Titans offseason positional review – running backs

I’ve run across a ridiculous rumor on several websites, claiming Jeff Fisher said in an interview that the Titans would gladly sign Cowboys running back Marion Barber, giving up first and third-round draft picks to do so.
Funny thing is, I couldn’t find it posted on the website of any station that “interviewed” him, if there ever was one to begin with. Another problem with the rumor, among others, is that it could be considered tampering.
Nevertheless, the rumor has apparently received a little credibility from people who believe it and I wonder if that’s because they also believe the Titans need to upgrade their running game, which was the fifth-best in the league last year.
The ground game was undoubtedly the strength of the offense in 2007, but I understand why some people feel that it needs to be upgraded. There were legitimate concerns and complaints about all the Titans’ backs, for various reasons, for a good portion of the last season.
LenDale White – Although he finished as the NFL’s twelfth-leading rusher last year, he was ranked as only the 36th best back in the league by Football Outsiders. This basically tells me FO gives most of the credit to the o-line, rather than to his efforts. His problems holding on to the ball didn’t help him either. I’m definitely encouraged by the way he matured and improved his work ethic and his game last year. I like his physicality and the way he moves his feet. What I’d most like to see from LenDale, besides getting his fumbleitis cured, is a dedicated workout program this offseason that shows some tangible results. If he shows up in training camp over 240 pounds, I’ll be disappointed. His listed weight of 235 pounds is plenty for him to carry.
Chris Brown – He ran for a career high 178 yards in the season opener against the Jaguars, but never came close to playing that well again the rest of the year. In his defense, I also have to say the o-line never opened up gaping holes with that much consistency for the rest of the year either. Two problems that Brown’s had throughout his career surfaced again last year — his inability to avoid and play through nagging injuries and his tendency to put the ball on the ground at inopportune times. Not that there is an opportune time to fumble. Brown will be an unrestricted free agent and the Titans will let him walk without making an effort to resign him. An interesting sidenote — Football Outsiders has Brown ranked 24th, twelve spots higher than White.
Chris Henry – I love his potential but so far that’s all it is. He does show some explosiveness and the ability to be a good change of pace to White. Henry also returned a few kicks decently last year, but that obviously won’t be his future. As a second-round draft pick, I expect more from him. Much more. Henry appeared to have lost something during his suspension last year; he didn’t look the same after his return. This will be the year he really needs to make some significant strides as the full-time number two back.
Quinton Ganther – I received an email from one of Ganther’s former coaches regarding an article I wrote on him after the Titans drafted him two years ago. The coach had nothing but great things to say about Quinton, both as a person and a player. Unfortunately, most Titans fans remember Ganther for just two plays, both negative. He’s spent most of the last two years on the practice squad and I’m sure he’ll be invited back for camps this summer. I just don’t see him making the team, though. One thing in his favor — he can play both running back and fullback.
Outlook: By using their second-round draft pick on a running back in consecutive years, the Titans are more or less committed to them. I just don’t see them going after Michael Turner or any other back in free agency. If they do, it’s an acknowledgment that they made errors in judgment and/or the players failed to meet their expectations. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, to see the team use a second-day draft pick on a RB who can be a return specialist. If Brown leaves, as expected, the Titans need a third back for depth, probably a rookie they can keep on the practice squad and then activate if and when needed.
News: Jeff Fisher will be interviewing Earnest Byner at the Indy combine today to be the new running backs coach. Thanks to Redskins fan Craig who left the following comment on a previous article and gave us a heads-up on the move:

      “…it was rumored that the Titans might be interested in our former RB coach Earnest Byner. I can truly say that he is one of the ‘classiest’ individuals on the team, never saying anything bad about the ownership even when he apparently is under-appreciated. From what I’ve heard, Mr Byner is an incredibly hard worker, and much loved by the Redskins running backs (and fans). So…it’s not all bad for the Titans on this one if they happen to land Mr. Byner.”

Byner gained over 8,000 yards rushing in fourteen NFL seasons before going into coaching. From what I can tell, he seems like he could be a great fit. Fisher said a college coach or two could also be considered.

2007 Stats Gms Strts Att Yds Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Avg
LenDale White 16 16 303 1110 3.7 28 7 20 114 5.7
Chris Brown 12 1 102 462 4.5 42 5 19 128 6.7
Chris Henry 7 0 31 119 3.8 24 2 6 53 8.8
Quinton Ganther 2 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0.0
Total 37 17 436 1691 3.9 42 14 45 295 6.6

Next in the series of positional reviews: the fullbacks and H-backs.

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