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Training Camp Positional Preview: Special Teams

Posted Jul 23, 2014

ON THE ROSTER:  K – Maikon Bonani #3, K – Travis Coons #4, P – Brett Kern #6, KR/PR – Dexter McCluster #22, KR/PR Leon Washington #29, KR/PR Marc Mariani #83

KEY ADDITIONS:

Dexter McCluster (free agency)

KEY DEPARTURES:

Rob Bironas (released)

POSITION OVERVIEW:

For the first time since 2005, the Titans will have a kicker other than Rob Bironas. The team parted ways with the veteran during the offseason and the spot is still up for grabs. It will come down to second-year kicker Maikon Bonani and rookie out of Washington Travis Coons.

The returners seem to be slotted in the depth chart, but anything can change during training camp. Leon Washington and Dexter McCluster are expected to handle the kick returns and punt returns respectively. Brett Kern is still the team’s punter as he returns for his seventh year of NFL duty.

KEY FIGURES:

#6 Brett Kern – P – 7th NFL Season

Kern joined the Titans as a free agent in the middle of the 2009 season after being released by the Broncos. The punter has been as steady as they come in his five-plus years with the Titans. Kern dropped 32 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line in 2013, finishing fourth in the NFL. Kern has finished in the top-five of that category in each of the past three seasons, and in the top-10 for each of the past four.

#22 Dexter McCluster – KR/PR – 5th NFL Season

The Titans signed McCluster as a free agent to wreak-havoc all over the field, including special teams. McCluster is coming off of his best season as a returner, leading the NFL in punt returns (58), punt return yards (686) and punt returns for touchdowns with two. Those numbers punched his first ticket to Honolulu as a member of the AFC Pro Bowl squad.

McCluster also returned kickoffs in the first two of his four seasons with Kansas City. In 2010, he posted 527 yards on 26 returns, nearly mirroring his numbers in 2011 of 557 yards on 25 returns. Leon Washington figures to be the team’s primary kick returner in 2014, but having a Pro Bowl option at the position is a plus for the Titans. 

#29 Leon Washington – KR/PR – 9th NFL Season

The Titans signed Washington to a one-year deal this offseason after he originally signed with the team at the end of the 2013 season. Tennessee turned to the veteran returner when the team struggled to find a consistent option to bring back kicks. In his five games as a Titan in 2013, Washington led the team with 16 kick returns for 481 yards, including a long of 95 yards. Washington also returned six punts for 78 yards.

Washington has had success during his career as a third-down running back and catching passes out of the backfield, but the ninth-year pro has made his name on special teams. Washington led the league with 2,337 all-purpose return yards in 2008 as a member of the New York Jets, earning First-Team All-Pro honors and his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

In 2012, Washington made his second Pro Bowl with the Seahawks after recording 1,254 all-purpose return yards and one kick return touchdown. Washington has eight total kick return touchdowns to his name.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

#3 Maikon Bonani – K – 2nd NFL Season

Bonani enters his second kicking competition with the Titans after failing to dethrone the incumbent Rob Bironas in 2013. The second-year kicker out of South Florida is now the front-runner for the job this season. The Titans were impressed with Bonani’s strong leg in last year’s training camp after the kicker made 69 of his 91 field goal attempts in college. 

#4 Travis Coons – K – Rookie

As it stands, Coons is the only competition to Bonani for the Titans’ kicking job. The former University of Washington kicker made 15 out of 16 field goal attempts in2013 as a senior and was named honorable mention All-Pac-12. Coons also handled punting duties while at Washington.

#83 Marc Mariani – KR/PR – 5th NFL Season

If there’s anyone who has a chance to shake up the depth chart at the return positions, it’s Mariani. In 2010, Mariani made the Pro Bowl after a rookie season in which he posted 1,859 all-purpose return yards and two touchdowns. He had another solid season in 2011 with 490 punt return yards and another touchdown.

The last two seasons have been plagued by injuries for Mariani, who spent both on injured reserve. Mariani’s versatility as a receiver and returner increases his chances at making the roster. Regardless, the upcoming training camp could prove to be a do or die month for his time in Tennessee.

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