Top 6 Things We've Learned from Tennessee Titans Minicamp
The Titans are born again. As much fun as it was to watch the new coaching staff and players mesh last season, 2012 is going to be a different experience for fans of the team.
Whether the front office knows what it's doing is a tale that will unfold as the season progresses. The moves to date suggest that there's a plan to develop an elite, passing-based offense led by Jake Locker. The defense is going to be versatile with an emphasis on hitting the quarterback with athletes who can cover the new breed of tight ends.
It's not all roses and chocolates at Baptist Sports Park. The interior offensive line is still a weakness. The defensive line has more depth but needs to show improvement on game day. The opening-day starting quarterback is a mystery.
There's a Plan
How a franchise treats its players is critical. A divided and distracted locker room is not good. Key players need to know that when it's their time, they will be taken care of with a new contract.
Every player signed to the franchise tag can be a distraction.
When a player gets the tag, it's usually not a cause for celebration. It's a lot of money to be sure, but there's no security in a one-year deal. The front office started working with Griffin's agent to make sure that he was set. Griffin was fantastic during the contract negotiations, continuing to work with the team. That showed leadership and he was rewarded with a five-year extension.
Rulon Webster and the front office had one major free-agent signing on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Now is time to look at the young players who are going to be core members of a team trying to become a perennial playoff contender.
Players nearing the end of their contracts are in line for extensions. Jason McCourty looks to be next. Jared Cook and Rob Bironas are two other key players whose deals expire at the end of 2012.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Titans are going to be a team that passes more than it runs. Adding Kendall Wright, a potential long-term replacement for Nate Washington who's pushing for immediate playing time, makes that clear.
Drafting Taylor Thompson, a huge tight end prospect who could combine with Jared Cook to make a frightening duo in the middle of the field, is another indicator. Thompson's done enough that the team let veteran Daniel Graham walk.
Playing It Safe with Kenny Britt
Even before the ACL tear, Kenny Britt had trouble staying on the field. He missed four games in 2011 after a bad hamstring kept him from playing.
Fans expect quick recoveries from injuries, even major ones. Wes Welker tore his ACL in Week 17 of the 2009 season and played in the 2012 opener. Adrian Peterson is attempting to do the same thing this year.
With a player like Kenny Britt, who is one the most talented wide receivers to put on a Titan uniform, it's smart to be cautious. The follow-up surgical procedure was a caution flag to be sure. Players have minor surgical procedures during the regular season and return quickly.
The Titans know what they have in Britt, so they're going to focus on getting rookie Kendall Wright up to speed in minicamp instead of pushing Britt. That's smart. He'll probably miss part of training camp. The focus is to get him ready for opening day to ensure that the promise of 2011's great start is met.
Not the Same Old Defense
The key defensive addition this offseason wasn't a player. It was a coach. Keith Millard was the 1989 defensive player of the year as a defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings. His job is singular—make Titan defenders more proficient at rushing the passer.
The team finished with 28 sacks last year, and quarterbacks had a lot of time to survey the field. That can't happen as often in 2012 if the Titans want to play important games in January.
Millard's work with the entire defense, from safeties and cornerbacks who don't blitz often but when they do, need to get to the QB in a hurry to the ends who will battle with giant offensive tackles all day, is but one piece of Jerry Gray's puzzle.
A hybrid defense is coming to town.
Akeem Ayers is one player who needs to get to the quarterback.
In Tuesday's post-practice press conference, Mike Munchak talked about Ayers with Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley as a player who will need to get pressure from the edge. Ayers is either going to blitz a lot from his strong-side linebacker position or he's going to put his hand down and play defensive end.
More extensive use of Jerry Gray's Ruby formation is a tell. The days of being a 4-3 team all the time are over.
Cornerbacks Ready for Prime Time
There were plenty of questions about the team's cornerbacks with the departure of Cortland Finnegan.
Here are some answers.
Who's starting in Finnegan's place? Jason McCourty is the No. 1 cornerback without a doubt. He started 15 games last year and the team's looking to give him a contract extension shortly.
Who's going to play the slot on third downs—Finnegan's role last year? Alterraun Verner's been practicing in the slot. He has extensive starting experience and was a playmaker when he got a shot to start in 2010 opposite Finnegan. In a way, Verner and McCourty are splitting Finnegan's responsibilities.
Both are up to the task.
Who's the nickel guy? The frontrunner is Tommie Campbell. Campbell's better known for special-teams play so far. He has blazing speed and is a huge guy for a cornerback. His size is one of the reasons why, when he comes on the field, that he will play outside and Verner will shift to the inside.
There is depth. Chris Hawkins started a game last year and rookie Coty Sensabaugh are next in line.
The youth at corner looks like a weakness, but it's going to be one of the team's strengths.
Chris Johnson Is Taking the Offseason Seriously
For Chris Johnson, the sooner he can get past 2011, the better. Signs are good.
According to Jim Wyatt, he's been at practice every day, and it was news when he had one day off that was excused by coaches.
Johnson knows that his 2,000-yard season has been all but forgotten, and if he wants to move into Earl Campbell and Eddie George territory as one of the best backs in franchise history, this is the year to prove it.
Staying in Nashville to be with his teammates, especially the linemen blocking for him, putting on muscle, and being a team leader are signs that Chris Johnson is ready to be counted on as an elite player again this year.
It's Locker's Team
There's no proof that the competition has been closed.
It's hard to argue against his point that Hasselbeck has 158 career starts to Locker's zero. Locker did gain valuable experience last year, coming in for Hasselbeck early in games three times.
He had almost 300 passing yards against the Saints.
If the offseason has indicated one thing about the Titans' future, it's that the franchise is building around the idea of Locker being the long-term starter. He can throw the deep ball.
Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Kendall Wright will be able to get deep for him. The offensive line was excellent in pass blocking last year and a young QB needs extra time. He's getting the reps in practice.
It wouldn't make sense for the team to declare this early that a veteran like Hasselbeck is going to be the backup. Jake Locker is going to have to earn the starting job. He will get every opportunity to do so.