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Tennessee Titans' Taylor Thompson wants to show he wasn't a reach
Thompson learning new spot in NFL
10:31 PM, Jul 18, 2012 |
Titans rookie tight end Taylor Thompson knows what plenty of fans, and NFL teams, are thinking.
He’s going to need time to develop. His chances of being an impact player in his first season are slim. He was a risky pick by the Titans in the fifth round.
Thompson, however, doesn’t agree.
“I don’t think I’m as much of a project as some people might think,’’ he said. “I feel like I have prepared myself pretty well, especially getting a lot of reps and a lot of work in practices. I feel like I am just as much prepared as any guy coming in.”
Heading into the 2012 season, the Titans know exactly what they have in veteran Craig Stevens. The fifth-year pro is the team’s best blocker, and a pretty impressive athlete himself. How much do the Titans like Stevens? Well, he was the first player to be rewarded with a contract extension this offseason.
The Titans also have high expectations for Jared Cook, who’s a big matchup problem for defenses. Cook has also made great strides as a blocker since entering the league in 2009.
At this point, Thompson remains a bit of a wild card. A defensive end in college at SMU, Thompson switched positions prior to the draft.
Even Coach Mike Munchak admits he’s developing in front of everyone’s eyes.
“(Thompson’s) going to be a work in progress,” Munchak said. But he added, “So far, he’s done a really nice job.”
Thompson’s rapid development, in fact, played into the team’s decision to release veteran Daniel Graham last month.
The move gave the 6-foot-6, 268-pound Thompson even more opportunities during offseason workouts.
“He’s big, he’s fast, and he catches the ball,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said of Thompson. “The fact that he’s getting reps is helping him for sure, too.”
Still, tight ends coach John Zernhelt knows Thompson must develop all-around to improve his chances of getting on the field this fall.
“It’s one thing to know who to block; it’s another thing to know how to block,’’ Zernhelt said. “He’s just at the start of the process.”
Many draft analysts thought Thompson could’ve been a middle-round draft pick as a defensive end after a senior season at SMU in which he recorded a team-high eight sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss.
“Of course there is small stuff tight ends in college naturally know that I have to learn,’’ Thompson said, “but I feel like I am progressing as well as anyone else.”
WHO’S IN CAMP: Craig Stevens, Jared Cook, Taylor Thompson, Brandon Barden, Cameron Graham, Beau Brinkley (long snapper).
• Key stat: Cook caught 49 passes for 759 yards in 2011. Cook’s yardage total finished second in franchise history for a tight end, coming within nine yards of Frank Wycheck’s record of 768 yards in 1998.
• Who’s on the spot: Cook. A third-round draft pick in 2009, Cook has ended the past two seasons on fire. In 2011, he had 21 catches for 335 yards in the last three games. For one reason or another he’s been a slow starter in his career, however. He caught two balls or fewer on nine of the team’s first 13 games a year ago. The Titans need Cook to be a factor from the get-go this fall.
• Battle to watch: Cook vs. Thompson. Stevens is going to be on the field plenty. The Titans signed him to a new four-year deal this offseason because he’s a great blocker who can also get open and catch the ball. So the battle will be for playing time alongside him, and more. Cook is going to play, but the faster Thompson develops, the better chance he’ll have to be on the field in crucial situations. It could take some time away from Cook.
• The Undercard: Barden vs. Graham. Graham spent last year on the practice squad, so he has a better grasp of the system at this point. Barden, who was underutilized at Vanderbilt, has been impressive catching the football this offseason, however. He’ll need to show up when the pads come on, but the bet here is he beats out Graham. Whether he’ll make it on the 53-man roster — or the practice squad — is the question.
• Offseason star: Thompson. Yes, he still has a lot to learn while making the transition from defensive end to tight end. But Thompson is an extraordinary athlete with great size. He caught the ball well in workouts, and the Titans are banking on him making an impact during his rookie season.
• Player to watch: Thompson. The Titans already have plenty of weapons on offense. If this guy develops, he could be a huge playmaker. Titans fans will want to keep an eye on Thompson in training camp. He’ll be the 6-foot-6, 268-pounder running down the field in No. 84.
— Jim Wyatt