Wiedmer: Keith as much in the dark as the rest of Titans fans

Wiedmer: Keith as much in the dark as the rest of Titans fans

April 28th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

When you've been the radio voice of the Tennessee Titans for 14 years you might reasonably expect to own a little inside knowledge about what the Titans might do with the No. 8 overall pick in tonight's NFL Draft.

"Not me," said Mike Keith earlier this week from Titans headquarters a mile north of LP Field. "My office is 50 yards from the draft room, and I've never been inside there."

Keith paused for a moment, then corrected himself, careful not to pull a Tressel or a Pearl.

"Well, that's not quite true," he added. "They had some free food in there one December and I got a little of that. But there was nothing pertaining to the draft on the walls that day. I've never been in there when they were discussing anything to do with the draft and I doubt I ever will be."

But that doesn't mean Keith has no thoughts on what the Titans might do with their first pick.

"Obviously, they need a quarterback," said Keith. "But they also need another tight end and they need help at several spots on defense. The word I would use to describe our thinking on this draft is 'disciplined.'

"That doesn't mean we're not going to be aggressive. But it does mean we're probably not going to take a quarterback at No. 8 whom we believe is probably a No. 20 pick or No. 30 pick. Whichever player we take at No. 8 is going to a player we believe is worthy of that spot in the draft order. I believe we're going to take a player who can help us for the next five or 10 years."

The need for a quarterback is obvious. New coach Mike Munchak reiterated again last week that the Titans will not bring back Vince Young. Kerry Collins may duct tape himself together for one more autumn, but he's a band-aid, not a cure.

Yet not even Keith, always the optimist, believes Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton will still be around at No. 8. And good as former Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert is, many believe he's headed to the Washington Redskins, who may trade up for No. 2.

"I think Cam goes top two or three," said Keith. "All this stuff you hear right now about he can't do this, he can't do that. We heard the same thing last year about Sam Bradford and he wound up throwing for 18 touchdowns and 3,500 yards for the Rams. I'm sure we'd love to take him, but he's not going to be there, he's just not."

At least one website even has the Titans taking former TCU QB Andy Dalton, who, of course, is the only other quarterback in this draft other than Newton to have sparked his team to an undefeated season.

There is another member of Auburn's national championship team beyond Newton who could land on the Titans. Defensive lineman Nick Fairley is said to be highly thought of by the organization and there's no secret that the team needs defensive help across the board.

"This franchise has a history of staying incredibly true to their [draft] board," said Keith. "If they decide to take a defensive player it's going to take something quite unusual to change their mind."

If they lean toward defense, the obvious suspects are Fairley, Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, fellow defensive lineman Robert Quinn of North Carolina, defensive back Patrick Peterson of LSU - who just might be the best athlete available other than Newton - and possibly linebacker Von Miller of Texas A&M.

But neither Miller nor Peterson nor Dareus is expected to last until No. 8, which brings us back Fairley, assuming both Newton and Gabbert are gone by then. And before anyone slams Fairley, an argument could be made that Fairley's defense was as responsible as Newton's offense for the Tigers finishing No. 1.

Then again, maybe it's Dalton. Or maybe the Titans won't even keep their No. 8 pick, electing to trade down in hopes of choosing quantity over quality.

"Remember," said Keith, "this isn't like other years when you could sign undrafted free agents as soon as the draft was over. Because of the labor situation, if you didn't draft them, you can't sign them."

In other words, a player such as former UT linebacker Nick Reveiz - whom most believe will make someone a fantastic special teams player - may wind up being drafted in order to assure his availability.

Finally, there's the Andrew Luck factor. The Stanford quarterback won't be available until next year's draft, at which time he will almost certainly be the No. 1 overall pick.

But let the Titans ignore their quarterback concerns for one more year while building back their defense through the draft and they could presumably be awful in the standings but improved on the field.

Perhaps to that end, Keith said of the team's overriding strategy: "We're not going to do anything desperate. We're not going to be the guy without a date a week before the prom."

Especially if the Titans can find a way to improve their foundation this year while still leaving the door open to land Luck this time next year.