Updating the Titans' Biggest Training Camp Battles to Watch
On July 27, it begins. Training camp is the official trailer to the movie that will be the Tennessee Titans" href="http://bleacherreport.com/tennessee-titans">Tennessee Titans' 2012 regular season. For the first time since January, fans will be able to see players in real football situations.
There are a few battles to be won to determine the starting lineup for the opener against the New England Patriots. The starting quarterback job is still up for grabs, but so are a few more spots.
A lot of these competitions will continue throughout the preseason.
Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker
Rusty Smith has to be looking over his shoulder after the Titans brought in Kyle Boller for a workout. Wait, what were we talking about?
Once the 2011 season came to a close, the showdown to be the 2012 starting quarterback began.
Fans want Jake Locker to be that guy.
It's not necessarily the best thing for the team, and anyone putting nails in the coffin of Matt Hasselbeck's career is being a bit premature. Hasselbeck started 147 NFL regular-season games to Locker's 0, and in 2011, had one of the best seasons for a Titans QB in a decade.
That was for a player who had to learn a new offensive system in less than a month. With a full offseason, Hasselbeck might have a Brett Favre in 2009-type season left in him.
If that's the case, let's hope it ends better.
For Locker to win the job, he can't be better than Hasselbeck by a nose. He has to be a leader, know the playbook perfectly, have great chemistry with a receiving corps in a bit of flux and show more accuracy than he did in college.
Locker is a mechanically sound quarterback but can be scattershot with his throws.
The tough early schedule shouldn't make any difference in the final verdict. Whoever starts should have the coaching staff's blessing to go all 16 games and end the franchise's three-year playoff drought.
Weak-Side Linebacker: Will Witherspoon vs. Zach Brown
To combat the advanced passing offenses the Titans will face in 2012 and beyond, the front office found an athletic linebacker who should be the eventual starter at weak-side linebacker.
Whether Zach Brown is that guy on opening day 2012 or 2013 remains to be determined.
Much like in the QB battle, there's a giant disparity in starts. Will Witherspoon has 145 career starts, and Zach Brown's looking for his first NFL paycheck.
What Witherspoon's doing, and this is similar to Hasselbeck's role, is offering leadership for the younger players even when the younger players are potentially taking his job.
Here's Witherspoon talking about helping out younger players in an interview with Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com:
"It is that pay it forward situation. You've got to pay it forward for your team, because if you just try and trash a guy and don't help him to help him become a pro, you're only hurting everyone else around him. You're hurting the organization. You're hurting yourself and you're hurting the team. You've got to build those guys and help them be the best possible player they can.”
Zach Brown is the athletic freak who has the speed to keep up with elite tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Owen Daniels. He may not be ready to be a three-down linebacker in Jerry Gray's defense.
The job could end up being a timeshare, with Witherspoon starting in obvious run downs and Brown taking over in the nickel.
Center: Eugene Amano vs. Kevin Matthews
It's another battle of experience versus potential.
Eugene Amano has been subpar in his two years as starting center. On the bright side, he did set a career high with one catch for seven yards last year.
The interior offensive line as a whole needs an upgrade.
Kevin Matthews, on the other hand, was inactive for all 16 games last year. He was the team's third-string center in 2010 and started one game. While Amano recovered from surgery, Matthews took all the first-team snaps.
He's getting the opportunity, but it's hard to say what he will do if he's on the field for the season opener.
The Titans have plenty of other options to back up at center or guard.
Matthews needs to step out of his dad's considerable shadow and take the job. If he doesn't, he probably should look for work elsewhere.
Amano has started at both guard spots and center, so if he isn't the starter on opening day, he'd be a functional if expensive backup.
Right Guard: Leroy Harris vs. Fernando Velasco
A player can lose his starting job due to injury during the NFL season. Few players have lost a job due to injury in OTAs.
Leroy Harris had shoulder surgery during the offseason that limited his availability. Like Eugene Amano, Harris isn't getting his starting job handed to him.
Unlike Amano, Harris has to play a new position this year, right guard, as his left guard slot has been taken over by free-agent signee Steve Hutchinson.
Fernando Velasco signed a one-year extension with the team. He has three starts in three years and has been a backup at center and guard for his entire career.
Harris' surgery gave Velasco time with the starters in OTAs. He's a valuable backup in that he can play any of the interior line positions and is the current backup long-snapper.
Harris is in the last year of his contract, so he needs to show consistency to prove that he's a long-term answer at right guard.
Backup Running Back: Javon Ringer vs. Jamie Harper
Javon Ringer had a golden opportunity to cement himself as the backup running back last season. With Chris Johnson struggling, Ringer had more than 100 combined yards in a Week 6 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
However, he barely exceeded 100 yards from scrimmage for the rest of the season. Ringer broke his hand on his only touch of the New Orleans Saints game and was put on injured reserve.
The good news is Ringer is trusted in the pass game. He had 28 receptions last year in limited time. The bad news is Ringer averaged 3.1 yards a carry and wasn't able to make plays when Johnson consistently struggled.
Ringer started as a third-string running back in 2009, and that was Jamie Harper's role in 2011. The fourth-round pick out of Clemson got all but four of his touches when Ringer was out of the lineup.
He's a bigger back who could turn out to be the rugged change-of-pace player the team would like to spell Johnson.
Both players need to improve in 2012, or the team might decide to start from scratch and pick up a veteran or rookie for next year.
Fullback: Collin Mooney vs. Quinn Johnson
The fullback position isn't featured in the Titans offense. With the options at tight end and wide receiver, whoever wins the job will be on the sidelines a lot.
Quinn Johnson is the holdover from last year. He was on the team during Ahmard Hall's suspension and re-joined the squad in December. At 6'0"and 251 pounds, he's a large man.
Collin Mooney is the feel-good story who applied to be released from his Army service requirement after three years of serving his country. A broken hand limited him in OTAs, but he should be healed for training camp.
Hall was with the Marines before starting his college football career late, so the armed forces connection might give Mooney an edge.
Neither player has an NFL carry, and both are unlikely to get a ton of touches this season.
Other Battles of Note
It seems like more of a "when" than "if" situation so far, but assuming that Kenny Britt doesn't play in the season opener, Damian Williams and rookie Kendall Wright will duke it out to start opposite Nate Washington.
Tommie Campbell seems like the early favorite to be the team's nickel corner. Chris Hawkins would be the closest competitor, although Ryan Mouton's still in the mix.
Sen'Derrick Marks will take on yoga master Shaun Smith to start at defensive tackle next to second-year player Jurrell Casey. There's going to be a lot of rotation on the defensive line, so the starter position isn't critical.
If rookie Markelle Martin ends up on injured reserve, veteran safety Aaron Francisco and third-year player Robert Johnson might both make the team. If not, there's one job for the two players.