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AFC South Roundtable: The Tennessee Titans!

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The Tennessee Titans:

As you all know, I love nothing more than a good ole fashioned roundtable.  You know, the sort of thing where a group of folks sit around and have an honest discussion of important events and trends in order to facilitate a broader understanding of issues.  We AFC South Bloggers Big Blue Shoe, Music City Miracles , Battle Red Blog  and myself have decided to engage in a little shop talk about our division.

First up to bat was your dear friend and mine, Big Blue Shoe eviscerated the Houston Texans and particularly endeared himself to one of their followers (see here )

My turn up to bat is against our favorite division buddy, the Tennessee Titans .  Now I don't know where you were in 1999, but just as a reminder, we destroyed every team we played against that year except for one...and that was the Titans.  And they knocked us out of the playoffs to boot in what was our best shot at a super bowl thus far.  Of course those were the old AFC Central days when we'd beat up on Pittsburgh as our main rival, but 1999 changed everything.  Sure, I probably hate the Colts more than anything else right now, but deep down I'll never forget 1999.

With my bias clearly stated, let's look at what the Titans have done this offseason!

Key Additions: I want to start with the positives

  • Cornerback Nick Harper: Formerly of the Colts, Nick is a classic "Cover 2" Cornerback, and will be the probable replacement for the Rainmaker (Adam Jones, for those of you living under a rock).  While I always like it when players leave the Colts, that Harper says in the division doesn't change much.  He runs much faster when he hasn't been stabbed in the leg though.  I expect solid, but not spectacular coverage out of Harper for the Titans.  However, while he might replace Jones on the defense, Nick isn't a punt returner/kick returner with Adam's speed or skill, so it's still a net loss.
  • Safety/Cornerback Michael Griffin: To be entirely honest, I thought Griffin would be Jacksonville's draft pick, because I expected Carolina or Cincinnati to draft Reggie Nelson.  I'm a little surprised that they are moving him to Cornerback, but given that they lost Jones and don't have anyone of note behind him, the need is obvious.  If he makes the transistion, I see him being a good number 2 CB, with some flexibility in various packages.  If I were Fisher, I'd see about mixing him up a bit and let him play both roles.  It all depends really on how fast a rookie can learn the playbook while learning to play a new position.  Safeties have the benefit of having the whole field in front of them when they make their angles and go for the ball, a cornerback spends part of the play running backwards, and the rest with their back to the ball.  This is a pretty serious change of pace for a rookie to deal with.  You often see older cornerbacks consider going to Safety, not really the other way around.
  • Cornerback Kelly Herndon: Acquired from Seattle, this guy is probably going to be their nickleback.  Considering how much the Titans get passed on, that's practically a starter.  I see this guy pushing Reynaldo Hill and second-year man out. The team drafted Ryan Smith out of Florida in the sixth round and has three other veteran corners: Eric King, Michael Waddell and Andre Woolfolk.  I honestly don't know much about Herndon, other than that he's got a rep as a hard hitter.
Key Losses
  • Drew Bennett, Bobby Wade, Travis Henry: Yeah, the teams two leading receivers and leading rusher all left via free agency.  Way to back up a rookie quarterback by surrounding him with talent.  I have no frigging idea who Vince is going to throw to or hand the ball off to that's gonna allow him to do all the magical things that Vince Young is supposed to do?  Where the fuck is his help?  I'm not one of those folks that thinks VY is "Jesus in Cleats" like some, but I'm not so blind that I can't recognize talent when it's there.  Vince single handedly beat the Texans all by his lonesome, you can't knock that.  But I just don't know how he's supposed to be amazing when a quarterback can't throw passes to himself, or fake a handoff to himself, or play action with himself.  He's got the entire damn offense on his shoulders, and it's not going to be terribly hard to defend against that.
  • I'd even go so far as to say that the Titans are dooming Young to failure by not surrounding him with as much talent as possible, or at least keeping the talent that he's gotten comfortable with working with around.  He's gotta learn an expanding playbook, while developing rapport with new WR's, hope to god that LenDale white is physically fit enough to play, hope the Chris Henry can pull a Jones-Drew and have an explosive year.  All the while every team he plays against is gonna dare him to throw with 8 or 9 guys in the box.
  • Cornerback Adam Jones: I'm not going to say a word about the criminal side of all this.  But let's be frank, if it weren't for Pac Man, the Titans would have lost to the Jags in that late season game.  He's a freak on special teams and a top 5 cornerback.  Losing that kind of talent is brutal, regardless of the reason.  I hope the Titans cut ties with him just because he's a moron and doesn't deserve to play in the league, but I'm damn thankful that I don't have to see him lined up against the Jags twice a season.  That being said, I don't think the Titans needed to spend the entire off-season replacing him rather than reinforcing the offense.
What I like
  • I like the Tight Ends Ben Troupe and Bo Scaife.  Ben Troupe sorta underperformed last season, but he's got the potential to develop into a sure target for Vince.  Same goes to Bo, who might be the better of the two.  They HAVE to step up if Vince is gonna get away with all the offensive losses.
  • Offensive Line: Did you know that the Titans had the 5th ranked rushing attack?  Not to say that they'll come close to that this year, but it's a line that held up well.  Another off-season of learning how to cover VY should increase their protection of the kid, which is what he's gonna need when he faces all the blitz and coverage packages this season.  I think Mike Munchak is one of the "under-rated" coaches out there on the O-line.  I'd honestly rather have him than Mike Tice on my squad.
What I don't like
  • Anything to do with their offense.  Again, how the fuck do you keep a second year quarterback on the right process of development if you're taking away everything he got familiar with last year?  They must have an amazing amount of faith in their bench warming WR's and VY's ability.  
  • Vince Young: Simply because he's gonna win a few games all by himself and keep the Titans alive in the AFC South just enough to distract from the Jaguars.  Yeah, I'm hating on him because he is a great face man and he's won over his community far more than Byron Leftwich could ever dream of accomplishing.  So I drink the Hateraide.
Conclusions

I don't expect anything more than an 8-8 season out of the Titans.  They won't improve by subtracting talent.  I think VY will win the games that Pac Man would have won for them, resulting in a net wash.  This is not to say that they won't grow as a team.  Look for an early season struggle and a late season surge as VY eventually clicks with his "new" offense.  Unfortunately, the Titans will be exposed on defense and they'll be playing from behind.  If Vince survives the year without an injury or mental breakdown, look for a very very dangerous quarterback in 2008.

That's my thoughts on the Titans.  If I'm wrong, tell me about it.

-Chris