Previewing What the Tennessee Titans Will Be Looking for at the Scouting Combine
The NFL's annual scouting combine is set to take place from Feb. 19-25, and with a shakeup in the team's coaching, this year's draft will be important for finding talent that fits the new staff's schemes.
Like every team, the Tennessee Titans have some obvious holes in the roster that will need to be taken care of along with some tough decisions on whether to make a change at other positions.
Defensively, the Titans are expected to transition to a more attack-oriented 3-4 defense, meaning a lot of change should be expected throughout the front seven. The same goes for nearly every position unit on the roster; there is always someone coming for your job and now is the time to find out who the weak links are on a roster.
The scouting combine serves as the best opportunity for coaching staffs, general managers and scouts to evaluate the prospects set to enter the league via the draft. Here are some of the things the Titans' talent evaluators are likely to have their eyes on next week.
A Right Tackle
David Stewart has been a pillar of the Titans offense since being drafted. The curmudgeonly tackle brought some much-needed physicality to the unit. However, over the last two seasons, Stewart's level of play has tailed off immensely.
He's often been an observer at practices throughout the season, has struggled to generate his typical push on runs and can be beaten by speed-rushers on passing downs. His $6.4 million price tag makes it tough to stomach his lackluster play of late, as it would make him the league's highest paid right tackle if he stays on the roster.
The Titans will need to spend some time at the scouting combine evaluating tackles they feel can start right away. Taylor Lewan, Greg Robinson, Anthony Richardson and Morgan Moses are just a few of the options that could be available to the team early in the draft.
Whether they employ a 3-4 or a 4-3 under the Ray Horton's tutelage, the Titans are in need of a player capable of consistently putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the edge.
Jurrell Casey had a spectacular season for a defensive tackle, amassing more than 10 sacks in 2013, but the team needs someone else in the front seven who can rack up sacks and help take the team's defense to the next level.
The team has been trying to find an experienced pass-rusher over the last few seasons, signing the disappointing Kamerion Wimbley, bringing in John Abraham for a visit and hoping for the continued development of Derrick Morgan and Akeem Ayers.
Horton has shown a tendency to utilize an attacking defense over his history as a defensive coordinator, meaning the Titans will need to add some more attacking talent in the draft.
With the 3-4 being considered Horton's formation of choice, the Titans have been linked to Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack in several mock drafts. Of course, the team can look at players who may be available later in the draft, particularly if they sign someone via free agency (like Brian Orakpo or Jason Worilds).
While this may seem repetitive, the need for an influx of talent at linebacker is paramount. Heading into this offseason, not one of the team's current linebackers had a standout season.
Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers both regressed mightily as the season wore on, while Colin McCarthy and Moises Fokou can't seem to stay on the field or be reliable enough to be starting-caliber inside linebackers.
More so than the free agents mentioned on the previous slide, the connection between Horton and Karlos Dansby has been mentioned early and often. Dansby fits the mold of an inside linebacker in Horton's scheme and would provide an excellent talent and leader for the transitioning defense.
Even if the Titans were able to bring Dansby in, the starting linebacker corp would look something like this: Derrick Morgan, Brown, Dansby and Ayers. There are still question marks about the compatibility of Brown and Morgan in the 3-4 and whether Ayers is a bust.
General manager Ruston Webster would be wise to bring in as much talent as possible to the position group.
Tight End Depth
Delanie Walker proved to be a bright spot on the offense last season, leading the team with six touchdown receptions and providing a true receiving threat at the position. Behind him, however, the team has a bit of an overpriced talent in Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson.
Thompson was a defensive end that was drafted with the hopes of transitioning into being a freakishly athletic tight end. That experiment has failed, as exemplified by his inability to step up when Walker missed time last season.
Craig Stevens is set to be the 15th-highest paid tight end in the league with a cap hit of $4.4 million dollars, but he doesn't offer much other than blocking to the team. If he cannot be convinced to take a paycut, the Titans could be seeking some younger talent to replace him.
It's safe to assume Jake Locker will be on the roster for at least one more season, but whether he will be the team's starter is still up in the air. Personally, I think he's a guy who has shown improvement from year to year when healthy, but struggles mightily when injured—which happens far too often.
Locker still struggles with inaccuracy and poor decision-making from time to time, but his inability to stay healthy for a full season is the biggest hindrance to his career success. If one of the upcoming draft's top quarterback talents slips to the Titans at No. 11, the team will have to consider its options.
Ken Whisenhunt lost his last head coaching job in Arizona because the team failed to find or develop a quarterback after the retirement of Kurt Warner. I'm sure he's learned from that experience and will at the very least entertain a discussion on the topic if a quarterback they like is available.
A True Nose Tackle
If Ray Horton truly intends to employ a 3-4 defense, the Titans will need to bring in more talent along the defensive line that is capable of playing the scheme. There is already concern about whether Jurrell Casey will be a true fit in the system, lacking the prototypical height for a 3-4 end and the weight to be a nose tackle.
Sammie Lee Hill is the only player on the roster with the size to be a nose tackle at 328 lbs, but he doesn't have the strength you would like to see from someone expected to play that role. In a hybrid defense, which Horton intends to run for at least one season, players need to be capable of playing in multiple defensive fronts.
Kelcy Quarles is a big-bodied guy capable of adding on some more weight who could prove to be a late-round find that can handle playing nose tackle in a 3-4 and inside in a 4-3.
A Running Back to Team with Shonn Greene
While Chris Johnson's talent is still evident, it's also evident that he is far too reliant on breaking long runs to be a productive running back. The Titans cannot count on him to give full effort in every game or run for four yards per carry.
Even in his breakout 2,000-plus-yard season during in 2009, Johnson has shown a proficiency for rushing for two yards. His $10 million dollar cap hit is tough to swallow after averaging 3.9 yards per carry in 2013 and needing all 16 games to make it over 1,000 yard rushing for the season.
The Titans already have a bruising back in Shonn Greene on the roster, but they would be wise to find a scatback capable of making catches out of the backfield to complement him. The advent of wide open passing games has lessened the value of running backs in recent years, meaning the Titans should be able to find a quality talent late in the draft process.