Tennessee Titans: Latest Player Reports and Analysis
With a new coaching staff in place, OTAs serve as the first extended opportunity for them to install their schemes. It's also an opportune time to get a grasp of how players are developing and how it will affect the team's depth chart going forward.
With the first couple days of OTAs in the books, let's take a look at player reports that have been coming out over the past few weeks and analyze what they might mean.
Does Tommie Campbell Still Have a Shot at Starting Corner?
Tommie Campbell spent the last two offseasons competing against eventual Pro Bowler Alterraun Verner. Campbell ultimately lost the training camp battles to Verner due to his play during the preseason of each respective year.
With Verner moving on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason, Campbell may have his best opportunity to finally win the starting role he's long battled for.
For the most part, the discussion for Verner's role has been focused on Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Coty Sensabaugh. However, despite Campbell being in competition for the starting role both seasons, he ended up at the bottom of the depth chart after preseason. Per the Nashville Post's David Boclair, Campbell said:
I may be out of the loop right now—or some people may think that—but you never know. Come August, that’s when positions are won or lost. It ain’t OTAs. It ain’t minicamp. It’s preseason and I am going to be at full strength and ready to go during the preseason.
Campbell's biggest flaw has been his inconsistency when not in man coverage. At 6'3", he has excelled in man coverage, but struggled in all zone schemes.
His ability to improve his coverage versatility and work on the mental aspects of his game will determine whether the battle for starting corner includes him or comes down to Sensabaugh and Wreh-Wilson.
I've made it clear that I don't think Campbell is in this fight and that Wreh-Wilson will come out on top. At this point in the offseason, however, that thought is mostly speculative, with plenty of time for things to change.
How Well Is Jake Locker Recovering from His Latest Injury?
On the first day of OTAs, Jake Locker looked unencumbered, according to ESPNs Paul Kuharsky, and took first-team reps at quarterback as he continues to recover from the Lisfranc injury he suffered on Nov. 10, 2013.
Following the first day of OTAs, Locker spoke about his recovery, per Titans Online's Craig Peters:
I felt really good moving around. It’s the first time that I’ve been able to go in team periods, 11 on 11, and it felt comfortable today. It’s just kind of managing a little stiffness and soreness, things that I might get from doing it, but barring any big setbacks, I hope to keep moving forward and make it something of the past.
New coach Ken Whisenhunt gave a quality appraisal of Locker's first day on the field, saying that Locker showed good knowledge of the new terminology and has shown progress with his footwork and progressing through reads.
It's still very early in the offseason and it's not as though Whisenhunt is in the best position to openly criticize the guy who is clearly his starting quarterback.
It is, however, a good sign that Locker has recovered from his injury as quickly as he has and displayed an early grasp of Whisenhunt's offense.
I don't think there's any chance for Zach Mettenberger or Charlie Whitehurst to win the starting quarterback job barring an injury to Locker, but Mettenberger's presence does signify to Locker that this is likely his last shot at being the Titans' quarterback of the future.
Is Jurrell Casey Being Set Up for a Decline?
Jurrell Casey expressed some of the same concerns many fans and analysts have expressed over the Tennessee Titans' transition to an odd-man front for the upcoming season.
What I thought it was going to be—it’s nothing like that. You’re not standing there taking on blockers. You’re striking and shedding players and getting to the ball. It’s not the traditional 3-4 where you’re playing a two-gap scheme. It’s still one-gap football.
Typically, a defensive lineman's role in a "30" front defense is to occupy blockers and allow the linebackers behind him to stay clear of the clutter and make all the plays.
Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen does a great job of explaining the variations that exist in 3-4 defenses here.
Darnell Dockett is comparable to Casey in their size and style of play. Dockett has more height and length, but saw his tackle totals stay relatively equal to before Ray Horton arrived in Arizona for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
There was definitely a drop-off in Dockett's sack numbers during Horton's tenure, totaling five sacks in that time span as opposed to 12 sacks the two seasons prior.
There were no comparable talents on the Cleveland Browns roster last season, but the team's two starting defensive ends totaled five sacks for the season.
Unless Horton has a few new tricks up his sleeve, it's unlikely Casey will come close to the 10.5-sack campaign he posted in 2013.
It's a situation that will have to be monitored as the offseason progresses, Casey appears convinced he'll still be able to get after opposing quarterbacks.
Does Derrick Morgan Fit in Ray Horton's Defense?
Derrick Morgan will begin OTAs doing something he's never done during his four-year tenure with the Tennessee Titans...play in a two-point stance.
The Titans drafted Morgan in 2010 in hopes of him developing into an elite pass-rushing threat. Those hopes were halted early on after Morgan suffered a torn ACL during his rookie campaign.
He has since righted the ship and developed into a quality defensive end, but not one that opposing offenses build their game plans around.
With the transition to Horton's 3-4 defense, Morgan is forced to play a position he has no experience playing and, in my opinion, lacks the skills and athleticism to perform well in.
Chris Wesseling of NFL.com wrote an article recently listing the top 10 trades he believes should happen before the regular season starts.
The Titans are heavily featured in the article, being mentioned in four separate trade scenarios. One of the those scenarios includes the Titans parting ways with Morgan:
A prototypical 4-3 defensive end, Morgan is stuck in no man's land in Ray Horton's 3-4 defense. The 2010 first-round pick is penciled in at outside linebacker, a position he's never played before. The Titans have gone on to sign Shaun Phillips and restructure Kamerion Wimbley's contract, leaving Morgan's status up in the air. Much like [Brandon] Graham, he could be a bargain acquisition for a team with a 4-3 scheme. He went to college in Atlanta, and the Falcons just happen to need a pass rusher.
While the entire article appears to be conjecture, it is still a valid point. How well Morgan performs in his new role could cause major issues for the Titans in Whisenhunt's first year with the franchise.
The Titans did not bring in any youth to their outside linebacker position via the draft and are left with a questionable group at the position.
Shaun Phillips and Kamerion Wimbley serve as the two experienced talents at the position, but they are aging talents. Akeem Ayers has had a lackluster career to date, but the team is hoping the scheme change will benefit the young linebacker.
I'm of the opinion that Morgan is not suited for Horton's defense and will struggle with the transition to linebacker, missing out on a starting role.
Who Will Win the Kicking Battle?
The Titans cut long-time kicker Rob Bironas in March, due to his hefty $2.875 million price tag and declining leg strength.
His touchback percentage dropped from 56 percent in 2011 to just 40 percent in 2013, according to NFL.com. The average length of his kickoffs had dropped from 64 yards to 61.1 during that same time span as well.
Maikon Bonani was the team's extra kicker during the offseason last year, but this is his first real opportunity to be the guy for the Titans.
The leg strength has always been there for Bonani, however, his accuracy has been far from reassuring.
Bonani said to Lauren Moore of the Tennessean on Tuesday:
That was the perception last year. I came in here with a really strong leg, but I lacked a little bit of accuracy. That is something that I worked on when I left here. As many people have seen and many of my coaches say, I have the leg strength to kick it anywhere; it just has to go in.
Bonani claims to have improved dramatically on his accuracy from last season and has also improved on his already quality leg strength.
Travis Coons has been brought in as an undrafted free agent to compete with Bonani and offers a much more accurate kicking resume over his collegiate career.
Bonani went 1-of-2 on his field-goal attempts last preseason and made 69-of-91 field goals in college. Coons missed just one field goal last season, going 15-of-16 in his final season for the University of Washington Huskies.
Bonani is likely in the lead, having a full year of NFL-level training under his belt, but the situation is far from being decided.