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The Importance of Justin Hunter to Ken Whisenhunt's Offense

The Tennessee product will need to take the next step in his game if the Titans are to really succeed through the air in 2014.

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans have lacked for a true X or SE wide receiver for a good while. Despite Kenny Britt possessing the measurables to play the spot effectively, the impact of multiple surgeries which took away a good portion of his strength to fight for the ball, as well as that of his off-field concerns made seeing him on the team's chopping block a no-brainer. The Titans had known they weren't re-signing Britt for a good time when he was allowed to walk.

The Titans basically operated last season without an X. With Wright commanding attention underneath and Nate Washington being Mr. Everything, that was sometimes hidden. But this fact alone sheds light on the ease of which opposing defenses often stymied the Titans attack. Without an X or SE to stretch the field vertically, defenses were able to crowd the underneath zones and get the Titans offense off the field.

So what is demanded of a true "X" wideout?

First of all, the "X" is tethered to the line, and thus can't go in motion. This allows the Corner the freedom to jam, making it essential that the WR has the strength, quickness, and acceleration out of the press, as well as the speed to out-pace the defender down the sidelines. By nature, the X faces a lot of man to man coverage, more so than any other offensive skill player.

So does this suit Justin Hunter? The Titans spent a pick to move up and select Justin Hunter at the top of the second round just one year ago, hoping that he could become a centerpiece of the offense alongside Kendall Wright and co. The ex-Volunteer showcased some incredible talent in spots last season; a last minute game-winning TD against San Diego, a stunning TD catch against the Jets, and a couple of outstanding games against the Raiders and Broncos. The Titans have few other options on the roster short of playing Nate Washington out of position at the spot. With reports than Hunter has added some muscle this off-season, he seems poised to take command of the X/SE position.

With Hunter not yet accomplished in tight quarters, his fit at Flanker (or "Z") is not an ideal one. With Wright operating underneath from the slot and Washington remaining in his Z role, Hunter could be a potent weapon. Whether or not Hunter has taken the necessary steps to advance his game (and stay on the field in 2 WR sets) is yet to be seen. Without him though, the Titans offense is missing it's coup-de-grace, it's final cog that could take it to a higher level than we've seen in the past few seasons.

One thing is for sure, Hunter has a long way to go before becoming one of the league's premier X receivers, but a leap in his development following a notoriously tough rookie season for NFL Wideouts, may not be a stretch to imagine.