Success is a product of opportunity. Against all odds, the Tennessee Titans took a massive step forward in 2011*. They were, in essence, without their two best offensive weapons, starting a completely ineffective middle linebacker for much of the year, and what started as a year laden with potential fizzled out down the stretch for Matt Hasselbeck. Oh yeah, and there was an entirely new coaching staff.
Despite all this, the Titans were two bad losses against the Colts and Jaguars from going to the playoffs. Not a whole lot of this should come as news to Titans fans and outside observers, what I think many people underrate is just how important it is to be proactive in 2012 to take the next step forward.
First off, take a look at the free agent market. It is absolutely time to be aggressive in free agency. Perhaps it's even finally time to make that really big move. It's not right to call the front office cheap, but if they don't maximize the potential of all of that cap space, I'll be extremely disappointed. The asking price for some really good players could be just right. Even some of the second tier players like Robert Meachem and Stanford Routt would be instant upgrades at positions that might go unfilled in the draft. Speaking of Routt, I love the fact that Webster has already begun negotiating with him. As for the actual player, I'm not well acquainted with Routt and his playing style, so I can't really comment on what exactly he brings, but apparently Al Davis thought he was more than $10 mm. Whether that says more about Routt or Davis is up for you to decide. In any case, this is exactly the type of aggressiveness I like to see, hopefully something more concrete isn't far off.
Earlier today, August linked to a story that proclaimed cornerback and offensive guard as the two deepest positions in the draft. As if that wasn't good enough, I'd have no problem putting wide receiver right up there at number three. I'm starting to worry less and less about which order these needs are addressed. While my preferred order would still be receiver, guard, corner, I really don't think you can go wrong based on who should be available when the team will be picking.
Outside of player acquisition, it's also a huge year for development of players who are already on the roster. This will be Jake Locker's first year of full training camp and his first chance to compete for the starting position. If you don't know why either of those things are a huge deal, you haven't been paying attention to the Titans for the last year, at least. I can't stress enough how important it is for him to take the next step from rough-edged prospect to starter-quality quarterback within the next couple of seasons. Obviously, the sooner the better, and right now his development is lining up very nicely with the Titans' window of opportunity. Another couple of guys who should only get better are two of Locker's future weapons; Damian Williams and Jared Cook. Both are talented players who struggle with consistency, hopefully a full year of training camp with a more comfortable coaching staff will be enough to break through to the next level. Cook has the potential to be a top 5 pass catching tight end in the league. Williams, while he would still make a nice complimentary weapon, especially in the red zone, has considerably less upside.
These, and other reasons, make 2012 a year that has importance that absolutely cannot be understated. There is so much that has to go right, but if the Titans play their cards right, they should have no problem being ready to compete by this time next year.