The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
2012 Record: 6-10. Missed the playoffs.
Which player is under the most pressure?
Jake Locker won just four games as the starter last season, but none of them came against opponents that finished with a winning record. He threw 11 interceptions to just 10 touchdowns and will be without his good friend and mentor Matt Hasselback.
Locker’s issues remain as they were when he was a prospect coming out of Washington. Simply put, he throws the ball with very poor accuracy. He never completed more than 58 percent of his passes in college. During his rookie season he completed 51.5 percent and then only 56.4 percent in his 11 starts last season. It will be interesting to see if Locker can improve that number entering his third NFL season without his safety blanket Jared Cook, who was signed away in free agency.
One thing the Titans could do to take some of the burden off Locker’s arm is to use his legs. Locker is every bit the athlete that Russell Wilson is. In fact, both were very successful baseball players and each was selected in the MLB draft. The Titans would be wise to use Locker in the same way that the Seahawks used Wilson. Locker had just 41 rushing attempts last season — less than half of Wilson’s. When comparing them as athletes, their measurables are almost the exact same. Wilson ran a 4.55 40-yard dash and jumped a vertical of 34 inches, while Locker ran a 4.59 40-yard dash and jumped 35 inches.
What is the team’s biggest obstacle?
Health and/or depth at middle linebacker is a major concern.
Linebacker Colin McCarthy played in seven games last season after dealing with both an ankle injury and concussion symptoms. The Titans signed Moise Fokou in the offseason as an insurance policy, but he only registered 38 tackles with the Colts last year. Even with McCarthy in the lineup for the seven games last season, the Titans still ranked dead last in scoring defense and 24th in rushing defense.
What is the team’s biggest asset?
The running game and that is more inclusive than just Chris Johnson.
Johnson has never finished a season below 1,000 yards rushing during his five-year career, and of those five, four of them have been over 1,200 yards on the ground. This year, the Titans added Shonn Greene to provide depth and more of a physical presence to the backfield as a complement to the speedy Johnson. The Titans will use Locker’s full repertoire of skills, including his legs, that will add a completely new dimension to this running game.
The Titans know it, too. They went out and got the best guard in all of free agency in Andy Levitre and then signed arguably the best guard of the draft in Chance Warmack.
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper basically received identical grades in my draft evaluations, and it showed, as both were top-10 picks. Warmack went three picks after Cooper, but is an instant upgrade to the Titans offensive line. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be any growing pains with Warmack as he still has a lot of things to iron out in his game. Warmack is a mauler in the running game, but may be susceptible to an interior pass rush a couple times a game.
What is the team’s biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
The Titans were not only wise for the addition of the pair of safeties in George Wilson and Bernard Pollard, but they were also in desperate need. Tennessee finished last in scoring defense by giving up 29.4 points per game.
Even the Saints, who gave up more yards than any other team in the history of the NFL, managed to keep their opponents out of the end zone more frequently than the Titans. Wilson finished the 2012 season with 104 tackles and Pollard with 98, but neither of them played the traditional safety role as deep defenders very frequently in their respective defenses.
In Baltimore, Pollard was more impactful in run support when he walked down in the box while Ed Reed roamed the deep half behind him. It was similar in Buffalo with Wilson and Jarius Byrd. As a pair, Wilson and Pollard had a combined one interception last season. And while their tackling ability will surely cut down on the number of explosion running plays the Titans give up, I’m not sure they will be as impactful to the league’s 26th ranked passing defense.