2011 was a tough year for the entire NFL. What turned out to be a great finish to 2010, quickly became a horrific start to 2011 with the lockout.
For the Titans, 2011 started with the resignation of longtime coach Jeff Fisher. Hall-of-Famer and offensive line coach Mike Munchak quickly took over and was forced to hire a staff, and prepare to draft, while anticipating the lockout.
The first up came as Munchak lured veteran QB Matt Hasslebeck to the Titans. Since 2006, the quarterback position has been a pesky role for the Titans. Vince Young created quite the commotion during his tenure, and Kerry Collins, while serviceable, was never considered a long-term solution. All of that changed when Hasslebeck agreed to come to Nashville. Mix in the drafting of University of Washington stand-out Jack Locker, and the Titans solidified their quarterback position for the foreseeable future.
The first down came as training camp began. Instead of enjoying the first training camp under new management, the Titans were left talking mostly about the holdout of star running back Chris Johnson. While Johnson certainly earned a pay increase, the lockout was an unneeded distraction, and it didn't help first year head coach Mike Munchak get the offense ready for opening day. The self-proclaimed "Every Coach's Dream" was everything but that as the 2011 season started, and the Titans never really got their run game going. We can now look back and wonder what kind of season Johnson might have had if he would have reported to training camp on day one.
As September rolled around and the Titans hosted the Ravens in their home opener, they put on their best performance of the season. The first look at the 2011 Titans for the fans in Nashville is a memorable one as they convincingly beat rival Baltimore. This matchup came on the heels of a sloppy loss to Jacksonville, and many fans were wondering what to expect out of this game. The Titans showed up and this victory, in a way, changed expectations for the team.
Following their top-notch performance against the Ravens, the Titans were feeling really good about themselves. Kenny Britt was having a huge start to his season. Hasslebeck and Britt seemed to have a connection, and the Titans were starting to click offensively. In week 3, Kenny Britt went down with a torn ACL and was placed on injured reserve. This started more of a downward trend for the team although they did win the game that day against the Broncos.
The next down of 2011 came on the heels of their bye week when the Titans were crushed by the Houston Texans at home. In front of their home crowd, and coming off a bye, the Titans came out unprepared, overmatched and out-hustled in a 41-7 drudging by the Texans. In all of 2011, not many weeks brought the Titans as low as they were after this loss. The victory for the Texans propelled them on a 7-game winning streak which ultimately led to their first ever division title.
As the 2011 season progressed, the Titans continued to be sporadic. Winning games they should win (Indianapolis, Buffalo, Carolina), and losing games against solid teams (Atlanta, New Orleans, Cincinnati). As the season winded down, the Titans maintained playoff hopes until the very end.
The final down of 2011 came in week 15 as the Titans went out to Indianapolis for a game against the 0-14 Colts. Losing to a team without a win late in the season is never good. Losing to a division rival is never good. Losing to a division rival who has yet to win a game after 15 weeks, with playoff hopes on the line is nearly unforgivable. Emotionless and helpless, the Titans lost to the Colts giving them their first win, and putting their playoff destiny in the hands of other teams.
Those other teams didn't prevail for the Titans, and even though they posted victories against the Jaguars and Texans to close the season, they will be watching the playoffs from home this year. They finished with a 9-7 record, and, after the last 2 years, they have reasons to feel optimistic.
Smaller Ups and Downs in 2011
Certainly not a small down by any stretch, but considering he was no longer with the team, the Titans and NFL family lost the great Mike Heimerdinger to cancer in October 2011. Diagnosed in 2010 when he was with the Titans, "Dinger" left with the Jeff Fisher regime, and ultimately lost his battle with cancer.
The 2011 Draft, the first for Mike Munchak, proved to set the team up not only for the future, but for the 2011 season as well. People will talk about Jake Locker as he progresses to become the franchise quarterback, though, in 2011, some of those players drafted after Locker made a huge impact.
Rookies Akeem Ayers, Jurrell Casey, Karl Klug, and Colin McCarthy all made significant contributions on defense. On offense, rookie Jamie Harper came on strong at the end of the season when second-stringer Javon Ringer went on the injured reserve. When Locker got on the field, he was impressive. He showed great athleticism, leadership and provided a spark when he got his chances.
While 2011 had its share of downs for the Titans, 2012 is looking like it will have some ups. All of the new faces on the field this year will be familiar faces next year, and with a whole offseason to get better acquainted, we should see a well oiled machine. The good news for Chris Johnson: things can't get much worse. With some changes on the offensive line, and with Chris Johnson earning incentives by training in Nashville this off season, we should see a better run game next year.
Will the Locker era start in 2012? Too early to say, though the thought should create a buzz in Nashville as training camp nears. Regardless of who is under center, they are going to be happy to see the return of Kenny Britt who is recovering nicely from his ÅCL injury.