Will The Real Tennesse Titans Step Forward In 2010?

Rob CowmanContributor IMay 27, 2010

HOUSTON - NOVEMBER 23:  Quarterback Vince Young #10 of the Tennessee Titans carries the ball against safety Bernard Pollard of the Houston Texans on November 23, 2009  at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas.  The Titans won 20-17  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
When you think of the Tennessee Titans coming off of last season's abysmal beginning followed by a solid finish and attempt to predict the Titans expected performance this upcoming season, your first thought has to be clearly centered on one simple, yet enigmatic question: What team is going to show up in 2010?
Between 2006 & 2008, the Titans managed to be a formidable adversary in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. In spite of the turmoil that consumed their quarterback position, which saw the meteoric rise of rookie Vince Young in ‘06 & his subsequent self destruction in early ‘08 that brought him to the brink of irrelevance in the Titan‘s locker room.
Going into 2008, Vince Young was semi-successful and self-confident in his abilities to play QB in the NFL. In spite of consistently low QB rankings, Young was viewed as a winner by many in terms of improving team wins in ‘06 & ‘07 & with his frequent play making ability in critical situations. Unfortunately in ‘08, Young quickly faced a critical mass that would prove to be an overwhelming experience in his young career.
The critical mass for Young came in the form of the escalating challenges he confronted in newly evolved defensive schemes designed to counter his athleticism. While struggling to succeed against the opposition’s defensive complexities, Young also struggled with his limited ability to execute a pro passing attack under the direction of then new offensive coordinator, Mike Heimerdinger.
These and other factors quickly exposed Young’s inexperience & vulnerable psyche. A psyche, when confronted by significant adversity, left Young searching for answers to mounting questions about his ability to be a legitimate starting QB in the NFL and an equally daunting answer to the question of how Young would recapture the trust and respect of his teammates.
Enter 2009, a shell shocked Titan’s organization is reeling from the bizarre homicide of former Titan QB and legend, Steve McNair, who left a stunned Titan organization searching for the unattainable answer as to how could this happen to the team’s legendary hero? McNair was in fact, Vince Young’s biggest hero.
How this tragedy impacted the Titan’s early performance on the field is hard to gage, and while questionable, one can’t help but wonder what the psychological impact and distraction this may have caused the Titan organization entering the 2009 season.
During the 2009 season, the Titans managed one the best dual identity impersonations in recent NFL history. Starting the season with an unbelievable 0-6 record, the Titans were a far departure from the Jeff Fisher coached Titans of old. Prior to 2009, the Titans were your garden variety meat and potatoes football team that played tough, hard-nosed defense aimed at stopping the run, while creating pressure on opposing QB’s resulting in turnovers. The Titans’ defense was nicely complimented by a consistent clock-eating running game, which gave them week-to-week consistency and invariably in a position to win in the 4th quarter.
Kerry Collins was firmly entrenched at QB and Vince Young for the most part saying all of the right things, such as, “I will work hard, wait until my time comes and show everyone I can be the starting QB for this team”. Given the team’s horrible start in the ‘09 season, Young would be propelled back into the driver’s seat with a chance to prove his worth in unusual circumstances.
The Titan’s subsequent QB change & turnaround came from an unlikely source: Team owner, Bud Adams, the old AFL pioneer well known for his idiosyncrasies & tight fisted financial management of the team’s purse strings. His financial prudence was essentially the driving force of change, which resulted in making, what coach Fisher felt to be an ill advised change at QB: Bench the aging veteran Collins and hand over the reigns to the question mark, Young.
The financial aspect of the decision was that Young would be due $10 million over his 2009 salary in 2010 and Adams felt the need to know if Young would fit into the Titans’ long-term plans. Besides, the team was 0-6 and Collins was having a poor season anyway, so what was the real risk in playing Young? Could you really blame Adams? He does in fact sign the checks, to include Fisher’s.
The surprising result was that the Titans went 8-2 with Vince Young calling the snaps and the team finished with a respectable 8-8 record, thus avoiding catastrophic embarrassment in ‘09. While Young’s statistics were pedestrian, with 1,879 yards passing, 10 TD’s and 7 interceptions, he demonstrated he could in fact lead and more importantly win as the Titan‘s starting QB. Additionally, Young’s presence in the backfield put defenses in the dubious position, consequently, this opened up the field for Chris Johnson, who blistered NFL defenses for a total of 2006 yards & 14 TD’s.
This turnaround reflects another key component to Young’s psyche, he lives to prove his critics wrong. How he performs in 2010 will more than likely answer cynics & supporters alike as to Young’s ability to be the Titan’s QB of the future.
Going into 2010, the Titans have many things to accomplish if they are to become the play-off caliber team of old. First of all, Young will need to demonstrate continued improvement, not only in his QB rating, but in his ability to successfully execute more of Heimerdinger’s playbook & game plans. In doing so, he should be able to moderately improve receiver productivity & most importantly minimize turnovers.
Secondly, the Titans need to make RB Chris Johnson happy & get him into camp as soon as possible. He and TE Bo Scaife are currently holding out for more money & new contracts. Currently, the Titan’s front office feels confident this will happen within their critical pre-season time-line. Let’s hope Chris Johnson follows, Andre Johnson’s lead by returning to team workouts.
In terms of RB depth, it is quite possible that second year talent Javon Ringer can be more productive than Lendale White, who was shipped off to Seattle during the draft. Perhaps the wildcard known as Legarrette Blount, might be able to make the team & contribute in special situations. He certainly possesses the talent to be a successful RB in the NFL, the obvious question is if he can mature emotionally & mentally to understand what it takes to become a respectable pro.
Thirdly, the Titans’ defensive will need to radically improve their performance over last season. The Titans went from 7th in total defense in 2008 to 28th in 2009. Last year, many analysts attributed the loss of DT Albert Haynesworth to free agency as one of the big reasons for the free fall in defensive productivity. While potentially true, given the nightmare the Redskins are currently experiencing with Haynesworth, I think it is safe to say Adams & Fisher do not miss his extremely expensive & distracting presence.
The Titans’ focus on defense during the draft came as no surprise. Tennessee is going forward without four starters from last season. The Titans ranked 31 out 32 in passing yards allowed in 2009. The Titans also ranked 28th in total yards allowed per game and gave up 31 touchdown receptions. They only managed 32 sacks.
The Titans expect rookie defensive end Derrick Morgan, the 16th overall pick in the draft, to contribute immediately. Expect former UCLA cornerback and rookie draft pick, Alterraun Verner, to provide early contributions for the Titans as well. This class of rookies is viewed by the coaching staff as the most intelligent rookie class they have seen to date. This could bode well in the coaches’ ability to get these players prepared to contribute sooner than expected in special teams and their assigned positions.
Regardless, the essential fact is that the Titans need to develop these players as soon as possible, especially Morgan and Verner on defense. Given their abysmal performance last year & the off-season departures of former veteran contributors like, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Keith Bullock & Nick Harper; the Titans really need immediate dividends from their rookies and younger returning players vying for starting positions vacated by the veterans lost in the off-season.
Vince Young is in the option year of his rookie contract & has recently changed agents from family friend, Major Adams, to Tom Condon, who is currently employed by both Peyton and Eli Manning, in addition to several other NFL QB’s. Typically, in these situations this is when players coming off of their rookie contract attempt to maximize their performance on the field, in order to justify a more lucrative second deal.
Given the contractual imperatives of this season, this is unquestionably the most critical season of Vince Young’s career. In terms performance expectations, 2010 requires Vince Young to significantly exceed his performance of his previous seasons.
The Titans biggest strength is their offensive line, which looks to dominate this season, thus providing performance opportunities for both Young, Johnson & other key play-makers, such as Kenny Britt, Bo Scaife & Nate Washington.
Lastly, when we ask the question, “Will the real Tennessee Titans step forward “?. What we are really asking is, “Will Vince Young and the Titans’ revamped defense be able to step forward in all 16 games of the 2010 season”?