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2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC South: Tennessee Titans - 3rd

by Shasky Clarke on Aug. 12, 2013

2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC South: Tennessee Titans - 3rd

 

OFFENSE

 

Quarterback:

One could make the argument that the one thing holding back the Titans offense is the quarterback position. Third-year Jake Locker's play in 2012 was largely uneven and inefficient, completing 50% or less of his passes in four out of his eleven starts. A top ten pick in 2011, Locker is a strong-armed and very athletic passer who is best throwing on the run. But his college accuracy problems have persisted into his NFL career thus far. Locker flashes great accuracy to all levels but is just too inconsistent. He turned the ball over way too much, interceptions and fumbles lost, and while he is a running threat, he is somewhat injury-prone. Newly signed backup Ryan Fitzpatrick brings slightly more efficiency but presents a significant drop-off in terms of physical tools.

 

Running Back:

When Chris Johnson isn't holding out or racing cheetahs, he is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. He may still be the fastest player in the league, and while he lacks elite vision or patience, he does a tremendous job avoiding big hits and staying healthy. Flying somewhat under the radar as an elite back, Johnson is poised to take proper advantage of a much improved offensive line that has struggled to do much for him over the past couple years. Providing support as a big, physical, LenDale White-like back is Shonn Greene. Greene is not a game breaker and probably won't carry an entire run game, but he is a disciplined downhill runner capable of spelling Johnson. Darius Reynaud is a very effective return man and, when called upon, is a good pass catcher out of the backfield. Jackie Battle has also impressed onlookers with a great combination of size and speed with surprising wiggle.

 

Wide Receiver:

The Titans possess, quite simply, one of the best receiving corps in the league. Kenny Britt is a big vertically threatening number one receiver. The problem is he has never stayed healthy in any of his four seasons and, thus, has never caught more than 45 balls or gained more than 800 yards in a season. But that's okay because surrounding him are a myriad of talented pass catchers. Kendall Wright led the team in receptions and targets as a rookie. He failed to be the big play threat many hoped he was, but he showed himself to be a reliable short area target with good quickness and route running. Nate Washington remains one of the most polished receivers in the NFL with great hands, separating ability and body control. New rookie Justin Hunter has the height and athletic ability to be an elite number one guy. The team also signed possession receiver Kevin Walter.

 

Tight End:

Gone is Jared Cook to St. Louis. In his place should be newly added Delanie Walker, a versatile and explosive athlete who will drop a ball here or there. He may not be the prototypical in-line tight end, but he is a good blocker and a great special teamer. The guy here to watch, though, is the second-year 6'6” 260-pound Taylor Thompson. Thompson is yet another one of a growing group of big and freakishly athletic pass catchers at that position and should be in line to start for the Titans.

 

Offensive Line:

The Titans placed a high priority on upgrading the interior of their line. They signed left guard Andy Levitre, one of the best guards in the game, greatly improving their pass protection. Fernando Velasco returns at center after performing surprisingly well last year. But he will compete with newcomer Robert Turner who was decent filling in for injured Rams starters in 2012. The team drafted Chance Warmack early in the draft and he will start at right guard from day one. A massive road grader, but he should struggle some in pass protection. The Titans, however, return one of the league's longest tenured bookend tackle tandems in Michael Roos and David Stewart to protect on the edge. For now, the offensive line is a strength.

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Best Offensive Rookie – WR Justin Hunter 

Best Offensive Second-Year Player – TE Taylor Thompson

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need – Quarterback

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion – QB A.J. McCarron, Alabama

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive End:

Tennessee has been trying to improve their pass rush for years. The defense has consistently struggled to disrupt the pocket in four-man rushes. Entering his fourth year, former first round pick Derrick Morgan is the star. After flashing Pro Bowl form down the stretch, he is expected to produce double-digit sacks in 2013 combining an overwhelming combination of explosiveness, quickness and power. Last year the group also failed to contain running games. Their apparent solution is to start 6'8” 315-pound Ropati Pitoitua at one end spot in base packages. The team will trade some pass rush for a possible improvement in run defense, since he is clearly a better fit inside. The Titans expect the eighth-year Kamerion Wimbley will take his rightful place as a productive speed rusher opposite Morgan. 

 

Defensive Tackle:

Continuing with the theme of improving the run defense, the Titans replaced athletic Sen'Derrick Marks with a more traditional run stuffer in 6'4” 330-pound Sammie Hill. Next to him will be athletic penetrator Jurrell Casey who has started 31 of 32 games in his career. One of the strengths of this group is the depth and talent of the rotation. Mike Martin and Karl Klug combined for 6.5 sacks as very athletic, high motor disruptors on the interior.

 

Linebacker:

Another strong unit, the Titans linebackers are really good. Inside, Colin McCarthy was sorely missed in the nine games he missed last year. McCarthy is fast, an asset in coverage, and an excellent open field tackler with the potential to be one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL. Beside him, Zach Brown provides elite size and speed for the position and showed top playmaking ability in his rookie year, notching 5.5 sacks and three interceptions. Akeem Ayers led the team in tackles and produced 6 sacks of his own in 2012. Ayers will be moved all around the front seven as the Titans want to utilize his pass rushing talents off the edge. Providing some depth is the tough, physical veteran Moise Fokou.

 

Cornerback:

Tennessee also improved their cornerback spot where Jason McCourty broke out with four interceptions last year. McCourty is long, smooth, and fast, and effective in a variety of coverages.  Opposite him, Alterraun Verner is fighting to keep his job. Verner is fluid and demonstrates a nice feel for the action but lacks elite speed or size. On the other hand, 6'3” Tommie Campbell has a lot of both size and speed, flashing as a kick returner as well. In the mix is last year's rookie slot corner Coty Sensabaugh, a player with all the necessary movement skills to stick in man-to-man. The excitement surrounds the two draftees, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Khalid Wooten, who bring excellent, physical press man skill sets and production. In 2012, the Titans played a lot of zone and didn't blitz very often. In comes ultra-aggressive former Saints defensive coordinator and Super Bowl champion Gregg Williams as a defensive assistant. Expect the team to mix in more attacking schemes leaving the cornerbacks on an island more.

 

Safety:

One change at the safety position could mean a huge difference in the feel and mentality of the team. In comes one of the premier hitters and run supporters at the safety position, Bernard Pollard. Pollard is a liability in one-on-one coverage situations. But he somewhat makes up for it with bone-crushing, and often penalized, hits on ball carriers or receivers. Next to him will once again be Michael Griffin. Griffin is a true free safety with excellent range and ball skills.

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Best Defensive Rookie – CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson

Best Defensive Second-Year Player – OLB Zach Brown

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need – Defensive End

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion – DE Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State