Rounding Up Tennessee Titans' Offseason Buzz, Post-Minicamps
With minicamp now concluded, we won't see the Tennessee Titans again in any kind of meaningful activity until training camp.
The Titans are not getting high expectations from much of the national media as they go through a major transition period under Ken Whisenhunt. They will have to prove a lot of doubters wrong if they're going to end their current playoff drought that extends back to 2008.
Major changes are occurring on both offense and defense. It makes it hard to really put your finger on what to expect in 2014.
There is plenty of buzz still surrounding this team, and a quick overview will let you know where the Titans stand with training camp less than two months away.
Jake Locker Is Locked In as the Starter
Unless a major injury setback occurs, Jake Locker will be the starter in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
There was some chatter early on that maybe Locker would get some competition from a rookie quarterback, but there is no way that Zach Mettenberger gives the Titans a better chance to win.
However, Locker is not necessarily safe to keep his job throughout the 2014 season, even if he does stay healthy. Job performance will be crucial for Locker's NFL future as a starting quarterback.
Locker is receiving a lot of praise from quarterbacks coach John McNulty, per John Glennon of The Tennessean.
This kind of positive attention is typical at this point in the offseason, but it's still a good sign that Locker is at least ahead of schedule in his recovery from Lisfranc injury that brought on more durability questions.
Locker started last season off really strong as the Titans started 3-1. He suffered another injury setback in a win over the New York Jets, and the end result was Ryan Fitzpatrick struggling throughout the season as the Titans finished a pedestrian 7-9.
It's widely considered a make-or-break year for Locker in 2014. As for now, he is the team's unquestioned starter and leader. There is no quarterback competition to worry about in training camp.
Dexter McCluster Will Have Wide Range of Roles
Perhaps one of the more intriguing storylines of the Titans offseason has been how Dexter McCluster is going to fit into the playbook.
One thing we do know is that nothing can be dismissed. He will be involved in the running game, passing game and in special teams, according to Greg Pogue of Fox Sports Tennessee.
I fully expect to see McCluster average around 10 to 15 carries per game. He's basically going to be asked to help fill the void of the departed Chris Johnson, along with rookie Bishop Sankey also seeing plenty of offensive snaps.
There will be games when McCluster may hardly even show up in the box score due to the Titans using a running back committee. Game flow will dictate how much we actually see McCluster in the running game.
You should also expect to see McCluster get plenty of opportunities to catch the ball on short throws to make plays with his speed. He will be much more effective than Johnson was as a receiver.
The kick return game currently has a lot of suitors, including Marc Mariani and Leon Washington. It would be hard to leave a dynamic player like McCluster out of the return game.
We'll have to wait to see if the preseason gives us any clues on what we can expect from McCluster in the Titans offense. I'm guessing that Ken Whisenhunt won't tip his hand in meaningless exhibition games, but McCluster will definitely get more opportunities than he did with the Chiefs.
Titans Defense Will Be Aggressive, Unpredictable
We've been hearing about the change to a 3-4 defense for the Titans for a while now. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton prefers this style, and it will make for a very different defense than what the Titans ran last season.
The Titans finished 14th in total defense in 2013, which was a respectable improvement from 2012 when they finished 27th.
An area that the Titans really need to improve in is getting to the quarterback, and this style of defense should help with that. The Titans went out and got linebackers Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard to help in this transition.
Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com says that Horton wants his defense to be full of "big men that will run" and "little men that will hit."
This tells me that Horton is preaching a defensive culture that will have virtually every man on defense doing multiple roles. It will be unpredictable and very hard to plan for.
There are reasons to be excited about this kind of defense, but having the right personnel will be the ultimate testament to if this works or not. There are some players, like Derrick Morgan, who will be asked to shift to different positions than they've been accustomed to since joining the Titans.
Expectations Are Low from the National Media
Despite all of the excitement surrounding the shift to a more aggressive style of defense, the national media generally doesn't seem to be buying it.
The Titans are widely considered a mediocre team heading into the 2014 season, with the biggest reason being the lack of stability at quarterback. This makes sense considering how hard it is to be successful without being strong at quarterback.
Another win-loss projection has the Titans finishing 9-7, per Sean Maczko of TitanSized.com.
An average season of 8-8 or 9-7 seems way more likely than a season where the Titans take steps back. The people who are predicting five or six wins are showing their reservations with a team that does have a lot of question marks.
The Titans have made mild upgrades to their roster, and the end result falls behind the quarterback situation with Jake Locker. If he stays healthy, then the Titans are strong enough around him to challenge for a wild-card berth.
We can't really predict what will happen with Locker when it comes to avoiding injury. With that said, Locker will manage the season well enough to get the Titans just short of a playoff berth and maybe even extend the suspense all the way to the final game of the regular season.