When a team’s biggest offseason storyline is the departure of a franchise defensive tackle and it's innovative defensive coordinator, then it probably wasn’t the most serene spring.
Coming off a 13-3 record in 2008, it would seem implausible to suggest that the Titans had a significant amount of work to do in the offseason. But upon a closer inspection of the depth chart, the Titans have their work cut out for them.
Outside of the arduous task of filling the hefty void left by Albert Haynesworth, the Titans face, perhaps, a bigger problem in replacing the man who pulled the strings on a perennially stout defense.
Add in huge concerns at the receiver and defensive end spots, and many presumed that the Tennessee front office would do their best Jerry Maguire impersonation and show free agents the money with the $35 million cap space they held.
But alas, the Titans skipped shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue and instead opted for the eclectic selection in the Penny Saver.
Signings like Nate Washington, Patrick Ramsey, Jovan Haye, and DeMarcus Faggins provided an enthusiasm and intrigue like that of a neighborhood yard sale.
While it is true that the Titans never graduated from the Pacman Jones School of “making it rain,” their reluctance to shop this offseason was surprising to say the least.
With receivers like Braylon Edwards, Anquan Boldin, and Torry Holt available, common sense would suggest jumping at the opportunity to sign a proven commodity as opposed to an unknown quantity (see Britt, Kenny).
But before anyone begins shoveling dirt on the ’09 campaign, let’s remember that the Titans are as thrifty as they are wise. Jeff Fisher manages an excellent coaching staff renowned for extracting every ounce of potential out of players, and the Titan running game returns intact and with a LenDale White motivated to get paid.
Though currently injured, Kenny Britt could be a solid possession receiver for Kerry Collins. With a “only-if-I-have-to” passing attack that stifled the Titans’ postseason intentions, Britt will need to find his footing quickly and avoid the drops that plagued him in college.
The plan is for Britt and Nate Washington to step into the starting lineup and relegate Justin Gage and Lavelle Hawkins to the third and fourth receiver spots, which would be more befitting for their respective skill levels.
A wildcard possibility would be a training camp pursuit of Plaxico Burress should he manage to avoid jail time and league suspension after his legal troubles in ’08.
The selection of Sen’Derrick Marks was a modest attempt at piecing together a plan to replace Albert Haynesworth’s production. Marks will combine with Tony Brown, Jovan Haye, and Jason Jones in a group that should provide a blue-collar approach within their rotation.
Staying along the defensive line, left defensive end could cause some heartburn for new defensive coordinator, Chuck Cecil. Jevon Kearse is a shell of his former self and his recent arthroscopic knee surgery doesn’t inspire any confidence in his ability to last the entire season.
Fortunately, Jacob Ford’s emergence last season was a pleasant surprise and should result in increased playing time.
Perhaps the most interesting addition will be Jared Cook. His athleticism and speed could produce the mismatches that the Titans’ one-dimensional offense thrives on.
His inclusion into formations as a receiver/tight end hybrid will also allow the Titans to use Alge Crumpler and Bo Scaife and thus, force other teams into awkward defensive packages.
The only question will be if Jared Cook turns out to be more Antonio Gates or Vernon Davis.
The Titans can’t expect the Colts to stumble out of the starting blocks for a second straight year, so the fight for this season’s AFC crown will be much grittier. While the defense may take a step back, don’t expect them to skip too many beats as the transition from Schwartz to Cecil should be seamless.
For the Titans to reprise their run of last year, they will lean heavily on Nate Washington and Kenny Britt to provide some semblance of balance that could never be had last year. Defensively, playmakers must emerge along the defensive line to allow the Titans to dictate the tempo and pace of their games.
Failure to meet these needs will result in America being deprived of Jeff Fisher’s postseason scruff.
The stakes couldn’t be higher.