TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW: SPECIAL TEAMS
In camp: K Ryan Succop, P Brett Kern, LS Beau Brinkley, K Aldrick Rosas. Returners: Dexter McCluster, Tre McBride, Kevin Byard, Bishop Sankey, Antonio Andrews, Harry Douglas, Perrish Cox, Tajae Sharpe.
Offseason developments:** The most significant change here came on the coaching staff, as Mike Mularkey hired veteran special teams coach Bobby April to replace Nate Kaczor. April, who has 24 years of experience in the NFL, coached last season with the Jets. Prior to joining the Jets, April's units scored 21 touchdowns on kickoff returns (12) and punt returns (9) during his 23 seasons as special teams coach. The top three specialists – Succop, Kern and Brinkley – all return. McCluster finished last season on Injured Reserve but he practiced through the offseason and is healthy. The Titans added Rosas as an undrafted free agent.
In the spotlight: McCluster. A Pro Bowl returner during his days with the Chiefs, McCluster hasn't had a breakthrough season with the Titans in the return game. But heading into camp, he's the favorite to job again as punt returner, and NFL rules could put him in a great position to land the job as kickoff returner this fall. McCluster averaged 7.0 yards per punt return last season on 24 returns. He also led the team with 13 kickoff returns, for a 21.9-yard average. With kickoffs originating at the 35-yard line and touchbacks now coming out to the 25-yard line, some teams could try and execute "pooch-like" kicks on kickoffs, and a sure-handed, quick player like McCluster might be best-suited for the job.
Battle to watch: Succop vs. NFL rules. Succop had another solid season in 2015, making 14-of-16 field goals, and 29-of-31 extra point attempts. This season, the NFL made some rules changes that will impact kickers this season. Succop will have to adjust, just like everyone else. With the new kickoff rules, the Titans will explore the best way to pin the opposition as close to their goal line as possible. The league also elected to keep extra point tries starting at the 15-yard line, so what used to be a sure thing is now more of a challenge than ever. It's an adjustments kickers everywhere now must deal with.
Keep an eye on: Byard. The Titans want to find ways to get Byard on the field. The team plan on him making an impact on special teams in a number of areas, and one place where he could get a shot is in the return game. Byard has experience as a returner, dating back to his high school playing days at M.L. King High School (Ga.). A number of players will be given a shot to challenge McCluster, although Byard might be the most intriguing contender.
Next up: Training camp.