5 Tennessee Titans Players Who Will Surprise in Training Camp
Training camp is nearly upon us, providing awaiting NFL fans eager for America's favorite sport to begin the long road to the Super Bowl with a few morsels of information about the progress of their respective teams.
As such, training camp is the time of year when teams begin to see the fruits of their labor—if they have built from within. After all, the key to success in the NFL is not the result of free-agent additions but the drafting and development of players.
While the Titans have notably done more than $100 million of free-agent spending this offseason, the success and/or failure of this team rests in the hands of its returning talent.
The progression of the following players throughout their time with the organization should help push this franchise back in the right direction after a rough 2012 season.
Kamerion Wimbley's inaugural season with the Titans left much to be desired. He failed to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks on a consistent basis and was a turnstile when it came to stopping the run.
Wimbley graded in the top 20 in three of four categories that decide a player's overall grade on PFF, but he was almost nonexistent when it came to run defense. In fact, Wimbley finished the year ranked 61st of 62 defensive ends (4-3 only) in run defense.
As a result, one of Tennessee's biggest points of emphasis entering the offseason became bulking up along the defensive line and improving run defense.
Enter Ropati Pitoitua who, at a mammoth 6'8", 315 pounds, will be relied upon to serve as an immediate plug to the team's sieve-like defense on the ground.
Titans beat writer Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean made the audacious proclamation that we should not be "surprised when Ropati Pitoitua starts at defensive end in Week 1."
If the prediction were to come to fruition, it would likely mean Derrick Morgan would shift to right end on early downs with Wimbley becoming more of a situational rusher.
Pitoitua has worked with the first-team defense all offseason to date, and you can expect his strong play to continue into preseason action.
The Titans' selection of Zaviar Gooden in the third round was a bit of a head-scratcher to many. Since then, however, Gooden has done everything within his power to impress the coaching staff, according to the Tennessean.
“As far as change of direction, I haven’t seen a linebacker this athletic in a long time,” Titans linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio said. “He has such beautiful footwork, he’s such a fluid athlete that he was the best example of each drill that I wanted to show.”
One of the major flaws in the Titans defensive scheme last season was its sub-package in nickel situations. In nickel formation, the team shifts to having only two linebackers on the field.
This typically resulted in leaving Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers—or a player who was not part of the base defense—on the field, while the oft-injured Colin McCarthy would get some rest.
Although Brown proved capable of holding water, Ayers struggled mightily in pass coverage. Gooden's ability to change direction and cover slot receivers, tight ends and backs were highly touted along with his combine numbers.
What Gooden offers is a guy playing next to Brown when they put five defensive backs on the field, and he should also be a solid contributor on special teams.
When the Titans selected Taylor Thompson in the 2012 NFL Draft, he was expected to be a project, having decided to change from his collegiate position of defensive end back to his high school position of tight end.
Although the immediate comparisons to arguably the league's best at the position does raise excitement for yet-to-be-reached potential, it is a much bigger compliment to Thompson's athleticism at his size.
The results in his rookie year weren't very visible to fans, but Thompson made an impact as a dominant blocker on offense and in special teams. The catches, however, were few and far between.
The Titans made a conscious effort to replace the departed Jared Cook with a more versatile threat in the form of Delanie Walker. With Thompson stealing snaps from Cook, who has never developed as a blocker, Craig Stevens began to emerge.
The Titans current crop of tight ends are all capable pass-catchers and blockers who are versatile enough to line up all over the field.
Along the lines of The Sporting News' comparisons to the league's elite tight end talent, Thompson could become a valuable asset to the team in two tight end sets. Thompson posted a grade of plus-7.3 on Pro Football Focus during his limited action.
The Titans will need to continue developing his route-running and pass-catching skills for him to be a reliable option, but he has already proven himself to be one of the team's best extra blockers on running plays.
Tommie Campbell spent all of OTAs as the second corner, running with the first-team defense through minicamp. Those dubious of Campbell's success would point to this time last year, when he was also in the mix for starting snaps.
It seemed the Titans had found their third corner who would finally allow them to play Alterraun Verner inside in nickel packages—that is, until Campbell gave up a touchdown to Braylon Edwards in the team's first preseason game.
His lack of consistency and maturity ultimately cost him his first real opportunity for serious playing time.
With the team making a transition more akin to the aggressive approach seen toward the end of the season, an emphasis has been placed on finding talent more adept in man coverage.
At 6'3" and 205 pounds, Campbell offers rare size at the position. And he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.31 in college, proving that he has tremendous speed as well. With a year under his belt, Campbell's biggest competition appears to be rookie Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who is stout in press coverage as well.
“Accountability is one of the reasons why I wasn’t out there,” Campbell told Jim Wyatt.
After putting together a solid rookie campaign—64 receiving, 626 yards and four touchdowns—Kendall Wright has returned to the team "in the best shape (he's) ever been" in. Wright has shed 14 pounds since last season by cutting junk food out of his diet.
According to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, the new dietary focus has already begun to bear results:
Second-year pro Kendall Wright caught everything thrown his way. After losing 15 pounds he looked faster and quicker.
New offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is expected to feature Wright in the offense more this year than former OC Chris Palmer did.
The weight loss should help Wright better separate from opposing corners on intermediate and deep routes while also seeing gains in his burst out of cuts on slants, screens and other short routes.
The advent of slot receivers becoming prominent parts of NFL receivers is upon us with the steady play of Wes Welker along with the arrivals of Percy Harvin, Randall Cobb, Danny Amendola and Tavon Austin.
The Titans hope they've found their own threat in Wright.