The Titans have completed their first off-season under new General Manager, Jon Robinson. While he made some big time moves, and has provided the fanbase with hope, we are all waiting on actual production. This summer, training camp will show whether or not we will actually see it. With not much time left, we will take a look at a different topic each remaining day, until things get started.
With the players set to report to camp tomorrow, this will be the final post of the countdown series. Today, we will follow a format that was used for weekly game previews last season. For those unfamiliar, we will list out reasons of confidence and concern, and give an explanation. This post will feature an entire season outlook:
Reasons For Confidence: Much Improved Running Game, OLB Depth, Return of Key Players
Much Improved Running Game: Last season, the Titans had one of the worst ground games in the NFL, and honestly, one of the worst that I have ever seen with my own two eyes. The best running back was a below average plodder, and could not create anything, which did not fit an offensive line that was full of reserves by mid-season. This year, on paper, should be significantly better in that department. Both tackles are high first round draft picks, Taylor Lewan is poised for a dominant season, and all of the players along the offensive line have the mauler mentality that is needed for the power running game that will be implemented. As a perfect complement, the Titans have brought in two big, powerful, playmaking backs in Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry. If the offensive line and running backs start to get rolling and build a rapport, things will open up tremendously for the offense and entire team. It is something fans have not seen in 6 or 7 years.
OLB Depth: One of the biggest contributing factors to the Titans' defensive collapse toward the end of the season was Derrick Morgan's injury. They were a top unit but once he went down, the Titans lost not only one of their top edge rushers, but one of their top edge setters as well. Morgan is a big body that can set the edge and when he is not in the game, his absence is felt. However, now, the Titans have added Kevin Dodd who provides some of the same. Not only do the Titans have a little more safety and depth behind Morgan now, but they can also rotate the two and keep them fresh. Deiontrez Mount is set to return from his injury which brings even more depth to the table. In recent years, the Titans have had nothing behind their top two edge rushers--now they have depth.
Return of Key Players: As previously mentioned, Derrick Morgan's injury was crushing to the defense. However, another key injury was Jason McCourty. He is the leader of the cornerbacks, and now that Michael Griffin is gone, he is the leader of all defensive backs. With a healthy McCourty returning, things should fall into place at cornerback. Perrish Cox, who also ended up going down with an injury last year, will be able to be the 2nd cornerback as envisioned, and Brice McCain can play inside, which he did well for Dick Lebeau in Pittsburgh. With some of these big injuries, the Titans were still a top 15 defense. With the return of Derick Morgan and Jason Mccourty, the addition of some depth, and a much improved run game, the Titans are starting to develop an identity.
Reasons For Concern: Receiever Play, ILB Depth, Swing Tackle
Receiver Play: While Marcus Mariota has an improved offensive line and running backs, the wide receivers are still lacking. Luckily, the team brought in Rishard Matthews who could bring some consistency to the table, but behind him, there is not much. Kendall Wright and Dorial Green-Beckham are both erratic and unreliable. If one or both can step up, it would be huge. Rookie Tajae Sharpe could be another option, but we will not know much until after training camp and preseason games.
ILB Depth: While the Titans added depth at outside linebacker, they are still lacking on the inside behind Wesley Woodyard and Avery Williamson. They added Sean Spence, which is a start, but they need to explore their options at the position while they have first priority on the waiver wire. If one of the inside linebackers were to go down with injury, there would be a gaping hole in the middle of the field.
Swing Tackle: The Titans actually had this option covered well with Byron Bell. Unfortunately, he went down with a season-ending injury. Now, they are currently counting on Jeremiah Poutasi as their swing tackle, who can play at guard or tackle in case of injury, which is a dangerous place to be in. The team met with Louis Vasquez months ago, but he had knee problems. There is a chance that team doctors could check back in with him soon, given that he can play inside and out. If not Vasquez, I expect Jon Robinson to keep his eye on the waiver wire.
The Titans have done a good job of adding depth and establishing an identity this off-season. While there are still some holes, you can find that with any team. Right now, they have the makeup of a middle of the road team. This would be a huge improvement over what we have seen the past couple years. As of today, I am predicting an 8-8 record for the 2016 season.