With the draft now (finally) behind us, we now have a better idea of what the Titans' roster will look like come opening day. I wrote earlier in the offseason about what wholesale changes we can expect from Ken Whisenhunt's offense compared to what the Titans have been operating with the past few seasons. For a look at likely positional starters, I suggest you read this great piece by our own Kyle Harris, to give yourself a better clue on who fits where. With the new draftees and Free Agents now on board, let's look at how the early plan looks for Whisenhunt and OC Jason Michaels.
Ken Whisenhunt in San Diego and Arizona
Firstly, there is far more involved in the nuances of a pro offense than I can hope to capture in a single article. That said, there are some things we can expect and delve deeper into regarding Ken Whisenhunt's offenses in former career stops in both Arizona and San Diego, and even his earlier days in Pittsburgh.
Spread Out Attack
An area the Titans have struggled in recent years offensively was in the ability to take advantage of favorable defensive alignments. Whisenhunt has a resume that showcases his offenses abilities to dissect NFL defensive schemes with a spread out attack that tests the defense laterally and vertically. In Arizona, he helped create an offense that confounded defenses league wide, and last season his scheme led to a comeback type year from Phillip Rivers, who was able to chip away at defenses with the short game and consequently, an incredibly high completion %.
Sounds great, but what does that mean for Jake Locker? Whisenhunt demands strength and accuracy from his QB's above all, with a passing attack crafted around short timing and quick-rhythm throws, allowing the QB a quick release and easing the strain on both the QB himself as well as his offensive line. The offense will focus on those short to intermediate routes primarily rather than the deep ball. That's ideal, considering the Titans don't have a true SE (or X) wideout on the roster. While Justin Hunter is certainly capable of stretching the field vertically, the lion's share of the offensive focus will be in the underneath zones and on the near perimeter. At SE, there will likely be a rotation of guys like Nate Washington and the aforementioned Hunter.
The focus on getting through reads quickly is what worries many, myself included, about Jake Locker in this new offensive scheme, his third play book in as many years. While he made strides early last season, there is little doubt that this was still an area of his game that needed improvement, far more than the common scape goat of "accuracy problems", which statistically is less of a legitimate concern.
So is it all doom and gloom? Hardly. Locker's primary issue aside from the read-progression was his struggles when he was forced to move in the pocket and re-set his feet to throw. With the added volume of quick release passes and a whole lot more back-field "safety valve" outlets than in the past, Locker should have an easier time if he can continue to build on the progression we saw in early 2013. It's plays like this one last year against the Rams that give hope that Locker can thrive in a timing based offense under Whisenhunt.
Speaking of running backs who can catch out the backfield, the Titans added not one but two guys who can step into that role and shine. Dexter McCIuster gives Ken Whisenhunt a versatile tool to motion out of the backfield and cause match-up problems on defense, and a guy who can be dangerous as an outlet swing pass should Locker's primary reads not be there. Much like Danny Woodhead in his San Diego offense, McCluster can be a utility guy who can cause plenty of damage regardless of where he lines up. In turn, Bishop Sankey should be taking the majority of the time at RB, and his excellence as a runner, pass catcher, and just as importantly, as a pass protector, should allow the offense to keep moving the chains.
I touched on this earlier in the year as well. Ken Whisenhunt has always shown an affinity to the "stack" formations; lining pass options up in tight clusters in unbalanced formations. Not only does this more often than not reveal man to man coverage vs zone, it also causes traffic problems underneath, which, while not a primary function of the formation, is a happy byproduct. The added hesitation it gives defenders is also something to take into account. With super-shifty guys like Kendall Wright and Dexter McCluster out there, it only takes a split second to get some open space and some real separation from defenders. Throw in a movable chess piece like Delanie Walker who can be motioned all around the formation, and you have a confusing offense to pin down.
In The Trenches
As stated above, Ken's scheme gives the offensive line a break when it comes to pass protection. The lessened frequency of long-developing plays down the field limits their workload considerably. When factoring in that the deep ball wasn't really one of Locker's strengths last season, the two factors fit together like a puzzle. The offensive line may indeed be the area that Whisenhunt's scheme shows the most benefit. Since the Titans added yet another strong piece in Taylor Lewan, and the young Titans already on the starting block have had another offseason to gel and develop, the offensive line could, and should, be poised for a big turnaround.
Chance Warmack and Brian Schewnke's development will certainly play a key role in what the Titans do on offense next season. Along with the quicker release patterns in the passing game, they should also benefit with a rejuvenated corps of runners behind them. Whisenhunt has his "Danny Woodhead" player in McCluster, and a 3-down runner in Sankey. The big short yardage back in Shonn Greene is not to be underestimated either, and has shown the capability to be a good weapon, especially on the goal line.
Outlook for 2014
In the end, I think Locker is a good fit in this scheme, despite claims otherwise from talking heads who lament that he isn't anything like Phillip Rivers. Go figure. While there will be some growing pains in the learning curve of Whisenhunt's passing scheme, an emboldened rushing attack and a stouter offensive line should help get the Titans back on track in 2014.