Things a Tennessee Titans Fan Says
It's been a rough last few years for Titans fans. In 2010, just two years removed from an AFC best 13-3 record, and one year removed from Chris Johnson's 2,000 yard season, the Titans went 6-10, cut first-round quarterback Vince Young and fired longtime head coach Jeff Fisher.
Then in 2011, the Titans had a good season, but missed the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.
Last year, the Titans saw another 6-10 season while setting a franchise record for points surrendered, while also dealing with injuries to Jake Locker, Colin McCarthy and four of five starting offensive linemen.
After all that, the things you'll hear Titans fans say don't tend to be positive. But after a big 2013, there's still some optimism out there. Here are a few things you may hear Titans fans say more than a few times.
Although the Titans saw their share of success under Jeff Fisher in the early 2000s, and briefly again in 2008, the Titans have a history of just missing the cut.
In his 14 years as the head coach in Tennessee, Jeff Fisher went within one game of 8-8 five times. Many of those years, the Titans had a chance to make the playoffs, but they just barely missed the mark.
Even in years where the Titans had a great regular season, like in 2008, when the Titans went 13-3 in the regular season, they still end up missing the mark. That year, the Titans lost to the Ravens 13-10 in the first playoff game they played in.
Mike Munchak's first year as a head coach seemed like it might break the cycle, but a Week 15 loss to the worst Colts team in over a decade made the playoffs slip through their fingers.
But of course, next year will be different...
'Win in the Trenches'
Despite never really getting deep in the playoffs (outside of the 1999 season, of course), the Titans had a definite identity under Jeff Fisher. They were a no-frills, ground-and-pound team with a powerful offensive line and an aggressive defensive line.
At one point, the Titans defensive line had such greats as Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jevon Kearse and Albert Haynesworth all at the same time. That was a tough unit.
Then, toward the end of Jeff Fisher's tenure and the beginning of Mike Munchak's, that identity had been lost. Now, however, it seems to be coming back.
Derrick Morgan had the best season of his career in 2012, and defensive tackle Mike Martin had a very impressive rookie outing. Jurrell Casey, meanwhile, seems to be becoming an elite defensive tackle. Then there's the addition of Sammie Hill.
On the offensive side, the Titans already had a great tackle tandem, and have boosted the interior with the additions of Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack, turning it into what looks like a very good group of players.
Speaking of Warmack...
This may shortly become a thing for the Titans.
"Warmacking" is the unofficial title given to the act of a player rolling his shirt up to expose his gut. If you can't figure out why this is named after Titans rookie Chance Warmack, do an image search real quick.
The reason this may be something we start seeing more of in Tennessee, even though Warmack "isn't recruiting" other players into his Warmacking ways (says Brian Schwenke in the linked interview), he is apparently "taking all applicants."
If Warmack pans out to be the guard he was hyped up to be, I wouldn't be surprised to see a few more Titans players with well endowed bellies (and probably some fans too) follow his example.
New traditions are great, but an unfortunate tradition of the Titans (perhaps not so much anymore) was one of losing high-end free agents. Traditionally, the Titans have been a draft-and-develop team for years.
Unfortunately, that also meant letting big-name players walk away. From Albert Haynesworth to Stephen Tulloch to Cortland Finnegan, the Titans lost big-name player after big-name player.
While a team often has to let fan favorites go, it's always hard to watch a player you rooted for for years play in another uniform, especially against the Titans. A part of you wants them to do well, even in a new destination, but you still want to see the Titans win.
This season, the only big names the Titans lost in free agency were Matt Hasselbeck (who was cut) and Jared Cook, who they tried to franchise. They also went and signed some big names like Andy Levitre and Bernard Pollard.
Maybe, just maybe, the days of watching players turn into stars, knowing that it means seeing them leave Tennessee are over.
To most, being labeled a small-market team is derogatory. I see it more as an acknowledgement of what a team is. Not every team is in New York or LA or Miami. Some teams are in Nashville, and there's nothing wrong with that.
It does mean coming to terms with a few things though, which can be negative. Fewer Titans games will be aired in prime time (although the NFL does a pretty good job of spreading those pretty evenly).
Fewer deserving players making the Pro Bowl (only one Titan made the Pro Bowl in 2003, and that was as a reserve, despite the Titans going 11-5 and making it all the way to the AFC Championship).
The mass market media spends less time covering the team (in the 2011 season, despite one of the closest quarterback battles in the NFL going on, it was hard to find too much news about Jake Locker vs. Matt Hasselbeck).
It also makes it harder to keep free agents, since many players crave the limelight (we went over that one already).
But that's just the way it is. Titans fans get to feel secure in the knowledge that their players are better than Pro Bowl voting says they are, and we get to wallow in it when the Titans surprise pundits with a good season.
It seems like all I've been talking about this offseason is Jake Locker. Despite the big moves in free agency and the draft, not to mention the high-profile hiring of Gregg Williams, the subject that all the other Titans fans and I just keep returning to is Jake Locker.
And as repetitive as it may seem, there's good reason. The Titans have fixed a lot of weaknesses this season. They've beefed up the interior offensive line, gotten better depth on the defensive line, added proven veterans at safety and even hired new defensive staff.
But even with all of that, how well the Titans do next season depends entirely on Locker. If he plays like the Locker that we saw against the Jets, the Titans are a 6-10 team, even with all the improvements they've made.
If he plays like the Locker that held his own against the Patriots, the Titans could win their division. Anywhere in between those, and they could be anywhere. It's all riding on him.