Tennessee Titans: What to Watch for at OTAs
The Tennessee Titans will begin the first of a series of organized team activities on May 29 in what will be the first opportunity during the 2013 offseason for all the new faces from the team's roster overhaul to take the field together with the coaching staff.
With all the new additions to the Titans' roster being counted on to produce early, OTAs offer an opportunity for rookies and veterans to jell with their new teammates.
One constant storyline of organized team activities is which players are and which players are not attending team practices. OTAs aren't mandatory, but players who miss too many practices generally aren't received well by the public.
After player attendance, things become much more interesting, depending on which team you pick. Every team has its own focuses for the offseason and the Titans are no different.
Titans' OTAs will take place May 29-31, June 3-4, June 6, June 10-11 and June 13-14.
The Titans brought on former Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard early in the offseason to fix a major hole in the defense.
More than filling an open position on the field, Pollard brings some much-needed attitude to a defense that surrendered 471 points in 2012.
These OTAs will offer up the first time the entire defense will be together for team activities and begin to form their new identity with Pollard's leadership and the addition of Gregg Williams as a defensive assistant, noted David Climer of USA Today:
All I can do is lead by example. I flip that switch on the football field. I hope everybody's got switches because if they don't, this is the wrong sport to be in. … We can't give anybody a heart to go out there and be something he's not.
The arrivals of Pollard and Williams will bring the vocal leadership that this young defense has been lacking.
Delanie Walker's Versatility
With the departure of Jared Cook to the St. Louis Rams, the Titans acted quickly to find a replacement in the form of former San Francisco 49er Delanie Walker.
While Jared Cook was easily the superior receiving talent and size mismatch for opposing defenses, the Titans were never able to utilize his skill set on a consistent basis.
Despite his shortcomings as a receiving talent, Walker offers the tools to be a jack of all trades. In his time with the 49ers, Walker lined up in the backfield, on the line and outside.
Because of his superior skills as a blocker and his adept hands, Walker is a mismatch issue in his own right despite a bit of a drops issue. The team's new emphasis on becoming a run-first team makes Walker the perfect addition to the offense.
The Development of Blidi Wreh-Wilson
The Titans are looking to become a bit more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball, fitting the time-tested mold of Gregg Williams' vision.
Part of that mission to become more aggressive is using man coverage more often to dial up some blitzes. The Titans finished 26th in pass defense in 2012, surrendering nearly 250 yards a game through the air.
If rookie Blidi Wreh-Wilson can develop quickly enough, the Titans can quickly insert him into the lineup and shift Alterraun Verner to nickel where he excels.
Having three quality corners on the roster would prove to be a major boon to the growing number of offenses regularly using three-receiver sets.
The Battle at Center
The Titans entered the offseason with major issues at all three spots on the interior of their offensive line. There were needs at both starting guard spots and the return of Fernando Velasco was uncertain.
the Titans new issues is deciding on who to start after signing Andy Levitre from the Buffalo Bills, the team using its first-round draft pick on Chance Warmack and drafting fourth-rounder Brian Schwenke.
Levitre and Warmack are pretty much assured of starting, however, center is a different story. Velasco graded out as the 11th-best center in 2012 on Pro Football Focus (Subscription Only).
By all rights, he deserves to be the starter despite his one-year contract. However, if Schwenke is ready, why delay the future of the unit? This will be one of the team's key position battles.
Kenny Britt's Knee
Kenny Britt has all the talent to be one of the league's premier wide receivers, but injuries and immaturity have held up his development for four years.
Last season, Britt struggled to fully recover from a torn ACL suffered in 2011. How Britt's knee holds up will prove to be key to this season. If Britt is able to return to form, the next question will be whether to re-sign him.
While there will be a lesser emphasis on passing the ball this season, having a true No. 1 receiver is invaluable to any offense and would go a long ways in assisting in the development of quarterback Jake Locker.
With all the additions and subtractions the Titans have made to the roster this offseason, the one player who will ultimately decide the fate of the team's 2013 season is Jake Locker.
After suffering an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, Locker regressed mightily during his first season as a starter.
In order for this Titans team to take the step forward that is expected of them, Locker will need to prove that his inconsistent accuracy and poor decision-making of 2012 are a thing of the past.
The Battle at Defensive Tackle
When the Titans first came to Tennessee, run-stopping quickly became a hallmark of the franchise. Over the past few seasons, the Titans have been far from stalwart in run defense.
Jurrell Casey has consistently been a superior run-stopper since entering the league, but the unit has still underperformed despite his presence.
The signing of former Detroit Lion Sammie Lee-Hill was made in hopes of remedying the situation. It's not a sure thing that he will be the starter, however, as Mike Martin could challenge for the starting role in his second year.
Whoever wins the battle will be counted on to help stop the defense from being gashed up the middle for drive-extending plays.
The Jelling of the Roster
Much has been made of all the free-agent signings and and draft picks the Titans have made during the offseason but, with the extraordinary number of new faces expected to make the roster, it's time to start worrying about the chemistry of the team.
Organized team activities will mark the beginning of that process and forge the way for growth as they learn to work with one another.
There is a lot of rotation expected to be made at several positions—receiver, running back, safety, defensive line and cornerback—and the faster everyone learns their role, the faster each unit can progress in fine-tuning its game.