Going into the 2012 season, the Titans have a lot to be excited about. Mike Munchak is heading into his second season as head coach, and he is expecting big things from his players. The Titans went 9-7 last season, missing out on the playoffs via tiebreaker. They were the only team in the NFL with a winning record to not qualify for the postseason.
Things will look very different for the Titans this year. Matt Hasselbeck was the starter for the team last year, and did better than expected. He threw for 3571 passing yards and started all 16 games, something Hasselbeck has struggled to do his entire career. This year, the Titans had an open competition for the starting quarterback job. Second year player Jake Locker won the position, and he is their future at quarterback. The future is now for this team.
QB: As stated before, Jake Locker is the new starting quarterback. He brings mobility, a strong arm, and leadership. With young quarterbacks, there will always be some flaws. Locker can be a bit inaccurate at times, but that comes with the territory. His accuracy will only improve with more reps in game action. However, when Locker played sparingly last year, he was very accurate and showed flashes of greatness. If he were to ever go down with an injury, the Titans know they have a very reliable backup, veteran Matt Hasselbeck. Jake Locker does have some weapons around him this year, and if he puts everything together, he can be very effective this season.
RB: If the old Chris Johnson shows up, the Titans offense can be elite. If he's the player from last year, the Titans running game will be amongst the worst in the league. I think the old Chris Johnson is going to show up, and not only do I think he is going to show up and play well, but I think he is going to have a humongous season. In preseason, he looked very sharp, and he was cutting very nicely. CJ added some muscle this offseason, and is ready to go. The Titans also have two very reliable reserves they like very much. Javon Ringer who can definitely be a starter elsewhere, and Jamie Harper, the big running back that will plow through defenders and fight for extra yards. Overall, the Titans running game has a chance to be very good. We just have to wait and see how good.
FB: The Titans may have tight end Craig Stevens in sometimes lined up at fullback. He is one of the better blockers on the team, and has soft hands. However, the starting fullback, Quinn Johnson, made the 53-man roster, and will also get a lot of time at fullback. Johnson isn't a bad option, but will likely split time with Stevens blocking for CJ2K.
WR: Kenny Britt was on pace last season for his first pro bowl. He lead the AFC in receiving yards, and seemed to overpower any corner who covered him. In week 3, he tore his ACL and MCL. That obviously ended his positive season thus far, and that left the Titans short at the position. Guys like Nate Washington, Damian Williams, and Lavelle Hawkins stepped up big time and they filled the void as best as they could of. All three of them ended up having career years, and they look to build off of what they did last year. Add rookie Kendall Wright into the receiving core, and the Titans have a lot of depth at the position. Britt has had some run-ins with the law, 8 since he has been drafted in 2009. His most recent one came this offseason when he was arrested for DUI. Roger Goodell only suspended him one game, which Britt called, "a blessing". Once Britt returns from his one game suspension, this Titans receiving group can be deadly if they all play up to their potential.
TE: We all know what Craig Stevens brings to the table with his blocking ability, but the main receiving target is Jared Cook. For the last couple years, everyone has been waiting for Cook to breakout. In each of the last two seasons, Jared has an outstanding finish to each of them. He needs to get off to a quicker start to be more reliable. If Cook does start off like he ended last year, he can be one of the top tight ends in the league. He is 6 foot 5, 250 pounds and has great hands. He has very good speed for someone his size, and if he puts the pieces of the puzzle together, he could have a Rob Gronkowski type impact.
OL- Chris Johnson isn't the only reason why the running game struggled last season. The offensive line had a below-average year, and failed to open up running lanes for CJ. Sometimes, as soon as Johnson touched the ball, there were already defensive linemen tackling him. The O-Line was actually pretty good in the passing game, only allowing 24 sacks. With the addition of pro bowler, and future hall of famer Steve Hutchinson, the line should massively improve. Leroy Harris is looking for a bounce back year, and Fernando Velasco is ready to take on the starting center role. Michael Roos is good every year, and he can be counted on for another productive season. He can also be counted to stay healthy as he looks to improve on his 112-game streak. Right tackle, David Stewart, is also reliable and is a very good blocker. Look for the Titans offensive line to have a bounce back season, and open up a lot of holes for Chris Johnson.
DL: The addition of defensive end Kamerion Wimbley will definitely help in the pass rush. He brings a lot of versatility and athleticism, and can help this team tremendously. The 2010 first round pick, Derrick Morgan is other defensive end, and hasn't panned out like the Titans had hoped so far. Injuries have slowed him down, but I think if Derrick Morgan does not have a good season, he could lose his job by next year. The Titans are counting on him to do big things. Defensive Tackle Jurrell Casey is a big run-stopper, and had a very solid season as a rookie last year. I think he will have another productive season, as well as second year man Karl Klug. Klug was mainly used on passing downs, and lead the team in sacks last year. I think his role will be more significant, and the Titans are also looking for Sen'Derrick Marks to have a good year. He is a four-year veteran who can stop the run; rookie Mike Martin will also have a nice role on the team. Martin is a big guy who has loads of potential. The Michigan product will look to help any way he can in his rookie season.
LB: The Titans have a very young linebacker group with Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy. Both are second year players, and showed great promise last year, and in the preseason this year. McCarthy is very athletic and knows how to get to the quarterback. Ayers can also get to the QB, and in addition to that, he can put this hand in the dirt, line up as a defensive end and rush the passer. Both young linebackers are very versatile and have a bright future. The third linebacker is veteran Will Witherspoon who is a very good blitzer. However, he is getting older and he struggles a bit with pass coverage. In this years draft, the team drafted LB Zach Brown in the second round. He is very fast, and has the ability to guard the league's best tight ends. He will likely sit behind Witherspoon for the majority of the season, but he is their future at linebacker, along with Ayers and McCarthy. Zac Diles, Tim Shaw, and Patrick Bailey all provide nice depth at linebacker as well.
CB: The loss of Cortland Finnegan stings a little, but the Titans have some nice youth at the cornerback position. Jason McCourty had a great year last season, and the team rewarded him with a 5 year $43 million contract extension. Alterraun Verner started as a rookie, and is very effective in the nickel. He is the starter opposite of McCourty, and look for him to have the same role Finnegan had last season. Young defensive back Tommie Campbell is being counted on big time to fill the spot of third cornerback. He will see most of his time when the Titans are in a nickel package, and when the offense has multiple receivers. Ryan Mouton as struggled with injuries, but he has some nice features that make him effective on defense. Rookie Coty Sensabaugh probably won't see the field too much, but being behind Verner and McCourty is a good learning experience.
S: Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux are the two starters for the Titans at safety. Griffin was franchised this offseason and his agent and the Titans were able to work out a long term deal. Babineaux agreed to a 3-year extension, but Robert Johnson has been getting a lot of first team reps, and is really playing well. Defensive Coordinator Jerry Gray said Johnson will be used in the slot as well. Al Afalava is a nice reserve and can be counted on to stay healthy. Rookie Markelle Martin is current on the PUP list, but when he is healthy he can do some pretty nice things.
ST: Rob Bironas has been one of the better kickers in the league over the last few years. Last year he converted 29/32 field goal attempts, and seven of those were beyond 50 yards. Punter Brett Kern had a very good year last season, pinning the opposing team inside the 20 yard line thirty-one times. After kick and punt returner Marc Mariani went down with an injury and is out for the season, Darius Reynaud will be asked to take over those duties. He has had an outstanding preseason, which is the main reason why he has earned a roster spot. The Titans also have a new long snapper, Beau Brinkley, a rookie out of Missouri. Special Teams is usually pretty solid for this football team.
The Houston Texans are being picked to win the AFC South by most people, but do not rule out the young Titans. They have a lot of offensive firepower, and young studs on defense. Also, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson have been injury prone the last few years, and the loss of Mario Williams is a big blow. Remember, Matt Schaub was hurt towards the end of last season, so he didn't get that playoff experience with the rest of the team. I am not saying they won't be good, all I'm saying is that the Titans can be a very good football team, and can take the crown from the Texans, and win the AFC South.