The Tennessee Titans begin year one under Ken Whisenhunt in a period of uncertainty. The AFC South is there for the taking, but are the Titans equipped to take it? Overall, the Titans seem more athletic than the squad that went 7-9 a year ago, but so many things have to go just right if Tennessee is to end their playoff drought.
Jake Locker enters the final year of his rookie contract, one the Titans did not see fit to extend. Gone is Chris Johnson with all of his issues but also all of his breakaway potential. In is rookie Bishop Sankey, the Titans’ second-round pick. The Titans used their precious first-round selection on an offensive lineman who will not even start for the team as the season begins.
The biggest problem with this franchise of recent years has been the lack of clear leadership or of a vision from the top. They hire Whisenhunt, a coach with a solid reputation with quarterbacks, and then undermine that with Locker being a lame duck—and even more by providing him with a paper-thin receiving corps. It is never a good sign when two of your receivers were raided from the post training camp waiver wire. Sure the offensive line is deep and there appears to be pieces for a decent running back committee, but who is Locker going to throw the ball to? And if there were to be any injury problems, what then?
Nate Washington and Kendall Wright start out wide. Much must be delivered from Justin Hunter. Beyond that, Delanie Walker from tight end and the backs will be who Locker has to lean on. Shonn Greene will get the bulk of the carries early, but Sankey should get an increased role pretty soon, and the acquisition of Dexter McCluster could fill Johnson’s big-play void.
On defense, the Titans could have a fierce pass rush with Derrick Morgan and Kameron Wimbley now at outside linebacker adding speed. They also locked up Jurrell Casey who should be one of the league’s best defensive tackles. The secondary adds more uncertainty as Blidi Wreh-Wilson will start at corner across from Jason McCourty, The safety tandem of Bernard Pollard and Michael Griffin could be one of the NFL’s best, though.
Rob Bironas is out, Kansas City’s Ryan Succop is in at kicker, and inconsistency has been his issue. Brett Kern is one of the league’s top punters, but it is the return game that could be special. Any kick has the potential to be returned with McCluster and Leon Washington. Each has been to the Pro Bowl as a returner alone. A weakness is now strength and that can only help the offense.
The Indianapolis Colts are the favorite in the division, but they are hardly intimidating. You must win the division to host a playoff game and give yourself a more realistic shot at the Super Bowl. The Titans can get there, but everything must go right. Jake Locker must be accurate and stay on the field; Bishop Sankey must develop into a dependable every down back; the receiving corps must stay healthy; someone we are not expecting must emerge; the pass rush must be a force; and those with big-play ability must shine.
No margin for error; no space for mistakes; no more time to develop. The results have to be there from the opening week. Tennessee opens in Kansas City, hosts Dallas, then travels to Cincinnati and Indianapolis to close out September. The Titans cannot be sunk before they can even swim.