Tennessee Titans Players Climbing the Depth Chart This Offseason
Due to the continued influx of talent, there has been a lot of turnover on the Tennessee Titans roster over the last two offseasons.
Despite all the change this offseason, most of the newcomers on the roster are not expected to break into the starting lineup. Instead, the team has focused on adopting new schemes rather than making significant changes to starting personnel.
With two weeks of OTAs over, and mandatory minicamp on the horizon, it’s time to take a look at some players who may have carved out more substantial roles for themselves this upcoming season.
Because OTAs are primarily noncontact, some of the progress made could prove to be misleading when the real action starts. Some players trending positively will fade as everyone begins to ramp up to full game speed.
With that said OTAs still showcase the players' abilities to learn and retain the new offensive and defensive terminologies that are thrown at them and to fit into whatever their role will be.
Let's see a few of the guys who have stood out so far.
During the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine Hunter registered a 4.44 second 40-yard dash time, a draft class-leading 39.5-inch high jump and the best broad jump for his position in the last 16 years at 136 inches. Attach those numbers to a 6'4" receiver who just put on 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason and you have a receiving threat on the cusp of a breakout campaign.
The extra muscle should help Hunter deal with more the physical brand of coverage found in the NFL.
Even though the second-year wideout is still easily the team's go-to deep threat, Hunter still needs to work on his route-running and becoming more consistent in catching the ball. According to Pro Football Focus, Hunter caught just 43.9 percent of the passes thrown his way during his rookie season (subscription required). He posted just 18 catches on 41 pass attempts in 2013.
The Titans have to hope that Hunter overcomes any issues he has catching the ball, as they will rely heavily on his production this upcoming season.
Per David Climer of The Tennessean, Hunter, in comparing the new offense with last year's, said, "We're throwing it downfield a little more him in prime position to make some big catches.
I don't expect him to win one of the team's starting receiver roles by the start of the regular season, but he should gradually take snaps away from Nate Washington as the season wears on.
Sankey hasn't spent much time with the Titans this offseason until recently, due to a rule disallowing his involvement with team activities until he has completed classes at the University of Washington. Meanwhile, his main competition for the starting role, Shonn Greene, has been absent due to knee issues.
Now with Sankey in the fold, the Titans now have two heads of their three-headed running back on the field, learning the Titans' new offensive system.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt had this to say about Sankey's first practice with the team, per the Herald-Citizen:
It’s pretty apparent watching him today in practice he’s a good runner, he’s got a good feel, Whisenhunt said. You can see that with the way he moves. He’s in good shape. It’s just the mental part of it. I guess the best way to say it is mentally he’s in good shape, but when you get on the field and things start moving quickly the normal thing to do is have a little bit of hesitation, and you see that.
Dexter McCluster is no real threat to be the team's main running back, and Shonn Greene has struggled with knee injuries since arriving in Tennessee. The door to the Titans starting role is wide open for Sankey to walk through.
Derrick Morgan had been entrenched as a starter on the Titans defense, but that security was suddenly called into question when the new coaching staff announced the team would be transitioning to a hybrid 3-4 defense.
Suddenly, the role of Morgan, along with that of other key talent on Tennessee's defense, became uncertain. Starting corner Jason McCourty praised Morgan's progress in learning the new position and system, per The Tennessean:
He has picked this up pretty good for a guy who has only done one thing his entire career. But Derrick is smart, and when you are smart it helps you a ton. You may have to physically learn different things, but when you are able to pick it up mentally and get an understanding for it, it makes it a lot easier.
Morgan's ability to transition into a 3-4 outside linebacker will be critical to the Titans success on that side of the ball. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Morgan has been one of the league's top pass-rushers over the last two seasons, despite posting very average sack totals.
Morgan has done a quality job of consistently pressuring opposing quarterbacks and helping his teammates rack up sacks in the process.
Pressuring the quarterback is vital to new defensive coordinator Ray Horton's aggressive defense, so Morgan's speedy development to his new role is a positive sign for the upcoming season.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson is yet to really stand out in his competition to become the team's second starting corner, but he and Coty Sensabaugh are the two leading candidates for the job.
That it's remained that way is a positive sign, however the team is reportedly taking a look at the recently released Brandon Flowers, according to ESPNs Paul Kuharsky.
But if team refrains from signing Flowers, Wreh-Wilson and Sensabaugh could possibly view that as a vote of confidence from the new coaching regime.