The Tennessee Titans have an opportunity to step outside the norm and potentially make themselves better, perhaps now, but more importantly in the future.
It's no knock at Gage, a solid veteran who has been serviceable and occasionally spectacular. (Remember his catch in San Francisco last year?) But the veteran receiver is in the final year of his contract, and the guy the Titans drafted to be the long-term answer as a potential No. 1 receiver will likely step in on Sunday in Dallas to take his place.
When it comes to raw talent, no wideout on the Titans roster can touch Britt's abilities. After all, there is a reason he was drafted in the first round last year.
Despite his missteps an inexperience as a rookie, Britt was surprisingly productive with 42 catches for 701 yards. Yes, questions about his maturity and focus dogged him throughout the off-season. They followed him right on into training camp with a drivers license snafu, and through the end of the preseason with his unceremonious benching against the New Orleans Saints after three drops and a false start.
In part because of those inconsistencies, Britt is stuck as Tennessee's third receiver for a second consecutive season, despite his vast array of physical skills.
But even his position coach, Fred Graves, says he has seen a change in Britt over the past few weeks, since his untimely removal from the field.
“He hasn't had any problems since the preseason. He's been doing well. He's focused. He's finishing his routes, getting the right depths and all that stuff. That hasn't been a problem at all,” Graves said.
But improved focus and talent alone often aren't enough for a young Titan like Britt to crack the starting lineup.
The Titans oftentimes are guilty of being too comfortable with veterans. With rare exceptions like Eddie George, Jevon Kearse or Chris Johnson, most times, Tennessee's rookies either sit and learn or they play a limited role until the coaching staff fully trusts them to carry out their assignments, no matter what their physical skill level.
That methodology is fine for the most part, as over the years the Titans have done OK replacing and replenishing when those veterans eventually wear out. But it can also become a bit of low-risk, low-reward proposition at times.
Remember the Titans have done such things as letting Keith Bulluck sit a year too long behind an aging Eddie Robinson. They were reluctant to hand Michael Griffin the starting free safety job from the get-go as a rookie, though he was clearly an upgrade over Lamont Thompson and Calvin Lowry.
Even last year, it was a shock to some that the Titans actually moved defensive end William Hayes into the lineup past Kearse, whose skills had clearly eroded.
Britt admits he would like a bigger role, and had hoped for it coming into the season. However, he realizes much of what slowed his progress was of his own doing.
“I was hoping [Mike Heimerdinger] would trust me after last year, but we had some rough edges in the off-season, but it's worked out,” Britt said. “We all know I wasn't in the place I wanted to be. I was expecting to play a little more of a role coming into this year, but it happens like that.”
While the Titans scuffle to try and find a way to get Johnson free from the constant eight-man fronts he is seeing in the running game, the answer to that could be right in front of them, ready to step in and assume a bigger and more valuable role.
That's right – Britt.
Britt's potential as a true No. 1 receiver might be just the weapon Vince Young and the passing game need to make opposing defenses play more honestly and straight up as they defend Johnson.
Besides, Britt and Young seem to be developing a nice little rapport, as Britt has caught a touchdown pass from VY in each of the past two games. He even credits Young with helping him maintain his composure and focus.
“I'm more comfortable with me playing in the offense and people are helping me out like Vince Young, helping me stay focused on the task at hand,” Britt said.
Who knows? Britt's consistency issues will probably still crop up from time to time. He is far from a finished product, and the growing pains will occasionally be evident.
But if he starts on Sunday, consider that the first real step not only for Britt to state his case that his future is now, but a chance for the Titans to realize that as well.
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