Tennessee Titans: 5 Things They Need to Work out in 2011
The Titans have looked solid in the preseason so far, but everyone knows they aren't a real postseason threat.
The Titans could make the playoffs this year, but if they do, they will be an underdog in every matchup and will most likely not get far. If the Titans want to contend for the AFC South crown and beyond, there are still quite a few kinks they need to work out.
Here are the top five:
5. The Running Backs
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The Titans will not trade Chris Johnson. Period.
If the Titans cannot come to terms with Johnson because he wants too much money, his trade value is zero, so it isn't that the Titans won't trade Johnson, it's that they can't trade him.
Given that fact and the fact that Johnson seems to want a ridiculous amount of money (more than I ever thought), if the Titans and Johnson can't come to terms, his holdout will go into the season until he gives in.
If that happens, the Titans have to be ready for what they're going to do with the other running backs on the roster.
First, there's Javon Ringer. He has been a serviceable backup, and may be ready to take most of the carries as Tennessee's No. 1 back if Johnson doesn't get real. He has experience with the Titans linemen and running game, and he's the fastest running back after Chris Johnson.
Second, there's Jamie Harper. He was great in the Titans preseason game against the Rams. Now, the Titans have a great line that can open holes for anyone, and the Rams don't have the greatest defensive line, so you have to take his success with a grain of salt. But he's the bigger of the two, and can run up the middle like nobody's business.
One of them has to be ready to be Tennessee's go to guy and the Titans need to figure out who that is.
4. The Receivers
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Kenny Britt is without a doubt Tennessee's No. 1 receiver, but he comes with his own baggage. He might face suspension from Roger Goodell for his numerous run-ins with the law during the lockout.
Even if he doesn't, Tennessee is in a weird place right now with receivers. There's Marc Mariani and Damien Williams, who have shown flashes of greatness, but don't have enough tape to make a clear judgment on how good they are.
Then there's Justin Gage and Nate Washington, who are both veterans and are consistent enough to work in as the second and third options, but won't wow anyone.
Then there's Jared Cook. Is he a good enough tight end to make up for a lackluster receiving corps without Britt? He's going to finally have his big year, no doubt, but he'll need a huge one if Britt is suspended.
Most online mock drafts have Tennessee picking a receiver early on in 2012. The Titans need to figure out if Mariani or Williams have the stuff to be on the field every snap, or if another receiver would be a wise investment.
3. Are They a Pass-First Team or a Run-First Team?
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With a lot of money thrown Hasselbeck's way and the first round pick spent on Locker, the Titans are going to have an improved passing game, but are they going to transition all the way to a pass-first team?
Johnson might be out, which would make the passing game the focus on offense anyway.
Then again, Britt could be out, which would mean they'd have to run a lot more.
Javon Ringer is reliable and Jamie Harper looks great, so he could survive as Tennessee's No. 1 back, but there's also potential in Marc Mariani, Damien Williams and Jared Cook.
There are a lot more questions than answers on the Titans offense, and they need to get them ironed out as soon as possible if they want to win.
2. The Defensive Backfield
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Just before last Saturday's game against the Rams, Jerry Gray was saying that the defense needs to work on not giving up big plays. On the first play of the game, Bradford threw a touchdown to a wide open receiver.
Maybe he's psychic.
That big play was mostly due to free safety Michael Griffin not picking up the open receiver. Griffin is a two time Pro Bowler, and should not let things like that happen.
At the other safety spot, the Titans seem to not know who to play. Chris Hope is eating up $6.5 million dollars this year despite being the team's worst starter. Myron Rolle had a great game against the Vikings, but the Titans already signed Jordan Babineaux to a big contract for a year.
So who's the starter? Young guy, old guy or new guy?
Then there's the cornerback position. Cortland Finnegan is entrenched as one starter and says that he wants to retire as a Titan. I hope he will since he's a great corner, but he started the season with a brief holdout. I wouldn't be shocked if he parted ways with the Titans after this season.
The other cornerback spot is up in the air between Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty. Although the battle for the second spot has made both of them better, stability is always good. Furthermore, the Titans need to know if corner is a position they'll need to draft next year if Finnegan doesn't stay.
The cornerback position is pretty solid for now, but the Titans need to be thinking about the future, when they'll be contenders again.
1. The Defensive Line
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Sometimes, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. So it is with Tennessee's defensive line.
Tennessee has a very, very deep defensive line with lots of talented players at each position. What they don't have is four clear cut starters.
At defensive end, Derrick Morgan looks like he'll be the only absolutely stable player for the next few years.
Jason Jones could be a Pro Bowl player, but he's constantly injured. The same thing goes to a lesser extent with Dave Ball.
Jacob Ford is a reliable backup, but that's all he is. Karl Klug has talent, but doesn't look like anything special. Even undrafted free agent Pannel Egboh from Stanford looks like he could contribute, but none of them are good enough to start across from Morgan on every snap.
Defensive tackle is worse. There's Shaun Smith, who is a talented veteran, but obviously not a long term solution. Jurrell Casey is impressive, and he might be the other default starter, but he's just a rookie.
After those two, there's Jovan Haye, Sen'Derrick Marks and Malcolm Sheppard, who are all serviceable players, but not starters.
Then there's Zach Clayton, who appears to be on his way to the roster, but he was just a seventh rounder, and won't be a starter either.
The Titans have 15 players on the roster that play defensive line. That's simply too many. Someone needs to separate themselves from the rest of the pack and become a clear cut starter before the Titans will be back to playoff contention.
Just a few years ago, the Titans had one of the fiercest defensive lines in the NFL. They need that back if they want to win now, win later and win big.