Healthy Britt key to Titans' talented receivers

Healthy Britt key to Titans' talented receivers

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Kenny Britt feels as if he's finally shaking off the rust from being out most of last season and missing chunks of this year with other leg injuries.

The Titans are about to find out how much that helps boost their offense.

``We definitely expect him to make `SportsCenter'-type plays every time he has an opportunity to. He's that good,'' Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said of Britt.

It's been a long time since Britt hit the field feeling as healthy as he does now. He started Sept. 23 against Detroit, his first start since tearing his right ACL in September 2011.

Then the receiver who also had a surgery to clean up each knee between May and the end of June, hurt his left ankle in that game.

This is the first week that Britt really has practiced fully with the Titans, and he's not on the injury report either. That's allowing Britt to become more accustomed both to the speed of the game and how fast a pass reaches him along with defensive backs.

It also gives Tennessee a full group of receivers, and that the offense looking up just when the Titans (2-4) are trying to put together a winning streak.

``Everyone kind of coming together at the right time is pretty much what we need now,'' Titans coach Mike Munchak said Thursday. ``We know we have to put a run together here and play well for a while here to get back in this thing.''

The Titans have put together some good targets.

Veteran Nate Washington has a knack for spectacular catches such as the 70-yarder he caught over the back of a Lions defender for a TD in September.

Rookie Kendall Wright, their first-round pick out of Baylor, has a team-leading 33 catches and is tied with Wes Welker and Victor Cruz for an NFL-best 14 receptions on third down.

Jared Cook is second only to Rob Gronkowski among AFC tight ends in yards receiving since 2011 with 1,050, and he's averaging 14.6 yards a catch. He already has a 61-yard catch this season. Tight end Craig Stevens is on pace for a career season catching the ball, while Chris Johnson also has 16 catches.

Britt has 13 catches for 145 yards in limited playing time this season, including his first touchdown catch last week to help the Titans beat the Steelers 26-23.

But it's the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Britt who is the physical, downfield threat who can help open the rest of the field up by drawing double teams.

Buffalo coach Chan Gailey says having Britt back makes a big difference, especially with Washington and Wright available too.

``That is three, I want to say quality receivers but that is probably underrating them,'' Gailey said. ``That is three very good receivers, where all of a sudden now they can stretch the field and you have a great runner back there. It makes all the difference in the world.''

The Bills (3-3) tend to press receivers off the line, and that's fine with Britt, even if Buffalo puts two defenders on him.

``If they do, we have got great receivers on the other side that can get the job done ...,'' Britt said. ``We go out there, we have a great receiving corps, and we have a great quarterback who can throw the ball. I'm excited about this week.''

Britt was off to the best start of his career in 2011 with 17 catches for 289 yards and three TDs before getting hurt early in his third game. Even with him limited this season, the Titans rank 15th in the NFL averaging 243.8 yards per game.

Eight different Titans caught passes against Pittsburgh. Britt said that kind of balance is what they saw during the offseason program and the game offered a view of what Tennessee can do with everyone nearly 100 percent healthy. Jake Locker is the lone missing piece at quarterback, though he is expected back Oct. 28 against Indianapolis.

``There's definitely enough balls for everyone,'' Britt said.

Notes: Munchak said Locker did not have any soreness in his left, non-throwing shoulder after his first practice this month, and the quarterback was able to do as much Thursday as he did Wednesday. LB Colin McCarthy (right ankle) and DT Jurrell Casey (shoulder) missed a second straight practice, and Munchak said they hope both can work Friday.


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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz


MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.


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Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season


Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

As shocking as the news of Barry Trotz’s resignation on Monday felt, it probably shouldn’t have given that whether or not he would return to Washington after the 2017-18 season was a storyline all year long.

Trotz entered the 2017-18 season on the last year of his initial four-year deal leading to speculation over whether the team was dissatisfied with his results and ready to move on from the head coach when his contract expired. Teams typically do not allow a head coach to enter the final year of a contract so that they do not appear to the players to be a lame duck coach.

Ultimately, that turned out to not be a problem as Trotz led the organization to its first Stanley Cup in his contract year. While there was interest from both sides in an extension in the wake of winning the Cup, ultimately a new deal could not be agreed upon and now the defending champs are without a head coach.

This begs the question, could things have been different had the team worked out a new contract with Trotz before the 2017-18 season? The answer is almost certainly yes, so how did things get to the point where Trotz was allowed to go into 2017-18 without an extension?

During a press conference with the media on Monday, general manager Brian MacLellan explained the team’s reasoning in not extending Trotz in the summer of 2017.

“We were struggling at the time to get over the hump,” MacLellan said. “We couldn't get over the second round and Barry hadn't been able to coach out of the second round yet either.”

In 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Trotz was not able to coach his team past the second round in the playoffs. In his three seasons with Washington leading up to the 2017-18 campaign, he had led the Caps to two division titles and two Presidents’ Trophies, but again could not get past the second-round hump that had plagued both him and the team.

Based on MacLellan’s comments, another early playoff exit would have likely led to the team choosing to allow Trotz's contract to expire.

“I think from the organization's perspective, some changes would've had to be made if we lost in the second round again,” MacLellan said.

But what if instead the unthinkable happened? What if the Caps forced Trotz into a “prove it” contract year and he was able to lead the team to the Stanley Cup? Didn’t they risk losing him all along?

Yes and no.

MacLellan confirmed reports on Monday that Trotz’s contract included an automatic two-year extension “at an increased rate” if he won the Cup. So while both sides were negotiating an extension, technically Trotz was already under contract through the 2019-20 season.

In the summer of 2017, MacLellan had a choice to make. At the end of the two-year championship window, he could choose to extend a head coach who had not brought the team the type of postseason success he was hoping for, he could fire a coach who had just won two consecutive division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and whose team was eliminated in the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, or he could ride out the final year of Trotz’s deal and, in the off chance the team won the Stanley Cup, still rest easy in the notion that Trotz would automatically remain under contract.

MacLellan went with option C. It almost worked.