The Tennessee Titans finished a disappointing 7-9 last year and, as a result, changes were made. Head coach Mike Munchak was let go after he refused to make adjustments to his coaching staff. Now at the helm is former San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and the hope is that Whiz can get the Titans back to being a consistent playoff contender.
Also gone is running back Chris Johnson, who ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his six seasons with the Titans. Over the last few years, Tennessee had over-relied on Johnson to be their main offensive weapon. Whisenhunt will implement a more diversified system.
Ray Horton, who worked well with Whisenhunt in Arizona, will be the defensive coordinator. Horton has always coached an attacking style of defense, so don’t expect anything different this year.
The main difference on defense will be the scheme. The Titans have been a 4-3 unit for years but now will be more of a 3-4 hybrid scheme. How the players react to the change will have a lot to do with their win/loss record in 2014.
Jake Locker was selected during the first round of the 2011 draft to bring stability to the position. Now in his fourth year, the jury is still out as to whether or not Locker is a winning NFL quarterback.
ICONThis season looks like it's now or never for Jake Locker in Tennessee.
Locker had problems with accuracy in college and that has carried over to the NFL. The hope is that Whisenhunt, who has a reputation of working well with quarterbacks, can get Locker moving in the right direction.
The Titans don’t have much behind Locker. Former Charger Charlie Whitehurst is the veteran backup, but he hasn’t thrown a pass during the regular season in three years. The Titans drafted LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round. I was not a fan of Mettenberger’s in college and I don’t see him becoming more than an adequate backup-type in the NFL. One of Mettenberger’s biggest flaws is he has virtually no mobility and, coming off an ACL injury, may now have even less than before.
The key to winning football games is to have a productive quarterback as well as strong offensive and defensive lines. While Tennessee can’t say they have a top quarterback, they do have a very good offensive line.
The left tackle spot in Tennessee has been held by the same player for years. Michael Roos, now in his tenth season, has been the epitome of consistency. During free agency the Titans signed Michael Oher away from Baltimore to play right tackle. Oher has trouble with pass protection at times but is an outstanding run blocker.
Last year’s first-round pick in Chance Warmack played every snap in 2013 and should come on even strong in his second year. Andy Levitre, a big free agent signing in 2013, did not play as well as anticipated last year, but is still an upgrade. The center is second-year man Brian Schwenke, who is as tenacious as they come.
What will be interesting to see is where first-round pick Taylor Lewan lines up. Lewan is a big, athletic and talented guy who will start somewhere. With this being Roos’ final year under contract, could he be traded if Lewan is ready to play right away? I can also see Lewan or Oher moving inside to guard if Levitre doesn’t play any better.
Receivers and tight ends
Tennessee’s top three wide receivers are good, but this group lacks depth. Kendall Wright is going into his third year and is the main man, having caught 94 passes a year ago. Veteran Nate Washington holds down the other spot. He finished 2013 with 58 receptions.
2013 second-round pick Justin Hunter is the third receiver. While Hunter is an excellent deep threat, he needs to improve his route-running. He spent much of the off-season trying to get stronger, which will enable him to do a better job of getting off of jams. For depth, there is the well-traveled Brian Robiskie and oft-injured Marc Mariani.
At tight end, the lead man is former 49er Delanie Walker. Last year in his first season with the Titans, Walker notched 60 receptions and six touchdowns. Standing 6-1, Walker is better off as a move type tight end. The blocking or “Y” tight end is Craig Stevens, who can be a good receiver, but wasn’t used in that capacity a year ago.
US PRESSWIRERookie Bishop Sankey has the chance to win the starting gig during training camp.
With Johnson gone, there will be a new lead back in Nashville. Looking at the roster, I can see a rotation featuring second-round draft pick Bishop Sankey from Washington and 2013 free agent signee Shonn Greene. Greene is an inside banger but had injury woes last year. Sankey lacks great size at 5-10 – 210, but he is an excellent all-around back who can run inside and outside as well as catch out of the backfield.
The player signed for spot duty is Dexter McCluster, who was with Kansas City last season. McCluster can be used as a running back or a slot receiver, but he lacks the size and durability to get more than 10-12 touches a game. That said, he has the talent to make some big plays with those 10-12 touches.
With the scheme being changed from a 4-3 to a 3-4, Ray Horton has to get everyone lined up in the right positions.
The leading candidates to play on the nose are Sammie Hill and Antonio Johnson. They have the size and girth to occupy blockers and be disruptive. Another candidate for the position is free agent Al Woods, who comes over from Pittsburgh. While Woods is primarily a nose, he can also play as a 5-technique.
The ends should be Jurrell Casey and Ropati Pitoitua. Casey is a natural 4-3 tackle but can play the 5-technique. There are many pro scouts that feel he can be an outstanding player. For depth there is last year’s fifth-round pick in Lavar Edwards, who is very athletic, and this year’s fourth round pick DaQuan Jones. Jones can play inside or outside and moves well for a 320-pound man.
With the scheme change, some players who were defensive ends are now outside linebackers meaning their primary job will still be rushing the passer, although they will have to drop into coverage at times.
Going into camp the starters look like Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley has experience on his feet. The position will be new to Morgan, but he has the athletic traits and instincts to make the switch.
The backups at the outside positions should be Akeem Ayers, who also has experience playing on his feet, and Shaun Phillips, who is a proven pass rusher.
Inside, free agent Wesley Woodyard, who was with Denver last year, will be one of the starters. The other could be Zach Brown, who has been inconsistent during his career to date. For depth, there is Moise Fokou and Colin McCarthy. Both have starting experience but may not be perfect fits in the new scheme. A player to keep an eye on is second-year man Zavier Gooden. Gooden is a rare athlete, but his instincts are questionable.
The big loss in the secondary is cornerback Alterraun Verner, who signed with Tampa Bay during free agency. He will most likely be replaced by Coty Sensabaugh, who was the nickel back in 2013. The other corner is steady James McCourty. The nickel corner goes to second-year man Blidi Wreh-Wilson who is very talented, but raw. He should really come on in 2014.
The strong safety is Bernard Pollard, who is very physical, and the free is Michael Griffin. Griffin is a rangy player with good ball skills. Rookie Marqueston Huff from Wyoming can play safety or corner. He is a talented kid who will work his way into the lineup.
The AFC South is without question the weakest division in the AFC. Indianapolis is head and shoulders better than Houston, Tennessee and Jacksonville, who are all in rebuilding mode. The key to Tennessee having a good season will most likely be related to how well Jake Locker plays. With Locker going into the final year of his rookie contract, he has to come on strong or the Titans will be looking for a quarterback in next year’s draft.
If Locker plays well, I can see Tennessee improving to 8¬-8, but I doubt they make a run at the playoffs. With a new defensive scheme and players in new positions, this is a tough team to handicap. We will all have a much better feel after the first month of the season.
Follow Greg on Twitter: @greggabe
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