5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make the Tennessee Titans' Final 53-Man Roster
The one thing we know the Titans have done this offseason is raise the level of competition at every position on both sides of the ball.
As a result, there are a few positions that are expected to have new starters. Some will have improved depth, but at the very fringe of the roster comes the team's toughest choices.
There have been many times—in Titans franchise history alone—a fringe roster choice has managed to become integral to the roster. There's a reason teams fight over undrafted free agents, folks.
Organized team activities have given us the slightest glimpse of the talent on the 2013 Titans roster, and training camp and preseason action will allow the coaching staff to weed out the keepers and who needs a bit more time to grow on the practice squad.
Every year it's an intriguing journey to see the final pieces of an NFL team's roster puzzle. Let's go ahead and delve into who the Tennessee Titans' dark-horse candidates to make the final roster appear to be at this stage in the offseason.
The Titans wide receiving corps has gone from being lackluster to one of the most potential-filled groups in the NFL. The front office has invested heavily in the position, with three of the top four players at the position being selected in either the first or second round over the last four years.
Despite the team's heavy investment into the position of late, the offensive coordinators will be transitioning the offense back to a more run-oriented offense. The change in philosophy calls into the question the need for receiver depth.
Traditionally, the team has vacillated between carrying five and six receivers on the roster, and this year should be no different. Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and to a lesser extent, Nate Washington, are the front-runners on the team's depth chart.
After them, the choices narrow down to Damian Williams, Kevin Walter, Michael Preston and Marc Mariani. Williams appears to be leading the way for the fifth roster spot, leaving the battle for the sixth spot to likely come down to Walter and Preston.
Walter brings more veteran experience and has been touted for his run-blocking and his ability to play the slot. Preston, however, brings rare size to the position and is much younger.
He showed some seemingly strong hands last season, making four catches for 59 yards—three of which went for first downs.
Ultimately, the team has to decide how much a sixth receiver would be used in the first place. Britt has been very injury prone throughout his short career, and Justin Hunter hasn't gotten off to a great start injury-wise either.
Walter is the safer option, which could factor into the decision given the heated seats the coaching staff is sitting on this season, but Preston offers the brighter future. You already know exactly what you're getting with Walter.
Jack Doyle made a strong case for making the Titans roster with some big performances during organized team activities, catching more than 12 catches in one practice session, according to The Tennessean.
The last time the Titans carried four tight ends on the roster was 2009 when Jared Cook, Alge Crumpler, Craig Stevens and Bo Scaife were all on the roster, and the team handed the ball off to Chris Johnson 358 times.
With the team planning to control the clock by running the ball more, there is a greater likelihood for a fourth tight end to be kept.
NFL.com had this to say about Doyle in his pre-draft profile:
The first-team All-Sun Belt tight end is a big target, and fluid athlete. Doyle adjusts to passes like a much smaller player. However, he doesn't adequately use his size as a blocker. While he doesn't have great speed, he has enough to challenge the seams. When this is combined with his ability to find openings in zones, he will likely be a mid-round selection.
Also in Doyle's favor is the fact that the team website currently has Craig Stevens listed as the starting fullback. Stevens spent time during OTAs lining in the position, so the development could be real.
Sophomore tight end Taylor Thompson spent the majority of his time on the field in 2012 proving himself to be an excellent blocker out of the backfield. And one of the key traits of free-agent signee Delanie Walker was his ability to block and line up in several positions on the field.
With the team's top-three tight ends all capable of lining up as H-backs, there is a real possibility for the team to rid itself of keeping an actual fullback. If Jack Doyle is able to keep up his OTA performances when the pads go on, he could prove to be quality insurance as depth.
Barry Richardson came to the Titans roster as a late addition due to injuries to Michael Roos and David Stewart. However, Richardson is no scrub, camp-body player. He has started 49 games in his career for the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams.
Incumbent reserve tackles Mike Otto and Byron Stingily have started seven games combined. While that doesn't necessarily make Richardson the better player, what makes the starting experience disparity more of an issue for roster decisions is player salary.
If Richardson keeps up his typical level of play, it doesn't make sense to keep Otto for clear-cut monetary reasons.
Having five defensive tackles on the roster has been part of the Titans defensive make for several seasons, and it doesn't appear likely to change despite the versatility of some of the talent in the unit.
Jurrell Casey has established himself as the top talent on the line and is locked in as a starter. Playing next to him will either be second-year man Mike Martin or free-agent acquisition Sammie Lee Hill. And Antonio Johnson appears to have the fourth spot on depth chart secured.
Behind that very solidly revamped defensive tackle group, DaJohn Harris, Zach Clayton and Stefan Charles look to be the main guys with any real shot of making the roster.
Harris was a great story for the Titans in 2012 after he surprised many by making the team's final roster. Nevertheless, when the season started, Harris failed to make any real impact.
He appeared in seven games and finished the year with only three tackles.
Zach Clayton didn't play at all last season but showed improvement throughout OTAs. Charles steps onto the scene as the Harris of this year's group of talent.
Charles is a promising young talent with rare size for the position at 6'5", 300-plus pounds. He fits the mold of defensive line coach Tracy Rocker's emphasis on getting bigger along the line.
Charles will be a raw talent having come from a different brand of football in Canada, but we won't be able to judge how good of a talent he is until the pads go on.
Charles' ability to string together some strong showings during training camp and the preseason will decipher his value and prove him to be the team's fifth tackle.
Scott Solomon didn't see the field much in 2012, which isn't much of a shock for a seventh-round draft pick. Solomon was only on the field for 169 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
While the chances of Solomon making the final roster were slim as solely a defensive end, the coaching staff is giving him a look at linebacker, which could prove to valuable.
The Titans would like to use him as a nickel pass-rusher a la Akeem Ayers. Having Solomon on the roster as an additional pass-rusher, he can serve as the team's other outside backer in 3-4 formations, provide depth at defensive end and spell Ayers when tired.
Of the names listed in the article, Solomon is arguably the longest shot to make the roster, but clearly, there's a lot to be gained if he proves capable of showing the athleticism necessary to play rush linebacker.