The Tennessee Titans look so much smarter now after all the questions about using a high draft pick on a receiver each of the past two years.
They took Kendall Wright out of Baylor last year in the first round and traded up to grab Justin Hunter early in the second round in April. The Titans (5-6) have needed them with Kenny Britt having gone more than a month without a catch, and last week Wright and Hunter both posted the first 100-yard receiving games of their careers in a win at Oakland.
Now the Colts (7-4) have to defend them Sunday along with tight end Delanie Walker, who had a career-best performance against them the last time these teams met.
"We're certainly well aware of their capabilities," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "They're great players. They're dangerous, they can score from anywhere. Ryan (Fitzpatrick) is doing a great job of distributing the ball, and they're making plays."
Fitzpatrick threw for 320 yards with Wright and Hunter giving the Titans their first game with a 300-yard passer and two 100-yard receivers for the first time since Dec. 19, 2004, also at Oakland and only the seventh time in franchise history.
The 5-foot-10, 191 Wright leads the Titans with a career-high 65 catches for 763 yards, and he also leads the NFL with 25 catches on third down. But he hadn't had a 100-yard receiving game until last week with 103 yards against Oakland, and Wright capped the day with a 10-yard touchdown catch for the win with 10 seconds left.
The shifty Wright never runs a route the same way, freewheeling his way to whatever spot on the field he's supposed to be at when the ball arrives.
Usually, not being a precise route runner gets receivers in trouble. Not Wright.
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said Thursday he's never been around a receiver with the freedom to freelance like Wright but they can't put the young receiver in a box. Coach Mike Munchak said he loves watching Wright work.
"I know if I had the ball in my hand, I'd be looking at him," Munchak said. "He'll get in the right area. It may not be as precise as you want it every time, but usually he creates space so you can deliver the ball. I think that's hard for defense because they're not sure covering him what spot he's going to or how he runs his routes because he does adjust."
Fitzpatrick said Wright's the type of receiver who needs freedom.
"Sometimes you'd think he'd be a difficult guy to throw to, but I have a good chemistry with him right now and he's a fun guy because he's always going to be open," Fitzpatrick said.
Wright said his confidence is pretty high right now.
"I already know the spot I'm getting to before I get to it," Wright said. "I'm just trying to get the quickest way or just taking a path to where I know I'm going to get open."
Wright also led the Titans as a rookie with 64 catches, though veteran Nate Washington had a team-high 747 yards receiving. Britt has struggled so much this season with two more drops last week that the 2009 first-round draft pick has only eight catches for 67 yards. His last reception was Oct. 20.
The Titans have brought the 6-foot-4 Hunter along more slowly.
He came out of the University of Tennessee after his junior season and missed most of his sophomore season with a torn ACL. The Titans have used his 4.40-second speed in the 40-yard dash and height early for jump ball TD catches in the end zone.
Receivers coach Shawn Jefferson has worked closely with Hunter to help the rookie learn exactly what the Titans want from him as he learns his way through all the routes. With Damian Williams out with an injured hip the past two games, Hunter has been working with Wright and Washington in their three wide receiver sets.
Hunter had his breakout game in Oakland with 109 yards on six catches — five on third down with the last on the game-winning drive when covered by Charles Woodson. Hunter's touchdown also was on third down when he caught a pass and made two Raiders miss as he went up the sideline for a 54-yard TD.
"That's the kind of stuff we're hoping he'll be able to do to help us this year," Munchak said.
Notes: S Bernard Pollard was sent home before practice ill but is expected back Friday. TE Craig Stevens (concussion), RT David Stewart (shoulder/rest) and WR Damian Williams (hip) did not practice Thursday. Wright (ankle) practiced fully.
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