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2011 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: Special teams
Photo by Andrew Strickert for Total Titans
Rookie Marc Mariani was a Pro Bowl selection.

Special teams aren’t a position group, but we examine them as such in our biannual analyses of the positions here on Total Titans.

Although the Titans’ 2010 season was very disappointing, there were a few bright spots.  One of the biggest, and most unexpected, bright spots was the play of the Titans’ special teams.

Football Outsiders ranked the Titans sixth overall with a 4.6% DVOA and fifth overall with a weighted DVOA of 5.1%.

FO breaks down special teams play into five categories: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kick returns, punts and punt returns.  Thanks to two players, the Titans were very good in three categories, as measured by FO, and slightly less than average in the other two.

Here’s how FO ranked the Titans:
Field goals/extra points, third
Punt returns, fourth
Kick returns, seventh
Punting, 18th
Kicking, 19th

Kick and punt returns:  Thanks to rookie Marc Mariani, the Titans had a good return game in 2010.  Just eleven months ago, the Titans drafted a rookie wide receiver, Damian Williams, in the third round, hoping he would be their primary returner.  A nagging hamstring injury kept Williams sidelined for most of the preseason, opening the door for another rookie, Mariani, who went on to have a Pro Bowl season.  Now that Mariani has shown what he can do, I wonder if Williams will get a chance as a returner.  It’s a nice problem to have.

Field goals and extra points:  Rob Bironas had the best year of his career statistically, making 24 of 26 (92%) of his field goal attempts.  His longest FG was a 55-yarder, his longest in three years, and he made two of three attempts from 50+ yards.

Kicking:  Bironas had a 66.7 yard average on kickoffs, tied for sixth among those with more than one kickoff.  He’s still got a strong leg.  However, his kicks were returned for a 24.8 yard average, fifth worse among kickers with at least 10 kickoffs.

Punting:  Brett Kern grossed 42.9 yards, 22nd in the league, but he had a net of 39.1, tied for sixth in the league.  24 of his punts were inside the 20, with 4 touchbacks.  Not a bad ratio.

Coverage: This was not a strong suit for the special teams, as FO ranked punting and kicking, including coverage, 18th and 19th.  Two guys stood out, Tim Shaw and Patrick Bailey, who led the team in special teams tackles.  Here are the contributions of the guys on coverage teams:

Shaw – 19 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble
Bailey – 16 tackles
Mouton – 9 tackles, 1 forced fumble
Verner – 8 tackles
Curran – 6 tackles
Nickey – 5 tackles
Amato – 5 tackles, was also the snapper
Williams – 4 tackles
Winborn – 4 tackles
Cook – 4 tackles
Hawkins – 4 tackles, 1 forced fumble
Ittersagen – 4 tackles
Allred – 3 tackles
Fuller – 3 tackles
Mariani – 3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
Schommer – 3 tackles, 1 blocked punt
McCourty – 3 tackles
Hall – 3 tackles
Bironas – 2 tackles
Stevens – 2 tackles
Griffin – 1 tackle
McRath – 1 tackle
Ford – 1 blocked field goal attempt

Contractual status and outlook:  Bironas has two years remaining on his contract.  Although he’s only been in the NFL for six years, Bironas is now 33 years old.  The Titans will probably invite a rookie to training camp to give Bironas some rest.

Kern just signed a new four-year contract.

Amato is under contract for one more year.

Mariani and Williams have three years remaining on their initial contracts.

Shaw and Bailey are potential free agents whom the Titans have tendered.

Special teams coach Alan Lowry was retained by Mike Munchak but I don’t see him staying for more than one year.  If and when Jeff Fisher gets another NFL head coaching job, he’s sure to want Lowry on his staff.  If I was Munchak, I’d be happy to let Lowry go.