The Tennessee Titans have lost key talent, and they have not done enough to fill the many holes that are on their roster.
2013 season and offseason recap
The Tennessee Titans had a solid start to their 2013 season with a 4-4 record, and they were even in playoff contention. However, their playoff hopes fell apart as they limped to a 7-9 record.
They had to deal without quarterback Jake Locker for most of the season, and he was replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick had flashes of brilliance was ultimately unable to be a game changer, and he is now with the Texans.
For their failure to make the playoffs since he 2008 season, the Titans fired head coach Mike Munchak and replaced him with Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt brings head coaching experience to Tennessee since he led the Cardinals to a Super Bowl trip in the 2008 season.
In addition to their offense, the Titans are looking to improve on defense, so they hired Ray Horton as their new defensive coordinator. This means they will switch to a 3-4 scheme, which may be detrimental to players such as defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who finished with 10.5 sacks as a 4-3 defensive tackle last season.
No major free agency moves were made, but tackle Michael Oher was signed to a four-year contract. This is a baffling move since he is not expected to start.
They also signed outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, who will fit in Horton’s scheme. However, he is past his prime and is not expected to boost the Titans’ underwhelming pass rush.
The Titans lost cornerback Alterraun Verner to free agency, so their secondary will take a step back.
In the draft, the Titans selected offensive tackle Taylor Lewan with their first-round pick and took running back Bishop Sankey in the second round.
Lewan is expected to start at right tackle as Sankey takes over for the departed Chris Johnson as the starting running back.
Position of strength
The strongest position for the Titans heading into 2014 is their offensive line. They have a fantastic starting lineup with Michael Roos and Lewan at tackle. Chance Warmack and Andy Levitre will respectively return and right and left guard. Warmack had his struggles as a rookie, but continuity on the line and a year of experience will only benefit him. Brian Schwenke will take over at center, and he is also primed to take the next step in his second year.
Roos and Levitre are both Pro Bowl-caliber players, and Oher will provide quality depth at tackle.
Position of weakness
Apart from their offensive line, the Titans have virtually no positions of strength. Although there are still many holes on the roster, their weakest position is quarterback.
Jake Locker has shown promise at times, but he can never stay healthy for a full season and plays inconsistently. The 2011 first-round pick has never played more than 11 games in an NFL season. This will be a make-or-break year for him, especially considering he has a solid starting receiver duo in Justin and Kendall Hunter.
If Locker gets hurt, the Titans only have Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger behind him. Whitehurst has been a career backup, and Mettenberger is not starter material at the moment, so he will not likely be able to play at a high level if he is thrown to the wolves.
If the Titans can stay completely healthy, they may be able to win eight games. If the AFC continues to be as weak as it was last season, this may be enough to sneak into the playoffs. On offense, Locker would need to stay healthy and improve his play to prove himself as a long-term option.
If Sankey plays to his full potential, he will be able to churn out at least 1,000 rushing yards and possibly win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Justin Hunter is being widely seen as a breakout star, and his play has reportedly impressed in training camp. If he lives up to the hype and Kendall Wright builds on his 2013 season, the receiving corps will be dangerous.
The offensive line has the potential to be elite, so it will make the offense prolific, especially if Whisenhunt is able to work wonders like he did in San Diego.
On defense, there is plenty of promise at linebacker with players such as Akeem Ayers and Wesley Woodyard. Aging players like Shaun Phillips and Kamerion Wimbley will be relied upon though. Jason McCourty will also be counted on to emerge as a No. 1 cornerback in Verner’s place.
Everywhere else is a matter of whether unproven players can step up. If all goes well for the Titans, they may be a surprise playoff contender. That is highly unlikely though.
If the Titans lose Locker for a significant period of time, their backup will be a downgrade from Fitzpatrick, who was far from spectacular. It is probable that the Titans will have to play games without Locker since he cannot be relied upon to stay healthy at all times.
Lack of quarterback production can easily sink a team such as the Texans last season. It also won’t help matters if Sankey fails to pan out as expected.
The defense finished 16th in the NFL last season, but there are too many holes to assure anyone that it can step up and become a reliable unit. Plus, if the quarterback play continues to be underwhelming, the defense will receive virtually no rest due to three-and-outs.
The loss of Verner may very well be felt too, and McCourty has not yet proven that he can thrive without a top cover corner playing across from him.
The Titans have too many question marks to contend for the playoffs, and they will not reach a 7-9 record again. Assuming Locker gets hurt, they will be stuck with a quarterback who will likely cost them games. With the Texans and Jaguars steadily improving, the Titans are headed for a last-place finish in the AFC South.