When QB Vince Young walked out on the Titans after the overtime loss to Washington in Week 11, the long-term ramifications became clear: with Young and head coach Jeff Fisher both having contracts running through 2011, all eyes will be on what owner Bud Adams does in the offseason, if anything at all; note that he told The (Nashville) Tennessean that Fisher and Young needed to "work together," that Young would be back next season and that Fisher's deal ran for one more season.
In the short term, the Titans were left to turn to rookie Rusty Smith, the No. 176 pick in the 2010 NFL draft, a player expected to have at least one redshirt year of sorts behind Young and veteran Kerry Collins, but Young's AWOL-moment (and season-ending thumb injury) and Collins' calf injury forced Smith into action sooner than expected.
So what's the book on the 6-5, 226-pound Smith? We're told his mental and physical attributes give him a chance to be successful on the pro level, but he's unquestionably raw.
From a tools standpoint, Smith's arm strength stands out, and he also is said to have good footwork. He zipped a long pass down the middle to Nate Washington in his pro debut vs. the Redskins, fitting the ball into a window in zone coverage. However, later in the game, he missed an open TE Jared Cook because he didn't go through his progressions correctly, Fisher said.
Smith's intangibles are positives. We're told he's a hard worker, that he has earned respect because of his work ethic. His intelligence also has impressed.
The Titans liked Smith enough to keep him over veteran Chris Simms in the final round of roster cuts in September, believing him to be a prospect who could be developed. That development will have to come quicker than anyone expected.
That said, there was no sense of panic around the club about this prospect, we're told. And overall, the feeling is that the focus on Young's departure is greater outside the club's facilities than inside the building.
Chalk up that mentality to Fisher, who communicates openly and clearly with his players and has set a business-as-usual tone, the way we hear it.
In a challenging week for the Titans — with nothing more trying to the team than the news of offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger's cancer diagnosis — the club has done the best it can to go about the business of football. That includes readying Smith, a player with some promise but plenty of development to do.