NASHVILLE, TN, Aug. 24, 2004 -- The Titans are on a search. They want someone, anyone who can catch kickoffs and punts - safely - and get upfield.
Jake Schifino has had a try at kickoffs this preseason along with rookie running backs Vick King and Ronald McClendon, and cornerback Michael Waddell. Safety Lamont Thompson also has tried his hand at catching punts.
With two exhibitions left, the Titans are still talking about who else might get a shot as they head into next Monday's game at Dallas.
''Right now it could include anybody on this roster except for Derrick Mason,'' coach Jeff Fisher said.
The Titans have tried not to use Mason, who earned a Pro Bowl berth as a returner in 2000, returning kicks. They prefer to keep him focused solely on receiver, where he is their best and coming off another Pro Bowl at that position.
Want to know why Fisher and the Titans care so much about who returns kicks and punts? Just think back to their last game against Indianapolis.
The Titans lost any chance of pulling out the AFC South title on Dec. 7 in a 29-27 loss to Indianapolis when Eddie Berlin fumbled twice on consecutive kickoffs and Justin McCareins lost a fumble with 36 seconds left.
Fisher turned to Mason exclusively in the next game before letting McCareins back to handle kickoffs in the playoffs.
But the Titans traded McCareins to the New York Jets during the offseason, so the auditions are under way.
Schifino, a fifth-round pick in 2002, has shown promise. He returned 35 kicks last season and averaged 20.1 yards per return with a long of 39. But an injury to his left leg knocked him out for the final three games of 2003 and the postseason.
He had a return of 40 yards in the exhibition opener against Cleveland and was one failed block away from being one-on-one with the kicker.
Schifino, who has been pushing his way up the depth chart at receiver, said he's ready and willing to return kicks if asked even though he never returned kicks in high school or in college at Akron.
Mason offered him a couple tips with the best being hit the hole full speed. Schifino definitely can do that. He has been timed at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
''I can definitely turn it on. When I see the hole, I can shift it into another gear and hit it. When you get the block, you're supposed to hit it because you don't want them holding their blocks too long,'' he said.
If rookies like King and McClendon are to make the team, they have to excel on special teams. King averaged 17.5 yards on two returns at Buffalo last weekend, but he also had a fumble on a running play.
McClendon showed some speed with a 23-yard return.
Waddell, the Titans' second pick in the fourth round this year, is another speedy back with promise. He is even faster than Schifino at 4.37 in the 40, and he returned a punt and a kickoff each for touchdowns while at North Carolina.
He made a mistake against Buffalo when he was called for an invalid fair catch signal as he tried to move a player.
''Hopefully, I'll get the opportunity,'' Waddell said.
Fumbles have killed us on ST. It is a good possibility that we could have won the superbowl at least once the past 2 years if not for all those fumbles...2 crucials ones vs. OAK and then this year 3 vs. that pats...we have to find some guys that can hold on to the ball.