Updated 53-Man Roster Projections for Tennessee Titans Near End of Training Camp
The Tennessee Titans are entering the 2014 season with a lot of unknowns with new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, making it really difficult to gauge what to expect from this team.
A lot of this uncertainty hinges on Jake Locker's health, but there are also uncertainties surrounding a new defensive system. It needs a lot of work, judging from three preseason games.
The Titans have already made several roster cuts to get down to their current number. The really tough decisions will come up in the next round of cuts, which will be following the preseason finale against the Minnesota Vikings.
If Week 1 started tomorrow, this is what your Titans 53-man roster would look like.
Starter: Jake Locker
Backups: Charlie Whitehurst, Zach Mettenberger
There was a mild quarterback competition heading into training camp, but Locker's strong work ethic put that to rest pretty fast. He's the undoubted leader of this team unless another injury occurs.
It would take horrendous play on the field for Locker to lose his job. His leash should be moderately long to start the regular season.
Whitehurst had a battle of his own to retain the primary backup role to Locker, and Mettenberger did everything he could to win that job.
However, Whitehurst knows the system much better, a necessary requirement to be the conservative choice directly behind Locker. There was really nothing Mettenberger could have done to change that in meaningless preseason games. His real opportunity may come up in 2015 if Locker doesn't perform well enough.
Running Back (4)
Starter: Shonn Greene
Backups: Bishop Sankey, Dexter McCluster, Leon Washington
It's tough to call this race when you're considering that the Titans will be employing a running back committee. Who will get the lead number of carries each week will be a fluid situation.
For the sake of naming a starter, I have to put Greene on top of the list. He has a proven track record and has shown this preseason that he's fully healthy. Who knows what kind of season Greene could have manufactured if he remained healthy through the duration of last season.
Greene has what it takes to be the main guy.
With that said, Sankey will still have his fingerprints all over the running game. He has a great opportunity to be Offensive Rookie of the Year. If he catches fire early on, then it will be no problem to put him ahead of Greene as the lead ball-carrier. Until I see him prove it in regular-season action, I can't put him ahead of Greene.
McCluster makes this even more confusing, but he's still technically a running back. Who knows how many carries he'll actually average per game, but my guess is less than 10. There could be a few games where the flow of the game dictates him getting the most carries.
Rounding out the group will be Washington, who will rarely see any work outside of being a kick returner. Injuries are the only way we'll see Washington get double-digit carries this season.
It will be tough, but I don't see undrafted free agent Antonio Andrews making the final cut.
Starter: Jackie Battle
One of the major surprises for me this preseason has been the emergence of Battle as a fullback. I didn't like his chances just a few months ago of making into the regular season after all of the other moves that were made at running back.
However, Battle has proven to be very valuable as a short-yardage fullback. Don't be surprised if Battle gets his share of short-yardage carries in 2014.
This effectively leaves no room for Collin Mooney on the roster. His chances increased after the release of Quinn Johnson, but that was before Battle caught fire.
Wide Receiver (5)
Starters: Justin Hunter, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, Michael Preston, Brian Robiskie
This part of the roster has been one of the more heated position battles to see who fills in the depth chart after the top three.
It was never a question that Hunter, Wright and Washington would make the roster. They're the foundation of the receiving corps.
The two original incumbents were Preston and Marc Mariani. I believe Preston's athleticism will ultimately be too hard to turn down, and it'll earn him a roster spot.
The fifth slot is much harder to call. Mariani had a lackluster first two preseason games, but he played well in the most recent outing against the Atlanta Falcons. He'd be a lock to make the team if not for two seasoned veterans putting up respectable efforts this training camp.
Those two veterans are Robiskie and Derek Hagan. Only one of these guys I can really see overtaking Mariani's versatility, and that's Robiskie.
Both have had better showings that expected, per Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com.
Robiskie has had several impressive catches in both training camp and preseason. The most notable came against the Green Bay Packers from Mettenberger on the go-ahead scoring drive. Was that enough to win a roster spot as a complementary receiver?
The Titans need some more veteran experience, and that will lead to a very tough decision regarding cutting Mariani in favor of Robiskie.
Tight End (3)
Starter: Delanie Walker
Backups: Taylor Thompson, Craig Stevens
The delightful surprise of this unit has easily been Thompson. He's racked up 11 receptions for 128 yards in three games.
It seems that Thompson is benefiting from Ken Whisenhunt's tight end-friendly offense.
Expect another steady season of production from Walker leading the unit, and Stevens will be kept mainly for his blocking. He can dazzle you with his receiving ability from time to time.
These three will make for a much more balanced effort than last season when Walker was really the only guy contributing.
Starter: Brian Schwenke
Backup: Chris Spencer
Fans should be excited to see what Schwenke will be able to bring to the table as the full-time starter, and he'll have a solid veteran backup in Spencer. This position is more important than it gets recognition for, and the Titans look to be set.
Offensive Guard (3)
Starters: Chance Warmack, Andy Levitre
Backups: Eric Olsen
The Titans have a lot of versatility on the offensive line, so they aren't as thin as they appear to be. As far as officially listed guards, Olsen will be the main guy lining up behind Warmack and Levitre.
Warmack went through some minor growing pains in his rookie season, so look for him to make some progressions into the player most people expected him to be coming out of college.
It's worth noting that Taylor Lewan would be the primary replacement if Warmack or Levitre go down.
Offensive Tackle (4)
Starters: Michael Roos, Michael Oher
Backups: Taylor Lewan, Byron Stingily
The Titans are so stacked at this position that it's nearly laughable. They should end up really excelling at this position in 2014.
Lewan is going to see some meaningful playing time at some point this regular season, but where he lines up on the offensive line is tough to say.
The Titans will go with their two veteran in Week 1, but it will be interesting to see how they make room for Lewan's undeniable talent. It can't be wasted on the bench, but Oher's big contract can't be wasted either.
Defensive End (3)
Starters: Jurrell Casey, Ropati Pitoitua, Karl Klug
Casey is adjusting nicely to his shift to defensive end, but I still feel that the Titans are thin in this area. They didn't manage a sack from the first-team defensive line until the third preseason game.
This was the one area that wasn't addressed in the draft that I thought should have been. We'll see if it comes back to haunt them.
Klug's great motor and work ethic should do enough to help him barely sneak onto the roster.
There are too many valuable pieces in the middle of the line to make room for Lavar Edwards. He becomes a practice-squad guy after the final round of cuts.
At least the Titans know they have a Pro Bowl-caliber player in Casey, who just got rewarded with a long-term deal, per Titans beat write Terry McCormick:
It's good news to see the Titans and Casey get this settled before Week 1.
Defensive Tackle/Nose Tackle (4)
Starters: DaQuan Jones, Sammie Hill
Backups: Al Woods, Mike Martin
To be frank, this area has looked terrible through three preseason game. All three opponents have gashed this unit in the early portion of games, and that's against mid-tier running backs.
I like rookie DaQuan Jones to eventually see the most time at this position with his enormous frame, but there will be a lot of rotating involved in the new 3-4 defensive front.
A big part of how successful this defensive transition can be will rely on these guys being able to clog up the middle and keep teams from getting huge chunks of yardage on first down.
Starters: Derrick Morgan, Wesley Woodyard, Zach Brown, Kamerion Wimbley
Backups: Shaun Phillips, Akeem Ayers, Avery Williamson, Patrick Bailey, Zaviar Gooden
It was widely considered that linebacker was the Titans' biggest need prior to the draft. When all of the linebackers worthy of being taken at the 11th-overall pick fell off the board, the Titans decided to address the position in different ways. It left us with a much different look to this group from 2013.
The two biggest additions were done through free agency with Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard. Woodyard is easily the leader of this group on the inside, but the smooth transition of Morgan has forced Phillips to take somewhat of a backseat.
Phillips has seen limited playing time this preseason, per John Glennon of The Tennessean. This just means the Titans plan to use him in certain situations to maximize his pass-rushing abilities.
I suspected early on that Moise Fokou would fail to make the team after these new additions were made, including fifth-round draft pick Avery Williamson.
The Titans certainly don't have to be concerned with depth in this area like they appeared to struggle with last season.
Starters: Jason McCourty, Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Slot: Coty Sensabaugh
Backup: Marqueston Huff, Khalid Wooten
Another slumping area this preseason has been the secondary. Life after Alterraun Verner has been tough to swallow so far. That's not to say it can't all change once the games start counting.
The battle between Sensabaugh and Wreh-Wilson has gotten plenty of attention. That attention should subside as both of them are going to see vital playing time in one way or the other.
Rookie Marqueston Huff could end up making an appearance if the two ahead of him fail to produce. He's very athletic and a sound tackler in the open field, important skills that could earn him a shot if needed.
This was the hardest cut for me to call, but I could see Tommie Campbell being the most shocking cut of the year. He just hasn't produced at all this offseason, much less in his career. He's a great athlete, but it stops there, and it gives youngster Khalid Wooten the nod to prove himself as a serviceable backup.
Starters: Bernard Pollard, Michael Griffin
Backups: George Wilson, Daimion Stafford
There's virtually no debate for me at this position, unlike many of the other positions on the Titans roster. Pollard and Griffin are an underrated duo that just needs to avoid the 15-yard flags, and it'll be just fine.
Stafford seems to really be on the rise and has been a big positive to come out of training camp. His big-hit capabilities fit in perfectly with this group.
The reliable George Wilson will be a rotational guy who will round out what should end up being a solid unit.
It's worth mentioning that Marqueston Huff can also play safety, giving the Titans some more depth at the position. That versatility most certainly was why the Titans drafted Huff.
Kicker/Punter/Long Snapper (3)
Kicker: Maikon Bonani
Punter: Brett Kern
Long Snapper: Beau Brinkley
If you're looking for a reason to watch the preseason finale, then you'll find your answer with the ongoing competition at kicker to replace Rob Bironas.
This competition between Bonani and Travis Coons has gone back and forth all training camp. Just when I thought Coons had the job locked up after a steady performance against the New Orleans Saints, Bonani comes back with a solid showing of his own against the Falcons.
The Titans have been shopping around for veteran kickers on the waiver wire like Garrett Hartley, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter:
Former Saints K Garrett Hartley also worked out for Titans today. Some excellent kicking help there for hire.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 27, 2014
It's possible that the Titans ink a deal with a veteran, but I would think that their wish would be for one of their current guys to win the job in the preseason finale against the Vikings.
I could be dead wrong here, but Bonani's strong leg will ultimately win him this job. His accuracy issues seem to be improving, and you can't undervalue the importance of a long-range kicker. Just look at what Bironas was able to accomplish.
It goes without saying that Kern will hold onto his role as punter, with Brinkley doing the long snapping.