Tennessee Titans: Questions That Still Must Be Answered This Preseason
The Titans have to make a lot of progress in their three remaining preseason games, with a big defensive test coming up next against the New Orleans Saints. Nasty weather conditions in the first preseason game made it tough to get a gauge on where this team actually stands with such a predominantly new roster.
We have seen some glimpses of what this team is capable of in both training camp and the lone preseason game.
This is five big questions that need to be answered during the remainder of the preseason, with a trip to Arrowhead looming in Week 1 of the regular season.
Is Jake Locker Ready to Prove the Doubters Wrong?
Jake Locker was gradually starting to silence his doubters at the start of last season when the Titans won two of their first three games heading into a matchup with the Jets. Then the bottom fell out when Locker suffered another tough injury that essentially wasted another year of development.
A lot of the focus on the first preseason game was going to be on how Locker looked with the starters for the first few offensive series. Mother Nature had a different plan, and it kept Locker from really giving us any answers.
Yes, Locker has looked pretty good in training camp up to this point. However, a bunch of solid practice outings are not going to be enough to feel confident about where his game is at heading into Arrowhead against the Chiefs to open up the regular season.
Locker is going to get his chance to show everyone that he's primed for his best NFL season when he gets a crack at a formidable Saints defense with perfect conditions indoors. Until that time comes, there's still a lot uncertainty surrounding the most important position on the field.
The Titans are very close to competing for a division crown if Locker can indeed prove all of his doubters wrong and get through a 16-game season without any significant injuries.
How Long Will It Take the Defense to Get Past Growing Pains?
How long is it going to take this defense to adjust to Ray Horton's hybrid 3-4 defense? We'll have a good answer to that question when the preseason concludes.
After just one preseason game, it's clear this defense needs some time to get through the growing pains. It got gashed by the Packers rushing attack in the early going. It would've spelled trouble if that had been a regular-season game and Aaron Rodgers had been under center instead of Matt Flynn.
It looks the Titans will miss another Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in Week 2 of the preseason, according to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean:
The Titans get to see arguably the best running back in the NFL in Week 1 with Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs on the schedule. Their run defense will need to be much better than it was against the Packers starters.
One big area that still needs to be cleared up is at inside linebacker with Zach Brown, according to Jordan L. Churchill of Music City Miracles. Can Brown answer to the challenge, and can Derrick Morgan make a successful conversion to playing outside linebacker instead of defensive end?
I'm not completely sold that the Titans offense will be able to put up a lot of points consistently, so the success of 2014 really rests on how quick this defense progresses early on.
There's no reason to be alarmed after one lackluster defensive showing from the starters. It's to be expected that this defense needs the full amount of preseason reps before we can accurately judge it for the regular season.
How Is Taylor Lewan Going to Fit into the Equation?
This usually isn't a question you have with your first-round draft pick, but the Titans put themselves in an interesting situation choosing to add offensive tackle Taylor Lewan to a roster that already had two solid starters in place.
Luckily, Lewan is proving to be versatile by getting reps at both the tackle position and at guard.
The remainder of the preseason is going to give us a good indicator on how far along Lewan is in his game and if the Titans have to find a way to get him on the field in Week 1. They can't waste his talent on the bench if he proves he's ready for the NFL stage.
Lewan will continue to challenge Michael Oher for the starting job at right tackle but also be in line for substituting as a guard for Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack, per Greg Pogue of Fox Sports Tennessee.
Levitre has battled injury problems since coming to Tennessee, so don't count out Lewan eventually starting a few games at guard this season.
As for Lewan's position battle with Oher, it's still anyone's guess how that pans out. Oher probably has a leg up in the competition being the veteran, but a strong finish to the preseason by Lewan might leapfrog him into a starting role right out of the gate.
Who Will Be the Titans Placekicker in Week 1?
We're not going to have a definite answer to this question until the 53-man roster is released a week before the regular season gets underway. The Titans decided to not pay up for Rob Bironas, and now they've got to choose between two inexperienced kickers.
The first preseason game instilled no confidence in where the Titans stand in the kicking game. Maikon Bonani missed one of his two extra-point attempts pretty badly. The weather may have had something to do with it, and the extra-point attempts were pushed back further than normal as an experiment by the NFL.
Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com listed numerous alternatives for the Titans if Bonani and Travis Coons prove to not be trustworthy in the regular season. Many of the teams he listed have veterans in place, meaning that some promising rookies may become available.
Two big veterans that caught my eye as possibilities were Kai Forbath of the Redskins and Josh Brown of the Giants. The Titans might need to get lucky that a veteran becomes available if this kicking competition doesn't get any brighter.
Too many games come down to three points or less, and the Titans are currently walking blindly toward the regular season at kicker. You have to hope they get some concrete answers with two indoor venues coming up next.
Who Will Round out the Receiving Corps?
It's still a heated battle to see who will be the No. 4 and No. 5 receivers on the depth chart in Week 1. Michael Preston will most likely be one of those winners, but who will become that important complementary fifth receiver?
The Titans already have three strong receivers in Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and Justin Hunter. With that said, those three aren't enough to have a balanced passing offense for Jake Locker.
Marc Mariani hasn't looked very sharp so far in preseason but is staying positive, according to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean:
He has to show coaches more in these final three preseason games to earn himself a roster spot over veterans Brian Robiskie and Derek Hagan. If the Titans didn't have other options in the return game, then I would like his chances much more. However, he has to earn his spot as a wide receiver.
On the other hand, Robiskie made a big catch on the game-winning drive from Zach Mettenberger to really help his chances. It's been a productive week for Robiskie's chances at making the roster, per David Boclair of the Nashville Post.
If this trend continues, then Mariani will have a tough time making this roster. It would be a tough cut to make but a necessary one.