11/19/08 — Opinion - Titans having memorable season ... so far

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Opinion - Titans having memorable season ... so far

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 19, 2008 1:59 PM

Prior to the 2006 season, former Indianapolis Colts linebacker and Goldsboro native David Thornton joined the Tennessee Titans and slowly saw the pieces to the puzzle being assembled.

Along with Thornton, Tennessee's front office signed a proven backup quarterback (Kerry Collins), added a relentless pass rusher (Kyle Vanden Bosch), picked up a six-time Pro Bowl center (Kevin Mawae) and bolstered its secondary by bringing in safety Chris Hope.

The Titans have continued to add pieces by drafting young players -- quarterback Vince Young and talented running backs LenDale White and former East Carolina standout Chris Johnson.

In his rookie season, Johnson is seventh in the league in rushing while White is tied for the league lead for rushing touchdowns with 11.

Three years later the Titans, who have never started better than 3-0, are off to a 10-0 start. Tennessee has the sixth-rated defense in the NFL and could conceivably clinch a playoff berth on Sunday with a win over the Jets and some help.

"When I came here in 2006 the Titans really weren't a team on the map," said Thornton. "Coach (Jeff) Fisher had a vision but we were still in the rebuilding phase. From 2006 until now, Coach Fisher has established the identity of this team and we know we're not there yet.

"We still have a ways to go, but we're heading in the right direction. I'm just excited to be part of it."

Without the presence of a true superstar on its roster, the Titans are full of guys who simply understand their role and believe in their coaching staff and system.

That team-first mentality has spearheaded a defense which allows a league-low 13.1 points per game and has surrendered 17 points or fewer in nine of its 10 ballgames. Hope and teammate Cortland Finnegan are tied for second in the NFL with four interceptions apiece.

"Our defensive line definitely sets the tempo for our whole defense," said Thornton, who was named the Titans Walter Payton Man of the Year on Monday for his work in the community. "They stop the run and create pressure. All in all we have 11 guys who execute what our defensive coordinator puts together every week and we play with great confidence."

In an age of mid-season coaching changes and win-now expectations, one thing has remained constant in Tennessee -- Jeff Fisher. Fisher guided the Titans to a Super Bowl appearance in 1999 and never lost the confidence of the organization's front office during a 5-11 campaign in 2004 and a 4-12 mark the following year.

"I think there's a reason why Coach Fisher is the longest-tenured active coach in the league with the same organization," said Thornton. "He's a phenomenal leader and he knows how to get guys to respond. People go out and respond with great intensity for him."

Thornton and his teammates continue to shy away from discussing the postseason or the prospect of going undefeated. Tennessee would rather let its play do the talking and with clich├ęs aside, this may just be the season we all remember the Titans.