One day after veteran tight end Craig Stevens retired, the Tennessee Titans are busy regrouping at the position to find the best way to move forward.
Stevens, regarded as one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, decided Tuesday to leave the team after eight seasons.
“Craig is probably one of the best people I’ve ever had an opportunity to work with. I’ll miss Craig as a person around here.,” tight ends coach Arthur Smith said. “All those characteristics is what made him a great teammate. He was probably one of the most thoughtful people anybody ever had. He was a joy to work with every day.”
Both Smith and head coach Mike Mularkey indicated that it will take a collective effort to help replace Stevens’ role as an on-line blocking tight end. Delanie Walker remains the top receiving tight end, but also is a valuable blocker if called upon, while veteran Anthony Fasano brings versatility. Phillip Supernaw, who made the roster last year as a street free agent.
“We’ve got a very versatile group. Delanie is not just a receiver. Delanie can do it all. Anthony is versatile and we’ve used him in so many roles,” Smith said. “We’ve used him as a receiver, we’ve used him to block at the point of attack, to pass protect. So we have a lot of actions and Phillip is the same way.”
With the Titans committed to the running the football, however, the loss of Stevens cannot be underestimated.
“We’ve got a couple of guys on our roster right now that are obviously going to have to play a greater role in that scheme blocking the point,” Mularkey said. “Really the guys we have, with the exception of Delanie, can at least put a good fight up against the bigger defensive ends. Even in the last games, Phillip Supernaw was doing what Craig was doing and blocked those plays very well.”
Jerome Cunningham, who was picked up off waivers from the Jets, and undrafted rookie Alex Ellis are the other tight ends in camp. Cunningham, Mularkey said, can also play the role Stevens filled for so many years.
“He’s more of a point tight end, that wide tight end, basically the guy blunt of the blocking. The F is a Delanie type. I think Supernaw and Anthony are a little bit of tweeners, in between the two,” Mularkey said. “I think Jerome is more of that point tight end. He’s a powerful guy.”
Stevens’ departure wasn’t lost on the players, who know while they pick up the slack, it opens a door for an increased role as well.
“I’m just going to handle what I can and help this team as much as I can. That’s all I can control right now,” Cunningham said. “I did a lot of work this off-season and in previous off-seasons to improve my end line blocking. I’ve made tremendous strides since my rookie year, and the biggest thing is to continue to work on my hand placements and keep improving as a run blocker.”
Supernaw, who said he learned a lot during his time with Stevens, is also hopeful
“I learned so much from him as far as blocking and being a pro, and handling himself on and off the field. I learned so much from him,” Supernaw said. “I just want to do what I can to help the team, whatever role that is.”
Asked what his style as a blocker is, Supernaw replied, “I’d say I’m probably more of a mauler. I try to do a little bit of both, but those guys are so big in the NFL that you just have to have the perfect technique and be a mauler every play and be physical with them.”