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2014 Team Report: Tennessee Titans

Quarterbacks

Starter: Marcus Mariota
Backup(s): Zach Mettenberger, Charlie Whitehurst, Alex Tanney

Starting QB: After an off-season of trade speculation, the Titans surprised everyone by making Marcus Mariota their franchise quarterback. Opinion is split on how Mariota's skill set will translate to the NFL game, but there's no doubt that he should be an upgrade over the carousel of signal callers that the Titans had under center last season.

Backup QB: Zach Mettenberger will feel aggrieved that he isn't entering this season as a starter, but it's hard to argue in favor of him taking Mariota's starting job at this point. Mettenberger is the obvious fall back if Mariota is injured or if the Titans change their minds and decide to sit him for his rookie season. He could also be traded away if any team has interest because Charlie Whitehurst proved to be a decent, if limited backup in 2014.

Running Backs

Starter: Bishop Sankey
Backup(s): David Cobb, Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster, Antonio Andrews, Lache Seastrunk
Fullback(s): Jalston Fowler

Starting RB: It's hard to commit to any running back on the Titans roster as an obvious starter, but as the incumbent, Bishop Sankey will likely get the first shot at the job. Sankey was the first draft selected in the 2014 draft but he failed to impress as a rookie. The Titans coaching staff repeatedly discussed his footwork issues early in the year as he was used sparingly on the field. He eventually became a more prominent piece in the offense, but couldn't perform more than adequately behind a poor and injury hit offensive line.

Backup RBs: By drafting David Cobb in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, the Titans created plenty of ambiguity in their backfield. Cobb could conceivably take over the starting role for the Titans, but at most he is only likely to split time with Sankey. The volatility that comes with youth means that Cobb may not even become a viable piece for Sunday football, leaving Shonn Greene in position to retain his status as the team's short-yardage back and change-of-pace option. Unless Antonio Andrews or Lache Seastrunk makes major strides entering their second seasons, it should be Greene's job to lose behind Sankey and Cobb. Dexter McCluster will remain a receiving option and little else more.

Fullback: Jalston Fowler was a fascinating pick for the Titans in the 2015 draft. With Marcus Mariota at quarterback, the need for a fullback appeared to be non-existent. Yet, Fowler was still selected in the fourth round, ahead of David Cobb. His versatile skill set should allow him to be used in different ways from the fullback position or even play as a running back for stretches.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Harry Douglas
Backups: Dorial Green-Beckham, Hakeem Nicks, Tre McBride, Clyde Gates, Jacoby Ford

Starting WRs: Kendall Wright's production dropped severely last season as the Titans quarterback issues limited his opportunities on the field. He caught just 57 passes for 715 yards and six touchdowns after catching 94 for 1,079 and two touchdowns the previous season. Mariota is the type of quarterback who should make Wright a high volume receiver again in 2015. Justin Hunter's career took a major step back during his second season. His unreliable hands and poor route running too often made it easy on defenders. While the Titans have brought in a number of players who could potentially replace him, none should immediately take the job without winning it during the preseason. Harry Douglas had a good season for the Atlanta Falcons last year and should be the favorite for the third receiver spot before training camp begins.

Backup WRs: Dorial Green-Beckham is the obvious standout from the other receiving options. Green-Beckham is a phenomenal talent who could easily be a starter in Week 1. He could even be the Titans' most effective receiver in Week 1 also. However, he fell to the second round of the draft because of character concerns and he didn't play football at all last year so expectations must be muted. Tre McBride is the other interesting rookie option who could carve out a role within the offense, but he was just a seventh round selection. Hakeem Nicks' career has tailed off because of a premature physical decline. He will be competing for a roster spot in preseason. Clyde Gates and Jacoby Ford are just speedsters.

Tight Ends

Starters: Delanie Walker
Backups: Craig Stevens, Anthony Fasano, Taylor Thompson

Delanie Walker has become an integral piece of the Titans offense over recent years. He enjoyed the best season of his career last year, catching 63 passes for 890 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers didn't do his performances justice as the quality of quarterback play cost him many opportunities to make plays down the field. Walker is 30 years of age and missed some time last year, but his physical talent suggests that he won't suffer a sharp decline in performance.

Place Kicker

Maikon Bonani, Travis Coons: New special teams coach Steve Hoffman is following his decades old pattern of trying to find and establish an unheralded kicker. Veteran Rob Bironas was released in March. The two initial competitors to be Hoffman’s kicker are Maikon Bonani (who was in the Titans camp last year) and undrafted rookie Travis Coons (Washington). Bonani was ranked 13th in last year’s draft class and Coons was unranked this year. Brett Kern will again be the holder/punter while Beau Brinkley will handle snapping for his third year. The Titans have been relatively consistent in attempted kicking points the past three years, ranking 17th, 18th & 21st.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Bishop Sankey, Antonio Andrews, Perrish Cox, Dexter McCluster

Leon Washington was let go in the offseason, leaving a hole at kick returner for the Titans. Running back Bishop Sankey had the best performance for the team in 2014, but his role on offense may affect how much the coaching staff is willing to risk him on special teams. Antonio Andrews handled 5 kickoffs for 110 yards, but did not do enough to lay claim to the job this year. The Titans could also look at Dexter McCluster though he is more of a punt returner than he is a kick returner. Perrish Cox has bounced around the league and spent time as a returner, and may need the job to make the roster.

Punt Returners: Dexter McCluster, Harry Douglas, Perrish Cox

Dexter McCluster came to the Titans sporting a 12.1 career average on punt returns, but only managed 7 yards per return in Tennessee. The Titans are not the only team to have signed a Kansas City Chiefs returner only to find their production dropped off behind a different set of blockers. McCluster is the best bet to again win the punt return job, though if the Titans coaching staff is not leery of the extra injury risk, newly signed receiver Harry Douglas was a successful punt returner in Atlanta and could be an option.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Michael Roos, LG Andy Levitre, C Brian Schwenke, RG Chance Warmack, RT Michael Oher
Key Backups: T Taylor Lewan [R], G Chris Spencer, G Eric Olsen, T Jeff Adams

The selection of Taylor Lewan really threw a veil over the Titans projected starters on the offensive line. Lewan is a left tackle, but veteran Michael Roos has been the team's best starter for a long time. Generally when a team drafts a left tackle high in the draft when they already have a proven starter, they move him to the right side. However, the Titans also gave Michael Oher over $9 million guaranteed in free agency to be their starting right tackle this year. This suggests that Lewan will sit for a season before replacing Roos when he leaves in free agency. One position where the Titans are not necessarily set is at center. Brian Schwenke was a fourth round choice of the previous regime. He didn't enter last season as a starter and when he played he was very unimpressive. The Titans don't have great depth upfront and they need to sort out exactly what they want to do with their starting lineup. Another move or two could come before/during training camp. Overall this line grades out as among the league's best units, and could rise in the rankings as the line gels.

Team Defense

The Titans defense projects to be a bit of a mess next season. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton will attempt to put his players in their best positions to succeed, but he won't have the perfect fits for a 3-4 defensive front. This could be a Jekyll and Hyde unit that sees lots of big plays going both ways.

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Sammie Hill, DT Jurrell Casey, DE Ropati Pitoitua
Backups: DE Karl Kluig, DE Mike Martin, DE DaQuan Jones, DE Al Woods, NT Angelo Blackson

Starting DL: It doesn't appear that much is going to change on the defensive line for the Tennessee Titans this season. Jurrell Casey is the star of the group and he should be the only player who racks up anything close to 1,000 snaps. The rest of the starters should only be starters in name, as a consistent rotation will see bodies moving off the sideline on a regular basis. Sammie Hill and Ropati Pitoitua will need to be better than they were last season, with Hill in particular struggling at nose tackle.

Backup DL: The development of 2014 fourth round draft pick DaQuan Jones will be important. He barely played as a rookie and didn't impress when he was on the field, but that isn't to say he can't be better in 2015. Jones and 2015 fourth round pick Angelo Blackson are the two new faces on a defensive line that hasn't looked to improve much. Mike Martin, Al Woods and Karl Kluig will be fending off both youngsters to keep their roles in the rotation.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Derrick Morgan, OLB Brian Orakpo, ILB Avery Williamson, ILB Wesley Woodyard
Backups: ILB Zaviar Gooden, ILB Zach Brown, OLB Dontay Moch, OLB Deiontrez Mount

Starting LBs: Dick LeBeau and Ray Horton have always shared an affinity for the linebacker position, so it's no surprise they made it a priority this year. Derrick Morgan was re-signed in free agency to start outside. Morgan had 63 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 16 starts last season. Across from Morgan, the Titans brought in Brian Orakpo as a priority free agent. Orakpo will start, but he is coming off an unimpressive season that was cut short after just seven games because of injury. Durability is a major concern with Orakpo in Tennessee. On the inside, both Wesley Woodyard and Avery Williamson should be consistent tacklers if healthy.

Backup LBs: Inside linebacker depth is a concern for the Titans. Neither Zaviar Gooden or Zach Brown should see the field much unless Williamson or Woodyard miss time through injury. Depth on the outside is just as big of a concern. Kamerion Wimbley's retirement didn't cost the Titans a quality player at this stage, but he was likely going to be the team's primary backup at both outside linebacker spots. Now, that role will likely be split between Dontay Moch and rookie Deiontrez Mount.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Jason McCourty, S Michael Griffin, CB Perrish Cox, S Da'Norris Searcy
Backups: CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Coty Sensabaugh, S Marquestion Huff, CB Brandon Harris

Starting DBs: Jason McCourty is the Titans most talented defensive back by a wide margin, but he isn't coming off of his best season. He still managed to notch 85 tackles, 11 pass deflections and three interceptions in 16 starts last year. Perrish Cox fantasy production spiked for the San Francisco 49ers last season when he took on a greater role in the defense. He had an incredible 16 pass deflections and five interceptions in 14 starts. That kind of production can't be expected, but it can be hoped for as he continues to start with his new team. Da'Norris Searcy was signed from the Buffalo Bills to be Michael Griffin's safety partner. Searcy is entering his prime after an impressive season for the Buffalo Bills last year, but he is now playing in a much tougher situation for a defensive back so it's tough to project him forward. It was a down year for Jason McCourty's production last season. He didn't have any interceptions for the first time since his rookie season, while his tackle numbers and pass deflections also dropped significantly from 2012. With Alterraun Verner departed, it's possible that teams throw away from McCourty more next season, but it's unlikely because he is not an elite cover corner. Replacing Verner won't be easy for the Titans, but Coty Sensabaugh played a lot last season and was effective. Sensabaugh should be the favorite to start, but if Blidi Wreh-Wilson, a third round pick in 2013, impresses his new coaches he has the talent to steal that spot. Both won't start, but both should contribute a lot in 2014. Bernard Pollard was retained this year to re-establish his partnership with Michael Griffin on the backend of the defense. Pollard had 99 tackles last season, but with more rangy linebackers in front of him that number should drop this year.

Backup DBs: The Titans don't have obvious options as backup defensive backs. Both Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Coty Sensabaugh were liabilities in coverage last year. They should compete for the nickel back role, but Brandon Harris won't feel like he has to just accept a role further down the depth chart. Marqueston Huff barely played as a rookie, but he will be expected to compete for a much larger role during his second season.

Last modified: 2015-05-10 21:55:50