8 Things We Learned About Tennessee Titans During Preseason
It's often difficult to separate the good information that you get from a team in the preseason from the white noise.
You get to see how a team plays, but every team treats the preseason differently. Between backups playing, starters not taking games seriously, rookies making rookie mistakes and veterans shaking off rust, the games can be misleading.
Still, there are some things to be learned. Here are eight things we've learned about the Titans during the preseason.
1. The Offensive Line Will Be Great
I was a little worried about the offensive line before the preseason. With roughly three new starters and one returning starter coming off of an injury, I wasn't sure how quickly the group would gel.
Matters weren't made any better by the opener against the Redskins, where left tackle Michael Roos got beaten badly by Brian Orakpo and rookie Chance Warmack showed some shortcomings in pass-blocking.
Three games later, those issues have not resurfaced. Even against the Bengals—a team with a fantastic defensive line—the Titans front looked great. The starters didn't give up a sack.
Roos and David Stewart are getting older, but even stud left tackles will occasionally get beaten by the likes of Brian Orakpo. So I'm not concerned about Roos going forward.
Outside of one bad game, the offensive line looks like it might be as good as advertised this season.
2. The Titans Will Have a Solid Run Game
A great offensive line helps, but the Titans seem to have a very good stable of running backs as well. Chris Johnson, as much as he's disappointed fans and fantasy owners the past few seasons, is still one of the league's premier backs.
With a great offensive line in front of him and a couple of other running backs to share the load, Johnson ought to be more effective this season.
Shonn Greene has appeared to be effective on his own as well. Through three games, Greene rushed for 78 yards on only 16 carries. Impressive for a running back that doesn't have the breakaway speed that Johnson does.
Then there's Jackie Battle, who continued to impress throughout the offseason as he pounded through defenders like a wrecking ball.
As well as Battle performed, it wouldn't shock me if he was the running back the team turned to in some short yardage scenarios.
3. Jake Locker Has Improved
Now preseason numbers for quarterbacks are one of the more useless stats you can gather from the games, so while Jake Locker's numbers are good, they aren't particularly indicative of progress.
Still, Locker looked sharp in the pocket. He checked down more often than he did in 2012, and he even threw a couple of passes away. One of the reasons that Locker threw more interceptions than touchdowns in 2012 was because he had a tendency to gun for the big play.
In the preseason, he seemed more likely to just take what the defense gives him, and it looks like it's serving him well.
With a powerful run game complemented by Locker's ability to scramble himself, the Titans offense can be much more efficient if Locker can just throw fewer interceptions. It looks like he's well on his way to doing that.
4. Receiver Play Will Be Inconsistent
The Titans are stacked at receiver, but a lot of those receivers have the same weakness: unreliable hands.
Kenny Britt had trouble holding onto passes in the first couple of games, Justin Hunter had a problem with drops in college that has seemingly continued into the NFL (per Zach Ragan of AllforTennessee.com) and even Kendall Wright's hands were less than great.
Nate Washington and Damian Williams haven't seemed to have that problem, but when three of the team's top receivers all have that problem, it's a concern.
Britt, Wright and Hunter are all very physically gifted. Britt can take the top off of a defense on a good day, Wright is speedy and gets open deep and Hunter has elite height and speed. On their good days, they could be unstoppable. But on their bad days, they could be totally ineffective.
Don't expect them to be consistent as a group.
5. There Isn't a Real Answer at Right Cornerback
One of the most talked about position battles this offseason was the one for the right cornerback spot, opposite Jason McCourty.
At the start of the offseason, it was an open contest between Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Sensabaugh quickly settled in at nickel and Wreh-Wilson is coming along a little more slowly than expected, so the race quickly came down to Verner and Campbell.
Both got time with the starters in the preseason, but neither has done anything to win the job. Verner still looks like the better player, but Campbell has looked very good at times and is what the Titans are looking for physically.
Whoever ends up getting the starting spot in the season opener may not have that job for long. With no clear winner, the contest for the starting spot isn't over.
6. The Run Defense Will Be Less Than Great
The only thing as consistently good as the Titans running game was their opponents' running game.
Opposing running backs had a field day against the Titans. The Redskins didn't even play Alfred Morris, but Roy Helu and Evan Royster still combined for 119 rushing yards against the Titans starters (or at least, mostly against the starters).
The Bengals game wasn't much better. Rookie Giovani Bernard lit up the Titans for 37 yards and a touchdown on only seven carries. He looked better than those stats indicate, making defenders miss one after another.
7. Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown Are Difference Makers
One reason the Titans got burned so badly by opposing running backs was because it seemed like no one on the defense could seal the edge.
It's worth noting at this point that starting linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown missed almost the entire preseason due to injury. While the Titans want to use Ayers as more of a pass-rusher this season, he'll still be playing strong-side linebacker as well.
I said in the last slide that the Titans run defense won't be great, and I still think that's true. But I don't believe that it will be as bad as the preseason makes it appear. If anything, the preseason was just an indicator of how different the team looks when Brown and Ayers are on the field.
Expect both of them to have big seasons.
8. The Titans Will Be Better Than They Are Predicted to Be, but Not by Much
The most important thing about the Titans this season is of course how many wins they'll come away with.
Gambling911 puts the Titans over/under at 5.5 wins. Paul Kuharsky of ESPN is a bit more favorable, predicting that the Titans will win seven games, while Walterfootball predicted that the Titans would end up with a repeat of their 2012 record.
However, when I look at their schedule, I see more wins than that. The Titans have their share of tough games—they face the Texans twice, the 49ers, the Seahawks, the Broncos and the Rams. However, they also have some easier teams like the Jets, the Jaguars, the Raiders and the Chiefs.
Given the improvement on the offensive line and some progress by Locker, I see the Titans finishing with eight or nine wins. Eight seems more likely to me, but they could win nine with a little luck.
Of course, they could be better that I think—or worse for that matter. All I can do is make my best guess. That guess, unfortunately, doesn't put the Titans in the playoffs.