CJ2K is just one of our Titanic Impact players for 2012
In 2011, The Tenneseee Titans were undervalued by analysts. The expectations were set very low outside Baptists Sports Park, considering the Titans had so much uncertainty surrounding them prior to the start of the preseason.
They were the last team to solidify their head coach, promoting O-line coach Mike Munchak to the head coach position after the departure of long-tenured coach Jeff Fisher.
The supporting cast of coaches were late additions as well.
Little time was available to get in draftees post-lockout, in addition to creating a game plan to put the team in a position to succeed. None of these setbacks were more obvious than that of the CJ2K holdout for his big payday.
However, in 2011, the Titans surpassed external expectations but fell short of their own goal—the playoffs. In fact, the Titans were the only 9-7 team in the NFL to not make the playoffs. In this article, we will look at the top six players that need to make an impact in 2012 in order for the Titans to take that next step and make it to the playoffs in the 2012-2013 season.
Hawkins will need to take flight in 2012
After an early season injury to up-and-coming receiver Kenny Britt in the 2011 campaign, the Titans forged again with their receiving corps, asking their wideouts to step up and make plays for Hasselbeck.
Step up, they did.
In fact, Hasselbeck had one of the best passing yard seasons of any Oilers/Titans quarterback—a far cry from the run-first, pass-second offense managed by former QB Vince Young.
Within that receivers group is Lavelle Hawkins.
Known for having a big-time playmaking ability but oftentimes running wrong routes and being lackluster in run blocking schemes, Hawkins didn't see much playing time in his first couple of seasons.
Hawkins caught on last year when given the opportunity and made some huge plays for the Titans, keeping drives alive and finding his way into the end zone when he had the chance.
But the Titans will need Hawkins in several more packages, running the right routes and keeping his head in the playbook to truly learn his role inside and out. Hawkins certainly has big play written all over him, and the time is now for Lavelle to take flight and help the Titans soar.
Jared Cook will need to expand on his breakout 2011 season
Jared Cook has oftentimes been the talk of the Titans coaching staff and front office, proclaiming him a star in the making. However, Cook failed to live up to expectations, showing only glimpses of what he could become in prior seasons.
In 2011, Cook finally began showing the Titans and their fans exactly what they wanted to see. He used his incredible athleticism, tall frame, long arms and agility to make some big grabs downfield to keep the Titans moving the chains against their opponents.
For the 2012 season, Cook will most likely have a more prominent role in the offense and is quickly becoming a favorite target for Matt Hasselbeck.
Cook will need to use his skills and athletic ability to really shine, offering yet another weapon to help spread the field and take a man or two out of the box against Chris Johnson.
Derrick Morgan needs to remain healthy to make a big impact
Just two years into his NFL career, defensive end Derrick Morgan has a lot to look forward to in his career with the Titans. In 2010, Morgan was a first-round draft pick by the Titans. Injuries seem to have plagued him in his young pro career, but they haven't stopped his potential.
The defense will look for Derrick Morgan to really put heavy pressure on the quarterback as the Titans were one of the worst teams at getting to opposing QBs in 2011.
For Derrick to make the impact the Titans need, he will need to remain healthy for the entire season, and show that fire, speed and agility in getting in the face of, or knocking down opposing passers.
Jason Jones is still seen as a guy that can play inside and out
Call him crazy, but even with less-than-epic performances by Jason Jones playing inside at the tackle position, Mike Munchak believes that the Titans will not only re-sign Jones, but he will continue to be an option to play both inside and outside on the defensive front line.
Acting as Derrick Morgan's book-end, the strong, powerful and high-motor Jones will need to not only be focused on getting pressure past the line of scrimmage, but doing so in order to offset pressure and double-team on teammates Akeem Ayers and fellow-end Derrick Morgan.
Jones pure size and frame make him a dominant force—one the Titans haven't truly seen since the departure of former Titan Albert Haynesworth.
For Jones to make an impact, he will really need to head the advice of Keith Millard and get pressure no matter the cost.
Washington simple needs to pickup where he left off
The plan is quite simple for Nate Washington: continue to build on what he started and pickup where he left off in 2011.
Washington not only put up, but shut up this year.
He became less of a verbally outspoken guy with the media, and instead let his incredible play do the talking. Needless to say, he showed this year why the Titans signed him.
Nate was not only the top receiver for the Titans in 2011, but his sheer toughness and strong mental capacity acted as an ignition for an offense that was so hot at one point that QB Matt Hasselbeck was being discussed in premature MVP discussion with his big early-season stats.
His ability to put it all on the field, lay his body out on the line and block or play decoy for the benefit of his team may not make for a lot of fantasy points, but it simply makes the team better. He refused to let injuries and cornerbacks hold him back or stop him.
CJ2K turned into CJ1K in 2011 - he must return to form in 2012
Chris Johnson's holdout at the beginning of the year proved not only to be a media-driven distraction off the field but obviously impacted his play on the field as well.
While offensive line and run blocking from the tight ends could be to blame as well, CJ2K simply lost a step or an ability to hit a hole instead of dancing around behind the line of scrimmage. He still proved durable and quick, but the Titans must have CJ return to form in 2012 and become their impact MVP once more.
Having Britt back will help keep defenses honest, but when teams are stacking the box no matter what, the Titans MO still applies and that is to "run the ball" at all costs.
If Ahmard Hall (TE) is re-signed for 2012, and the offensive line is bolstered through free agency and the draft (as seems to be the case), there is no reason CJ1K can't return to form and again become CJ2K.
Locker failed to convert in key plays during games in 2011
No. 7: Marc Mariani (WR/KR)
Marc is said to be focusing on getting better as a wide receiver this offseason. Make no mistakes about it though: The Titans need more opportunities for him on Special Teams, and for him to get back to his Pro Bowl rookie season performance.
No. 8: Jake Locker (QB)
Locker played very well in relief duty of starter Matt Hasselbeck. However, when it came down to Locker putting the Titans in the 'W' column in two different games, he failed to convert and made some questionable rookie decisions.
Any one of those games convert to a win and the Titans make the playoffs. Locker has to continue to build his case as the starter, and that will come with open competition between him and Hasselbeck.
No. 9: Sen'Derrick Marks (LDT)
Marks will need to continue to make an impact on the defensive front. He will need to not only bring pressure to the quarterback but prove to close gaps quickly and stop opposing running backs on opposing teams.
No. 10: Colin McCarthy (MLB)
Colin, who plays middle linebacker, is often considered the field general for the defense.
As a rookie in 2011, McCarty unseated Barrett Ruud for the starting position when Ruud when down with an injury. The team quickly adapted and McCarthy came into his own. With a year under his belt, Colin will need to make a big impact and become the Keith Bulluck that the Titans have sorely missed since his departure.