Much of the analysis surrounding the 2014 Tennessee Titans has been positive, looking forward to the changes Ken Whisenhunt has made and the season Jake Locker is prepped for.
Field Yates of ESPN Insider had a quick post on teams who could regress this season, and surprisingly included was Tennessee:
“Tennessee Titans (7-9 in 2013)
Why they might regress: QB uncertainty, lack of established offensive playmakers, disconnect between defensive scheme/personnel
New head coach Ken Whisenhunt is a respected QB tutor, but there’s a legitimate question as to whether Jake Locker can ever be a reliable (and durable) starter. Locker’s strong 2013 start was offset by a major foot injury, and the soon-to-be 26-year-old has a make-or-break 2014 in front of him. Trouble is, there’s little in the way of established offensive playmakers around him. Bishop Sankey, a second-round pick, looks primed to assume the starting running back role, but Kendall Wright is the only receiver in Tennessee who is both proven and a piece to build the foundation around going forward. Justin Hunter’s progress from a raw, physical freak into a refined route-runner who can beat physicality with his length and burst is essential.
On defense, coordinator Ray Horton has a preferred 3-4 front, and while he has suggested he’ll lean less on two-gap control that requires discipline and patience from his defensive linemen, the glut of big bodies on Tennessee’s defense doesn’t seem like a scheme fit. Jurrell Casey, their best young interior lineman, is a gap-shooting penetrator, not the type of fit-and-lock-out defensive lineman that Horton has previously coveted. How Karl Klug, Sammie Lee Hill and Antonio Johnson fit along the defensive line is also a question mark.
Early 2014 forecast: 5-11″
Mixed with a fairly easy schedule and a young core of starters on offense, it’s difficult to see the Titans falling from 7-9 last season to just five wins this year. The question is whether Locker can be durable, not if he can be reliable. He was solid through five games or so last year, then fell off after injuries caught up with him.
Sankey has been tabbed as an early Rookie of the Year candidate, but if he doesn’t start hot, Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster are there as veterans to pick up the slack. Kendall Wright had the seventh-most receptions in the NFL last year, Justin Hunter and Nate Washington are solid second and third options and Delanie Walker was fantastic when he wasn’t injured.
As for the defense, Tennessee struggled mightily against the run, and with the 3-4, should be more prepared to shut it down. There are many pieces that might struggle to fit in (see: Zach Brown), but overall it’s still a young group that should blossom under Horton.
Even with some of the deficiencies, it’s hard to see this group falling apart under Whisenhunt.
File this under something to dig back up halfway through the season.