By John Glennon, Gannett Tennessee
Titans tight end Taylor Thompson developed into a powerful offensive and special teams blocker during his rookie season last year.
The only catch was that, well, there weren't many catches.
Thompson snared only six receptions, a figure that was somewhat understandable given that he'd played defensive end in college and that the Titans already featured veteran tight ends Jared Cook and Craig Stevens.
But considering the fact the Titans surrendered a draft pick in order to move up and select Thompson in 2012, and considering that names like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham were used in comparison to him at the time, it's fair to assume more receptions will be expected this season.
"We want to take advantage of his versatility and he needs to be consistent for us," coach Mike Munchak said. "This is a big time of year for him. It's a chance for him to get confidence and get a lot better, so that when we get to camp, he has more of a comfort level with what we're doing."
Comfort is a word that comes up often with Thompson as he describes the difference between his first season and his second offseason.
Whereas last year there were times he still felt like a defensive end that happened to be playing tight end, he's felt more settled in his offensive role so far this offseason.
"It's a huge difference," Thompson said. "I'm definitely a lot more comfortable this year as far as being out there and playing offense. I feel like it's second-nature now, where last year I had to think a bunch."
As for what is smoother this time around, he said: "Just kind of like the concepts where we're supposed to fit on pass routes and where we're supposed to fit on running plays. It's kind of understanding what the defense is doing and what my role is on offense as a tight end."
Still, 6-foot-6, 268-pound Thompson has more learning to do if he is going to be able to unleash his considerable physical talents -- he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds and posted a 37-inch vertical leap leading up to the draft -- in the passing game.
For starters, Thompson will have to learn a new playbook now that Dowell Loggains has succeeded Chris Palmer as offensive coordinator.
The Titans also have a new tight ends coach, George Henshaw, who wants to make sure that Thompson is capable of lining up at both of the tight end positions. The "Y" position is more of the old-school tight end, the big body that excels in run blocking and the short passing game. The "F" position is more the hybrid position that's become popular in recent years, a faster tight end that excels in the passing attack.
"What we're trying to do is teach him the concepts of the different plays so that he can be flexible and play both those positions," Henshaw said. "We want him not to just memorize the plays, but to understand the concepts. He's getting more comfortable all the time. He's got a long ways to go, but not as far as we (used to)."
Said Munchak: "He's doing well. He's not making the same mistakes."
Thompson did suffer a few dropped passes last season, but said he feels "more confident and comfortable" now in that area of the game.
That's a good thing, considering the Titans will need to make up for the departure of Cook, who had 44 catches for 523 yards and four touchdowns last year before signing with the Rams as a free agent. The Titans did add veteran tight end Delanie Walker, but he's never posted as many as 30 catches in a season.
So the door appears to be open for Thompson.
"The thing he brings to the table is that he can make plays -- some big plays -- for you," Henshaw said. "What we have to do is teach him exactly what we want so that we put him in position to make those big plays for us."
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