Saturday, December 09, 2000

Pickens disappointment to Titans

Ex-Bengal not living up to expectations

The Tennessean

        NASHVILLE — When the Tennessee Titans signed free agent receiver Carl Pickens in July, they envisioned a player capable of making a big contribution in helping them return to the Super Bowl.

        With three games remaining in the regular season, including Sunday's contest against his old team, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Titans still have their sights set on the big game.

        Pickens, however, has yet to provide the impact the Titans had in mind.

        A two-time Pro Bowl selection with the Bengals, he has missed six games — including the first game vs. Cincinnati — because of a hamstring injury he suffered Oct. 1 against the New York Giants. In the three games he has played in since, he has been held without a catch in limited action. Overall, he has just eight receptions for 186 yards and no touchdowns.

        “I'm not complaining, and I don't think any of the other guys are complaining,” he said. “As long as we're winning, things are fine.”

        The injury, of course, has played a big part in his struggles, although early in the season he was guilty of running the wrong route on two plays that led to interceptions.

        Despite participating in all practices for the third straight week, it is becoming clear his role is to simply add depth and make contributions when called upon. That may come near the goal line, where Pickens is considered a serious threat because of his size (6-foot-2, 206 pounds) and strength.

        But barring injuries to starters Derrick Mason and Chris Sanders, it appears he will continue to spend the better part of games on the sideline.

        “We are pleased with the production we are getting out of the two starters ... so it's not an issue of starting vs. not starting,” Coach Jeff Fisher said. “It's an issue more of contributing, and that is what we are looking to get from Carl right now.

        “We're going to play everybody, we're going to rotate and we're going to expect him to block. When he's healthy, I'd like to take advantage of some of his strengths.”

        Following injuries to Pickens and Yancey Thigpen, along with the season-ending injury to Kevin Dyson in September, the receiving corps looked thin. But it has received a huge lift from Mason, who leads the Titans with 51 receptions. Sanders, meanwhile, has started 11 straight games and provided an occasional spark downfield.

        Pickens and Thigpen are healthier now, but are often used only when the Titans go to three-receiver sets.

        “I'm just trying to work my way back into the rotation,” Pickens said. “I know Mason is playing good, and Chris is playing well, and Yancey is healthy, and you just have to be patient now. Whenever they put me in there, I am ready to go, whether they ease me in or not.”

        He said his ailing hamstring, his first major setback since a groin injury during the 1997 season, has led to some frustration.

        But he said he's managed to stay upbeat knowing there's a chance he could participate in a playoff game for the first time in his NFL career. The Bengals never made the playoffs during his eight seasons in Cincinnati.

        “Who wouldn't want to be in this situation, coming from a team like that?” Pickens said. “Like I've said all along, it wasn't that bad. It was just a losing situation and after a while you have to figure out what is the most important thing to you.

        “I think the reason why a lot of us play is to win, and money becomes secondary after a certain amount of years and for me it is secondary. I just wanted to win, and I was lucky enough to get here.”

        But how long will Pickens stay? That's an offseason question facing the coaching staff and front office.

        He signed a five-year contract with a base salary of only $500,000 for this season. His price tag goes up significantly if he's with the team next year, however, as he would receive a $4.5 million roster bonus in addition to a $1 million base salary.

        If the Titans release him, he wouldn't get any of the $5.5 million but would still have an impact on the team's salary cap next season. It's also possible he could negotiate a new deal with the Titans.

        “I think if you asked Carl he would tell you that he hasn't been happy with his production, and we certainly haven't been, but it's been an injury thing and that's where you get into the real problems,” Titans General Manager Floyd Reese said.

        “Would he have rather been healthy and been out there? Without a doubt. But unfortunately that hasn't happened. ... Luckily for us, we had much more depth at the position than we anticipated, so we still have been able to survive.”


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