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2011 Team Report: Tennessee Titans

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matt Hasselbeck
Backup(s): Jake Locker (R), Rusty Smith

Starting QB: Now that the Titans have moved past the 'Vince Young Experience' and jettisoned Jeff Fisher as well, they are looking to go in a new direction. While bringing in veteran Matt Hasselbeck doesn't set them up for the future, he does buy them the time to both develop Jake Locker as well as give them an effective quarterback who can hold the fort while allowing them to be competitive. After a decade with the Seattle Seahawks, Hasselbeck is also looking for a new direction. He's had a rough few seasons where he saw his production decline both due to age and injury. While his yards and touchdowns have dropped (from 3,966 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2007 to 2,998 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010), his completion percentage has continued to hover at 60% although his interceptions have jumped to 17 the last two years. Hasselbeck's receivers are either raw and unproven or, in Kenny Britt's case, unreliable for a number of reasons both on and off-field. One thing he has which he lacked in Seattle for several years now is a tremendous running back to pull the defense away from his receivers. They might find it easier to get open if Chris Johnson can clear the defense out of the way. In that case, Hasselbeck has a better chance of reaching them then rookie Jake Locker. The biggest concern with Hasselbeck is his continuing declining health. He's always struggled to stay on the field and the last few years that has been very difficult for him. The Titans hope they can keep him upright and on the field for one more season. While Hasselbeck is definitely on the down slope of his career, he should be a reliable choice for the Titans and give the Titans some threat in the passing game.

Backup QB: Jake Locker comes out of Washington with a lot less hype than was expected when the 2010 college football season started. Locker is an incredibly dangerous runner with a strong arm and good accuracy but he still needs work. He had some struggles with pressure and decision-making his last year in college and tends to try and force the ball where it shouldn't go at times, relying on his arm strength to make it work. All of that can be helped and having Locker sit for most or all of his rookie year will allow him to do so without the pressure to win right now. If push comes to shove, Locker can step in but it could be a rough go for the team. Rusty Smith was pretty abysmal in the one start he had last year. Unless everything implodes, the Titans will do everything they can to avoid his 138 yards and 3 interceptions again.

Running Backs

Starter: Chris Johnson
Backup(s): Javon Ringer, Jamie Harper, Stafon Johnson, Dominique Lindsay, Herb Donaldson
Fullback(s): Ahmard Hall

Starting RB: The single biggest worry at the running back position is how long Chris Johnson will hold out. He's very unhappy with his contract at press time and the team will not offer him a new or better contract unless he is in camp. He can't go to camp without losing leverage so it;s a huge standoff. The best case for both sides is to come to an agreement sooner than later. If that happens, Johnson should start hit the ground running. He may even find more room to move if the pass game can pick up the pace. Last year was a down year for Johnson as his ypc dropped to 4.3 from a 5.6 in 2010, his touchdowns dipped from 14 to 11 and receiving yards fell to just 245 yards. He also carried the ball less (down to 316 from 358) which is a good thing for his long term health. However as his carries are less (and likely to not get too significantly higher) his lower ypc hurts. The team needs a little better blocking for CJ and open things up a little more. His 5.6 from 2010 may be a little high, but his 4.9 from his rookie year isn't. Again though, if he holds out long enough, all bets are off. We've seen top players hold out and then reap the bad effects (aka injuries) before. If CJ misses the whole preseason, expect him to get dinged up at some point which would mean more work for his backups.

Backup RBs: On occasion, Javon Ringer has proved an able backup to Chris Johnson, but his overall production hasn't been very consistent. It's hard when you sit behind one of the top backs in the league. If Johnson holds out though, Ringer will get a chance to show his stuff. The Titans clearly want to give him a nudge as they drafted rookie Jamie Harper in the fourth round this year. Harper is a big back who does not shy away from contact, can easily run through arm tackles, and runs with a good leg drive, and balance. While Ringer has a style closer to Johnson's, Harper is more of a bruising compliment to Johnson. The two will battle for that second spot. Stafon Johnson is still returning from a pretty bad injury to his ankle and while not yet 100%, he is ahead of where they expected him to be. Donaldson and Lindsay are likely just practice squad material.

Fullback: When Ahmard Hall isn't blowing holes open for Chris Johnson & company to gallop through, he can be found catching the ball. Of course, that still doesn't account for more than a tiny fraction of his workload which is as a solid road grader for the ground attack.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington
Backups: Damian Williams (PR), Lavelle Hawkins, Marc Mariani (KR), Justin Gage, James Kirkendoll, Joe Hills

Starting WRs: If only Kenny Britt could keep his head on straight, he'd be a great weapon for this offense. He should be a 1,000 yard receiver but continually hovers at about 700. Some of that has been a run-heavy offense but more of it is on his inability to stay focused and his tendency to get dinged up. The Titans need him to step up and Hasselbeck will rely on him as the best wide receiver on this team. He's a tough, big wide receiver and can dominate if he can stay healthy and focused. If you look at his numbers last year, he was certainly on pace to break the 1,000 yard mark averaging about 64 yards a game. His off the field issues took their toll and given his similar issues this off-season (two arrests in two months)he very well could miss more time this year. Given that he is a repeat offender, it could be significant. Nate Washington is likely the number two here, though training camp can easily change things. There was talk of adding a veteran wideout but that hasn't happened at this point so it's become more unlikely. Washington is a solid wide receiver and will step up when he needs to, and a useful deep threat but his role is pretty limited and is likely to remain so.

Backup WRs: Second year receiver Damian Williams has showed good hands and ability in very limited opportunity and has the ability to push Nate Washington for time. He's also a solid punt returner and will line up every once in a blue moon for a wildcat. Williams may get a bigger role if Kenny Britt is again suspended for off the field issues and if so, he should see some success. Lavelle Hawkins had promise at one point but right now is merely limited bench depth. Marc Mariani is only a kick returner and Justin Gage was nearly cut post lockout and may yet be in training camp.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jared Cook
Backups: Craig Stevens, Daniel Graham, Cameron Graham

Jared Cook had a solid year for the Titans, and it should be interesting to see how much his role increases with Bo Scaife gone. The Titans tight ends accounted for 76 receptions off of 117 targets. That's down from the previous season although as much as the team struggled it's hard to say if that was merely a result of the struggles or a tactical decision. With Hasselbeck coming in, it's a good bet the number of targets go up again and Scaife's balls have to go somewhere. As that's the case, Cook may see a slight uptick in reps though they may also opt to have Craig Stevens see more work. Stevens is another lunch pail like tight end who does good work but isn't poised to light up the defense all that often. He has shown some good run after the catch ability so it will be interesting to see if he Hasselbeck uses him more because of that. Daniel Graham comes over from the Denver Broncos where he was used infrequently. He's got good speed for a guy his size and can catch the ball well. He will likely more of the same here in Tennessee.

Place Kicker

Rob Bironas : Veteran kicker Rob Bironas is the only kicker on the roster in camp. The same cannot be said for punter Brett Kern, who is joined on the roster by undrafted rookie Chad Cunningham from the University of Tennessee. The same can definitely not be said for veteran Ken Amato, who is joined on the roster by two other long snappers -- former Patriot Jake Ingram and rookie John Stokes from Vanderbilt. Early in camp, Cunningham and Stokes have missed practice due to injury. Bironas remains one of the better kickers in the league but his scoring opportunities shave dwindled in recent years... from 4th to 11th to 14th to 24th last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Marc Mariani, Damian Williams, Yamon Figurs

Punt Returners: Marc Mariani, Damian Williams, Yamon Figurs

The Titans return depth chart is very simple. WR Marc Mariani is first on both kickoffs and punts. As a rookie last year he seized the job, was the second ranked fantasy returner in the league, earned a Pro Bowl nod, and then set a Pro Bowl record with nine returns for 326 yards and a score. WR Damian Williams, whom Marianmi beat out for the job last August, is second on the depth chart for both roles. WR Yamon Figurs, who has become a journeyman returnerguy in recent years, is third at both positions.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Michael Roos, LG Leroy Harris, C Eugene Amano, RG Jake Scott, RT David Stewart
Key Backups: Troy Kropog, Kevin Matthews, Mike Otto, Fernando Velasco

Team Defense

The Titans defensive front sees the return of Derrick Morgan, whose rookie season was cut short by injury. William Hayes and Jason Jones are useful players, but the overall line lacks a stud player. After the loss of Stephen Tulloch to the Lions, the Titans will slot experienced "Mike" backer Barrett Ruud in to the heart of their defense. Rookie Akeem Ayers has the chance to see time at "Sam" and may rush the passer at times as well. The Titans have the pitbull terrier-like Cortland Finnegan at cornerback, along with promising second year players Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner. The Titans don't have a defense with name recognition, but they are effective nonetheless.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Tony Brown; DT Jovan Haye; DE William Hayes; DE Derrick Morgan
Backups: DT Jason Jones; DE Jason Babin; DE Jacob Ford; DE Dave Ball; DT Sen'Derrick Marks

Starting DL: DT Tony Brown is now the leader of this group. Brown has now improved his sack total in each of his five NFL seasons and his career high five sacks last year made him one of the best IDP DTs in the league. He's also a reliable tackler and in leagues that must start a DT, take Brown and know that you a reliable starter. DE William Hayes, a former fourth round pick out of Winston Salem, showed some spark last year after replacing Jevon Kearse. He had 31/20 tackles and four sacks and with such a young unit, likely cemented his job in 2010 and could have improvement in store. The other DE could be Derrick Morgan. While successful rookie DEs are rare, Morgan's combination of run support and pass rushing skills could make him the exception to the rule and without top competition, Morgan could have a clear path to a starting role. The other tackler opposite Brown should be Jovan Haye. Haye looked superb with 48/20 tackles and six sacks for Tampa Bay in 2007, but he has only 0.5 sacks since then and his tackles are down. It would not surprise me to see Jason Jones take over the starting nod soon.

Backup DL: DT Jason Jones has looked promising when healthy, but injuries in his first two seasons have left some wondering if he'll ever show his true potential. Last year's shoulder injury caused him to miss nine games, but Jones still has nine total sacks in just 20 games. The former second round pick could be in for a breakout season. DEs Jason Babin and Jacob Ford give the team some solid edge rushers off the bench and if Morgan proves too raw to begin the year as a starter, either could step in. DE Dave Ball and DT Sen'Derrick Marks provide depth.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Stephen Tulloch; WLB Will Witherspoon; SLB Gerald McRath
Backups: SLB David Thornton; LB Colin Allred; LB Rennie Curran; LB Stanford Kegler

Starting LBs: MLB is now firmly in the hands of Stephen Tulloch. Tulloch has long possessed top notch instincts, but his knowledge of the defense improved to the point where he notched 94/27 tackles. While he doesn't make enough big plays to be a LB1, he's a sure starter in almost every IDP league and can sometimes be drafted as late as other LB3's. On the weak side stands Will Witherspoon. Witherspoon was once an elite IDP LB, but seems to have slowed down. Coming over from the Rams could mean a return to better numbers for Witherspoon, who has good speed and can play in the middle as well. On the strong side, veteran David Thornton must battle second year player Gerald McRath. Look for McRath to win the starting job as the team loves the upside the fast and youthful McRath brings to the unit.

Backup LBs: SLB David Thornton might very well win the starting job, but at 31 years old and coming back from a shoulder injury, it's more likely that he plays a role off the bench. Thornton has certainly had his share of success both with the Colts and with the Titans and excel in pass coverage, but the Titans appear guided toward a youth movement. Rennie Curran was the team's third round draft pick this year and has the abilities to play an important role, but could be a year or two away from starting. Stanford Kegler and Colin Allred both provide depth and Allred can play inside or outside.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Chris Hope; CB Cortland Finnegan; FS Michael Griffin; CB Jason McCourty
Backups: FS Vincent Fuller; CB Tye Hill; S Robert Johnson; CB Ryan Mouton (IR)

Starting DBs: SS Chris Hope might never again be the top scoring IDP safety like he was his first year in Tennessee, but he seems a lock for 80 or so total tackles and he has 17 interceptions in the last five years. At 29 years old (he turns 30 in late September), Hope is one of those guys that makes for a reliable IDP safety. The other safety is Michael Griffin. After ten interceptions in his first two seasons, the former first round draft pick gave up too many big plays last year and only had one interception. He remains a very talented player, though, and if can make some more big plays, he definitely has a role on your IDP squad. CB Cortland Finnegan proved his value to the team when their backfield all but fell apart when Finnegan was hurt around midseason. Finnegan has ten interceptions in the last two seasons and, while flawed, he's a scrappy player that the team deperately needs to stay healthy and have a big year. The other corner spot got a little clearer with the injury to Ryan Mouton. The second-year player suffered a season-ending Achilles tear and has been placed on Injured Reserve. Look for Jason McCourty to get the nod.

Backup DBs: The first safety off the bench is clearly Vincent Fuller, who is a good tackler and had three interceptions last year. CB Tye Hill was also signed but has been a major disappointment since being a first round draft pick for the Rams in 2006. Injuries have played a big role in his disappointment though and it's within realm that he surpasses the others to win the job. Robert Johnson is a rookie safety who excels in run support but can play both safety positions.

Last modified: 2011-08-20 16:07:26

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