NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The new-look Tennessee Titans wrapped up Organized Team Activities and mandatory minicamp this week with the expected pangs of promise.
Hope springs eternal … even as summer commences in Tennessee.
Third-year head coach Mike Munchak knows another clunker like last season’s 6-10 debacle will most likely cost him his job. So, there were a dozen or so coaching changes and a huge roster shift — thanks to unprecedented aggressive free agency and a solid draft.
Will the changes work? If not, the Titans will miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season, and that won’t sit well with 90-something owner Bud Adams.
As the Titans take a few weeks off before starting training camp on July 25, we offer five questions coming out of spring drills for summertime pondering:
1. Is Jake Locker ready to become the franchise quarterback the Titans expected when they selected him No. 8 overall in the 2011 draft?
After sitting behind veteran Matt Hasselbeck as a rookie and then playing adequately in only 11 games last season, the now-healthy Locker needs to lead a new offense with both his arm and legs.
This time around, he is going through a full offseason knowing he’s the starter. During spring drills, Locker said all the right things and appeared to be strongly exerting leadership qualities among his accepting teammates.
2. How will will the Jerry Gray/Gregg Williams dynamic play out this time?
Williams got off NFL suspension in time to join the team that gave him his pro coaching start. The title — senior assistant/defense — is nebulous at best.
The former Bills head coach and multi-team defensive coordinator is a take-charge guy. But what about current defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, whose personal and professional friendship with Williams is long and varied?
Just who’s in charge?
They both defer to Munchak for that. It appeared during spring drills that Williams would be calling defensive sets. Either way, just how this dual dynamic clicks will go a long way toward fixing a defense that gave up the most points in the NFL last season.
3. Can the Titans generate more productivity and ferocity from their current lot of defensive linemen?
With quarterback pressures and sacks — the club had only 39 last season — being a perceived need, the Titans did little during free agency and the draft to secure rush ends.
They are apparently content with former first-round draft pick Derrick Morgan, veteran Kamerion Wimbley and free-agent signee Ropati Pitoitua, formerly of Kansas City, to be the lead end rushers.
Then again, Williams is known for bringing pressure from all over the field, so the stable of quick outside linebackers — returnees Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown and rookie Zaviar Gooden — could alleviate that problem. Morgan closed strong last season to lead the team in sacks, while the next two leaders were Ayers and Brown.
4. Are Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene complementary parts, or lead rushers shoehorned into the same backfield?
Johnson, who has gained 6,888 yards in his first five seasons, didn’t exactly do cartwheels upon learning the team had signed the ex-Jet Greene, via free agency. Greene is a bullish back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards the last two seasons, and he can be a nice change of pace to the speedy Johnson.
Look for Johnson to still get the lion’s share of carries, but first-year offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said this spring that if Greene’s power game is working in key situations, then he won’t worry about how many carries or touches for either back.
5. Change is a good thing for head coach Mike Munchak, right?
Being a Hall of Famer with the Oilers/Titans (12 years) and then a top-notch offensive line coach another 14 years still wasn’t enough for Munchak to learn a valuable lesson: No matter the situation, being an NFL head coach for the first time is a tall task.
The 9-7 record that nearly netted a playoff spot in Munchak’s first season (2011) might have been fool’s gold, because the team often looked in disarray during last year.
In response to that, Munchak blew up his staff, brought in Williams, and had the benefit of aggressive free agency and a good draft. Seemingly, the parts are in place for at least a return to respectability.