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From the NFL Owners Meetings: Titans GM Ran Carthon Talks Free Agency, Pro Days, Kevin Byard, Jeffery Simmons and Much More


PHOENIX – Titans general manager Ran Carthon is attending his first NFL owners meetings this week at the Arizona Biltmore.

Here on Sunday, I had a chance to sit down with Carthon to discus the team's free agency acquisitions, the current state of the roster, his Pro Day trips, safety Kevin Byard and more.

Last week, the team announced it had officially agreed to terms with six free agents – OL Andre Dillard, OL Daniel Bruskill, LB/special teams ace Luke Gifford, LB Azeez Al-Shaair, DL Arden Key and CB Sean Murphy-Bunting.

"With Andre, I guess for a lack of a better way to put it, is untapped potential," Carthon said of the former Eagles lineman. "This is a guy who was a former first-round pick, really athletic, and he just continues to get better – he just needed an opportunity.

"I think the overall arch and view of the guys we all brought in is every guy has starter-level ability, they just haven't had the opportunity to be a full-time starter. And, if you kind of think about it, it is kind of how Vrabes (Mike Vrabel)'s career started. He was a third-round pick in Pittsburgh – never started in Pittsburgh. He got his opportunity in New England and obviously the rest is the rest in how he became the player he became. Each of these guys have logged starts here and there, but they have never been full-time starters, and they're guys that we believe in, that can become starters in our league."

Carthon said he expects Dillard to compete at left tackle, but he said he's capable of playing other positions.

"We'd like to start him off at left tackle and have him there first, and see how it goes," Carthon said. "But he's another guy that's played guard, and I think the big thing is having versatility."

Some quick hits on the other acquisitions:

On Azeez Al-Shaair: "He's a maniac on the grass, but one of the most calming and even-keel, humble spirits that you'll meet off the field. Very thoughtful, very conscientious. I'm not going to be surprised if he logged the most community service hours of guys on the team. What I love about Azeez is the tenacity he plays with. He is full-tilt every single snap. He is a guy that at this phase of his career, he really wants to step into a leadership role. … He really wants to embrace being a leader."

On Arden Key: "He is instant juice. When he walks in the room, you are going to know Arden Key is in the room. Arden is very versatile, can play with his hand in the dirt, can rush off the edge. He is a guy who is going to give our defense some versatility and ability to line people up in different places."

On Daniel Brunskill: "Versatility. He started at all five positions when we were in San Francisco together. Last year he was rotating at right guard, but in a snap, he can move to center, and he can finish games at tackle, which he has done. He is a guy that I like his versatility because he doesn't have to practice all five (positions) to be able to go in a game in a pinch and play. He gives us versatility and allows us to put our best five on the field."

On Luke Gifford: "The special teams coordinator in Dallas, as soon as it became public knowledge that we'd agreed to terms, I get a text and it was like: 'You dirty dog, you stole my guy.' And he had nothing but great things to say about Gifford. I think he can help us on defense as well. Obviously, he has to go out on the field and prove it. But at minimum we have a really, really good special teams player."

On Sean Murphy-Bunting: "He is another guy who is going to come in and create competition in that room. I think we have young talent at the outside corner spot, and I think he is going to be another key addition to that and allow those four guys, or however many guys in that room, will be able to compete and we'll be able to put the best two on the field, and whoever those two are, pretty much have shown they've gotten better because they're being pushed by other guys in the room."

Carthon acknowledged he has familiarity with Al-Shaair, Brunskill and Key from his days as an executive with the 49ers, but he gave credit to members of the Titans personnel staff for identifying those players early.

"I'll be honest with you: I can't take the credit," Carthon said. "My relationships with these guys help, but I came into a situation where the free agency board and meetings were set, so I was just the new addition and all these guys that you named, they were already listed as guys to talk about in the room, so that's a testament to (Director of Pro Scouting) Brian Gardner, (Assistant Director of Pro Scouting) Kevin Turks, (pro scout) Brandon Taylor and all those guys in the (Titans) pro department, and (Pro Scouting Coordinator) Rob Riederer – those guys did a really good job of piecing that UFA (unrestricted free agent) board together, and again I get to step into the room and hear their perspective, along with the coaches, and use my relationships to try and help get these guys in the building."

Here's a look at some other topics discussed today with Carthon:

-When asked what's still needed on the roster, Carthon reminded it's still early: "When you are evaluating the roster this time of year, you can poke holes anywhere on where you need to get better. I think we just need to continue to bring in good people, and good football players, into the building and let them go out and earn it. We want to build a culture of competition. We are always looking to upgrade at every spot."

-Carthon has been to three Pro Days so far – Ohio State, Alabama and Kentucky. All three schools have quarterbacks projected to go early in the NFL Draft (C.J. Stroud at Ohio State, Bryce Young at Alabama and Will Levis at Kentucky). Carthon said he's scheduled to visit Florida's Pro Day, where QB Anthony Richardson will take part, later this week as well. Carthon said the team is just doing its due diligence at every position. The Titans are currently scheduled to pick 11th in the first round. "You have to do your due diligence on everybody," Carthon said. "You look at each of those schools and they have other draftable players that are of some interest to us. But again, you have to know what is going before you, and what's being picked after you. … I have been to those three schools and will be going to my alma mater, Florida, when we leave from here."

-Plenty of rumors have made the rounds in recent weeks, including some involving safety Kevin Byard. Carthon wanted to make one thing clear: "I will say this – K.B., nor his representatives, ever asked us for a release. So, that was blatantly false. That's what I'll say about that." Carthon said he has a "ton of respect for K.B. and we'd love for him to continue his career as a Titan."

-Carthon said nothing has changed regarding the status of running back Derrick Henry or quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

-Carthon said he saw defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons at a recent event for season ticket members, "and I asked him for a hug. He gave me a hug, so I think we're good." Carthon called Simmons "is a great kid" and said "he's in a great place. He's working hard to get back healthy from his ankle."

-Carthon said the team still has interest in some of its own free agents, "and we've been in touch with some of the guys. We are obviously going to do it within reason – we know those guys. We'll continue to (talk) while we continue to look at other options as well."

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