7 Tennessee Titans Players Poised for a Breakout Season
Training camps have started, and the preseason isn't far off, either (the Hall of Fame game is scheduled for August 4).
The Tennessee Titans have made a lot of changes since last season. Going into training camp, they look better on paper than they did in 2012. However, one of the problems they've had over the last few seasons is the lack of any one dominant player.
Hopefully that changes in 2013. Here are seven players who seem primed for big seasons.
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It'd be hard to call anything Jurrell Casey does next season a "breakout," but I'm expecting big things from him.
With the possible exception of Marcell Dareus, no defensive tackle from the 2011 class was as good in their rookie season as Casey. In his second season, he improved even more, demanding double-teams on a regular basis.
Now, he will have a more experienced Mike Martin next to him and veteran Sammie Hill to keep him well rested.
With better players around him, Casey could finally get some recognition as one of the best young defensive tackles in the game.
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Another defensive lineman who doesn't get the recognition he deserves is Derrick Morgan. Unfortunately for Morgan, many evaluate defensive ends purely on sack numbers. Morgan didn't fare so well there in 2012, only racking up 6.5.
If you watch game tape, however, you can see that Morgan was constantly in the backfield hurrying quarterbacks. In week 2 against San Diego, Morgan was responsible for two of Philip Rivers' three incomplete passes in San Diego's first possession. Were he a half step faster, they would've been two sacks.
Now, Morgan is shedding weight, per SBNation, so he may have that extra step that he needs to convert those pressures into sacks.
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Like Casey, Akeem Ayers has been great so far, so it's difficult to call much of what he does a breakout performance. That said, it's starting to look like Ayers is going to contribute a lot more to the pass rush.
In 2012, Ayers led the team in tackles with 104, while also defending eight passes and pulling in an interception. He had six sacks, which is nothing to write home about, but four of them came in the last half of the season when he was used as a pass-rusher.
If used in that manner for a whole year, Ayers could see a lot more sacks. Since he's been steadily improving in pass coverage as well, if he can make himself a regular pass-rushing threat, he'll be one of the more dangerous linebackers in the league.
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Coty Sensabaugh has been on fire in training camp, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, nabbing interceptions in the first two practices of training camp at the nickel position.
With Tommie Campbell and Blidi Wreh-Wilson competing for the starting outside spot across from Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner was considered a lock for the nickel spot, but if Sensabaugh keeps it up, don't be so sure.
Verner is versatile, and if the Titans like Sensabaugh at slot/nickel and one of Campbell or Wreh-Wilson at outside, then they could always make room for Verner at safety, where he may be slotted.
After all, Michael Griffin is coming off the worst season of his career, and Verner has the quickness and nose for the ball that a safety needs.
Of course, Verner could always end up keeping the other starting spot. Either way, Sensabaugh has a lot of ways to see the field this coming season, and if he keeps playing at a high level, the Titans will find a way to get him on the field.
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Delanie Walker is out, and Craig Stevens is spending time at fullback, so Taylor Thompson can expect to see a lot of playing time in the beginning of 2013.
In 2012, Thompson didn't see too much of the field outside of special teams, but with Jared Cook in St. Louis, he'll see a lot more. He's already developed into a pretty good blocker, so all he has to do is get route running and pass catching down.
We know he has the size for the position, and athleticism to go with it. The only question is how well he will transition from defensive end to tight end by the beginning of the 2013 season.
If Walker still can't play, Thompson will be on the field one way or another. What he does with that playing time is up to him.
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Michael Preston may be a name you didn't expect to see on this list, but with Kevin Walter injured, and the jury still out on Justin Hunter, Preston's chances of finding a spot on the roster are better than ever. Think of him as my sleeper pick.
Preston had little playing time in 2012, and a lot of the little he had was on special teams. However, in that limited time, he flashed some real potential. With his height and speed, if he can polish his game just a bit, he could be great.
Right now, the wide receiver position is crowded for the Titans; five of the positions are all but locked up, and the potential sixth spot could go to Kevin Walter or Marc Mariani. However, if Walter stays out, or if another receiver goes down, Preston will get a shot.
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Wide receivers don't usually make a big impact in their rookie season. Just look at Julio Jones for a recent example.
Kendall Wright wasn't exactly quiet in his rookie season—he caught 64 passes for 626 yards and four touchdowns—but he didn't exactly take the league by storm either.
Now in his second year, it's time for the third wide receiver drafted in 2012 to show why the Titans spent their first selection on him.
Like I said with Preston, the position is crowded, but Wright is the highest drafted receiver on the team and he's also perfectly suited for the slot position and seemingly developed a good rapport with Jake Locker by last season's end, so he's likely to see a lot of time on the field come what may.
Hopefully he'll prove that the Titans front office knew what they were doing when they passed on guys like David DeCastro and Chandler Jones to take the Baylor product.