Predicting Tennessee Titans Starting Lineup After First Wave of Free Agency
A clearer picture of what the Tennessee Titans starting lineup may look like in 2014 is coming now that free agency is in full swing.
The Titans have made a few splashes of their own that will make this roster look considerably different from that one that went 7-9 in 2013. It was a major disappointment that led to the end of the Mike Munchak era.
Expectations still remain high for this team thanks to the recent free agent moves. As of now, here is what you can expect the starting lineup to look like for the Titans in Week 1.
It looks like Jake Locker is going to get at least one more chance to show he's a franchise quarterback and worthy of the 8th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Locker will have to learn yet another offensive system under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, but at least he's getting a fresh start. The weapons are certainly around Locker for him to be successful. He just has to figure out a way to stay healthy and be a consistent starter.
The Titans did bring in unproven veteran Charlie Whitehurst as the backup to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick. He'll be more of a mentor to Locker than competition for the starting role, according to David Climer of the Tennessean.
Whitehurst has hardly taken any meaningful snaps in his eight NFL seasons, leaving for little faith in what the Titans have if Locker goes down again.
There is still the possibility the Titans draft a project at quarterback to sit back and possibly move into the picture next season. There are plenty of quarterbacks to choose from in this year's draft class.
Locker certainly has no reason to feel threatened for his starting job. That could be a good thing or a bad thing.
Projected Starter: Jake Locker
The Titans running game was really shackled by the early loss of Shonn Greene. We never really got to see Greene's full potential last season.
However, Greene played well in the time he did see down the stretch, including a 91-yard performance in a win over Jacksonville in Week 16.
Greene will be part of a committee, but should end up seeing the most touches. He's a bulky runner that can grind out tough yards in the trenches.
You still have Jackie Battle in the mix, who was retained for a one-year deal. Battle brings a ton of value to the special teams unit, and will probably see around as many snaps at running back as he did in 2013. He's definitely an option near the goal line, along with Greene.
Then you have the big free agent signing of Dexter McCluster. A versatile player, McCluster will likely see action in the slot, in the backfield and also on kick returns. He'll certainly see a fair amount of action in special situations at running back.
It will really come down to who's hot at any particular time to see who gets the most touches from week to week. In the end, Greene should see the most consistent playing time at running back.
The Titans could still add another piece in the draft to give them options heading into the next offseason.
Projected Starter: Shonn Greene
Quinn Johnson is currently the only fullback listed on the Titans roster, and he'll have plenty of different running backs to block for in 2014.
Johnson has been a very serviceable fullback in his three season with the Titans. The fullback position may be dying in today's NFL, but Johnson still adds minor value to this offense's ability to run the ball.
Projected Starter: Quinn Johnson
This position has suddenly become one of the stronger ones on the entire roster, and it starts with Kendall Wright's rapid growth in his two NFL seasons.
Wright heads into 2014 as the team's No. 1 option in the passing game. Look for him to put up another 1,000-yard season in a much better offensive system.
Justin Hunter enters his second NFL season with high expectations and as the main deep threat. He showcased what he could do on a few occasions in his rookie season, including a big game against Oakland.
The Titans are in good shape with their top two options, and the recent free-agent signing of McCluster fits into the equation. He will get plenty of opportunities to line up in the slot and eat up yards after the catch.
Nate Washington still has an important role on this unit as the veteran, but his numbers should dip from a surprising 2013 season where he came up just short of 1,000 yards.
The potential loss of Damian Williams in free agency would be a tough loss. Williams has been a good complementary guy who fits in as a No. 4 receiver. It's unclear if the Titans will be able to retain him.
If Williams leaves, that opens back up the door for Michael Preston to make the final roster and have an impact.
Projected Starters: Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Nate Washington
Delanie Walker was virtually a one-man show when it came to the tight end position. He was pretty effective at doing exactly what he was brought in for last offseason from San Francisco.
Expect Walker to have an even bigger year in 2014 in terms of production. Walker is a guy who can make big plays on and off the stat sheet. He's also a great target in the redzone, and showed that with six touchdowns in his first season with the Titans. That touchdown total was by far a career high for Walker, and he'll continue to become more productive in the passing game.
It gets extremely thin at tight end after Walker, and it should be a little concerning for the Titans. Craig Stevens really needs to bounce back from being a non-factor in 2013. He's a serviceable No. 2 tight end if he can prove that last season was an aberration.
As for Taylor Thompson, the project of converting him to a tight end doesn't seem to be working out. He may not even make the final roster, and it wouldn't be a shock if the Titans go get a tight end late in the draft.
Projected Starter: Delanie Walker
The Titans didn't make a ton of noise in the initial wave of free agency, but the signing of Michael Oher is major on multiple levels.
First off, Oher is going to bring a lot of class to the Titans locker room. He's also a big upgrade to an aging David Stewart, who is on the decline and his way out.
Michael Roos is entering the final year of his contract, but he'll be a solid pairing with Oher at offensive tackle.
According to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean, the Titans should try to lock Roos up to an long-term extension this offseason. That would pretty much set the Titans up at offensive tackle for the long-term future.
The Titans are still in need of depth at this position, with Byron Stingily being the only guy that has any experience.
Projected Starters: Michael Roos, Michael Oher
The Titans decided to address offensive guard with their top pick in last year's NFL draft by taking Chance Warmack.
Warmack showed a lot of promise in his rookie season, and figures to get much better in 2014. He's going to be in a vital role trying to protect Jake Locker from another injury. He's locked in as the one of the starters at guard.
Andy Levitre had a season to forget in 2013 with nagging injuries that kept him from being 100 percent. Offseason surgery will hopefully help him have a much better 2014 season.
Both Warmack and Levitre have to have strong seasons if the Titans are going to fix their situation at quarterback. Locker needs all of the protection he can get.
Projected Starters: Chance Warmack, Andy Levitre
It's Brian Schwenke's spot to lose heading into 2014. He came on in the middle of the season in 2013, and his ceiling is really high.
There's really no competition for Schwenke at this point. Rob Turner probably won't return in 2014 and was the primary guy battling with Schwenke last season for playing time at center.
Chris Spencer, Kevin Matthews and Tyler Horn will all battle to line up behind Schwenke. It's hard to say which becomes the primary backup to Schwenke, but keeping Spencer would be ideal.
Hopefully for the Titans, Schwenke stays healthy and has a productive first year as a full-time starter.
Projected Starter: Brian Schwenke
Defensive end remains a top target in the draft, but Derrick Morgan and Ropati Pitoitua are safe bets as starters right now. If the Titans draft a defensive end in the first round of the draft, this could all change.
Morgan could have a breakout year in 2014. He played well down the stretch last season and should be a lock as one of the starters.
Pitoitua was re-signed and played well in spurts in his first season with the Titans. The Titans must have faith in him to be a big part of this defense.
Kamerion Wimbley is still hanging around on the Titans roster. His future in a Titans uniform is pretty bleak due to the money he's owed. He never fit the defensive system, and that can't be held against him. However, the money just doesn't make sense.
Projected Starters: Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua
Jurrell Casey was snubbed out of a Pro Bowl selection last season, but was chosen as an alternate. He's entering the final year of his contract and has another chance to catch the NFL by surprise.
There is no way that arguably the biggest impact player on the Titans defense is in any danger of losing his starting role. He'll be the anchor on the defensive line, and should have another Pro Bowl type year.
Plenty of position battles will be lining up behind Casey, with Karl Klug, Mike Martin and Sammie Lee Hill looking to remain on the roster.
There's nice depth at this position right now for the Titans as former Steeler Al Woods was added in free agency and will be strongest lining up in the middle, according to Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com.
Woods will make an impact at any spot on the defensive line, so a smart pickup by the Titans.
Projected Starter: Jurrell Casey
Another great free agency pickup for the Titans was Wesley Woodyard from the Broncos. He figures to be an inside guy in the 3-4 defensive system, meaning that the futures of Moise Fokou and Colin McCarthy are in question.
McCarthy still has a good chance to start for the Titans in the middle of their 3-4 scheme. He's a hard worker that will impress coaches and earn him another opportunity to build off his impressive rookie season.
On the other hand, Woodyard has experience playing in the 3-4 and the 4-3. That fits perfectly with the hybrid type of defense that the Titans will be running.
Lining up on the outside is hard to to say before the draft. The Titans would certainly like to add a speed-rushing linebacker in the draft if possible. However, the 11th overall pick will make it unlikely for the Titans to get Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr.
That leaves the Titans with Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers. Both still have a lot of potential to flourish in the 3-4 system; they're the starters until the draft concludes.
Ayers really needs to show his pass-rushing strengths in 2014, and Brown should continue to trend upward.
Projected Starters: Wesley Woodyard, Zach Brown, Akeem Ayers, Colin McCarthy
Despite the loss of Pro Bowl selection Alterraun Verner, the Titans are still in decent shape at cornerback heading into the 2014 season.
Hope should still remain at this position, according to Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com. The Titans have drafted well at the corners for the most part.
Jason McCourty was widely overlooked due to the early production Verner was putting up, and rightfully so. Verner was showing his true potential and earned his contract he got from Tampa Bay.
As for McCourty, he's still a solid cornerback for the Titans. He deserves to prove his worth this upcoming season, and he'll get every opportunity with Verner out of the picture.
Verner's replacement looks to be either Coty Sensabaugh or Blidi Wreh-Wilson at this early point in the offseason. Tommie Campbell also has an outside chance to replace Verner. It will make for a very intriguing position battle in training camp.
With the way Sensabaugh has played in his limited opportunities, he should be the frontrunner to start opposite McCourty in 2014. Sensabaugh has performed very well as a nickelback since being drafted in 2012.
Projected Starters: Jason McCourty, Coty Sensabaugh
The re-signing of Bernard Pollard was major in keeping a guy who brings an attitude that every defense needs. It would've been difficult for the Titans to replace him.
With Pollard returning as the strong safety, that leaves Michael Griffin as once again the frontrunner at free safety. He's been a streaky player during his career, but hopefully 2014 is a season when he decides to play up to his capabilities.
Veteran George Wilson remains purely a depth player, and it's still too soon to know if Daimion Stafford will pan out.
As of now, the Titans are pretty set at safety with the duo of Pollard and Griffin.
Projected Starters: Bernard Pollard, Michael Griffin
It's still unclear how Dexter McCluster and Leon Washington are going to work together in the return game; there's a possibility that they line up together.
Washington was re-signed to a one-year deal and will primarily be used in kickoff returns, according to Josh Alper of NBCSports.com. He added stability to the return game over the last five games of the season.
McCluster is more dangerous as a punt returner and will give the Titans a much-needed spark in improving their field position. Special teams was a disaster from the first play of the 2013 regular season when Darius Reynaud gave his own team a safety by kneeling after stepping over the goal line.
The Titans seem dead set on making sure that trainwreck doesn't happen again.
Not much changes in the kicking and punting duties with the reliable Rob Bironas and Brett Kern remaining in their starting roles. Punters are always undervalued, and Kern is no different.
Projected Starters: Dexter McCluster/Leon Washington (Returns), Rob Bironas (Kicking), Brett Kern (Punting)