Home > NFL, Roster Roundouts > Roster Roundouts: A Tennessee Titans Preseason Report

Roster Roundouts: A Tennessee Titans Preseason Report

Previous Roster Roundouts: Bills, Rams, Bengals, Chiefs, Saints, Jaguars, Packers, Raiders, Vikings, Browns, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Colts, Lions, Cardinals, Chargers, Eagles

flickr.com/PhilyFn

flickr.com/PhilyFn

No team in the NFL last year won more games than the Tennessee Titans, and it came from such an unlikely source: the Titans were a playoff team in 2007, and yet, not one person (myself included) who is not partial to the team thought that their “arrow” was pointing up.  The assumption was that the Titans would drift into obscurity, and that assumption couldn’t have been more wrong.

There were circumstances that changed very early in the year.  The quarterback changed before the end of the first game in what ended up being a very poor offensive performance that was a win over the Jags anyway, when Kerry Collins replaced Vince Young.  The switch was permanent, and more shockingly, successful.  The other major factor that powered the Titans was that the AFC South was far more mediocre than anyone thought.  The Colts started 3-4, the Texans’ managed a baby step that didn’t make a difference in their record, and the Jaguars went from 11-5 to 6-10.

But while the rest of the division can be credited for leaving the door a crack open, credit the Titans for busting through to win it.  Last season was no fluke.

Ah, to be bullish on the Titans again.  Unfortunately through two preseason games, we’ve seen Kerry Collins look less like he did last year and more like he has his whole career, we’ve seen Vince Young…well, I’m still not sure exactly what we’re seeing from Vince Young, but I’m told its going to result in a super bowl win and hall of fame induction.  Given his ability to snatch the rookie of the year award without doing anything of note, we’ll file away his prediction as simply, “unlikely.”  And we’ve seen Patrick Ramsey make a very good case that he’s the best quarterback on the roster, though, he’s likely just making the case to himself.

As long as the Titans are going 3 deep with great runners though–and it looks like they’ve hit yet again with Michigan St. RB Javon Ringer–they’ll be able to squeeze out enough production from their skill positions to have an effective offense behind their strong offensive line.  Except, you know, that having that offensive line is far from established, and the fact that the line was great last year guarantees nothing this year.

The strength of the offensive line is in it’s bookend tackle combination: Michael Roos, and David Stewart.  They also have veteran hall of fame bound center Kevin Mawae who makes all the line calls.  Except–wait–Mawae is already hurt.  His contribution to the team this year is seriously in question.  Even if he starts week one, who says he’ll be healthy enough to play in week three?  The left guard is Eugene Amano, who is much less established than Jacob Bell.  So you have some small fissures in the interior OL for the Titans, and then a flood of problems if either tackle misses significant time.

It’s an easy, and in my opinion–fair–way to sum up the Titans offense.  With that line intact, they’ve got something here.  With a struggling line, it’s a 3 & out machine with no real upside.

That’s the hidden side of the 2009 Tennessee Titans.  The not so hidden side is the mammoth piece in the middle of the defensive line that won’t be there this season, Albert Haynesworth.  A healthy debate broke out between Cris Collinsworth and Tony Dungy during the Hall of Fame game broadcast over whether the Titans should have sold the farm to keep Haynesworth locked in long term, but this decision was reached far before Haynesworth hit free agency.  The Titans were hardly in a situation where they had to keep Haynesworth.  They’ve done a top job building along the defensive front in recent seasons.

Even if we assume that Jevon Kearse is at the end of the road (he might be), their 1-4 DT depth is probably better than any other team in the league, including the New York Giants, if we can make the assumption that rookie DT Sen’Derrick Marks is competent.  Once they lost Albert, they signed Tampa Bay DT Jovan Haye, a top player in his own right who would have been a poor fit in Tampa’s new scheme.  The ultimate test will be their numbers against the run, and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch’s pass rush numbers.  If the Titans decline in those areas, then it’s safe to say that they may have made the wrong decision on Haynesworth.

Still, that’s a tough investment for anyone to make, even for the large market teams.  According to sources, Tampa Bay’s offer to Haynesworth exceeded Washington’s 100 million dollar offer, although, we’re not sure what that means in regards to the 4/48 relevant portion of the Haynesworth contract.  In Washington, Albert gets $12 million a year for the first four years of the contract, and then there’s essentially three individual one year options at an average of $17.3 million per year.

I’ll point out that if there’s a strike year in 2011, the Redskins still owe Albert Haynesworth $41 million out of the $48, so you can see how small-market/large-market economics played into the Titans decision here.  For the Redskins, $41 million for 2+ years of Haynesworth is a hefty price tag, but for another franchise, it’s a deal breaker.  It’s the kind of deal that could affect the team’s position on the upcoming CBA negotiations.  There’s too much at stake to a mid market team at that price.

flickr.com/elijahlight

flickr.com/elijahlight

But Albert is the best DT in the game in the prime of his career, and you cannot directly replace that production.  With a d-line rotation penciled in as the solution, the linebackers inherit most of the responsibility for keeping this defense at the top of the league.  Earlier today, I talked about the Eagles’ linebackers, and how as they undergo a coordinator change, how that whole unit will be on the hot seat.  It’s not the same effect in Tennessee because Jim Schwartz is a macro-level blitzer, who would try to beat you based on your long-term weaknesses as advertised by statistics.  Jim Johnson was a guy who had a feel for breaking down pass protections as games went on, a micro-level blitzer.  The Titans have better linebackers than the Eagles do, but they’ll be on the hot seat none-the-less.

Here’s the big problem for the Titans defense: they aren’t over-talented in the secondary like their defensive ranking would have you think.  They have a top corner in Cortland Finnegan, and they have an excellent breakout prospect at safety in Michael Griffin.  Now, second corner was very much a position that was protected by the scheme, as on most teams, Nick Harper would be a fringe nickelback.  On the Titans, he’s an unquestioned starter for a fourth straight year.  Chris Hope is a pretty good safety, but he’s not the kind of player you would assume would be a starter on a top defense.

So it begs the question as to if this Titans team can produce a top defense without Haynesworth, considering that the unquestioned best unit on the team remains it’s defensive line.  Barring an unforeseen explosion from a player on the defense besides Michael Griffin, it’s more or less impossible to visualize a scenario in which the Titans defense improves or even matches it’s level from the last two seasons.  It would probably involve an unsustainable career year or two, and I’d be back here doing this song and dance next year.

As for the division, well, it looks tough yet again.  The Colts are my early pick to rep the AFC in the super bowl.  The Jaguars figure to rebound offensively, if not defensively.  And while I haven’t addressed the Texans yet, I’ll point out that the 3-loss Titans, who lost one of those games against the Colts in a backups vs backups derby, were 1-1 against the Texans last year.  They went 4-2 against the division, but without improved play, that can easily become 2-4.

So seeing the Titans back to the playoffs is a tough call that I’m not willing to make, but this is still one of the best drafting organizations in the NFL, and they aren’t going anywhere in the hierarchy of AFC teams long-term.  The 2009 Titans are a middle of the road AFC team whose schedule quirks give them 13 games against teams that legitimately expect to be playoff contenders, exceptions to the Rams, 49ers, and Bills.  A similar road ended up working pretty well for the 2008 Steelers, whose schedule ended up way softer than expected when the Browns and Bengals collapsed early on, but got their offense together in time for a playoff run and eventually, a super bowl win.  The Titans can hold out hope that by building their team the right way, when the inevitable unexpected events happen to shake up the AFC playoff picture, they’ll end up in January again, but they aren’t shaking up like an elite team this season.

Titans Camp, Nashville, TN

Part of being a team that values day two of the draft as a cheap way of finding loads of talented players who can help the team, as soon as they distingulish themselves from their peers is that camp becomes very important in determining the roster.  Good thing Jeff Fisher calls the shots.

Wide Receiver: Chris Davis vs. Paul Williams vs. Mark Jones

I’m hearing that the team really likes Mark Jones as a kick returner and would like to find a place for him now that Chris Carr is departed for Baltimore,  but he has less value as a fifth receiver than either Williams or Davis.

Tight End: Jared Cook vs. Alge Crumpler

I think that there’s a real sense that the Titans could keep all four of their tight ends, but there could also be a surprise cut in the works.  Or, you know, a real surprise since as the teams “franchise player”, Bo Scaife’s one-year contract is completely guaranteed.  I’m not sayin…

Offensive Line: Mike Otto vs. Fernando Velasco vs. Jason Murphy

Ninth offensive line battles are for your future left guard.  Sometimes.  Mike Otto is a tackle who has the best shot, but Velasco and Murphy have been working with the second team as opposed to Otto, who is a third team offensive tackle.  So this is wide open.

Defensive End: David Ball vs. William Hayes vs. Larry Birdine

Hey, this is a team effort, and there’s room on the roster for all of you.  Larry Birdine is probably the one of these three who is most likely to be cut, but he’s not just some camp scrub in Tennessee, he’s got a legitimate chance to force out a veteran.

Defensive Tackle: Kevin Vickers vs. LaJuan Ramsey

Vickers will have his hands full staving off the USC product, LaJuan Ramsey,  once thought to be a first day draft talent, for the teams’ 5th DT spot, should they decide to keep 5.

Outside Linebacker: Gerald McRath vs. Josh Stamer

Stamer is listed ahead of McRath on the depth chart, but the undersized So. Miss product is a great talent, and I don’t see the Titans letting him get away unless they decide he can’t play special teams at this level.

Cornerback: Cary Williams vs. Tanard Davis vs. Ryan Mouton

Mouton is probably got the best chance to win the 5th CB spot, but the Titans also need a 4th CB.  Cary Williams is in the lead on the depth chart, but Tanard Davis has the cover skills to challenge for an on-field role in the defense as a rookie.

Surprise Cuts?

  • RB Chris Henry
  • WR Lavelle Hawkins
  • TE Bo Scaife
  • DE Jevon Kearse
  • CB Nick Harper
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