The Titans are in a peculiar predicament. Their starting quarterback is coming into his third NFL season, and was a top-15 draft pick, but has struggled to succeed so far. Their starting running back has rushed for at least 1000 yards in all five of his NFL seasons, including over 2,000 in his sophomore 2009 season, but is coming off consecutive “down” seasons. Their best wide receiver (arguably), Kenny Britt, has faced multiple off-field issues, including arrests, and management may not be willing to put up with him much longer if he doesn’t get his act together. The defense has been among the league’s worst, and there has been infighting between Johnson and the offensive line.
At the end of last season, many people believed head coach Mike Munchak was likely to be fired, but owner Bud Adams and General Manager Ruston Webster decided to give Munchak a second chance to turn the team around. After the Titans’ quietly impressive off-season, the time is now for the team to show improvement. If they fail to do so, Munchak will likely be out of a job, and Locker may be replaced at QB. It’s an unfortunate situation to be in because the Titans are not expected to succeed this year by anyone outside the organization, but Bud Adams isn’t getting any younger (he’s already 90), and he will do whatever it takes to help give his team a chance to contend as soon as possible.
Jake Locker needs to step up this season and show the Titans that he was worth their first-round pick in the 2011 Draft. Last season was Locker’s first where he played the majority of the Titans’ games (11). This season, he will be expected to start all 16, and he’ll need to transition quickly in order to have a shot. Locker has struggled with accuracy and consistency in his first two seasons, but with a hopefully rejuvenated running game he will have less of a responsibility to force the ball downfield. His career completion percentage of 55.5% will need to go up around 10% for the Titans to have a chance to compete for a playoff berth.
Locker will also need to be more careful with his pass selection because he’s been known to telegraph his passes, and his career TD-INT ratio is 14:11 (he also has two fumbles). He will absolutely need to keep turnovers to a minimum this season in order to find success. He may not have the best receivers around him, but the combination of wide receivers Britt, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, and rookie Justin Hunter (along with free agent acquisition TE Delanie Walker) should prove effective enough to give Locker the ability to succeed. The rest is on him, the running game, and the offensive coaching staff.
Two of the Titans’ biggest pickups this offseason were OGs Andy Levitre, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, and first-round draft pick Chance Warmack, out of Alabama. By vastly improving the interior line, the Titans showed that they heard Chris Johnson’s complaints and have now given him the opportunity to succeed like he did in his 2000-yard season. If Johnson can’t get the job done, barring injury, they may consider another option at running back, perhaps free agent pickup Shonn Greene.
The Titans’ defense is the team’s biggest wild card, and if the unit can’t mesh early the Titans may be done before the season really gets started. The Titans were outscored 471-330 (net -141) last season and still somehow managed six wins. Tennessee will need to flip those numbers to turn from not even pretenders into true contenders. They also won only one of six divisional matchups, which will not be nearly enough to allow them to succeed in 2013. They essentially need a minimum of three divisional victories, especially because two of those six games are against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Titans’ 2013 campaign comes down to three things: Whether Jake Locker can play consistently well, whether Chris Johnson can return to form as a dominant rushing force, and whether the defense can snap back into shape. If the Titans can do all of these things, they could surprise quite a few people. Am I convinced it will happen? No, but I could see a scenario where it played out. And a little bit of hope is just what Titans fans need to help keep the brown paper bags off their heads early in the season.