If you thought Chris Johnson’s record-breaking 2009 campaign was impressive, just wait a few more months.
The Tennessee Titans’ All-Pro running back tallied 2,509 yards in that historic campaign, and he did so without a high-powered passing attack to balance things out. He also did it with an offensive line that has since been decimated by age, injuries and free-agent departures.
That all changed this offseason as general manager Ruston Webster went to work to give both Johnson and quarterback Jake Locker a big boost on the offensive line.
Seven-time All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson retired after 12 seasons (one with the Titans) following the 2012 campaign, and Tennessee was already weak on the interior offensive line. Knowing how important the guard and center positions are to the health of the team’s offense, Webster made a couple high-profile moves.
First, the second-year GM took to the free-agent market in search of a guard to replace Hutchinson, finding a tremendous one in former Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre. While interior linemen aren’t typically brandished with massive contracts, Levitre certainly deserved one as one of the best guards in the league.
Tennessee locked up the versatile blocker with a six-year, $46.8 million contract, effectively giving its offensive line a solid foundation on which to continue building on the interior offensive line.
Webster also went against the grain in the 2013 NFL draft, selecting Alabama guard Chance Warmack with the 10th overall selection. Again, interior linemen aren’t typically valued that highly in the first round, but Webster identified the player he wanted and pulled the trigger.
With the agile, crafty Levitre at left guard and a road grader in Warmack at right guard, it’s going to be fun to watch Johnson this season. We’ll discuss that aspect of the offense later in this slideshow.
Webster also went to work on the team’s defensive secondary, first in free agency with the signings of safeties Bernard Pollard and George Wilson, and later in the draft with the acquisitions of cornerbacks Blidi-Wreh Wilson and Khalid Wooten.
After finishing 26th in the league in passing defense last season, it was obvious additions had to be made. Tennessee’s pass rush ranked ninth in the NFL last season, and the disconnect between those two facets highlighted the need for personnel changes in the defensive backfield.
The Titans also added a serviceable backup quarterback in former Bills signal-caller Ryan Fitzaptrick, tasked with replacing veteran Matt Hasselbeck following his free-agent departure to the Indianapolis Colts. Likewise, Webster brought in former New York Jets running back Shonn Greene to fill the void in the backfield left by Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper.
The Titans experienced more roster turnover than many teams in the league, in fact, but after a 6-10 2012 campaign and a third-place finish in the AFC South, changes had to be made.
Those changes didn’t happen at the head coaching or starting quarterback positions, but that may not be the case next season if things don’t improve this season. As it stands, this season will be on the shoulders of Mike Munchak and Jake Locker.
We’ll take a closer look at many of Tennessee’s offseason moves in the following slideshow, as well as the team’s 2013 draft class and some positions to watch as the season draws near. Read on.