Predicting Two-Deep Tennessee Titans Depth Chart, Pre-Training Camp
The Tennessee Titans exceeded expectations in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year in 2011.
Rookies were huge in helping the team—which didn't have a starting QB until August—overachieve and finish one game short of the playoffs.
Even after the loss of Kenny Britt to an ACL tear, the Titans had their best passing offense since the Air McNair days, and the defense showed improvement with a lot of young players contributing.
General manager Ruston Webster added pieces in free agency and the draft, giving fans hope that 2012 will finish with the team's first playoff berth in four seasons.
A very tough first month of the season will show if the team has improved enough to take that next step toward a championship.
In terms of quarterback, the names are easy. Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck are the No. 1 and 2 quarterbacks heading into training camp. There's no telling who will be the opening day starter, at least not yet.
While far from a definitive answer, Mike Munchak's comments that the early-season tough schedule will be a factor in determining the starting job give the impression that Hasselbeck will be under center for the home opener against the Patriots.
Hasselbeck started 16 games for the first time since 2007. That's commendable, but he struggled to finish games in the final month and that gave Locker important snaps.
Chris Johnson, Javon Ringer
The 2011 version of Chris Johnson was not what fans expected after the giant contract extension. He's not losing his starting job. Chris Johnson will start all 16 games this year, although it's a rarity for a running back to do so. He'll probably exceed last year's 319 touches.
The guy spelling him will be fourth-year backup Javon Ringer. Ringer set a career high with 28 catches in 2011, so expect to see him a lot in the third-down role. This is the final year of Ringer's rookie contract, so he's going to be excited to play for a chance to start elsewhere next season.
Quinn Johnson, Collin Mooney
Johnson was the starting fullback while Ahmard Hall sat out for his four-game suspension last year. Quinn didn't make a good impression blocking for Chris, as he was released once Hall was back on the active roster. The Titans picked Johnson back up late in the season, and he's the presumed starter.
Collin Mooney has the best story of any undrafted rookie free agent. Mooney led Army in rushing in 2008 and NFL served for the past three years. He earned an early release to take a shot at making an NFL roster. The Titans loved running former Marine Ahmard Hall out with the American flag prior to home games.
Mooney could take the baton, so to speak, in 2012 if he can beat Johnson for the one roster spot.
Starters: Craig Stevens, Jared Cook
Backup: Taylor Thompson
When the Titans announced their offensive starters before home games, Craig Stevens was the starter at tight end. That's probably not going to change in 2012.
Stevens started because he's the superior blocker. He's faster than the typical plodding blocker, but he's no Cook. Craig Stevens and Jared Cook will be the depth chart, although they're not necessarily going to play the same position. Cook will be on the field for nearly every passing play, so he's virtually a starter.
Daniel Graham was released on Tuesday, and Cameron Graham, Taylor Thompson and Brandon Barden will battle to be the backups. It's not likely that the Titans will keep more than three tight ends.
The fifth-round draft pick Thompson, a defensive end in college, is going to make the roster. Graham and Barden have a shot at the practice squad, and if the team needs a backup to help block, they'll look to an unsigned veteran.
Starters: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington
Reserves: Kendall Wright, Damian Williams
Kenny Britt's slow return to the field has been a boon for rookie Kendall Wright. Wright has practiced at Britt's and Nate Washington's starting wideout spots in OTAs. That doesn't mean that he's starting.
The starters will be Britt and Washington. Washington had his first 1,000-yard season in 2011 and will benefit from seeing a defense's second cornerback.
The backups will be Damian Williams and Kendall Wright. Wright learning both starting WR roles means that if for any reason Kenny Britt can't play in the opener, Wright could take his spot. Look for Wright to play a lot in the slot to begin the season.
Starters (left to right): Michael Roos, Steve Hutchinson, Eugene Amano, Leroy Harris, David Stewart
Reserves: Mike Otto, Kyle DeVan, Kevin Matthews, Fernando Velasco
Two of the longest-tenured starters on the Titans' roster are the starting offensive tackles. Michael Roos has 96 straight regular-season starts at left tackle. David Stewart has missed four starts in six years at right tackle. Because of their durability, the team usually keeps only one backup tackle. "Swing" tackle Mike Otto signed a contract extension this offseason and will back up both starters.
There was a need for upgrade at guard and the Titans made a big splash by signing Steve Hutchinson, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings. He'll take over at left guard. After making seven consecutive Pro Bowls, Hutchinson has missed seven games in the past two years and will turn 35 this season. He's a short-term solution.
The new starter at right guard is Leroy Harris. He's recovering from knee and shoulder surgeries in the offseason. Harris struggled in run blocking last season, so he's going to need as many offseason reps as possible.
Because of Hutchinson's age and Harris' injuries, the Titans will keep two backup guards for depth. Recently signed Kyle DeVan started last season as the starter for the Philadelphia Eagles at right guard and will back up Hutchinson. Fernando Velasco has been a backup guard and center for three years and has taken Harris' spot during offseason team activities while Harris has been out.
Eugene Amano will be the starting center for the third straight year. Despite attempts to upgrade at the position, the Titans were rebuffed during free agency. Amano's recovering from offseason knee and ankle surgeries.
While Amano recovers, third-year player Kevin Matthews has taken the starting center reps. Matthews is Bruce Matthews' son who made the team as an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M in 2010, and even started a game. He was inactive for all 16 games last year. If Matthews can't hack it, Fernando Velasco has played some center.
Starters: Derrick Morgan, Mike Martin, Jurrell Casey, Kamerion Wimbley
Reserves: Dave Ball, Leger Douzable (DT/DE), Karl Klug
On a team with a paltry 28 sacks in 2012, the starting defensive ends have a lot of work to do.
Former first rounder Derrick Morgan has a lot of pressure to perform this season. He's more than 18 months beyond his 2010 ACL tear and will be at full speed from the opening snap of the season. Kamerion Wimbley will be the other starter at end. While he's played a lot of outside linebacker in his career, the Titans are convinced that he can play well in the three-point stance.
Dave Ball was re-signed to back up at end. He's been dependable with 23 starts in the past four years with the team. Leger Douzable can play DE and will get his share of rotational snaps.
There are a lot of bodies at defensive tackle, but no stars. Jerry Gray is going to rotate a lot of players at the position, so starters might not be the guys who get the most snaps.
Jurrell Casey started 15 games as a rookie. That's impressive because last offseason's labor strife limited his offseason exposure to coaching. Casey's the only locked-down starter. Backing him up will be fellow second-year player Karl Klug. Klug led the team with seven sacks last year and will get plenty of snaps in passing situations.
On the other side, rookie Mike Martin will be the only first-year starter on the team. He was a leader at Michigan and will impress the coaching staff with his nonstop motor. Free agent signee Leger Douzable can play tackle and end but will be a backup for Martin.
Starters: Will Witherspoon, Colin McCarthy, Akeem Ayers
Reserves: Zach Brown, Tim Shaw, Patrick Bailey
The two-deep is full of young players at linebacker. At weakside linebacker it's going to be Will Witherspoon again. His backup will be rookie Zach Brown, who will get a lot of opportunities to show off his speed in coverage.
At middle linebacker will be Colin McCarthy, who is turning into a team leader. Backing him up is special-teams captain Tim Shaw. McCarthy's not expected to leave the field much.
Starting strongside linebacker will be Akeem Ayers. Another special teams guy in Patrick Bailey will back up at that position.
Starters: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner
Reserves: Tommie Campbell, Chris Hawkins
Jason McCourty will take over in Cortland Finnegan's right cornerback spot. Alterraun Verner will start at left cornerback. On third downs, Verner's expected to slide in to cover the slot receiver.
Second-year player Tommie Campbell is the frontrunner to be the nickel corner. Jerry Gray has nothing but rave reviews for Campbell this offseason, which is a key one for the 2011 seventh-round pick who only played special teams as a rookie.
Chris Hawkins played extensively when McCourty missed nearly two games last year, and he'll be the next guy on the depth chart.
Starters: Jordan Babineaux, Michael Griffin
Reserves: Robert Johnson, Markelle Martin
Depth is a problem at safety. Jordan Babineaux took over for the injured Chris Hope last season and earned a contract extension. Michael Griffin has been inconsistent, but the Titans saw no better options in free agency and gave him the franchise tag.
Robert Johnson is a third-year player who has not played a down of defense in his career. Markelle Martin was highly regarded at Oklahoma State but tore his meniscus while preparing for the draft. He'll be 100 percent for OTAs and should be the primary safety backup.
Kicker: Rob Bironas
Punter: Brett Kern
Long Snapper: Jake Ingram/Beau Brinkley
Returner: Marc Mariani, Kendall Wright
Rob Bironas is one of the best kickers in the NFL. He's made more than 90 percent of his kicks the past two years.
Brett Kern improved in his second full year as a punter, although the Titans have to hope that he attempts fewer punts this year.
Jake Ingram is the veteran and Beau Brinkley is the rookie in the battle to be the long snapper.
There has been talk of Wright returning kicks/punts even though he did not do so while at Baylor. Marc Mariani didn't have a great follow-up to his 2011 Pro Bowl campaign, but he did score one touchdown on a punt return. The team needs Wright on offense too much to give him a lot of special-teams duties.