10 Players on the Bubble of Making the Tennessee Titans Roster
NFL teams won't have to cut down the rosters to their final 53 until August 30, but it's never too early to take note of the guys who are clawing their way into having a football career.
In 2013 quarterback Rusty Smith, linebacker Tim Shaw and center Fernando Velasco were the Tennessee Titans surprise cuts, while defensive end Keyunta Dawson and wide receiver Michael Preston made the original roster.
Nothing is certain in the NFL, but for most of the teams in the league, we have a pretty good idea of the top 40-45 players on each roster.
For the Titans, it's a little more difficult due to the unfamiliarity with the new coaching staff and their roster preferences, but I can safely name 40 players who will be on the final roster, barring injury or trade.
It's those blue-collar guys on the bottom of the depth chart whom I'll be focusing on here, though. Here are my picks for the 10 guys on the roster bubble and whether I see them making the squad or not.
Out: DT Antonio Johnson
The Titans re-signed Antonio Johnson early in the offseason to a two-year pact (worth $2.35 million, according to Spotrac.com).
He offers the ideal size at 6'3", 328 pounds and has playing experience in both a 4-3 and 3-4 front.
With defensive coordinator Ray Horton planning to run a hybrid 3-4 defense, Johnson's versatility, size and experience make him a valuable depth talent.
Last season with the Titans, he racked up 22 tackles and a career-high three sacks while starting six games and appearing in 16, per NFL.com.
Unfortunately for him, I have a hard time coming up with a scenario where he sticks with the team. He consistently finished with a negative score every season of his career on Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) rating scale and was atrocious as a nose tackle for the Indianapolis Colts (minus-17.7).
Throughout his career, he has finished with an average of minus-13.3, which is good for 62nd when ranked against defensive tackles in 2013.
In: DT Mike Martin
Mike Martin saw an inexplicable drop in snaps from 435 in 2012 to 237 last year. While he doesn't offer ideal size for a "30" front defensive line at 6'1", 298 pounds, he has consistently proved to be a quality performer.
In 2012 he finished with a Pro Football Focus score of 8.4—good for eighth in the league, tying Jurrell Casey.
While his squat stature isn't prototypical, Martin's strength has allowed him to succeed to date and should make him versatile enough to play anywhere along the line in a 3-4 defense.
Despite his limited snaps, he finished last year with 15 tackles, a sack and one pass defensed over 13 games.
His strength and use of leverage have made him a quality rotational talent on the Titans defensive line that cannot be underestimated.
Out: ILB Moises Fokou
With Wesley Woodyard being a lock as one of Horton's starting inside linebackers, the other spot comes down to a battle between Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Avery Williamson, Colin McCarthy and Moise Fokou.
Fokou started the 2013 season as the starting middle linebacker, but with a new coaching regime, he faces several new obstacles.
As far as I'm concerned, McCarthy and Fokou are fighting for the same roster spot. Linebackers coach Lou Spanos gave his expectations of his inside linebacker's responsibilities, as reported by Gregg Pogue of Fox Sports Tennessee:
The middle guy, he has to be first a tremendous leader. He has to be verbal. He is the quarterback on defense. He has to know everyone's responsibilities and all the checks we have. The middle €˜backer, he's the tone setter.
While McCarthy's inability to stay healthy is concerning, he is capable of contributing on special teams and has shown flashes of being a quality all-around linebacker.
Fokou appeared to win the job largely due to McCarthy being injured last offseason and failed to produce enough splash plays throughout the year.
In: WR Michael Preston
Preston has struggled to stay a member of the Titans roster for a full season in his career, but the dearth of talent at receiver beyond Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and Justin Hunter has opened the door for him to finally bust through.
Per Lauren Moore of The Tennessean, receivers coach Shawn Jefferson has given Preston high praise for his performance throughout the offseason so far: "He is my jack of all trades. He knows all the positions. I can plug him in anywhere, he hustles, blocks, and is a great teammate."
While he's currently being projected by most prognosticators to be the team's fourth receiver, his main goal should be to just make the roster.
He faces a lot of competition from Marc Mariani, journeymen Derek Hagan and Brian Robiskie, along with undrafted free agents Derel Walker, Jaz Reynolds and Rico Richardson.
There's also the added threat of a late cut from another player being brought in, but Preston has shown improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 and should continue to do so.
Out: DE Lavar Edwards
Lavar Edwards appeared in just six games during his rookie season, struggling to make much of an impact. He finished the season with just nine tackles and one pass defensed.
While it may seem harsh to cut a guy after one season with the team, he appears to have had the misfortune of being drafted a year before a coaching change.
The 6'4", 277-pound defensive end has almost identical size to the much more proven and experienced Karl Klug. The latter points aside, Klug also has experience playing at defensive tackle.
During Klug's three years with the Titans, he has shown a knack for getting to the quarterback, putting together 12.5 sacks over his career.
Horton's hybrid 3-4 defense makes it tough to find a spot for a player of Edwards and Klug's size, let alone two of them.
Barring an impressive training camp, Edwards isn't likely to make the 2014 iteration of the Tennessee Titans.
In: DB Marqueston Huff
Huff spent the first three years of his career at the University of Wyoming playing cornerback but switched to free safety during his senior year.
Like his fellow fourth-round pick on the team DaQuan Jones, Huff provides coach Ken Whisenhunt with a guy who is capable of playing multiple positions, per the Titans' official site:
We've got some established guys at safety that will play. We've got some young guys who are competing at corner. So, we'll obviously give him an opportunity at corner with the idea that he can work some in at safety, too, and see where he becomes a better fit.
It's a trait that cannot go understated. With the team's plans on playing a hybrid 3-4 defense, the need for extra roster spots on game day is paramount.
I don't think we'll see Huff making many, if any, plays on defense in 2014, but he will be a special teams contributor and depth at two positions.
Out: RB Jackie Battle
After taking a paltry 136 snaps at fullback last season, according to Pro Football Focus, Titans fullbacks appear to be in line for an increase in time on the field with coach Ken Whisenhunt's arrival.
The San Diego Chargers used fullback Le’Ron McClain on 134 snaps last year, despite his less than stellar run-blocking performance.
When Whisenhunt was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, fullbacks regularly accounted for more than 200 snaps per season.
Jackie Battle is being tried out at the position this offseason, as the team figures he offers the added benefit of being a running back and a solid special teams contributor.
As I contested in my article earlier in the week, it makes no sense to keep a guy for his versatility if he's proved incapable of performing in his primary role of running back.
When the Titans signed Battle last offseason, it was for the purpose of helping out in goal-line and short-yardage situations.
Instead, he often struggled to burst through the line on goal-line carries, finishing with just one rushing touchdown. He also struggled to convert first downs (19.4 percent).
In the meantime, Collin Mooney had a terrific season as a blocker and has held his own on special teams as well. It makes sense to get rid of the guy who's subpar at running and unproven at blocking instead of the player who has excelled at blocking.
In: OT Byron Stingily
The Titans have revamped their offensive line over the past few offseasons, leaving just two holdovers from the team's 2012 offensive line—Michael Roos and Byron Stingily.
After signing Michael Oher in free agency and drafting Taylor Lewan in the first round in May, the odds of longtime reserve tackle Byron Stingily staying one more year appear to be slim.
With Oher, Lewan and Roos on the roster, Stingily stands no chance of being any higher than fourth on the offensive tackle depth chart.
However, all through organized team activities, the Titans have stressed cross-training along the offensive line. Lewan has been practicing to play both left and right tackle, while Stingily has been getting reps at guard, per John Glennon of The Tennessean:
When you think about your active game-day roster, if he's going to be one of those guys, he's got to be able to play both (positions), Ken Whisenhunt said. I've said early on that we're going to cross-train these guys at different spots. You need that.
If Stingily proves capable of moving inside, it would significantly improve his versatility and his likelihood of making the roster over most of the competition along the offensive line.
Out: WR Marc Mariani
Marc Mariani will be given an opportunity to make the roster as a receiver, given his abilities as a returner. However, after he missed two consecutive seasons to injury, his timing for the game may be off.
As stated earlier, he faces some stiff competition from Michael Preston, Derek Hagan and Brian Robiskie, along with some undrafted free agents.
As if the competition at receiver wasn't enough, the talent at returner has improved significantly as well. With Dexter McCluster and Leon Washington on the roster, Mariani is no longer the best option to return kicks and punts.
Unless he shows significant improvement in his receiving skills, he's unlikely to make the final roster.
In: S Damion Stafford
Entering his second season with the Titans, Damion Stafford looks to expand on his role with the team. Defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi expects Stafford to take some steps forward in his development, according to Lauren Moore of The Tennessean.
Coming into this year Daimion was a very productive special-teams player for this organization. He is a very gifted, talented, athletic player, so we expect him to grow and be as productive as he was on special teams last year in a defensive role.
It's unlikely for Stafford to see many defensive snaps if he makes the final 53-man roster.
With George Wilson, Bernard Pollard and Michael Griffin ahead of him on the depth chart, further development should put Stafford in position for a larger role in the future.
Bonus: LB Patrick Bailey
Patrick Bailey has been with the Titans for the last four seasons as a special teams ace, but with the transition to a hybrid 3-4 defense, he faces added competition and a role change.
With all the new talent at inside linebacker and focus on being versatile, I'm expecting Bailey to be a late cut if he cannot show adequate linebacker play.
In front of him on the depth chart are Wesley Woodyard, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Avery Williamson and Colin McCarthy.
In his four years with the team, Bailey has a total of 42 tackles, most of them on special teams. Although he has proved to be especially effective on kick and punt coverage units, his skill set is in a position that is often given to the average rookie.
Bailey will be hard-pressed to earn a roster spot come August 30.
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