Dan’s Look at the 2015 Tennessee Titans

The NFC South is squared away, so let’s move on to the AFC South, in which there really only is one place that I was always going to start…

The Tennessee Titans.

I’ve made no secret that last season I wasn’t their biggest fan, in fact I genuinely believed that they were the worst team in the league by a long way, but now we’re about to move into a new season. A season where the team used their no. 2 draft pick on a big name. A season with a desperate head coach and GM, as well as a hall of fame assistant head coach. Can the Titans actually stop this freight train?

Let’s take a look.

Remember the Titans? (Too obvious).

I don’t want to dwell on this. 2014 was a disaster. Jake Locker’s last season in the NFL went out with a fizzle rather than a bang, Locker then retired after the season at just 26, which opinions about the Titans team aside, is a crying shame that a player retires that quickly, as injuries once again ravaged his season. Unfortunately, rookie Zach Mettenberger fell to the same fate and also missed most of the season, which could also be his only as a starter. This left Charlie Whitehurst to take the reins… which didn’t end well.

To blame the Titans season just on the QB’s would be unfair. Bishop Sankey came in and was nothing short of disappointing as the starting running back, despite the claims that he was one of few “sure fire bets” as a starter, who follows on from Trent Richardson for the Browns who was a sure fire bet. Both should be a stark warning when talking about the “sure fire bets” from this season’s draft. Sankey wasn’t the only disappointing weapon for the Titans. The receiver corps of Washington, Wright and Hunter have been hyped up for a number of seasons now, but have failed to make the impression that was promised. There is obviously a chance that the poor play was down to there never being a decent QB to throw to them, which is backed up by being the 4th best in terms of dropped passes, but the fact is both these players were considered to be excellent prospects, but neither has really stood out.

On defence they were pretty disappointing too. The Titans were ranked 31st in terms of yards against the run and 32nd in terms of rushing attempts, all despite a few big names in their front 7, which led to the finger of blame being pointed at Ray Horton’s 3-4 defence and essentially square pegs being used in round holes, however towards the end of the season it felt like at least a little traction, with Williamson having a decent rookie season at inside line backer and Derrick Morgan, finally finding his feet in the system on the outside. The secondary had a better time, but was not without its mistakes. My thoughts on Blidi Wreh Wilson have come up a couple of times on the pod, which is that I basically think he was something of a liability for the Titans last year. This year he’ll be hoping for a clean slate, but he’ll have some competition…

So What’s Changed?

It’s not the sexiest place to start , but it does lead on from the above paragraph. The Titans defence desperately needed more experience, particularly players that can fit straight into Ray Horton’s defensive scheme. In the secondary Perrish Cox of the Niners was added, which should mean we see a straight battle between the 2 disappointing corners, Sensabaugh and Wilson for a shot in the slot position. Cox will then almost certainly line up opposite McCourty. Brian Orakpo was a great under the radar edition to a defence that desperately needed some leadership. Orakpo makes the Titans line backers a sneaky good unit, but more on that later. Free agency saw few difference makers added on offence, with Harry Douglas leading the way, who at his best could be their number 1, but at his worst, the number 4, although this says more about the questionable state of the wide receiver corps. Byron Bell has had his issues, but had a decent season last year, which probably won him a place on the Titans.

The draft was where they made their biggest splash. Despite allegedly being offered half the Eagles team, the Titans used the number 2 spot in the draft to pick up highly rated QB Marcus Mariota. Mariota has come into the team to take over from Mettenberger as the starter for the team, something that head coach Ken Whisenhunt stated was never a competition. Dorial Green- Beckham was picked up in the 2nd round, a player that was considered a bit of a risk and comes into the league with a chequered past. Green-Beckham is exceptionally talented, but he needs to make sure he can get on the field. A couple of other picks of note… Jeremiah Poutasi, was picked up in the 3rd round and has reportedly impressed so far at training camp. If he can have a solid pre-season, he might keep Byron Bell out of a job, in a position the Titans struggled with last season. 3-4 defences are solidified by how good the nose tackle is, an area the Titans are struggling, as proved by last year’s run defence. This year starting nose tackle Sammie Hill looks to be starting the season on the PUP list. So enter potential nose tackle, Angelo Blackson, who if he takes the chances given to him over the coming weeks, could move up the depth chart.

The biggest addition to the team, in my opinion is Dick Lebeau who joins the team in an advisory role to help out Ray Horton. Horton however might have to give up some control to Lebeau if he wants to keep a job, but this could be the best thing that could have happened to the Titans defence.

What to Look Out For

For me there are very few areas that I would consider to be a lock as a stand out unit on this team, particularly on offence, so let’s start with the one area I like. Delanie Walker has taken the opportunities he’s been given with 2 hands after coming out of the shadow of Vernon Davis at the niners. This year he potentially has the best QB he’s had since becoming a starter, who is a QB that has so far in training camp proved go for the safe option, which on this team is Delanie Walker. If everything goes as we expect them to with the Titans Walker will almost certainly be Mariota’s top target, specifically a safe pair of hands when the Titans run their no huddle offence. Walker featured heavily in our top 10 tight ends and I’d imagine we’ll have in the same list next year.

I want to talk about the offensive line, whilst admitting that I am not in love with it. That being said Lewan proved to be one of the top tackles from last year’s draft, despite being fast tracked into the starting line-up through injuries, something that the likes of Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews struggled with. On the right side of the line they’ve improved. Even if Poutasi can’t keep the job, Bell I think will do a better job than Michael Oher did last year. Schwenke missed most of last season, so will be looking to prove his ability lining up in front of the Titans shiny new QB. Levitre and Warmack round off the group, both of which have been disappointing. If the Titans are to move the ball on the ground these 2 need to really pick up their game.

The defence is interesting. They’ve made few additions to the team, but they do have a lot of names that could get it together after a year in an unfamiliar scheme. Despite a beefed up Jurrell Casey turning up to training camp, this team has issues on the defensive line. As I mentioned above Sammie Hill hasn’t set the world on fire and with a potential injury hindering his pre-season, we could see Angelo Blackson get a chance, to take the nose position. On the other side it looks like rookie from last season, Da’Quan Jones will get the nod ahead of a number of players that have failed to lock down the position. Casey aside this isn’t a line that fills me with confidence. The line backers however I like quite a lot. Avery Williamson was a player that had a rollercoaster season, which ended up with him starting in the centre of the field, Williamson will start the season calling plays, with Derrick Morgan and new addition Brian Orakpo on the outside. If the line can do even a mediocre job, it could be a good season for the Titans line backers, but that’s a big if. Where we could see the Titans truly shine will be in the secondary. Da’Norris Searcy is one of the most underrated safeties in the league. He’ll join Michael Griffin, Jason McCourty and Perrish Cox, all players that have proved they can play against some of the best. The addition of Cox might save Wreh-Wilson’s career. With a move to the slot I think we could see him shine. So yeah this defence has potential, but if the front 3 can’t create pressure it could mean the team stagnates and could be bad news for an offence that has an awful lot of ‘ifs’.

Potential Concerns

As well publicised as it is about Mariota throwing zero interceptions in training camp it doesn’t quell my potential worries. For starters I have no doubt that Mariota has the ability to be a great starting QB in the NFL. My concern is that it might take a bit of time, something that he’s not being given, thanks to pressure on both the head coach and the GM. Let’s get into the reports from training camp. So what we’re hearing is that he’s playing “safe”, which is fine. It’s worked for Alex Smith for a few years now. This isn’t the Niners or Chiefs though. With Smith he’s always had a league leading defence and a dynamic running back, whilst lining up behind a decent o-line. These are all potential issues for the Titans. It’s playing it safe which has led him to struggle a bit in no huddle situations and 2 minute drills. This is a concern. As great as it is that he’s not thrown any interceptions, really we need to see what he can do when the pressures on. That being said we won’t know just what he can do until we see him on the field. My concern however is that Mariota, at least for this year, might not be the QB that can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, especially with questionable weapons around him…

The wide receivers are an issue. That being said if all of them played to the top of their potential, they could be a top 5 receiver group. The 2 draft picks from 2012 and 2013 at receiver have both been nothing short of disappointing after showing a lot of promise. This year with the addition of Hakeem Nicks, Harry Douglas and draft pick Dorial Green- Beckham, they could both be numbers 4 and 5 on the depth chart. Dorial Green-Beckham is a real wild card. Physically he was probably the best receiver in the draft, but it will require him to leave his college off the field baggage behind and move on as a potential great wide receiver, but history has proved that can be easier said than done. Nicks and Douglas are 2 players that go together quite nicely. Nicks has shown that he can be super talented, so long as he stays healthy. Douglas has done a great job in Atlanta of being the guy that filled in when Roddy or Julio went down, proving to be a decent insurance measure, which is necessary with so many question marks on this team. So this group could be a huge success if they all stay healthy and play to the top of their potential, but it seems unlikely that any team could get that lucky.

My final concern surrounds the running backs, a position that the team has struggled with since Chris Johnson was in his prime. With potentially improved QB play and a healthy offensive line, Bishop Sankey will hope that he can capitalise on much better conditions. However it’s apparent that the front office don’t have faith in his ability, with the drafting of David Cobb. If Sankey doesn’t come out of the gates flying, he could lose his job pretty quickly.

Final Thought

This is a team with a lot of “ifs”, something we’ve rarely seen translate into a decent season. However we have seen it. In RG3’s first year (a comparison I generally hate, but hear me out), everything seemingly went right for the team. RG3 came out firing, backed up by the amazing play of Alfred Morris. These “ifs”, tend to be slightly deeper though. All the wide receivers on this team have massive question marks, as well as the defensive line and the quarterback, it’s all a little too much for my liking and a serious worry for Ray Horton and Ken Whisenhunt, who you would think are both on a short leash. Here’s the real kicker though. At their best I think this team is 2nd best in the AFC South. At their worst, they’re the worst in the NFL.

I can come across as a Titans hater and you know what that’s mostly correct. I don’t hate the fans though and I will be routing for you guys. I just think that at their best, this team is mediocre…