TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW: SPECIAL TEAMS
In camp: P Brett Kern, P James Smith, K Tucker McCann, K Blake Haubeil, LS Morgan Cox, Returners Darrynton Evans, Cameron Batson, Chester Rogers, Josh Reynolds, Brian Hill, Mason Kinsey and others.
Offseason developments: The Titans signed Cox, a four-time Pro Bowler with the Ravens, early in free agency. The Titans also added Smith and Haubeil as undrafted free agents following the NFL Draft, and both kicked during offseason work. Stephen Gostkowski, who kicked for the team last season, saw his contract expire, and he remains a free agent. Kalif Raymond, who handled punt and kick returns for the Titans last season, was not re-signed, and he ended up signing with the Lions. The Titans added a number of new players who should compete on special teams in the offseason, from draft picks to free agents. Meanwhile, the team's top three special teams tacklers a year ago – Nick Dzubnar, Daren Bates and Joshua Kalu – were not re-signed.
In the spotlight: Kern. While there are plenty of questions heading into the season – Who will be the team's kicker? Who will handle returns? – one thing remains a constant, and that one thing is punter Brett Kern. A three-time Pro Bowler, Kern averaged 45.8 yards a punt, with a 41.4-yard net, in 2020, when he put 22 punts down inside the 20, and had only three touchbacks. Kern continues to work on his craft to improve, and his consistency is a blessing for the coaching staff. The biggest question surrounding Kern heading into the season is: Who will he be holding for on field goals this fall?
Battle to watch: Kicker. At this point, the Titans have a pair of kickers who've never kicked in an NFL game on the roster in Haubeil and McCann. Haubeil kicked in 50 games at Ohio State, and he was 28 of 35 on field goal attempts with a long of 55. He did not miss an extra point, converting on 146 of 146 for his career. McCann, who spent last season on the team's practice squad before landing on IR, was signed by the Titans as an undrafted free agent following the 2020 NFL Draft. McCann was 16-for-22 on field goals (with a long of 52) and 34-for-37 on extra points at Missouri in 2019. McCann posted 82 points during his senior season (16 field goals, 24 extra points) and finished his career with 358 points, just four shy of the all-time Mizzou scoring record (362 by Jeff Wolfert from 2006-08). The Titans will give these two kickers a chance to win the job in camp. If neither kicker is convincing, the team will look at other options.
Keep an eye on: The returners. The Titans will sort through their options in the return game during camp. So much, of course, depends on how position battles are going in determining who will be on the final roster, and really in contention. Running back Darrynton Evans returned nine kickoffs last year, and he'll be in the mix there in camp. So will receiver Cameron Batson, who returned 11 kickoffs. Batson also figures to be among those who will compete at punt returner. So, who else might be involved? Chester Rogers and Mason Kinsey could enter the competition, and running back Brian Hill has at least some experience returning kicks. Receiver Josh Reynolds could also be an intriguing option at punt returner as well.
Next up: Training camp.
Titans Online looks back at punter Brett Kern's 2019 Pro Bowl season that saw him register a 47.1-yard average, 43.1-yard net average, and down 37 punts inside the 20-yard line with only two touchbacks. (Photos: Donald Page)