Tennessee Titans: Grading Their 53-Man Roster Position-by-Position
Like every other team in the NFL, the Tennessee Titans are now set with their 53-man roster. With no real surprises one way or another, the Titans head into the regular season with a lot of youth and potential on the roster. Can they put it all together and make a run at the playoffs?
Here is my grade for each position on the Titans.
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The Titans should expect second-year gunslinger Jake Locker to go through growing pains in his first season as the starter. He looked great last season in limited playing time and definitely has the potential to be a solid quarterback in the NFL. It's now just a matter of whether or not he lives up to expectations.
The Titans may have the best backup quarterback in the league right now in Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck had a solid season and probably could be a starter elsewhere, but for now, he'll continue to mentor Locker, just as the backup.
Rusty Smith's career regular season statistics (20-for-40, 200 yards, 4 interceptions) are very misleading. Smith has been one of the most improved players on the Titans roster. He had a great training camp and preseason and could possibly one day make his way into a starting rotation. Probably not in Tennessee, however.
Running Back: B+
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The Titans' offense features four running backs who all look to get touches this season.
Chris Johnson will look to bounce back from his uncharacteristic season last year. He looked pretty good in preseason and, with a full offseason, looks to go back to his CJ2K form.
Behind him are Javon Ringer, Jamie Harper and Darius Reynaud. Ringer is coming off of a hand injury he suffered last season, and he looked unimpressive in preseason. If he doesn't produce like a No. 2 running back should, he may find his way out of Tennessee next year.
That would open the door for Harper, who looked great in preseason. He is probably the best power runner on the team and is likely to be the Titans' short yardage back.
Another guy to look out for is Reynaud, who had an amazing preseason. He's a very fast runner and, being a college wide receiver, can be a key contributor in the passing game as well.
Wide Receiver: B
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The Titans come into the season with possibly the most underrated receiving corps in the league.
Kenny Britt is coming off a torn ACL and MCL and will miss the first game of the season due to suspension. When he's back, the question will be whether or not his knee will hold up.
If not, Locker will have to lean on Nate Washington, who had his best season last year (74 catches, 1023 yards, and seven touchdowns). Washington is getting up there in age, having just turned 29 a few days ago, but still should be the top receiver on the team.
He is a huge deep threat, but his only real problem comes with catching. That's easily fixable, and he's gotten better with it.
Behind these two are Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins, and Kendall Wright. Williams stepped up last year after the injury to Britt, catching 45 passes for 592 yards and five touchdowns. He isn't the greatest receiver in the world, but he's solid in a pinch and gets the job done.
Hawkins was signed to an extension this past offseason and likely will be utilized a lot more in the passing game this season. He is very quick and athletic and should be a big contributor on offense this season.
The rookie Wright had a solid preseason and had a lot of chemistry with Locker. He'll likely get looks in the slot this season but looks to one day take the reins as the Titans' starting wide receiver across from Britt.
Tight End: B-
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Jared Cook had an up-and-down season last year as the Titans. Sometimes he'd be a huge contributor in the offense, and sometimes he'd completely disappear. If he stays consistent, he could end up being one of the top receiving tight ends in the league.
Craig Stevens looks to play more fullback than tight end this season. He's the best blocking tight end on the team but can still slip out and make catches when needed.
Taylor Thompson, the rookie defensive end convert, had a decent preseason, but he needs to improve on catching. It will come in time. Remember, he did not play tight end in college.
Offensive Line: C+
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David Stewart and Michael Roos are one of the best offensive tackle duos in the league. They will be the keys in keeping the quarterback as safe as they did last year, where the team gave up only 24 sacks.
LeRoy Harris has been very lackluster as the starting left guard. Newly signed Steve Hutchinson mans the other guard spot and brings veteran leadership to this offensive line.
The main question is at center. Will Fernando Velasco step up to the challenge of replacing the injured Eugene Amano? Well, he can't be much worse than Amano was last season.
Part of the reason that the Titans finished at the bottom of the league in rushing yards was because of the offensive line. They need to step up this year if the Titans have any hopes of improving on their poor numbers last season.
Defensive Line: C+
Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE
While the Titans are pretty deep on the interior defensive line, with Dave Ball and Leger Douzable both on IR, they are very thin at defensive end, which isn't good news for a team that finished with just 28 sacks last season.
The signing of Kamerion Wimbley should boost their pass rush. He had a solid preseason and looks to finally truly prove his worth of being a first overall pick. Derrick Morgan looks to do the same, but the question with him is if he can stay completely healthy.
Inside, Sen'Derrick Marks and Jurrell Casey will be the starters, with Mike Martin and Karl Klug the reserves. Klug lead the team in sacks last season with seven and looks to get plenty of reps both at defensive tackle and defensive end.
All in all, the Titans' defensive front looked better in the preseason than it has previously, but with the lack of depth at defense end, they could struggle.
Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE
Colin McCarthy had an absolutely stellar season last year, and after his big performance in preseason, he looks to pick up right where he left off last season.
Akeem Ayers will have to follow suit after looking lost at times last season. The Titans look to utilize him more defensively, which should help him statistically.
The question at linebacker lies at the weak side. Rookie Zach Brown and veteran Will Witherspoon have been jockeying all preseason for the starting spot, with Brown looking very solid. Brown should end up being the starter due to his youth, upside and the fact that Witherspoon was lackluster last season.
Defensive Back: B-
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
With Cortland Finnegan gone, Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty are now the starters at cornerback. McCourty played very well last season in his first full season as the starter and will be the No. 1 corner.
Verner had an up-and-down season last year and only had one interception while playing in the slot. He'll have to do better, or else the Titans' secondary will suffer.
Tommie Campbell, who was a star on special teams last year, will likely play the nickel back position, while Ryan Mouton, who returns from suffering a season-ending injury last off-season, will play the dime.
Michael Griffin had an abysmal season, yet somehow found his way to a five-year contract extension. While he isn't by any means worth the money, he needs to step up this season. He has way too much athletic ability to play as soft as he's played the past two seasons.
On the other side, Jordan Babineaux, aka "Big Play Babs" returns as the starter at strong safety, although Robert Johnson continues to battle for the spot. As his nickname suggests, Babineaux is a potential game-changer, but only had two takeaways last season. Since he's just turned 30, there may be questions about his long-term durability.
Johnson has bounced around the Titans' main roster and practice squad the past two seasons but finally may get his shot as a starting safety if Babineaux struggles.
Special Teams: A-
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Special teams is the only place where the Titans are really proven going into the regular season.
Rob Bironas is one of the most efficient kickers in the league, having only missed five field goals in the past two seasons.
Brett Kern had a fantastic season last year, having a net punting average 39.4, a Titans franchise record, and downed 31 punts inside the 20.
Beau Brinkley takes over the long-snapping duties after the Titans chose not to bring back longtime snapper Ken Amato.
Reynaud takes over as the return man after Marc Mariani's gruesome injury in preseason. He took a punt back for a touchdown in preseason and held both kick and punt return duties for the New York Giants and the Minnesota Vikings