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Diminishing Returns for the Tennessee Titans

One of the unsung heroes of the Tennessee Titans’ 13-3 season in 2008 was former return specialist Chris Carr. His solid scampers often provided the team with adequate opening field position and his exploits paved the way for the Titans to emerge as the league’s best kick return unit last year.

My, how things have changed.

Fast-forwarding to 2009, Carr is wearing that ugly, purple-laden uniform while the Titans are having a tough time replacing his presence on special teams. Through two preseason games, no one has yet to step up as the guy who is going to fill Carr’s shoes on returns. 

Don’t get me wrong, Carr was no Devin Hester circa ’06 in 2008. Instead, I’ll refer to the Titans’ former return specialist as the “Marty Schottenheimer” of kick returners: He couldn’t take it the distance, but he was remarkably consistent.

In March, around the time of Carr’s departure to the hated Ravens, I authored a piece that pondered the question: How will the Titans replace Chris Carr? At the time, we considered the potential drafting of a guy such as Alphonso Smith or D.J. Moore as a possible solution. During that timeframe, return specialist Justin Miller had visited Baptist Sports Park for a workout, so he was also in the running.  

Shortly afterwards, the speculation regarding replacing Carr ended as the Titans signed return specialist Mark Jones. Formerly of the Carolina Panthers, Jones was a guy with a penchant for not dropping the football and judging by his stats, he appeared to have the potential to be a solid fill-in for Carr. 

Unfortunately for the Titans, Jones has been missing in action during training camp as a result of a hamstring injury. In his absence, rookies Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty, while showing some signs as being contributors at their natural cornerback position, have failed to distinguish themselves as returners.

Hopefully, Jones can get healthy real soon because he was the guy that was specifically targetted to serve as Carr’s replacement. Though I’ve been impressed with what Mouton and McCourty bring to the table at CB, color me not too enthused about the prospects of either one of them serving as the team’s primary return-man.

Chris Davis is also in the running, but I’m highly skeptical of his chances of being the guy. He fumbled away his opportunity a couple of years ago when given the opportunity to serve as the team’s primary punt returner. 

Though there’s been talk that Kenny Britt may get an opportunity or two to return a punt/kick or two, it’s a bit risky to trot him out there on special teams. Judging by his impressive debut, the Titans will be better served if he devotes the majority of his energy towards being a factor in the passing game.

So what do you guys think? Is it time to push the panic button or will Jones or someone else eventually emerge as an adequate Chris Carr replacement?