NASHVILLE, TN, July 27, 2004 -- The group of tight ends that will suit up for the Tennessee Titans in 2004 are aware of the large shoes that have been left for them to fill.
The departure of three-time Pro Bowl TE Frank Wycheck initially created a void at the position. His 505 career receptions rank fourth all-time among NFL tight ends, but his leadership on and off the field may be missed the most.
However, there will be plenty of capable candidates ready to fill Wycheck’s shoes. Erron Kinney enjoyed a career season in 2003. He started in all 16 games and his 41 receptions ranked third on the team behind Derrick Mason and Justin McCareins. Now entering his fifth season, Kinney will be the unquestioned leader of the group, even though he began taking on that role last season when Wycheck was lost for much of the season with a concussion.
Shad Meier is expected to see increased playing time after making gradual improvements in his first three NFL seasons.
Shad Meier returns for his fourth season on the squad. Meier showed flashes of playmaking ability in the passing game early last season with eight catches in the first three games. He will get his chance to get on the field and have more passes thrown his way in 2004.
The Titans used their top draft pick in 2004 to help answer some of their tight end questions. Ben Troupe was selected with the 40th overall selection in the second round and will immediately be looked upon to add depth and big plays to the offense. The University of Florida product averaged more than 16 yards per catch for the Gators last season and was named first team All-American by the NFL Draft report, The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
The Titans also used a seventh round selection on Penn St. TE Sean McHugh, who primarily played fullback during his collegiate days, but will make the switch to tight end for the Titans and will compete for a roster spot in training camp.
TE Dwayne Blakely showed ability after being signed by the Titans as a free agent in 2003. He was allocated to NFL Europe during the offseason and will compete at the position throughout camp.
His offseason work coupled with continued improvement throughout his career will give Shad Meier a chance for increased production in 2004. Meier has proven to be a consistent blocker who can stretch the defense down the middle of the field and make plays. He should have more opportunities to be involved in the offense this season.
ROOKIE TO WATCH
Rookie Ben Troupe should make solid contributions on offense once he learns the ins and outs of life in the NFL.
Ben Troupe is the most highly touted of Tennessee’s 2004 draft class and for good reason. The 6-foot-4, 262-pound rookie has tremendous speed and athletic ability for his size. He can be used in traditional tight end sets or can be split outside like a wide receiver, where he can wreak havoc on smaller defensive backs.
When losing a player the caliber of Wycheck, a drop-off can be expected. But the Titans grew accustomed to playing without him early last season when he missed several games recovering from a concussion. With the young and talented players Tennessee has at the tight end position, the numbers should not drop off much. Kinney will be relied upon heavily as a blocker and consistent pass catcher. Meier and Troupe have the ability to make big plays and each should get plenty of chances.
FROM THE OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR
“We are certainly going to give Erron an opportunity and it’s going to be up to him whether he is going to be able to do it. It’s very difficult to say that a guy is going to be another Frank Wycheck, but we are looking for improvement from last year, and we certainly think that we will get that. When Frank and Shad got hurt last year, Erron played all the games and took all the snaps and did a great job. We would have been up a creek if we didn’t have Erron Kinney. He is feeling pretty good about himself. Ben is a rookie and rookies make mistakes. Right now his head is swimming and he is making a lot of mistakes. He has to grow up and do a bunch right before you can put him out there in a game. Shad’s got to stay healthy, he has a lot of ability. He can make plays and he can run after the catch. He did that for a while but he didn’t stay healthy.”
-- Offensive Coordinator Mike Heimerdinger
FROM THE POSITION COACH
“We would certainly like for all of them to be able to contribute and to be able to make a positive contribution. We are looking to do some of the little things better than we have done before. The constant improvement of Erron Kinney and Shad Meier is necessary and trying to get Ben Troupe and Sean McHugh caught up on the information that they need to get.”
-- Assistant Head Coach/Tight Ends George Henshaw
LOCKER ROOM TALK
(On continuing to play at a high level as a group)
“The tight end position has been a main cog in this offense no matter how this offense has worked. We have always been a big part of it, that’s what I want to see from the unit this year. Our goal is to produce the same numbers and to get better. We want to be a good weapon for Steve to go to and consistently open up holes for the running backs.”
-- Erron Kinney
“We are looking to dominate. We can block the defensive ends one on one, we are going to make big catches, we are going to make big runs and we are looking to have a real good year.”
-- Shad Meier
“The tight end tradition has been superb here for years. Erron and Shad take a lot of pride in that and that’s one of the reasons they are so willing to help us, they want the future of tight ends at Tennessee to be strong.”
-- Sean McHugh
(On what each player wants to add in 2004)
“I hope to bring productivity, energy, and just a guy who can go out and do whatever is asked of me -- whether its special teams, or offense just come in and help the team keep clicking.”
-- Ben Troupe
“If I can stay healthy, I think my limits are unlimited. Just be consistent, not being too high when you make a good play and not being too low when you make a bad play.”
-- Shad Meier
“My first goal is to make the team, after that just contribute on special teams and help the team in any way I can.”
-- Sean McHugh
“Last year was kind of a pressure year. I had to prove myself and prove that I could take over the reigns and be the guy for this offense. I want to build on what I started last year and just be more consistent.”
-- Erron Kinney
Dwayne Blakely, 6-4 – 257 – 1 - Missouri
Erron Kinney, 6-5 – 275 – 5 - Florida
Sean McHugh, 6-5 – 264 – R - Penn St.
Shad Meier, 6-4 – 255 – 4 - Kansas State
Ben Troupe, 6-4 – 262 – R - Florida