Last season was a disappointment to all Titans fans, and that’s putting it lightly. The Titans finished 6-10 and had some major questions that needed to be answered coming into this offseason.
Coaching Staff: Head Coach Mike Munchak and his staff were all “evaluated” at the end of the season and there were some changes that came about but for the most part the “major” parts of his coaching staff remain intact. The Titans will have a new offensive coordinator, sort of, this season. Dowell Loggains took over mid season for Tennessee when Chris Palmer was relieved of his duties. The offense didn’t make much of an improvement under Loggains but I don’t think he was able to implement his plays and he just had to “modify” what was already in place. Loggains was the QB coach before becoming OC and he will have his hands full this season with trying to get QB Jake Locker to take the next step.
Despite having one of the worst Titan defense’s in team history, Jerry Gray will return as defensive coordinator. He won’t be alone though, as former Titans’ defensive coordinator, and recently off his “bounty gate” suspension, Gregg Williams joins the staff as a “defensive assistant”. The Titans defense was really, really soft last season and Williams’ defenses are the complete opposite of that. Fans are hoping that Williams will help change the attitude and be more aggressive on that side of the ball.
This is a make or break year for Munchak and company. Many people thought Mike would be fired after last season and owner Bud Adams has made it very clear that changes will be made if the team doesn’t start winning.
Quarterback: Last year was supposed to be Jake Locker’s team but he dislocated his shoulder early on in the season and battled with that injury throughout the season. So that meant that Matt Hasselbeck was the guy and the Titans offense was never right all year long. They couldn’t convert on 3rd downs or score points, and when they did, the game was already out of reach. Thus the defense had to be on the field for most of the game, and it just created some really bad football to watch. The Titans need some consistency for the QB position this season, but more importantly they need a QB who can complete 3rd down passes to keep the chains moving, the defense on the sidelines, and the other teams’ QB off the field.
Hasselbeck was released and the Titans signed former Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is a guy who I think can be really successful when he doesn’t have to be like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning and throw the ball a lot to win games. I think he could help out Tennessee and maybe even win them some games if need be. But let’s hope that’s not the case because that means that Locker either got hurt or just didn’t get the job done. I hope Jake surprises a lot of people this year and can show those skills that he flashed his rookie year as the backup. A revamp offensive line should help and if the Titans can get the run game going again. Locker has plenty of targets to throw to: Nate Washington, a healthy Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Delaine Walker, and others. He has no excuses this season and this team will only go as far as he takes them.
Running Back: I will no longer be calling Chris Johnson “CJ2K” because I’m done living in the past and so should he. CJ last season was a whiner and called out everyone but himself. Don’t get me wrong I don’t hate the guy and I hope he has a huge year, but the way he handled himself last season and this offseason was kind of immature. He needs to be a leader on this team and not a selfish guy just worried about his stats. I don’t think that will ever happen but if he performs I don’t really care, it’s when he isn’t performing that he becomes a distraction. There aren’t anymore excuses this season for CJ because the Titans revamped their O-line and as long as everyone stays healthy this offense has lots of weapons. He did show flashes last year of the “CJ2K” but he was not consistent. . . But then again neither was the offensive line.
Shonn Greene was brought in as a “change of pace” back and I think he will help out the team a lot. He can keep CJ fresh and give the defense a different look when he is in the game. Kind of like when the Titans had LenDale White and Chris Johnson. That is when CJ had his best years as a running back, so we will see if Shonn Greene helps him out this year.
Offensive Line: Last year was one of the worst offensive lines the Titans have ever had, and one of the worst in the NFL. The line was plagued with the injury bug, and often times had 3rd and 4th stringers starting. The QB didn’t have anytime to throw, CJ didn’t have much running room, and it didn’t help that the play calling was pathetic either. Either way I’m sure it was a little gut check for Mike Munchak and his offensive line coach Bruce Matthews, both are hall of fame O-lineman. So the Titans went out and signed one of the best guards in the NFL in Andy Levitre from Buffalo, and then drafted another guard, Chance Warmack, in the first round. Warmack is seen by many as the best guard to come out of college since Steve Hutchinson. Then they get what many people think was the best center in the draft, Brian Schwenke, in the 4th round. Add that on top of signing Rob Turner and the Titans have a new look up front. The only concern I think anyone has coming into the season is if David Stewart can come back from the broken leg that he suffered last year.
The hope is that this offensive line will open up holes for CJ which will make it easier on Locker. Plus Locker won’t be running for his life this season, at least he shouldn’t have to, and that he will have time to make throws and not try and rush things. If all of that happens then the defense doesn’t have to play as much and they can also afford to be more aggressive because they won’t be playing from behind all game. . . That’s the plan anyway.
Wide Receiver: I think this is the deepest position on the team. You have Nate Washington who has been very reliable the past 2 seasons. They drafted Kendall Wright in the first round last season and he has all the potential to be a big play receiver if he is used correctly. Kenny Britt, who was quickly becoming one of the best wide outs in the NFL before he blew out his knee, is fully recovered and keeps talking about how great he feels. Then the Titans drafted Justin Hunter in the 2nd round this year. He is a big play guy who has blazing speed, but drops to many passes so he fell in the draft a little bit. I haven’t even mentioned Damian Williams, Marc Mariani, Kevin Walter, and Michael Preston. It will be a battle throughout the whole season for playing time and it will force guys to play their best when they have their opportunity. They say competition brings out the best in people, we will see if that holds true here.
Defensive Line: The D-Line got a lot of criticism for last years’ performance. Now I do agree that it could have been a lot better, but the QB’s for the opposing teams were able to get rid of the ball so quick because of our soft secondary that the pass rushers had no time to actually get the QB. I do think that Tennessee needs to improve up the middle at DT. Mike Martin and Jurrell Casey have played well throughout their young careers but they need to continue to improve and be consistent. Tennessee got some big bodied guys to help clog up the run lanes with the signings of Sammie Lee Hill and Ropati Pitoitua. Some people think that not enough was done to improve the defensive line, but I am a firm believer that the defensive line can perform but they just need time. I do think the depth of the line is in question, but the Titans are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with some young guys. The game is won in the trenches and one can only hope Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley can start getting to the QB more. They had plenty of QB hurries but weren’t able to close the deal (which is why I say if the secondary plays up on receivers and is not so soft the line will improve).
Linebackers: You have to be impressed with the play of Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers. Some people were really skeptical when they were drafted in the 2nd round in back to back years but they have performed nicely and got better as the season went on. Zach Brown might be the fastest LB in the league and he started to learn how to rush the passer towards the end of the season same can be said for Ayers. Ayers isn’t good in coverage and many think he will be a rush LB which is what he is best at, and Zach Brown can start to cover those tight ends that always give Tennessee trouble. If Colin McCarthy could stay healthy then Tennessee has one of the best young LB cores in the NFL, but McCarthy has been super fragile in his brief career and is already hurt this preseason. Titans signed Moise Fokou and he has been getting a lot of the first team reps. If he can step up and play well then Tennessee will have nothing to worry about at LB other than the depth, again that is a question mark with this group.
Cornerback: It is hard to judge Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner soley off of last season. The defensive scheme was just awful (I think I’ve mentioned that a few times before) but Verner is better suited a slot CB anyway. The hope is that one of the bigger cornerbacks can take over as the “#2” guy and then move Verner to the slot. Tommie Campbell is a freak of nature and has all the tools you would want in a shut down corner but the Titans just keep waiting for it all to “click”. They drafted Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the 3rd round this year out of UConn. He is pretty raw but in a couple of season I think he will be a very good press corner. McCourty also needs to step up and play like a #1 cornerback that Tennessee is paying him to be. Don’t get me wrong, McCourty isn’t terrible, but he isn’t great. This year with a new system (hopefully) and some more competition the secondary can make strides to improve on that awful performance last season.
Safety: This was the worst part of the defense by far last year. Michael Griffin has never been the player he was after he made the pro bowl in 2008 and has been really bad the past 2 years. He is best known as a “ball hawk” but he was often out of position and gave up big catches. He is an awful tackler and is scared to hit someone, but that’s where free agent acquisition Bernard Pollard comes in. Pollard is known across the league as a big hitter and that’s something Tennessee has lacked for some time. With the addition of Pollard maybe Griffin can just focus on being a “centerfielder” again, and leave the tackling to Pollard. With the help of a better pass rush and blitzing LB’s it actually starts to make some sense. After all Griffin’s best season came when Albert Haynesworth had his best season. A great pass rush can make and average secondary look pretty good. Pollard should bring excellent leadership and make people actually be scared to play Tennessee’s defense again. Veteran George Wilson should also help out a lot. He isn’t spectacular at one specific thing but he is a good all around player and provides good depth.
So overall, Tennessee made a lot of positive changes this offseason, but there are still some serious unanswered questions coming into the season. Eventually this season will go as Jake Locker does. He has only played in 16 games in his career so he is still young as far as game reps go, but hopefully all of the changes will help him feel more comfortable and more importantly more consistent.
About the Author
Written by Dustin Kelver
I am in my junior year of college at Howard Payne, and I play baseball there. I live in Spring, Texas and have been here for almost 7 years. I love sports and have played all sports competitively at some point in my life. I want to one day have my own radio show. You can follow me on twitter @SportsBlogger27