Post-draft optimism must be getting to my head because guys, I take one look at this roster and honestly I see a lot of things that I like. It would probably take a bit more than a few lucky breaks to get the Titans into the playoffs this year given the strength of the AFC and how the Texans have solidified themselves at the top of the division with a very strong looking draft, but this might finally be a team that teams don't chalk up as a win when they look down their schedules. The Titans are slowly but surely building something here.
Let's take a look at the relative youth of the squad. Because average age of the entire 51 man roster can be misleading (who honestly cares how old the third string guard is anyway?), I'll average out the age of the (projected) starters and maybe one deep at backup on offense and defense.
On offense, you have split out wide some combination of Nate Washington (29), Kenny Britt (still just 24!), Kendall Wright (23), and Justin Hunter (21). The line is comprised of Michael Roos (30), Andy Levitre (26), Fernando Velasco (28), Chance Warmack (21), and David Stewart (30). Tight ends include Delanie Walker (28) and Taylor Thompson (23). QB is obviously headed by Jake Locker (24), fullback is Quinn Johnson (26), and the running backs are Chris Johnson (27), and to a lesser extent, Shonn Greene (27).
Hard to believe there are no starters on the offensive side of the ball who are over the age of 30. The average age of offensive starters is 25.8 years old. What's interesting is that they've actually gotten younger since last year by a full two years. Not only that, they've gotten immensely more talented as well, replacing the retreads that we were used to seeing at guard with All-Pro Andy Levitre and a guy who many thought would be the best player to come out of this entire draft in Chance Warmack. The receivers have a ceiling that might be unmatched by any other group in the NFL right now. Should Hunter and Wright reach their potential, the AFC South is in for a very rude awakening. Kenny Britt is a guy who takes a ton of heat for disappointing on the field and off it, but he's still only 24 years old and he's shown that when he's healthy that he can easily be one of the best in the game. Now for the defense.
Across the defensive line, you have Derrick Morgan (24), Sammie Lee Hill (26), Karl Klug (25), Jurrell Casey (23), Mike Martin (22), Kamerion Wimbley (29), and Ropati Pitoitua (28). The linebackers line up with Akeem Ayers (23), Colin McCarthy (24) and Zach Brown (23). The secondary should be some combination of Jason McCourty (25), Alterraun Verner (24), Bernard Pollard (28), Michael Griffin (28), and maybe some of George Wilson (32).
Again, notice that only one guy who should see significant time is even in his 30's. The average age of defensive starters is 25.6 years old. They're just a little bit younger than they were last year when they were the NFL's youngest defense at 25.7 years. This is what happens when you replace Sen'Derrick Marks and Will Witherspoon with guys who are several years younger. The weaker links in the defense were Michael Griffin, Kamerion Wimbley, and the aforementioned Will Witherspoon, so it's not like there isn't reason to be optimistic about how this defense has the potential to improve, especially under the guidance of one of the NFL's best defensive minds, the mad genius himself, Gregg Williams. Though he's not officially at the helm of this defense, Jerry Gray would be completely out of his mind to not listen to someone with as much NFL success as Williams. Someone really needs to get these kids in a position to play and Williams might just be that guy.
So forgive me, a guy who often waffles between optimism and crushing reality, if I have a little bit of excitement about what this team could bring to the table in the future. At this point, I think it's not much of a stretch to say that the defensive line is stacked for years to come, the secondary went from a massive hole in the team to a potential position of strength, and the book is still out on three very young, very talented linebackers who have all shown some seriously encouraging things over their first foray into the NFL. If the coaching staff cooks up some neat looks to throw at opposing teams, this could be a unit that surprises a few people this year. If not, we may be in for a long ride, but there's still plenty of time to get them into the right scheme.
The inspiration for this article was really the offense. I mean wow, when I look up and down this depth chart I get seriously worked up thinking about what could possibly be. Last year, it was a raw, talented, injured QB in his first season of being "the guy", an offensive line that saw eleven different players start, and a group of receivers that was inconsistent and underwhelming. Now, it's maybe a top three offensive line in football plus one of the best blocking tight ends in the sport, a healthy player under center, and a group of receivers that, again, have all the potential in the world, plus one extra weapon in Justin Hunter.
Now, just because these players are young doesn't necessarily mean that they'll keep getting better, some may plateau early, some may get hurt, some may just not pan out and some may even regress, but I think it's a safe bet that a lot of them will improve.
Jake Locker's comments about Loggains running some option stuff were so encouraging for me because this honestly all rides on him. We've rehashed this point over and over again but it's true now more than ever. There's a ton of talent that's probably going to keep getting better over the next couple of years and peak around 2015. If Jake Locker can't get his act together by then, we'll have wasted a tremendous opportunity to possibly compete with a good, young, mostly homegrown core of players. I love the direction the front office has taken lately to surround him with whatever he needs to succeed. Interior line couldn't pass block for beans last year? Make a slight over-pay to make sure you have the best pass blocker in the world at left guard and draft the best prospect in the draft to man the other side. The assumption here I guess is that because Locker is generally pretty great looking when he's got time to get his footwork right that he should improve by leaps and bounds with a line that will be keeping blockers at bay all afternoon long. But they didn't stop there, Justin Hunter adds a massive amount of potential problems for opposing defensive coordinators. He's raw, but how do you cover a 6'4" guy who can jump out of the gym and runs like a gazelle on cocaine? Now how do you turn around and cover the freak that is Kenny Britt and one of college football's most explosive playmakers of 2011 in Kendall Wright? Then there's ol' reliable in Nate Washington. What now? Oh, and by the way, the most explosive back in football is also taking handoffs every once in awhile. You can see where this team has all the potential in the world to give coordinators headaches. Whether it's all realized is a crapshoot at this point, but you've got to like our odds given all of the high draft picks we've spent on offensive talent and how well Webster and co seem to be able to identify talent.
You can clearly see the direction they're taking: build around a quarterback. If you don't like anything else they do, at least acknowledge that they have the right idea. I considered Jake Locker pretty much a boom or bust kind of guy when they first grabbed him, I think 2013 is an unbelievably huge year for him as far as knowing what we've got goes. He's got all the tools to succeed, and that includes the physical skills that he brings to the table, in a quarterback driven league, it's time to see what ours has got.