By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — With the winless Tennessee Titans (0-4) looking for ways to knock off the undefeated Indianapolis Colts (4-0), the chances appear to be pretty good that the Titans’ version of the Wildcat offense will be unveiled Sunday.
And why not? Tennessee certainly has the personnel to do the job with running backs Chris Johnson, LenDale White and Javon Ringer, along with backup quarterback (and former first-round draft pick) Vince Young.
Johnson is the NFL’s leading rusher through the first four weeks of the season with 434 yards and 69 carries, just ahead of Miami’s Ronnie Brown (369 yards on 72 rushing attempts). He is averaging a whopping 6.3 yards per carry. The former East Carolina standout also leads the league in scrimmage yards (rushing and receiving) with 551 total yards.
White, meanwhile, gives Tennessee a strong inside-out runner who can pick up the tough yardage in the middle of the offensive line. He particularly excels in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
As for Young, he gave the Colts fits early in his NFL career as Tennessee ran a spread offense. The Titans ran called scrambling plays in order to take advantage of the former Texas signal caller’s athletic skills and playmaking ability.
Kerry Collins, who led the Titans to a 13-3 record and the AFC South title last year, remains as the starting quarterback for Coach Jeff Fisher. Collins is expected to go most of the way against Indianapolis this week.
But the Colts won’t be too surprised if Tennessee, buoyed by the success that Miami had in running the Wildcat offense in a 27-23 loss to Indianapolis (Brown had 136 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns, the Dolphins had 239 yards as a team running the ball), trots out a few wrinkles in their base offense.
“I always think that’s a possibility. If we get a sense of that, we certainly will try and prepare for it. Those are two different styles, in terms of quarterback — Kerry and Vince. But both are very capable guys,” Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell said earlier this week.
Team president Bill Polian expects the Titans to try and surprise the Colts, especially with something like the Wildcats offense.
“I think the answer on both counts is, ‘Yes.’ We’ll be expecting it. I don’t know how prepared we’ll be, but we’ll be expecting it. I would think since they’d had success against us with [a form of the] Wildcat in the past [with Young],” Polian said during his weekly radio show.
“And since they saw that Miami had some success with it [against the Colts], I would think they’re probably giving it serious consideration. I would think that given the talent they have — Chris Johnson and Young — that they probably have had a package in almost from mini-camp, some Wildcat package.”
“They have to have Vince prepared to play. And he would be antithetical to what Kerry does, so I would think they probably have a package that they practice from Day One. They just haven’t used it yet. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them dust it off and really, that’s all they would be doing, is dusting it off,” he continued.
“I’m sure he goes into every game with a certain package of plays from the shotgun with the options, runs and passes and things of that nature that we’ve seen in the past. It’s ready and they’ve practiced it. They don’t have to make very much adjustment to use it.”
• Where’s Bob? — It’s the question that everybody, media and fans included, continue to ask. When is former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders going to make a return to the Indianapolis Colts defensive lineup?
An answer, however, is hard to come by.
The hard-hitting strong safety underwent a surgical procedure on his right knee during the offseason but has yet to take part in a full practice. He was on the Colts’ physically unable to perform list during training camp and the preseason.
Team officials opted to keep him on Indianapolis’ active roster to begin the regular season rather than placing Sanders on injured reserve, which would have meant that he would not be eligible to play until the fifth game of the year.
As things stand now, however, nobody knows for sure when he will be back. All indications are that it will be sooner rather than later.
“He is ramping up his activity a little bit. That’s the best way to describe it. He’s not in full practice or anything of that nature. He will participate in some limited activity out on the field,” Caldwell said earlier this week.
“They have a prescribed regimen that he goes through. He is doing all of the things in terms of his rehabilitation with his cutting and movement. He’s doing the types of things that are required once he gets out on the field. I know that has been going along extremely well. I know [the trainers] like the progress that he has shown thus far. I know he is getting a lot more comfortable. At some point in time, we expect him to get out and do a little bit. Not necessarily in a rigid practice setting, but to get out there and participate in some activity. I think you’ll see that continue to increase as time goes on.”
Polian has been encouraged by the progress that Sanders has shown the last few weeks during his extended rehab process.
“He’s continuing to work out and he’s doing well. I think the graph is up. I don’t want to put any timeframe on it. I don’t want to do that,” Polian said. “We’re encouraged in terms of what we see. We think he’s on schedule and moving forward at a pretty rapid and expected clip.”
• Injury list — Cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee) aggravated his surgically repaired left knee in the win over the Seahawks last week. Jackson’s status for Sunday night’s game at Tennessee has yet to be determined.
Middle linebacker Gary Brackett (knee) has returned to practice after missing the Arizona and Seattle games. Brackett was hurt in the fourth quarter of the Miami game three weeks ago. He is expected to start against the Titans on Sunday night.
Defensive end Dwight Freeney (quadriceps) was held out of Wednesday’s workout to rest but was able to return for Thursday’s practice. Freeney strained his right quadriceps late in the third quarter of the Arizona game two weeks ago. He returned last week to see limited playing time against Seattle.
Cornerback Kelvin Hayden (hamstring) continues to rehab an injury that has bothered him since training camp. Hayden returned to the starting lineup for the season opener with Jacksonville but tweaked the injury at Miami three weeks ago. His status for the Tennessee game has yet to be determined.
Offensive tackle Charlie Johnson (knee) remains hopeful of being able to play Sunday night at Tennessee. Johnson was hurt in the third quarter of last week’s win over Seattle. A final determination on whether he will be in the starting lineup against the Titans isn’t expected until Saturday at the earliest.