NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Like the other 31 NFL teams on Saturday, the Titans trimmed their final roster to 53 players.
Eight days from now, this grouping led by first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt, will open the season (@ Kansas City) trying to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 — and first postseason victory since 2003.
WHO STAYS: Fourth-year QB Jake Locker (a first-round pick from 2011) has another chance to become the franchise quarterback. Since being named a starter in 2013, he has missed 14 starts for various injuries.
WHO STAYS: Running back-by-committee will replace Chris Johnson (now of the Jets), who was released for salary implications during the spring. Powerful Shonn Greene looks healthy after missing much of last year, on the heels of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the Jets.
Rookie Bishop Sankey has flashed some potential while learning the ropes. Versatile Dexter McCluster is a defensive unit’s nightmare, while Jackie Battle made a seamless transition to fullback. Veteran return specialist Leon Washington is also a multiple threat.
WHO GOES: The Titans are hoping to get versatile and talented undrafted free-agent rookie Antonio Andrews, the NCAA record holder for total offense over the last two years at Western Kentucky, signed to their 10-man development squad.
WHO STAYS: The top trio of emerging star Kendall Wright, trusty veteran Nate Washington and big-play receiver Justin Hunter has been set in stone.
Second-year Michael Preston had the No. 4 job to keep and did, while dependable veteran Derek Hagan, out of football last season, has shown he’s still got it on the field, along with inherent leadership qualities.
WHO GOES: Popular fourth-year Titan Marc Mariana was trying to make the team as a return specialist, with receiving skills that earned him the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2011. But he missed the last two years with separate injuries.
WHO STAYS: The starting line has been set from left to right with veterans Michael Roos and Andy Levitre at tackle and guard, respectively.
Second-year Brian Schwenke at center and Chance Warmack at right guard are there for the long haul, while former Ravens tackle Michael Oher was signed to man right tackle. First-round pick Taylor Lewan, a future stalwart at left tackle, has looked the part of longtime player up front.
WHO STAYS: With the change to a 3-4 alignment from the former basic 4-3 set, a lot of returning players found themselves trying to prove they belonged in the new philosophy. Third-year Jurrell Casey, an emerging star who was second among NFL tackles in sacks last year, was a no-brainer.
He was rewarded this week with a new contract worth $36 million over four years, including $20.5 million guaranteed. Veterans Ropati Pitoitua at end and Sammie Hill at nose guard are good fits. Newcomer DaQuan Jones, the fifth-round pick out of Penn State, was drafted for this defense.
WHO STAYS: In the new 3-4, veteran defensive ends Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley moved to outside linebacker and are listed as starters. Veteran Shaun Phillips, who played nine years as OLB for the Chargers, is in the mix on one side, while underachieving but still-promising Akeem Ayers is on the other.
WHO STAYS: While sixth-year Jason McCourty is established as one of the more underrated cornerbacks in the league, the battle to replace departed Pro Bowler Alterraun Verner on the other side was finally won by third-year Coty Sensabaugh. He trumped second-year Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who’ll see plenty of time at nickel back.
Veteran safety starters Bernard Pollard at strong and Michael Griffin at free have long been set. Veteran George Wilson can play all secondary positions, while safety Daimion Stafford continues to impress.
WHO STAYS: When veteran Rob Bironas, the fourth-most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history, was released last spring, it opened a search for a new kicker that wasn’t decided until this week.
Winning the battle over Maikon Bonani was Travis Coons. Punter Brett Kern is one of the league’s best. McCluster and Washington are listed as returners on punts and kicks, respectively.
WHO GOES: Bonani, a native Brazilian, didn’t make the Titans after being in camp last year. Then there’s Mariani, formerly one of the best return specialists in the league. He’ll find a roster soon.