Changing of the guard: Titans hang hopes on revamped offense, sophomore quarterback in 2012
The Tennessee Titans have put themselves in position to make a run at AFC South after an offseason of adding depth on both sides of the ball.
The most distinct depth addition came with the drafting of wide receiver Kendall Wright. The Titans took the receiver with the 20th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Wright will add much-needed youth to the Tennessee receivers.
The Titans went 9-7 last season with Matt Hasselbeck throwing to wide receivers Nate Washington, 29, and Lavelle Hawkins, 26. Both receivers stepped up in 2011, with Washington catching 1,023 yards worth of passing. The addition of Wright, 22, gives Tennessee a pair of former first-round wide receivers along with 23-year-old Kenny Britt.
Britt is suspended from the first game of the season due to an arrest for a DUI in July.
The troubled wide receivers’ suspension may benefit the Titans. It allows Britt, who was just taken off the physically unable to perform list, to continue rehabbing his knees. Britt has had three surgeries since last October after he tore both his ACL and MCL against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 25.
Alongside Wright and Britt, fourth-year tight end Jared Cook will look to pick up where he left off last season, ending with 759 yards and three touchdowns.
The Titans coaching staff had a major choice to make as to who would lead this year’s offense: veteran Matt Hasselbeck or second-year quarterback Jake Locker.
Locker got the keys to the team after his preseason start– and win– against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The coaches decided to go with the future of the franchise sooner rather than later. The quarterback will get his first regular season start against the New England Patriots Sunday, Sept. 9.
Titans running back Chris Johnson has fans hoping for a big season, just two years removed from his best statistical season in 2009, where he rushed for 2,006 yards and had 2,509 yards from scrimmage. The running back has not shown signs of returning to that form this preseason, despite being rewarded a $53.5 million contract last season after a disappointing 2011 season.
However, the loss of starting-center Eugene Amano to a season-ending triceps injury will test Tennessee’s depth on the offensive line. Johnson will be running behind Quinn Johnson, whom the Titans snagged off waivers after the they released fullback Ahmard Hall.
One thing that does not appear to be in doubt going into the regular season is the dominance of the Titans’ defensive line.
In the offseason, Tennessee signed free-agent defensive end Kamerion Wimbley after he was cut by the Oakland Raiders. Wimbley accounts for two of the 10 total sacks the Titans have racked up this preseason, asserting himself as the pass-rusher the Titans needed. Wimbley has 42.5 sacks over six seasons in the NFL.
The Titans also added a pair of defensemen in linebacker Zach Brown and defensive tackle Mike Martin who they picked up in the second and third rounds of this year’s draft.
Brown is entering a significantly more shallow linebacking corps after the loss of Gerald McRath to a season-ending knee injury. Brown has been proving his worth as a second-round pick by compiling 10 tackles and five assists this preseason, second only to second-year linebacker Colin McCarthy.
McCarthy exploded as a dynamic playmaker last year after starting seven games at middle linebacker. The Titans’ 2011 fourth-round draft selection accumulated 68 tackles and one interception last season. The linebacker looks to have elevated his game, the proof being 15 tackles, three interceptions, an interception return for a touchdown and a forced fumble so far this preseason.
These improvements do not come without some setbacks. Wide receiver and returnman Marc Mariani broke his left leg on a kick return in the Titans’ third preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. This means rookie Darius Reynaud, who has been impressive playing tailback, will most likely see the majority, of the kick and punt return opportunities, as well as adding some depth to a crowded backfield of Johnson, Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper.
All-in-all, the Titans are hopeful about their chances for a division title, and, possibly a playoff run, depending on the development of quarterback Jake Locker. The newly beefed-up defense should give Locker some help, but for now the weight of the team is on his shoulders.