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Forming the Titans’ practice squad means saying goodbye

I hope everybody had a nice Labor Day weekend. The NFL season proper starts tomorrow, and the Titans of course kickoff their season Sunday at home against the Patriots. I’ll have a post or two up on what I expect from the Titans’ 2012 season tomorrow and possibly Thursday as well, then I’ll get into previewing the game.

The Titans weren’t idle over the weekend. After the Titans made the cutdown to 53, though, they went about forming the practice squad, finalizing it today with the signing of the eighth and final member. Normally I give very little thought to the members of any team’s practice squad; as we don’t see them in games and I don’t attend practices, there’s hardly a basis on which to form an educated opinion of the player. For teams like the Patriots and Saints, it’s not uncommon for a player to bounce between the active roster, the practice squad, and off the team entirely. While chronicling the travails of a player like Sean Canfield are of some interest, there’s no such thing with the Titans. They don’t churn the roster, and the practice squad, once formed, hardly changed.

Last year’s practice squad consisted of running back Herb Donaldson, guard Ryan Durand, defensive end Pannel Egboh, tight end Cameron Graham, safety Robert Johnson, offensive tackle Troy Kropog (added after spending Week 1 on the active roster), wide receivers James Kirkendoll and Michael Preston, and, added after Johnson was added to the active roster when safety Anthony Smith was placed on injured reserve, cornerback Terrence Wheatley. Of those players, Johnson’s hold on a spot of the active roster carried over from the end of the year, and Egboh and Kropog made the team this year. Durand is on injured reserve, and Wheatley made his way there as well before reaching an injury settlement with the Titans.

Now, the Titans have formed this year’s practice squad. Preston returns, but is the only one. He’s joined by tight end Brandon Barden, defensive tackle Zach Clayton, guard Chris DeGeare, running back Darren Evans, wideout Vidal Hazelton, fullback Collin Mooney, and safety Tracy Wilson. There are a few familiar names on the last-Clayton is the biggest one, since he spent all of last year on the 53-man roster. As I noted, I thought he was the most surprising cut given the Titans’ apparent esteem for him, and with the Titans still keeping five defensive tackles, I’m not sure I follow their logic here unless they really are changing their ways.

Beyond Preston and Clayton, the other familiar names are Barden, Mooney, and Wilson. Barden of course is not that familiar a name, as a concussion cost him almost all of training camp, except he’s known in Nashville thanks to playing at Vanderbilt. Mooney of course was the loser of the fullback battle, while Wilson, a mid-training camp addition who spent time last year with the Jets, got into games as the third-string safety. The newcomers are DeGeare, Evans, and Hazelton, and, well…

What’s striking about the practice squad additions is the new players sort of are straight roster churn, albeit on a much slower model. Durand is on injured reserve. Not as deep on the interior of the offensive line as they’ve been in the past, the Titans had a need for a guard on the active roster. Thus, the signing of DeGeare, a fifth-round pick in 2010 of the Vikings who spent last year on their practice squad.

The story is a similar one for Evans. Herb Donaldson spent last year on the Titans’ practice squad. He spent 2010 there as well. Stuck at the bottom of a crowded running back depth chart and having used up his three years of practice squad eligibility, he’s gone, and in my view quite unlikely to ever return.

The investment was smaller in James Kirkendoll, who spent only a season on the practice squad. Hazelton more or less does take his spot. The former USC and Cincinnati wide receiver spent some of last season and most of training camp this year with the Bengals, but was unable to crack their deep but not particularly good depth chart. Like Preston, he’s a bigger target (6’2, 209) than what the Titans currently have on their 53-man roster. As a knee injury cost him almost all of his last year at Cincinnati, it’s been a while since I’ve seen him play when he was catching passes from Mark Sanchez, but I’d guess from frame and what I remember of him he’s more of a candidate to play the X than a Y/F like Kirkendoll.

While he’s not a newcomer like the three guys I just wrote about, Barden is also more or less a one-for-one substitution. Cameron Graham was a guy considered maybe the top move tight end on the UDFA last season, and even got a few snaps at fullback early in the preseason in an attempt to show his versatility. Now, though, his touchdown pass from Rusty Smith this preseason may be his biggest moment as a Titan. Given the drafting of Thompson and the signing of Barden, he’s gone from a player I thought might make the active roster to a player who seems to be permanently out of the Titans’ future plans.

Then again, that’s life in the modern NFL. Cheer the guys like DaJohn Harris and Beau Brinkley for defying the odds and becoming the first rookie UDFAs to survive the Tennessee cutdown to 53 since Biren Ealy in 2007, but don’t forget guys like Herb Donaldson, James Kirkendoll, and Cameron Graham as well.