Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Karl Klug

By Terry McCormack

January 3, 2012

There is still one game left on the Titans schedule, but since we are at the end of 2011 it’s not too early to go ahead and hand out team superlatives for this season.

As the Titans head into the New Year with at least some gasp of playoff life remaining, Mike Munchak’s first season as a head coach has to be deemed a success. Yes, there have been disappointments – losses to Jacksonville and Indianapolis, as well as coughing up a 10-point lead at home against Cincinnati.

If the Titans had won those three games they would have a one-game lead over the Texans headed into this week’s finale in Houston. A playoff spot would already have been secured.

As it is, the playoff scenarios will all be sorted out this weekend. Still, there is enough of a body of work to hand out various honors, as well as a few prizes for less-than-stellar work.

Most Valuable Player: Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Yes, Hasselbeck’s play has been erratic, but his demeanor has not. Hasselbeck has solidified the quarterback position in a way that was desperately needed.

A quarterback has to be a leader, and Hasselbeck is one. Vince Young never was, and Kerry Collins wasn’t vocal enough as a part-time starter to really lead. Not only is Hasselbeck showing leadership, he is mentoring Jake Locker to eventually be the team leader as well. Runner-up: Receiver Nate Washington.

Offensive Player of the Year: Washington. No player has improved his game more than Washington this season. He has shattered his previous career high for receptions, becoming the first Titans player to catch 70 passes in a season since Derrick Mason and Drew Bennett both did it in 2004.
Washington also has a chance to become Tennessee’s first 1,000-yard receiver since that year as well, if he can pick up 69 more receiving yards in the finale at Houston. Runner-up: Receiver Kenny Britt. Britt was hurt three games in but, before that, was on his way to being dynamic as the go-to receiver.

Defensive Player of the Year: Cornerback Jason McCourty. He leads the team with 93 tackles, second on the team behind Jordan Babineaux, and is tied with Michael Griffin for the team lead in interceptions.. In fact, on Griffin’s interception Saturday against Jacksonville, came on a McCourty deflection. Runner-up: Linebacker Colin McCarthy. The fourth-round pick made an immediate impact and even earned Defensive Player of the Week in the AFC for his two forced fumbles and fumble recovery against Buffalo. Had he started all year, he would have won this award.

Rookie of the Year: DT Karl Klug. This is a tough call because of so many rookie contributions.
The Titans thought Klug would be part of their defensive end rotation. He instead he ended up being one of their best defensive tackles with a team-high seven sacks.
Not bad for a fifth-round draft choice. Runner-up: McCarthy. As stated earlier, McCarthy did extremely well after getting his shot, and looks to have solidified the middle linebacker spot for several years to come.

Special Teams Award: Kicker Rob Bironas, who was solid again this season, hitting 26 of 29 attempts thus far, including six of seven from beyond 50 yards. It’s somewhat hard to understand why he didn’t make the Pro Bowl. Runner-up: Cornerback Tommie Campbell. Yes, Campbell has had some bouts with immaturity and penalties, but other than the penalties in Indianapolis he has been solid as a gunner on special teams. His kickoff return against Tampa Bay was amazing.

Most Improved: Wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins. Coming in, “Hawk” had a whopping 19 catches over three seasons. He frustrated quarterbacks and offensive coordinators with his inability to run precise routes. But when Britt went down, Hawkins stepped in with 44 receptions as the third receiver. Runner-up: Tight end Jared Cook. Cook might have gotten the nod for this award if not for the fact that there were games where he completely disappeared, including Buffalo and New Orleans (no receptions).

Biggest Disappointment: Running back Chris Johnson. This should come as no surprise, given the expectations that came following a holdout and a $53 million extension. Johnson still needs 14 more yards to reach 1,000, quite a fall given that he had 2,006 just two years ago. Runner-up: Safety Michael Griffin. With Jerry Gray coming on board as defensive coordinator, and Griffin in a contract year, big things were expected from the free safety who has shown enough flashes to be a Pro Bowler three years ago. But it hasn’t happened. Griffin has been run over on tackles by Michael Turner and failed to break up a pass play for a big gain that cost the Titans in the opener against the Jaguars.

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