The NFL is so successful because it breeds optimism. Every team and their respective fans feel like winners in the offseason. Right now we're waiting like kids on Christmas morning to see new free agent acquisitions and draft picks hit the field and get used to the playbook. Training camp is just the beginning for football fans and pretty soon we'll start to see what's under the tree for us.
Yet inevitably, some team's fans will receive coal this year in their stocking.
That's an unpleasant scenario for Titans fans but one that should be considered. The goal of this post isn't to be a Positive Polly or a Negative Nancy (or their respective male counterparts), but rather to present or remind us that the Titans have so many potential outcomes for this season that predicting which direction they will head is just so darn hard.
Offensively this team has a lot of potential. One could argue that this is the most offensive talent on the roster since the McNair era. Chris Johnson now has what looks to be a tremendous offensive line in front of him and if he still can't produce Shonn Greene is there to snatch carries away from him. The receiving corps has Kenny Britt heading into a contract year, the speedy Kendall Wright in the slot and deep threats in Justin Hunter and Nate Washington outside. The multi-faceted Delanie Walker replaces the one-dimensional Jared Cook at tight end providing even more options for the offense. It's easy to see that the Titans could put up a lot of points this season. Fans may be treated to an entertaining and explosive offense - and great offenses can lead to a lot of victories.
Potential is fickle though and dreams of a great offense may never materialize. Dowell Loggains struggled last season in his first attempt as an offensive coordinator. He's yet another person in this organization with 'potential' attached to his name but his offensive background is with a more traditional (read: older) offense. Loggains' playcalling was surprising at times last year, unfortunately not in a good way. It looks like he's envisioning a ground-oriented offense that utilizes play-action. Like any scheme it has its strengths and weaknesses. It may keep the Titans competitive in most games but it also diminishes the threat of the aforementioned aerial targets. Finally we come to the man with the spotlights shining on him. The outstanding physical traits possessed by Locker don't need to be regurgitated here. He has all the off-field qualities you want in a QB and many of the on-field ones as well. Success has been fleeting though for the young gunslinger and concerns about whether he can put it all together are valid.
While the draft brought new gifts to the offense it was free agency that helped the Titans stock up on defense. George Wilson and Bernard Pollard should bring stability to a safety group that has collectively struggled for the past three or four seasons. Sammie Lee Hill will receive plenty of time in the middle of the defensive line in tandem with the already sturdy defensive tackles on the roster. Wherever the mammoth Ropati Pitoitua lines up, the hope is he is as tough as his name is to say. These new players join a very young defense that should improve this year. The team has invested high picks in recent drafts to reload their linebacking trio. If those players can continue to develop it should become a huge strength of the defense. Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner are amongst the league's best (and under-appreciated) corners in the NFL. One of the biggest changes on defense will be the presence of Gregg Williams. He'll bring physicality and confidence to a team that lacked both last year.
There's no denying that the unit under-performed in 2012 though and even with the changes they may not be good enough to get it done. Consider just how much work they need to become even an average defense. They were 27th in yards against (26th in passing, 24th in rushing) and 32nd in points against. Gregg Williams might be a good defensive mind but he isn't a miracle worker. Progression from a last or near-last unit to an average one may end up being a lot slower than most fans hope - and this coaching staff doesn't have the benefit of time anymore. Even with Williams overseeing things Jerry Gray remains the play-caller and his employment on the staff is still mind-boggling. He and Michael Griffin are easy targets and both will have a significant impact on this 2013 defense. That is not likely a good thing.
Mike Munchak cannot be forgotten in this discussion either. A man forever etched in Oiler and Titan history, his new chapter as head coach has not been as successful. Over two years his record as coach is 15-17. Clearly that is neither great nor horrendous. Munchak is respected as a hard worker and has had some good moments early on in his tenure. The stench of last season is all over Munch though too. This team had six (SIX!) blowout losses. The line between winning and losing is usually thin and that's why we see teams that "got the breaks" one season drop while another rises after a few game-changing plays. While you want to believe that the Titans can be one of those teams on the rise, their previous scores indicate that this team may be very, very far away from being consistently successful.
Training camp is less than a week away so soon we'll get to see what this team is made of and shortly after that we'll start to see if the coaches and players are going to have any staying power in this league. What's gift-wrapped for us is anyone's guess but hopefully Santa was kind this year.