NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said the Run 'N Shoot is "alive and well" although the phrase describing the scheme seems much more rare in the NFL lexicon than it was 20 years ago.
Palmer coached wide receivers for the Houston Oilers from 1990-92, when the team was using a one-back, four-receiver set and led the NFL in passing yards (averaging 4,485 per season) and ranked second in total yards (5,954 per season). He's taken principles from that offense with him every coaching stop since.
Now in his second year as Titans offensive coordinator, Palmer has been installing more of the system and adding complexity to the Titans' scheme. He said Wednesday during a media session that he and assistants have enough time to install more options than last offseason. The lockout a year ago prevented coaches from working with players in May and June.
"What we did last year in the passing game, we implemented the beginning part of the offense, and the reads that the receivers had were minimal," Palmer said. "What we're hoping to do is to increase the amount of options that a receiver has in running their routes and we'll determine during preseason what we can and can't handle and then adjust accordingly."
The offense was simpler last year than this version will be, but it produced increases in the passing game. Matt Hasselbeck became the second person in Titans/Oilers franchise history to pass for more than 3,500 yards in a season, and Nate Washington became the first Titans receiver with more than 1,000 yards in a season since Derrick Mason in 2004. Receivers Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins and tight end Jared Cook all posted career bests in multiple receiving categories. Cook has enough speed to line up wider than a tight end normally would.
The return of Kenny Britt and the drafting of first-round pick Kendall Wright at the post make the Titans appear as deep as ever at the position, and able to keep up with other potent passing games while freeing up running space for running back Chris Johnson.
"You look at top passing games in the league, to score, you've got to be able to throw the ball," Palmer said. "To win, you've got to be able to run the ball. You're going to hit some bad weather, and you're going to have to be able to run the ball."
Palmer first used the Run 'N Shoot in 1986 when he was head coach of the University of New Haven.
"The only thing that's changed is the protections," Palmer said. "Instead of rolling behind the tackle and setting up, now we're doing it as a drop-back."
He said success lies in installation, experimentation and evaluation.
"The thing you have to do as coaches, you have to make a decision (on) how much can they handle," Palmer said. "The playbook has expanded from last year, but when we get closer to the season, it will shrink down to what we can manage."
Cook said Wednesday that the offensive players are adjusting to the installations during phase two of the offseason program. The stakes are expected to increase next week when the offense and defense go head-to-head for the first time this offseason.
"It's going good. He's installed some demanding stuff in there, but it's going good," Cook said. "Everybody is trying to get it down, and we've been having some good practices out there."
The starting job at quarterback is an open competition between the veteran Hasselbeck and second-year pro Jake Locker. Palmer said he feels good about both quarterbacks and how they will fit in the system.
"Quarterbacks are pretty much zeroed in based on coverage, and we've added a couple of plays that we held out last year," Palmer said. "So, from that standpoint, there will be more options for the receivers which, I think, makes (the offense) more quarterback friendly."
Cornerback Alterraun Verner said he looks forward to going against the more complex offensive scheme in practices. Verner said he often talks with Palmer to gain info on how the offense was trying to attack the Titans' defense.
"It's a great time to learn a lot in this season because our offense is trying to beat us, but trying to help us at the same time," Verner said. "If they were running the same thing as last year, with the way that I play, I kind of pick up on it. Now, if there's new stuff, it's going to keep me more honest."