The Tennessee Titans’ 2009 report card: Special teams

Craig Hentrich holds for Rob Bironas' kick. Photo by Andrew Strickert for Total TitansI’ve never seen such a mess as the Titans’ special teams were in 2009. Ten different Titans returned kicks, five players returned punts and four men punted. Many of their efforts had less than desirable outcomes. Amid all of these helter-skelter inconsistencies and personnel changes, there were several bright spots.

As I did in the report cards for the offense and defense, I’ll have a few comments along with the grades. This time, grades are given only for special teams play and do not include or reflect upon a player’s contributions on offense or defense.

Kicking: C Rob Bironas connected on five of six field goal attempts from 50 yards or more. His 83.3% success rate on long attempts was almost as good as his overall percentage for the season, 84.4%, which in turn is several points less than his previous two seasons. It’s also very average. Bironas’ kickoffs were also a few yards shorter than the last two seasons and he had only seven touchbacks, the fewest in his five-year career.

Punting: B- This grade is an average of the three regular punters’ grades. Bironas also punted once in relief but it was not factored into the grade.

Craig Hentrich: B We may have seen the last of Hentrich, who punted only nine times, and punted well, before being lost for the season in Week Two.

Reggie Hodges: D- The former Jet filled in for Hentrich for four games but his performance could hardly be considered satisfactory.

Brett Kern: B The Titans were fortunate Kern was available when Hodges wasn’t performing satisfactorily. Kern’s net average of 41.4 was two yards better than Hodges’ gross, a very telling stat. Kern was a huge upgrade and also turned out to be a pretty good holder. I’m hoping the Titans will be able to keep him for a long time.

Kick returns: F As Drexel pointed out in his recent article on Chris Carr, the Titans were 29th in the league with only 20.5 yards per kickoff return. I agree with him that Kenny Britt should not be the return man of the future.

Kenny Britt: D+ 24 returns, 21.8 avg

Mark Jones: F 13, 20.3

Javon Ringer: F 9, 20.1

Alvin Pearman: D+ 8, 21.8

Michael Griffin: B 6, 23.8

Jason McCourty: B 3, 24.0

Ryan Mouton: F 1, 14.0, 1 fumble

In addition, Alge Crumpler, Ahmard Hall and Craig Stevens all returned short kicks.

Punt returns: D The Titans were 25th in punt returns with a 6.7 yard average. It was fortunate that Alvin Pearman was available late in the season or the return game would have been worse.

Alvin Pearman: B 11 returns, 10.2 avg

Kevin Kaesviharn: F 9, 3.8

Ryan Mouton: F 6, 6.2, 1 muff

Cortland Finnegan: F 4, 3.5

Mark Jones: C 3, 7.7

Kick coverage: D The Titans were tied for 23rd at 24.1 yards per return. Most of this grade should be blamed on the kicker.

Punt coverage: B As with kick coverage, punt coverage is also highly dependent upon the man who initiates the action. With Kern as the punter, the coverage unit allowed only 3.9 yards per return. When Hodges was the punter, opponents gained 10.7 yards. Opponents returned three of Hentrich’s punts for a 8.3 average.

There are some individuals on the cover units who deserve mention, as follows. Craig Stevens led the Titans with 12 special teams tackles. Donnie Nickey had 11, Ryan Mouton 10, Gerald McRath 9, Kevin Kaesviharn 8 and Jason McCourty 7. Michael Griffin, Colin Allred and Stanford Keglar registered six tackles apiece. Mouton also had two fumble recoveries and snapper Ken Amato had one. Another late season roster addition, DE Erik Bakhtiari, twice had two tackles in one game. It’s not normal to see big defensive linemen sprinting downfield to cover kicks but this guy is able to do it. I mention this because he could be competing very strongly for a roster spot this summer.

Overall grade for special teams: C- This is a composite of the grades of the different facets of special teams play. What do you think about the Titans special teams and the grades I’ve given them?

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