Simon hangs in

A 100-yard kickoff return, among other sensational preseason plays, did the trick for undrafted rookie John Simon as he maintained his roster spot through the Titans' final cut that claimed veterans Joe Salave'a and Skip Hicks.

Photo by Mike Strasinger
Undrafted rookie John Simon got his roster spot the hard way. ... He earned it.

For John Simon, the dream came true Sunday.

For six others, the dream was over – at least with the Tennessee Titans. Some of the releases were a surprise as the Titans released defensive tackle Joe Salave'a, a fourth-round pick in 1998, who had been a regular in the defensive tackle rotation pretty much his entire career with Tennessee; running back Skip Hicks, who had 142-yard effort last year vs. Green Bay; safety Tony George, who had made big plays on special teams and defensively in preseason; as well as wide receiver Chris Coleman and offensive lineman Barry Hall.

Safety Bobby Myers, who may now need surgery on his right knee after injuring his left knee last year, was placed on injured reserve.

"It is always a tough day. Last week was tough when we had to get to 65 and of course when you have to get to 53 it becomes that much more difficult," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "When you let go of players that have over the last three, four or five years have committed everything that they possibly can to the program to playing hard for you, it makes it that much tougher. We had some difficult decisions, but difficult decisions only suggest that you have a good club. We feel very good about the club that we have on the field right now."

Simon, an undrafted rookie from Louisiana Tech who had made one big play after another in preseason, played the starring role in the annual feel-good story of the undrafted rookie who catches the coaches' attention and beats long odds to make the 53-man roster.

For his part, Simon wasn't taking anything for granted, even after his 100-yard kickoff return in Green Bay last Friday night had virtually sealed his already-solid standing on the roster.

"I was nervous yesterday, today, anytime they're walking around cutting people," Simon said Sunday. "I just went up to coach as soon as I got here. I went up and talked to coach [Steve] Watterson [who acts as the ‘Turk' on cut day] and asked if they had any equipment for me. I wanted to know."

The Titans certainly did, as Fisher may now also be ready to hand the rookie at least part of the kick return duties for the regular season, which opens Sunday at home against Philadelphia.

‘You can look and see what he has done for us in the preseason," Fisher said. "He has probably made more people miss in four preseason games than anyone that we have had over the last three and four years. That gives him a chance."

Simon, who admits one of his other goals is to see his picture on a football card, was obviously ecstatic after finding out he had indeed made the Titans' final roster.

"It feels great, just knowing that I'm on the team and preparing for a regular season game is a dream come true," he said. The next big thing is when I see my picture on the card, that's just going to do it for me right there."

As for the cuts made Sunday to get down to the NFL-mandated limit, none was more surprising than the release of Salave'a, who had battled back from shoulder and ankle surgery this past off-season to seemingly reclaim his familiar backup role in the defensive tackle rotation.

However, Salave'a's stock tumbled when the Titans acquired 6-5, 320-pound tackle James Atkins on waivers from Miami last week.

"We let Joe Saleve'a go, which is one of the tougher ones that I have done since I have been coaching," Fisher said. "Joe is a popular guy with me and with everyone in this organization, but we feel James Atkins has a big upside. We have youth and we have depth at the defensive tackle."

Salave'a's departure, plus Henry Ford's nagging ankle injury, also hastens the need for first-round pick Albert Haynesworth and perhaps Atkins to be able to contribute this week against Philadelphia.

Salave'a is one who should find work pretty easily either by being claimed off waivers or signing as a free agent. The Buffalo Bills, where former Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is installing a version of the Titans defense there, could be a match.

Hicks' release was also somewhat of a surprise, as his 94 yards in preseason was second to Robert Holcombe. However, he was somewhat limited in his ability to contribute on special teams and also was inconsistent in catching passes in practice and exhibition games. For the three spots behind starters Eddie George and Greg Comella, the Titans opted for the three players with the greatest special teams value in Holcombe, Simon and Mike Green, who can play both running back and fullback.

"It was a difficult situation to let Skip go considering what he did for us last year and what he did for us in the preseason," Fisher said. "We have gotten a lot of good things out of Robert Holcombe, the play of John Simon speaks for itself and we felt that if anyone was deserving of making the team it would be Mike Green. Mike not only on special teams, but when he got a chance to play offense at the fullback position, he made big plays for us."

The Houston Texans, who were interested in signing Hicks this off-season, have first crack at any player on waivers, and might well jump at the chance to claim him.

George was one player released that Fisher said the Titans "would keep an eye on." He recovered a fumble on special teams against Oakland and showed a knack for being around the football, both on coverage teams and in the secondary. However, the Titans felt Rich Coady, claimed off waivers from the St. Louis Rams on Thursday, would give more of an upside once healthy and integrated into the defense. Coady has been bothered by an ankle that has been slow to recover from off-season surgery, but he passed a physical administered Sunday.

"As far as the secondary is concerned, Rich Coady passed the physical today and was on the practice field," Fisher said. "You can see why he is here just after a few snaps on the practice field. He has a lot of work to do to catch up. It was a very difficult decision as far as Tony George is concerned because Tony did good things on special teams and he played both positions for us. But we feel there is a big upside with Rich and we are going to keep a very close eye on Tony."

Coleman was one of the Titans' top special teams players in his two years on the roster, but Fisher said his role will be split among backup receivers Eddie Berlin, Drew Bennett and Justin McCareins.

Hall lost out to rookie Justin Hartwig and veterans Aaron Graham and Jeff Smith in his bid to claim a backup offensive line spot for the second straight year.

Despite the cuts, the roster maneuvering might not be done yet, according to Fisher.

"We're going to look at the waiver wire, and we won't stop this week," Fisher said. "We'll continue to look at it. There may be some tweaks, you never know. We're going to get better on the field, and we may get better on the roster. Part of that is to make that tough decision after you get to your 53, just to see if there is anybody that can help us."

Practice squad

The Titans decided not to announce their five-man practice squad until today because they were still waiting for some of the hopefuls to clear the waiver process as of Monday evening.

Some agent of players released Saturday by the Titans, however, indicated that their clients were possibly in Tennessee's practice squad plans. Rick Smith, agent for cornerback Wade Davis, said there had been preliminary discussions to add Davis to the Tennessee practice squad. Agent Jordan Woy also said it was possible that one or two of his clients – linebacker Brad Kassell and defensive end Kevin Aldridge – would be brought back as well.

Also, the Houston Texans claimed offensive lineman Tarlos Thomas off waivers from the Titans. Thomas was released Saturday by Tennessee.

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