After beginning the 2008 season 10-0, everything went downhill for the Titans. After securing the #1 seed in the AFC, the Titans made an early playoff exit against the Ravens. The next season began with high hopes, but the Titans started off the 2009 season 0-6, mainly as a result of poor defense. But, after Bud Adams ordered Jeff Fisher to start Vince Young, VY led the Titans back to an 8-8 record, narrowly missing the playoffs (although Young did not do much against teams such as San Diego and Indianapolis). After the season, the Titans got much younger through the draft, and letting Keith Bulluck, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Kevin Mawae walk.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Titans return 10 of 11 starters. The offensive line anchored by Michael Roos and David Stewart bulldozed through defenses last year, paving way for Chris Johnson (aka CJ2K). Kevin Mawae will not return this year, with Eugene Amano replacing him at center, but the offensive line remains one of the premier units in the league. At the running back position, Chris Johnson will wreak havoc, much to the credit of the OL and very underrated FB Ahmard Hall, as he sets the tone for the offense. Johnson will be the main focus of opposing defenses, opening up the passing game. With Vince Young at QB, the two form one of the most feared tandems in the league (especially with the option). Young should also benefit greatly having another year under his belt, forced to mature over the offseason, as he takes on a bigger leadership role. According to offensive coodinator Mike Heimerdinger, Young has looked more decisive in camp, reading coverages much better. With the threat of Johnson in the backfield, look for play action to be very effective. At wide receiver, the unit is led by 2nd year player Kenny Britt, a player in a Larry Fitzgerald-like mold, who made a very memorable game-winning catch last year against the Cardinals. His size and strength make him a very imposing threat against opposing cornerbacks. Behind him, Justin Gage and the speedy Nate Washington look to be more consistent, coming off a year of many drops. Despite being highly scrutinized over the years, the Titans finally look to have a good group at WR. With all of their weapons, the Titans' offense could be among the top of the league this year.
After being one of the most feared defenses in the league in 2008, the Titans took a giant step back in 2009. The loss of Albert Haynesworth was enormous, as their usual 4-man rush was deemed ineffective. Without the rush on the quarterback, more pressure was on the secondary to perform. It also didn't help with the injuries of Cortland Finnegan, Michael Griffin (played with it, but needed surgery at the end of the season), Keith Bulluck, and Kyle Vanden Bosch. After losing Bulluck and KVB, Finnegan, Stephen Tulloch, and Tony Brown will be forced into the leadership role of their respective units. In the secondary, Michael Griffin and Chris Hope will start at the safety positions, with Vincent Fuller filling in at nickelback. Griffin needs to regain his 2008 form in order for the Titans to be successful on the defensive side of the ball. At the cornerback positions, Cortland Finnegan will try to create Finnegan island, as he will be mostly covering the opposing teams' number one receiver this year. Opposite him, Jason McCourty is the favorite to win the battle among Ryan Mouton, Tye Hill, and 4th round pick, Alterraun Verner. But don't be surprised if Verner comes out victorious, as he has done almost everything right. At linebacker the Titans signed Will Witherspoon to replace Keith Bulluck at outside linebacker. Although he will not "replace him", Witherspoon should be a solid player. In the inside Stephen Tulloch will pick up most of the slack, with another year under his belt and Bulluck gone. Despite being undersized, Tulloch has a knack for the ball. At the other lineback position, David Thorntorn will start for the first 4 games of the year, with Gerald McGrath serving a suspension for violating the leagues substance abuse policy. Thornton is very banged up, but should provide steady play while McGrath is gone. The Titans still remain very high on McGrath, as he is a leader on defense, and plays tenaciously. On the defensive line, the Titans will use a rotation at the ends, with William Hayes and Jacob Ford at right end and 1st round draft pick Derrick Morgan and Jason Babin. Morgan is essentially as NFL-ready as they come by, and should be ready to go against the Raiders in their opener despite being slowed down by injures in the offseason. On the inside, Tony Brown will be a shoe-in at tackle. Next to him, Jovan Haye remains the starter, but look for 3rd year man Jason Jones to push him aside as the starter. Jones is one of the best 3-technique defensive tackles in the league and should be a solid player on the interior. The defensive line is much deeper and should get a better rush than last year, but don't look for them to regain their dominant 2008 form.
On special teams, Brett Kern is replacing Craig Hentrich at punter, a stalwart at the position, who was famous for his knuckleball punt. Kern has a strong leg, and like Hentrich, can pull off a few tricks of his own. At kicker, Rob Bironas returns with one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the league. If the Titans get within range, it should be an automatic 3 points. Tennessee's return men last year were horrific, one of the few glaring coaching mistakes Jeff Fisher has made in his career was starting Ryan Mouton, who literally cost them the game against the New York Jets, muffing the ball 3 times. This year, the Titans drafted Damian Williams in the 4th round out of USC. In his time at Southern Cal, Williams proved to be a reliable return man and WR. Also, the Titans spent a late-round draft pick on Marc Mariani out of Montana, who is in the form of a Wes Welker. Williams and Mariani (along with Alvin Pearman) will compete for both the punt return and kick return jobs this year, but in the end, Williams will most likely prevail.
Final Result: The Titans are one of the most underrated teams in the league in my opinion. They have a great team, but not one of Jeff Fisher's usual "pound the ball down the opposing team's throat and play great defense." This year, Fisher, one of the best coaches in the league, will rely heavily on his dynamic offense, and hope for the best with his defense. If the Titans play above-average defense and their offense lives up to expectations, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Titans win the AFC Wildcard with a 11-5 record.
Raiders W, Steelers W, Giants L, Broncos W, Cowboys L, Jaguars W, Eagles W, Chargers L, Dolphins W, Redskins W, Texans L, Jaguars W, Colts L, Texans W, Chiefs W, Colts W
What's your take?