We are just two games into the 2016 season and the Ben Heeney experiment has already gone awry. In the team’s week two loss to the Falcons, he was routinely ineffective in stopping the Falcons offense from getting to the second level either by getting blocked out of the play or being out of position. And Jack Del Rio was not happy about it.
“I think they ran their offense,” said Del Rio. “They didn’t have to get too deep into it, you know? It was pretty basic concepts that they ran over and over and over, and we didn’t get them handled. So, you can’t blame them for continuing to do a good thing. I’d take advantage of a good thing.”
Late in the game, Heeney was pulled in favor of rookie sixth round pick Cory James. James played all over the defense in college, but moved to middle linebacker for just the final six games of his senior season, so the Raiders weren’t quite ready to hand the defense over to him. Not when they had Heeney who was a proven middle linebacker at the college level. Other than that, James appears to possess a lot of the same qualities they like in Heeney.
“He’s just a guy that [is] kind of a ball magnet,” Del Rio said of James. “He’s around the football, he’s physical, he’s fast. He doesn’t have a lot of experience but we like his upside.”
On a defense searching for answers, upside is as good a reason to make a change as any. Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr both said this week that the defensive calls will be a “collective effort”. So, it’s no surprise the two are on the same page about James.
“Well, you saw Cory [James] during the training camp and preseason,” said Norton. “He really stepped up and he showed a lot. He’s a big, strong guy, very instinctive, plays really hard and he makes plays. So, he’s a guy that you certainly want to take a good, strong look at.”
Despite the fact that Heeney had the job throughout the offseason, training camp, and preseason, Jack Del Rio said the competition between the two was close. Now that Heeney has had his shot and hasn’t locked down the job, James will get his chance to show what he can do.
“I would like to see Cory,” said Del Rio. “I think both of those guys . . . played during camp and it was close, there was competition, those guys were involved in competition and we elected to go the other way. But, I think if you don’t make plays, and you’re in there, you leave the door open for other guys to get opportunities to play. At the end of the day, we’re just looking for production.”
As you might expect, Friday Jack Del Rio was tight lipped about whether James would get the start, saying; “Yeah, I don’t think there’s any benefit to declare what we’re doing. We’ll let it play out on Sunday.”
No offense to either of Heeney or James, but I don’t think the Titans are going to lose sleep trying to game plan for which of them will start.