Winners, Losers of Tennessee Titans Offseason So Far
Organized team activities are in the books, with mandatory (unpadded) practices set to start June 17.
The only thing differentiating the two practices from one another is an increase in the amount of time players are allowed to stay at Saint Thomas Sports Park from six hours a day to 10.
Whisenhunt said the added time will allow the coaching staff to hold more walkthrough practices and increase the amount of film study, according to Craig Peters of Titans Online.
Just as every game has its heroes and goats, the offseason is inescapably the same. Despite all the optimistic platitudes coaching staffs and players feed media members, as the regulars season nears, the picture becomes more clear.
Although players are yet to practice with pads or play a meaningful down in even a scrimmage game, players have the opportunity to put themselves in a better position to make it through roster cutdowns when the time comes.
Training camp and preseason action still lie between now and regular-season play, but these are the players that have distinguished themselves from the rest—whether that be a good thing or a bad thing.
Loser: Colin McCarthy
There's a lot of new faces in the Tennessee Titans locker room this offseason, especially at linebacker.
Holdovers Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley have been moved from 4-3 ends to 3-4 outside backers, Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard arrive via free agency and Avery Williamson was selected in the fifth round of the draft.
All in all, there are about 12 linebackers on roster with a legitimate shot at making the team's final roster.
With the transition to a 3-4 defense, several of last season's outside backers are being projected to shift inside. That puts added pressure on last season's starting inside linebacker Moise Fokou and his backup Colin McCarthy.
Injuries and declining productivity has dropped McCarthy from a fan favorite to a special teamer. Moise Fokou held down the team's starting spot for the majority of 2013, only missing starts due to injury.
With Wesley Woodyard and Zach Brown being seen as the favorites to start at inside backer, Fokou is already facing an uphill battle. He will compete against McCarthy, second-year talent Zaviar Gooden and rookie Avery Williamson for roster spots.
The youth and affordable contracts of Gooden and Williamson will likely leave the battle down to Fokou and McCarthy. It's tough to see McCarthy winning a camp battle that he already lost just one season ago.
He will need to make a big push to stay on the Titans roster.
Winner: DaQuan Jones
DaQuan Jones' selection in the fourth round was seen as a good value pick by most draft pundits, as he adds more size to a defensive line transitioning to a penetrating, one-gap "30" front.
Defensive line coach Giff Smith said the team has accelerated its plan of involving Jones in more packages due to his strong work ethic, per Craig Peters of Titans Online:
He’s played all the positions for us and handled himself well, so he’s a guy you can challenge more and more, and we’re going to continue to put him in situations and see if he’s going to be in position to help us this year.
At 6'4", 330 pounds, Jones is capable of playing both nose tackle and end in Ray Horton's defensive scheme. The coaching staff is counting on him to pick up as much information as possible to become a quality rotational player on game days.
The big thing will be transitioning his strong performance through organized team activities into quality play when the players put pads and helmets on.
Loser: Shonn Greene
Ken Whisenhunt and Jason Michael both spent last season with the San Diego Chargers, Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator and Michael as tight ends coach.
They fielded a potent running game with a committee approach, and the Titans have revamped their stable of backs to take a similar approach.
Rookie Bishop Sankey appears to be in line to take on the most carries of the committee, as he's a three-down back capable of making catches out of the backfield and grinding out yardage between the tackles.
Dexter McCluster will get his fair share of touches as a scat back, typically coming on in third-down situations and obvious passing downs.
That leaves Shonn Greene with mostly short-yardage and goal-line carries, while taking on a few carries on early downs. However, with Greene still recovering from his second knee surgery in as many years, he is falling behind in practice time.
Undrafted rookie Antonio Andrews is a big, strapping back who has the opportunity to force some conversation on who is more deserving of a roster spot, along with Jackie Battle, after Greene's poor showing in 2013.
Winner: Bernard Pollard
T.J. Ward and Adrian Wilson are the two strong safeties whom defensive coordinator Ray Horton has been given to work with in his two prior defensive coordinator opportunities.
An injury-ravaged Wilson performed admirably in what may be the final two seasons of his career, posting solid tackle and sack numbers. Ward just finished up a Pro Bowl-caliber season and cashed in with a big new contract during the offseason. He posted 112 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions in his only season under Horton's tutelage.
Now Bernard Pollard takes up the mantle as Horton's starting strong safety and should have no issues with surpassing Ward's numbers.
Pollard already led the Titans in tackles in 2013 with 99. He has 9.5 sacks in his career, proving he's capable of getting after the quarterback. I expect Horton to give Pollard more opportunities to blitz in 2014.
Pollard should be more comfortable with his supporting cast in the secondary during his second go-round, and I expect him to blossom in Horton's more aggressive scheme.
In Ray Horton's more aggressive defense, Pollard expects the Titans defense to to show a lot more intensity compared to last season, as Titans Online's Craig Peters reports:
We had some great plays, but you look at some games, and we didn’t step on the throat when we were supposed to. We didn’t finish it off when we were supposed to, we didn’t get off the field when we were supposed to, so if you look at Coach Horton and the mentality that they’re instilling in players like us, it’s going to be a fun year.
Loser: Nate Washington
As he enters the last season of his six-year pact with the Titans, Nate Washington has carved out a quality career for himself over nine seasons.
Although, Washington has not shown any signs of decline, he has been passed on the depth chart by third-year receiver Kendall Wright while second-year man Justin Hunter is said to be improving rapidly.
Wright will maintain his position atop the depth chart after leading the team receptions each of the last two seasons. Hunter will likely see an increase in snaps as the team's main downfield threat.
Washington has posted solid numbers every year he's played for the Titans, but has never flashed No. 1 receiver talent.
Washington will be hard-pressed to hold off Hunter, although I fully expect him to do so. However, as the season progresses, I expect Hunter to continue his development and slowly steal more and more snaps from the veteran.
With the opportunity to give the team's two future starting receivers more playing time, the coaching staff should not hesitate to phase out a likely departing player when the season nears its end.
Winner: Dexter McCluster
While we shouldn't expect to see more than 10 carries a game for McCluster in the team's new committee approach, he will definitely be involved in the offense in a variety of ways.
Look for the team to utilize McCluster to create matchup problems by coming out of the backfield on screen passes.
McCluster has a very similar skill set to that of Danny Woodhead, whom Whisenhunt often used near the goal line. I expect McCluster to be mixed in nicely in the red zone as well.
With McCluster's history as a receiver, it's safe to assume he'll be split outside and in the slot on occasion too, taking a few snaps away from tight end Delanie Walker.
Walker confirmed that assessment in an interview with ESPN's Paul Kuharsky:
We’re going to move around, but I think you’re going to see more of Dexter McCluster in that spot. He’s the Swiss Army knife now for this team. He can play multiple positions, and I think you’re going to see Dexter moving around making great plays for us.