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Younger Players Stepping up Down the Stretch

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Younger players delivered results on offense, defense and special teams against Houston, helping break Tennessee's six-game losing streak.

Second-year tight end Jared Cook moved up the depth chart and caught three passes for 42 yards, and rookie receiver Damian Williams made a clutch catch for a 39-yard gain on a fourth-down-and-eight play to set up the Titans' first touchdown against the Texans.

"He ran around and made some plays," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said of Cook. "He made some tough catches, made two first-down catches for us, and was getting open. He wasn't the primary target on a number of instances, but he battled. He's blocking better, he finished blocks, I saw him block (Texans linebacker Brian) Cushing across the field. He did a nice job with what we asked him to do."

Fisher said the desire to get Cook more opportunities, combined with the need to activate eight defensive linemen led to the inactivation of six-year pro tight end Bo Scaife, who caught two touchdowns on Dec. 9 against Indianapolis but dropped a pass near the goal line against Jacksonville on Dec. 5.

"I'm obviously going to try and work out and create a situation where (Scaife) can come back and help us," Fisher said. "I'm going to continue to let Cookie play, but it's going to be a week-to-week thing here for the next couple of weeks."

Cook said Scaife was in "good spirits" and gave him encouragement during the game.

"It feels good to be out there," Cook said Sunday. "Just to be out there and have the experience of playing. It's been rough, but to come out and strike first and stay hot the whole game feels good."

Cook, Williams and second-year receiver Kenny Britt combined to make 10 of 14 catches for 209 of the 237 passing yards against the Texans.

A season-ending injury to center Eugene Amano led to Fernando Velasco's second career start Sunday. Fisher and quarterback Kerry Collins said Velasco filled in admirably.

"I thought he played pretty well," Fisher said. "He did a nice job, handled the checks and communicating with Kerry and the rest of the guys and getting the right thing. I think for the most part he did a pretty good job of protecting the passer. Obviously, we were effective in the run game when we needed to be, and I thought he played pretty well."

Players with less than three full seasons of experience combined for 25 of the Titans' 67 tackles on defensive plays and on all seven special teams tackles.

Rookie cornerback Alterraun Verner led Tennessee with 10 tackles (according to the tally by the press box) and made the Titans' first interception of an opposing quarterback since Nov. 21, and rookie Marc Mariani returned three kickoffs a total of 90 yards to give Tennessee solid starting field position.

While Verner and Mariani have made impact plays throughout their first season, rookies Malcolm Sheppard, who just joined Tennessee last week, and Pete Ittersagen, who was signed off the practice squad to the active roster on Dec. 17, made tackles in their NFL debuts.

Sheppard, a defensive tackle, made two tackles and helped provide a boost to a line that lost veterans DT Tony Brown and DE Dave Ball to season-ending injuries. Ittersagen recorded three special teams tackles and saw action on some defensive snaps against Houston.

"They come to work and they're hard workers," Verner said.

Linebacker Gerald McRath, who is a starter in just his second season, recorded four tackles and a sack of Texans QB Matt Schaub Sunday. McRath said the younger players relish every opportunity to contribute.

"We've got to pull our weight," McRath said. "That was one of the things that was instilled to us. This is a team where everybody has to carry their weight. It's a good feeling when you see young guys stepping up and making plays."

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