With training camp fast approaching, a look at the five Titans to keep an eye on. For a breakdown of the position battles to watch in, click here.
Jake Locker, quarterback
Just how far the Titans will advance this season falls squarely on the shoulders of Locker, who was ordained the “franchise” quarterback when he was made the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 draft. But instead of throwing Locker to the wolves as a rookie to take his lumps while learning on the job, the Titans went the conservative route by letting him learn behind veteran starter Matt Hasselbeck. Locker won the starting job out of training camp last season, and then proceeded to play only 11 games after missing the middle five outings because of an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
Locker showed flashes of play-making ability with his arm and mobile legs, but he has had issues with accuracy and consistency, completing last only 56 percent of his passes, throwing 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and having a paltry efficiency rating of 78.4. For insurance, the Titans signed former Bills starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has valuable starting experience and plenty of gas remaining in the tank.
Chris Johnson, running back
While Johnson insists he can do it again, it appears the breakthrough season of 2009, when he rushed for 2,006 yards and set a league record with 2,509 yards from scrimmage, is now just a thing of the past
Despite eclipsing 1,000 yards in each of the past three seasons, the “spurt-ability” and breakaway threat that Johnson previously possessed might have fallen off somewhat for the six-year veteran. While playing behind a sub-par offensive line, Johnson’s struggles also had to do with his lack of production. Although he did have 1,243 yards last season, he rushed for less than 60 yards in half the games.
He received a wake-up call when the Titans brought in Shonn Greene, a power back who had surpassed 1,000 yards rushing the past two seasons for the Jets. Just how the carries will be distributed will be decided on a game-by-game basis.
Kenny Britt, wide receiver
Seems a contract year has gotten Britt’s full attention. This spring, the team’s 2009 first-round draft pick appeared completely recovered from a knee injury that caused him to miss the last 13 games of 2011 and from which he never seemed to regain full speed last season while catching only 45 passes. Several knee surgeries removed, the athletic and sure-handed Britt appears ready to re-emerge as one of the NFL’s more-talented and athletic receivers.
Then again, Titans fans are always waiting for the other shoe to drop with Britt, who has had multiple scrapes with the law, including most recently being arrested for driving under the influence and being questioned about a shooting that occurred at a party he attended back home in New Jersey. The DUI charge was dropped, and Britt was never linked to the shooting.
The likeable Britt claims his maturation level has progressed to where all those messes are behind him.
Derrick Morgan, defensive end
Last season, the 2010 first-round draft pick got on the field and stayed there, starting all 16 games at defensive end and leading the team with 6 1/2 sacks and 19 quarterback pressures. He also had a career-high 66 tackles and got stronger as the season progressed. He built on the previous season, in which played in 15 games and led the team with 20 quarterback pressures after playing in only four games as a rookie because of a knee injury.
During a hyperactive free agency period, the Titans did sign former Chief Ropati Pitoitua to provide a rotation with veteran returnee Kamerion Wimbley, but it was the way Morgan closed last season that causes reason for optimism in his fourth season. While the Titans figure to bring pressure from a variety of positions with Williams calling the shots, it is Morgan who figures to provide the most pressure on the quarterback through the traditional pass rush.
Bernard Pollard, safety
All Pollard had to do to get his new teammates’ attention was turn on last season’s Super Bowl. Better yet, he could show them his vicious yet clean hit on Patriots running back Stevan Ridley late in the AFC Championship Game victory that not only separated Ridley from the ball, but from his senses for a few moments.
The Titans were looking for leadership and attitude through free agency, and they got it in spades with the signing of Pollard, who led the Ravens in tackles last season. Within just a few weeks of signing, and weeks before the team even hit the field for spring workouts, he had already emerged as a leader, not only on defense but the entire team.
When you add Pollard’s no-nonsense approach to the fire being spewed by Williams, the defense figures to be far more aggressive and accountable than it was during its pitiful play last season.