Another era of Tennessee Titans football ended last season. After more than 30 years with the organization (originally as the Houston Oilers), Mike Munchak was fired as the team’s coach. Munchak was drafted in 1982 and had remained in the organization as a player and coach until he was terminated in the offseason, ending one of the longest-tenured relationships in the NFL. Tennessee’s decision to go in a different direction meant it was hoping to start from scratch and build a winning team that could challenge for an AFC South Title and a playoff berth. But the team did make the decision to keep Jake Locker as its starter for at least one more season. Whether that was a smart move can only be proven from his play this season. So far, the return on the Locker investment – a 2011 first round draft pick – has been less than profitable.
In enters Ken Whisenhunt and his offensive game plan and a hope that he will turn this team into a playoff contender – ripe from the days of Eddie George and Steve McNair. While it appears every team in the AFC South improved themselves over the offseason, there are still questions about the offense and the defense that must be answered. Here are the Good, the Bad and the Ugly tis team faces heading into the 2014 season.
THE GOOD: A FRESH START AT RUNNING BACK
If there is anything this team can enjoy, it is a refreshing start to the 2014 season. After many seasons of dealing with the talented, but much maligned running back, Chris Johnson, the Titans can start 2014 knowing that headache has been cured. The team released him in the offseason – raising the question of who will replace him in the running game and the offense. Tennessee has two viable options. As reported in Rant Sports, “Chris Johnson was the focal point of the Titans' offense for several seasons. Now that Johnson has moved on, Tennessee must find his replacement at running back. The team used a second-round pick on Bishop Sankey, a dynamic back with the ability to make explosive plays. The Titans also have Shonn Greene, a serviceable runner who is effective in short yardage. It will be interesting to see if Sankey can earn the starting role during OTAs.”
THE BAD: CONTINUING THE LOCKER EXPERIMENT
In 2011, four quarterbacks were chosen in the first 12 picks of the NFL Draft. Cam Newton has shown what he can do with the ball in his hands and with his legs. He was clearly the best player in the Draft at that position. The second passer taken in that Draft was Washington’s Jake Locker – the eighth overall pick and a player who had projected as the first overall pick had he come out for the 2010 NFL Draft. Since being drafted, Locker’s performance has been less than stellar – much like Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder who were chosen after him. Locker has been slow to mature into a top-flight signal caller and was injured last season in the game against Jacksonville, prompting many to question if the team should move forward without him. Locker is in the final season of his rookie contract – therefore the need to exceed expectations is at an all-time high. The passing game essentially rides on his shoulder this season.
THE UGLY: LEARNING A NEW OFFENSE AND DEFENSE
The fact that everything is new in the Titans system means learning a new defensive system, the Titans will be implementing a new offense. New offensive coordinator Jason Michael will install a system similar to that run by Ken Whisenhunt in San Diego last season. Michael will be Locker's third offensive coordinator in as many seasons. This is the same kind of issue that Blaine Gabbert suffered in Jacksonville, which may have stunted his growth as an NFL passer. Look for the team to use OTAs and training camp to ramp up the offense and solidify a defense that looked solid at times and lost at others.
Tennessee is moving from a 4-3 defense to a new hybrid system. This system will adopt concepts from both the 4-3 and 3-4 defense to keep opposing offenses off balance. The Titans will use OTAs to help transition players into new positions. One such player is Derrick Morgan. Morgan has played defensive end his entire career, but will now have to learn how to drop into coverage as an outside linebacker.