wasn't perfect," Holcombe said. "[We did] some good things, and the guys up front opened up some holes for me. I was fortunate enough to make some plays out there."

Simon then came in in the second half and displayed shiftiness and acceleration, going for a team-high 78 yards on six carries. That included a 57-yard run to the 1-yard line on a play the Titans challenged, hoping it would be ruled a TD. Instead he scored on the next play.

"I thought I was in until I saw the official say that I wasn't in," Simon said. "I guess coach thought I was in because he challenged the call." Despite his effort, Simon, an undrafted rookie from Louisiana Tech, was taking nothing for granted.

"You can do a hundred things right and come back out and do one bad thing, and you're right back in the hole. You can't ever think it's over," Simon said.

Their performance could up the ante a bit for Skip Hicks, last year's backup who was limited to special teams work Saturday night, but will get Holcombe's lion's share of the carries this Thursday against Oakland.

"Skip's going to get his opportunity this week, and he'll do fine," Fisher said. "I think their [Holcombe and Simon] production is a credit to the offensive line and the receivers blocking. We've got to maintain that level of consistency for Eddie again, and then Skip and whoever else plays."

In between Holcombe's TD and Simon's, the Titans other touchdown came when backup quarterback Billy Volek hooked up with tight end Erron Kinney for a 10-yard touchdown in the third period.

Defensively, the Titans stayed back in zone coverage and limited their blitzing, but still managed a solid effort.

The secondary did not get a major test, thanks to a one-and-done night for Rams star quarterback Kurt Warner, but held up nonetheless, allowing St. Louis 218 passing yards.

Fisher was especially pleased with the defensive line, which tallied five sacks – one by Kevin Carter, one by Juqua Thomas and three by rookie seventh-round pick Carlos Hall. Included in Hall's three sacks were a hit that sprained the shoulder of Rams backup quarterback Jamie Martin and another that caused third-stringer Marc Bulger to fumble.

"He caught our eye several weeks ago when we put pads on," Fisher said of Hall. "We are looking for a third end, and obviously, he was productive. He's a very quiet competitor and he's got some skills."

Hall said he was only trying to go at 100 percent every play in hopes of making something happen. "As a defensive end, you always want to get the sack, no matter who you are," he said. "I just went out and tried to play hard every play." Carter, trying to bounce back from a two-sack season a year ago, looked stronger and faster than at almost any time in 2001 in gathering a sack against his former team.

"This season in general is my year to step up and be one of the best defensive ends in the league, and if I'm going to do that, I have to start right now," Carter said.

"Kevin Carter's rush and his effort out there was great," Fisher said. "It had nothing to do with the Rams. It had to do with the hard work he's put in this off-season as far as getting himself back into shape and ready to play."

As for being ready to play, the Titans will have to do so again quicker than usual as the Oakland Raiders come to town for a Thursday night game that will be nationally televised by ESPN. The Titans will hold only an afternoon practice today at 3:45 p.m., followed by a two-a-day workout on Tuesday and a single practice Wednesday afternoon.

Fisher indicated that the Titans did not incur any additional injuries in Saturday's game. They also should get defensive tackle Henry Ford (ankle), cornerback Mike Echols (leg) and quarterback Neil O'Donnell (shoulder) back for the Raiders game.

Cornerback Samari Rolle (ankle), safety Tank Williams (hamstring) and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (ankle) continue to rehab their injuries and will not play. Also, wide receiver Jake Schifino is now expected to miss the remainder of the season once he undergoes surgery to repair the damage to his torn hamstring.


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