This will be part of a three part series. Part I will be used to identify the team's weaknesses. Part II will outline what changes we as fans could reasonably expect that would improve this organization. Part III will outline what I personally would like to see happen, outside of the constraints of what should be expected from the Titans and Jeff Fisher.
Where do we go from here? Once the dust settled last week, that's the question I kept asking myself. How does a team recover from a total meltdown like we saw in the second half of last season? It's not easy. A handful of teams across the league have shown that it is possible to be a consistent bottom dweller. If this team's not careful, they could find themselves in that mix. So, what's next?
The first step to recovery is identifying that you have a problem
Jeff Fisher is at a crossroads right now. While some will argue that an NFL head coach is always under pressure, this time will feel different for Fisher. His job security, for the first time in a long time, is in serious jeopardy. The writing is on the wall that he needs to produce this year, or his time may be done in Tennessee.
Here's what I hope that means for our head coach: Serious evaluation. Instead of a stubborn, steadfast procedure that involves the status quo, he needs to objectively evaluate the personnel around him. That means going against one of his most cherished qualities; being the nice guy. Friends need to be fired. Player favorites need to be cut. The brand of football needs to be re-evaluated.
For all my criticism of Jeff Fisher, I actually believe he can and will do some of these things. I believe this because I've seen how well he can perform when he's backed up against a wall. Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe I'm clinging to hope. Time will tell.
So, what specifically are these problems? I'll bifurcate this into two separate issues; coaching staff and players. Remember, Part I is identifying the problems, not solving them. This part also will not involve our strengths, as those will be addressed in Part II. As such, the remainder of this article will take a pessimistic tone. Fear not, though, as there are proposed solutions for said problems in future posts.
Coach needs to take a look in the mirror and really evaluate his weaknesses as a coach. And, if I had one case study I could hand him, it would be the turn around made in Kansas City. Jeff needs to realize that you can be innovative and aggressive, yet still be built around a good defense and strong run game. Coach, you share in the blame for this season. Take responsibility, and improve.
This one is a bit of a hot button topic. What do you do with a guy who's been both incredibly inspirational in his personal battle with cancer, yet failed to get his offense to perform at a high level? A large faction of fans want Dinger fired. There's some merit to that argument. For a while, I actually wanted him gone as well. However, after some further thought, I think this guy needs another shot.
Dinger's offense thrives on the deep ball. The offense likes to keep the defense stretched vertically, and theoretically that opens up the run game. Well, the run game didn't open up this year, but I think that was a symptom of the quarterback position. If reports are to be believed, Vince Young didn't know the whole playbook. Reports aside, I know that I never saw him audible at the line. However, he did throw a great deep ball. And, at times, that allowed this offense to really hum. Conversely, Kerry seemed to know all the offense. He had no problems audibling at the line. Yet, his deep ball is absolutely horrendous. So, in both cases Dinger's hands were tied. You've got one QB with the physical tools that can't call the plays, and another that knows the plays but can't stretch the defense. For these reasons, and because of the success I saw Dinger have with a big armed QB like Cutler, I think that Mike deserves another shot.
Cecil should stay another year. That's not popular opinion. It's one that is more circumstantial than anything else. With the CBA looming and Fisher's job hanging in the balance, there's little job security for an incoming defensive coordinator. You could after a young unknown, but I don't think that's a risk for which Fisher would gamble his job.
I'll also summarize the rest of the defensive staff, since I don't think they should be canned either. The secondary had issues, but I can't just discount the excellent job that Robertson and Hauck have done with McCourty and Verner. The other glaring issue was the Linebacker position. It was poor enough that a coach with a short resume would be fired this offseason. However, given McGinnis' relative success over the years (though you have to wonder how much Bulluck's talent covered for his coaching deficiencies), he deserves another year to prove himself.
His time needs to end here in Tennessee. And, while I'm sure it will pain Fisher to part ways with another moustache man, he has no other choice. I'm not going to elaborate here. Every Titan fan is aware of the developmental issues at the Wide Receiver position.
This man needs to go, or be repurposed to another assistant position. Chris Johnson regressed this year. The offensive line deserves blame here, but CJ developed a serious case of happy feet this year when he hit the hole.
Offensive line play was horrid this year, but I'm more inclined to believe that it had more to do with personnel than coaching. And, like McGinnis, Mike Munchak has had enough success developing talent in Tennessee that he deserves another shot.
Kerry Collins should retire. I'm very thankful for his time here in Tennessee. Without him as a backup (and starter in 2008), things could have gotten much worse. If he wants to come back in a backup role, that's worth considering. We'll struggle to find a back up that would be more capable than Kerry Collins. My fear is that Fisher has grown so close to Collins that he will continue to struggle to keep him in that back up role, and he may look to him as the starter. For that reason, Fisher should probably look for new blood at the quarterback position, both in a starting and back up role.
Rusty Smith should be cut or only kept as the emergency back up. I've seen enough of the kid to know that he's not capable of being a back up next year, even with a full offseason to prepare. I don't see enough upside to warrant eating up a spot on the 45 man gameday roster, and he's probably not worth keeping on the 53 man roster at all.
Two guys need to go from this receiving core: Justin Gage and Lavelle Hawkins. Gage has had his flashes in the pan, but is otherwise dragging this offense down. He's inconsistent, yet not explosive; a combination that you don't look for in a receiver. As for Lavelle, we can't really pass any judgements on him. He's built up to be a playmaker in the offseason, but hardly ever sees the field. I don't know if this is issues with the playbook, coaching staff or both. I do know that he's eating up a roster spot, and as far as I can tell, Damian Williams has usurped him in the depth chart heirarchy.
Move on from Leroy Harris. At a minimum, make him a back up. It's hard to peg all of the issues we had on him. The transition of Amano along with the loss of Mawae obviously had a big impact as well. Still, Harris was awful at times this year. Amano gets blame too, but I think there may be hope for him by moving back to the guard position.
I don't see any way that Bo Scaife remains on this roster. His production is plenty reason to move on from the guy, but insubordination seals the deal.
Think this team missed Keith Bulluck? The linebacker play, especially in pass defense, was absolutely horrid. Stephen Tulloch is complicit in this mess, but his play was good enough that he should keep his job. Also, blowing up the entire linebacking corps would be difficult, if the intent was an instant upgrade in 2011. I'd also keep Spoon, though probably not in a starting role. Same goes for McGrath. I dont' think the team needs to cut the guy outright, but he also should be relieved of starting duties.
Chris Hope has been a great contributer for franchise, but, like all players, he's lost a step in his old age. It's unfortunate that there was such a drop off in his play this year, as it's clear that he's one of the only remaining veteran leaders on this roster. Another consideration is that he's due to make $6.5 million heading into the final year of his contract in 2011, which is entirely too much to be paying a player that's performing at his level.
*There are other players that should not return next year (Donnie Nickey) that I haven't addressed. These players are mainly special teams and back up players. Getting that deep into the roster is really beyond the scope and intent of this post.
I found this exercise to be productive. Like many of you, I've had knee jerk reactions throughout this season. My expectation was that identifying our weaknesses would be a depressing task resulting in the recommendation to blow up nearly the entire roster. Instead, I've found that this is largely a talented team, with a few glaring weaknesses that were exposed in the second half of the season. The next article will explore the personnel possibilities this offseason among both coaches and players that could help to improve those weaknesses.