G Steve Hutchinson, DE Kamerion Wimbley, DT Leger Douzable.
Early Draft Picks:
WR Kendall Wright, OLB Zach Brown, DT Mike Martin, CB Coty Sensabaugh.
TE Daniel Graham, G Jake Scott, DE William Hayes, DT Jason Jones, CB Cortland Finnegan, SS Chris Hope.
2012 Tennessee Titans Offense:
Remember when Chris Johnson predicted that he would rush for 3,000 yards in 2010? So much for that. Johnson should be happy to live up to the "2K" in his nickname because he rushed for only 1,047 yards on a mediocre 4.0 average last year. There were a few things working against Johnson, one of which was his fault. He held out too long and didn't stay in shape. Also, Tennessee's blocking was very pedestrian, so Johnson couldn't have had much success even if he showed up ready to play.
There's cause for optimism entering the 2012 campaign. Johnson has working diligently this offseason to be in peak shape. In fact, he's participating in the Titans' offseason program for the first time in his career, rather than train on his own in Orlando. Furthermore, Johnson's blocking will be better because of the addition of stud guard Steve Hutchinson.
Hutchinson will start at left guard. His mere presence will exponentially bolster Tennessee's front, which is now at least somewhat strong at four of the five positions. Left tackle Michael Roos is a very good blind-side protector who surrendered only one sack in 2011. Right tackle David Stewart is coming off a down year because he dealt with a lingering calf issue. He is talented though, and should bounce back this season. Right guard Leroy Harris pass protects well, but struggles to open running lanes. Center Eugene Amano is the only player who should have been upgraded. Passing on Wisconsin's Peter Konz in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft could come back to haunt Tennessee's front office.
Despite the fact that the Titans didn't yet have Hutchinson last year, they surrendered the second-fewest sacks in the NFL (24). Matt Hasselbeck benefited from this, accumulating 3,571 yards, 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, all while completing 61.6 percent of his passes - his best figure in that department since 2007.
The soon-to-be 37-year-old Hasselbeck currently sits atop Tennessee's depth chart, but that probably won't last too long because second-year Jake Locker is way too talented. Locker looked terrific in relief of Hasselbeck last season, throwing four touchdowns and no interceptions on a sterling 8.2 YPA. Locker is still raw, but his ability to pick up yardage on the ground is what separates him from the veteran. He's the better player and gives his team the best chance to win. Head coach Mike Munchak cannot continue starting Hasselbeck because he has a better shot of making the playoffs with Locker.
Whoever starts at quarterback will have a plethora of weapons to throw to. Kenny Britt is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the NFL, but probably won't be 100 percent because he tore his ACL last September. The Titans spent the 20th-overall selection on Kendall Wright, a lightning-quick wideout who will serve as a great downfield target for either quarterback.
Nate Washington, who caught 74 balls for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns last year, is still around, as is Damian Williams, who showed flashes of his play-making ability with several quality outings in his second NFL season. And who could forget tight end Jared Cook? He had a monstrous finish to his 2011 campaign, catching 21 balls for 335 yards and a touchdown in the final three games. That's definitely a sign of things to come; Cook always had talent, but just had to get it together mentally.
2012 Tennessee Titans Defense:
Tennessee fans may not be able to appreciate the symmetry, but it's worth noting. As mentioned, the Titans surrendered the second-fewest sacks in the NFL. They also recorded the second-fewest sacks with 28. That would explain why they signed defensive end Kamerion Wimbley to a 5-year, $35 million contract this offseason.
Though Wimbley has registered a double-digit sack total only once in his 6-year career, he can generate consistent pressure on the quarterback. The former Raider tallied 16 sacks the past two seasons, so he, along with situational pass-rusher Karl Klug (seven sacks in 2011), should be able to help Tennessee escape the league cellar of that statistical category.
The key to Tennessee's defensive front will be left end Derrick Morgan. The 16th-overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Morgan missed most of his rookie campaign with a torn ACL. He returned last season, but wasn't very effective. Now two years removed from that injury, Morgan is expected to step up. There are no excuses, as he'll be playing across from Wimbley. Meanwhile, Tennessee will be hoping that third-round rookie Mike Martin will be able to pass the pedestrian Sen'Derrick Marks and crack the starting lineup next to stud run-stuffer Jurrell Casey.
The Titans have to put much more pressure on the quarterback because they watched Cortland Finnegan sign with the Rams in free agency. The loss wasn't a catastrophe because Tennessee has two other solid corners in Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, but it does hurt because Finnegan was such a special player. Plus, it depleted depth, forcing the front office to use a fourth-round selection on cornerback Coty Sensabaugh.
Both of Tennessee's starting safeties were free agents heading into the spring, yet the front office was able to retain them. Strong safety Jordan Babineaux was re-signed to a short-term deal, while free safety Michael Griffin was just given a 5-year contract. Babineaux isn't very good, to put it nicely, but keeping Griffin was very important.
The linebacking corps is arguably the best aspect of Tennessee's stop unit despite the fact that two rookies started there last year. Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy, chosen in the second and fourth rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft, respectively, were both very solid. Ayers was penciled into the lineup immediately and served as a three-down linebacker in the second half of the year. McCarthy, meanwhile, had to supplant the ineffective Barrett Ruud, but also played all three downs when he finally cracked the starting lineup. The third memeber of the group is currently the declining, 32-year-old Will Witherspoon, but the Titans will want second-round rookie Zach Brown to supplant him.
2012 Tennessee Titans Schedule and Intangibles:
Rob Bironas became a rich man four offseasons ago, and he definitely deserved it. He has drilled at least 84.4 percent of his field goals every year since 2007. He was 29-of-32 in 2011, including 6-of-7 from 50-plus.
Brett Kern had a sub-par 2011 campaign; he maintained a 43.6 punting average and placed 31-of-86 boots inside the 20.
Marc Mariani, entering his third season, has scored three return touchdowns thus far in his career, including one punt return taken to the house in 2011. Even better, Tennessee covered punts and kickoffs extremely well, outgaining their opponents by 4.3 and 3.3 yards in the respective categories.
The Titans were a solid team last year, but they built up their win total by taking advantage of an easy slate. They'll have no such luxury this season, as six of their first seven matchups are against the Patriots, Chargers, Lions, Texans, Steelers and Bills. The final portion of the schedule is much easier - they take on the Dolphins, Jaguars (twice), Colts and Jets after their Week 11 bye - but they may be out of playoff contention by then.
2012 Tennessee Titans Analysis: The Titans are a very solid team that could win as many as 10 games in 2012. That will be difficult, however, because of the aforementioned schedule. Their best bet is developing Jake Locker for a run at the AFC South crown in 2013. Locker will have experience by then, while Kenny Britt will be fully recovered from his torn ACL. In the meantime, however, a series of taxing, early-season matchups could derail Tennessee's playoff aspirations this year.
Goals Entering the 2012 NFL Draft: CJ2K turned into CJ1K last year, partly because the interior offensive line couldn't block. The Titans added Steve Hutchinson through free agency, but he's not nearly enough. Upgrades at right guard and center are still needed. Tennessee is also expected to address the defensive front.
2012 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I know that Mike Munchak didn't want to address the offensive line with the 20th pick, but he should have made an exception for David DeCastro. DeCastro, along with newly signed Steve Hutchinson, would have allowed Tennessee to have the type of front it maintained when the team was so dominant a few years ago.
It's hard to dislike to Kendall Wright pick though. Wright is a play-maker and should be a great deep threat for Jake Locker. Meanwhile, the defense was addressed with three consecutive selections after that. The Titans filled needs at outside linebacker, defensive tackle and cornerback, all with players who provided at least good value at the three spots.
Tennessee had a solid draft overall, but it's a bit frustrating that the front office failed to upgrade the interior of the offensive line with DeCastro in Round 1 or Peter Konz in Round 2. If CJ1K doesn't revert back to CJ2K, the Titans can only blame themselves.
2012 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
20. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: B+ Grade
I really like this pick, but the thing that's keeping me from making this an A is the fact that David DeCastro is still on the board. DeCastro could have really bolstered the rushing attack and helped CJ1K turn back into CJ2K. Kendall Wright, however, figures to be a potent weapon for Jake Locker - something the Titans needed to acquire with Kenny Britt coming off a knee injury.
52. Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina: B Grade
Zach Brown, once upon a time, was a top 25 prospect. He was often listed in the first round of my mock draft in the fall. However, his work ethic and attitude, as well as a pedestrian 2011 campaign have forced him into the second round. The Titans are taking a risk here. Brown can be great if they coach him up, but there's also a good chance that he slacks off and underachieves.
82. Mike Martin, DT, Michigan: A- Grade
Mike Martin is decent value in the third round. He also fills a need, as the Titans needed to bring in someone who could compete with the disappointing Sen'Derrick Marks.
115. Coty Sensabaugh, CB, Clemson: B+ Grade
The Titans lost Cortland Finnegan, so they were looking for cornerback depth. Coty Sensabaugh was regarded by many as a Round 3-4 sleeper, so this is a nice selection.
145. Taylor Thompson, TE/DE, SMU: B Grade
Will the Titans use Taylor Thompson at tight end or defensive end? They need help in both areas. Thompson has tremendous upside as a tight end, but he'd play second fiddle to the emerging Jared Cook. This is the right range for him though.
190. Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State: A+ Grade
Markelle Martin was one of the final two prospects remaining in the top 100 of the consensus board (Alfonzo Dennard). In addition to this being a great value pick, it fills a need because the Titans didn't have any depth at the safety position.
211. Scott Solomon, DE, Rice: B Grade
This is a decent final-round selection. The Titans had to acquire depth behind Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan, and Scott Solomon fits the range.
The Titans performed better than most thought they would last year, but I can't help but think that they should have been the sixth AFC team to reach the playoffs instead of Cincinnati. Mike Munchak cost his team by not playing the superior quarterback late in the year, as it was quite apparent that Jake Locker was the better option over Matt Hasselbeck. The good news though is that this gives Tennessee fans hope for the immediate future.
Titans cut TE Daniel Graham
Titans sign OLB Zac Diles
Titans cut G Duke Robinson
Titans re-sign DE Dave Ball
Seahawks sign ILB Barrett Ruud
Rams sign DE William Hayes
Titans sign DT Leger Douzable
Titans re-sign ILB Tim Shaw
Colts sign WR Donnie Avery
Titans sign DE Kamerion Wimbley
Seahawks sign DT Jason Jones
Titans sign G Steve Hutchinson
Rams sign CB Cortland Finnegan
Titans re-sign SS Jordan Babineaux
Titans franchise S Michael Griffin
Titans re-sign WR Lavelle Hawkins
Titans re-sign OT Mike Otto
Center: The interior of Tennessee's offensive line needs to be completely reworked, as the players simply couldn't open up any running lanes for Chris Johnson. Eugene Amano is one of the worst centers in the NFL, so the Titans will consider Peter Konz at No. 20 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Two Guards: More interior line help. Left guard Leroy Harris is terrible, while right guard Jake Scott is a free agent. Cordy Glenn will be an option at No. 20. The Titans may want to trade up for David DeCastro as well. Signed Steve Hutchinson
Defensive End: Karl Klug paced the Titans with seven sacks in 2011. That can't happen again. In a division with Matt Schaub and Peyton Manning/Andrew Luck, they'll need to bolster their pass rush. Depth will also be needed because Jason Jones, Dave Ball and William Hayes are all free agents. Signed Kamerion Wimbley; re-signed Dave Ball
Two Safeties: Tennessee's top four safeties, including starters Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux, are free agents. Griffin, the free safety, is the only competent player at his position on the roster, so an upgrade was already needed. Franchised Michael Griffin; re-signed Jordan Babineaux
Defensive Tackle: Jurrell Casey played well as a rookie, but the Titans need to find an upgrade next to him. Drafted Mike Martin; signed Leger Douzable
Weakside Linebacker: Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy form a quality linebacking tandem. The weakside linebacker position is still a weakness, however. Drafted Zach Brown; signed Zac Diles
Cornerback Depth: It appears as though Cortland Finnegan will be signing with the Rams, so the Titans will have to acquire depth behind Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner. Drafted Coty Sensabaugh
Wide Receiver Depth: Lavelle Hawkins and Donnie Avery are free agents, so depth is needed here. It wouldn't hurt to have someone push Damian Williams. Drafted Kendall Wright; re-signed Lavelle Hawkins
2012 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Kamerion Wimbley, DE/OLB, Raiders. Age: 28. Signed with Titans (5 years, $35 million)
Kamerion Wimbley, a perfect fit for either the 4-3 or 3-4, has 16 sacks in the past two years. He's also a force against the run.
Steve Hutchinson, G, Vikings. Age: 34. Signed with Titans (3 years)
Steve Hutchinson will be 35 in November, but he's still getting it done. He was terrific this past season, and based on how long interior linemen can usually last, he should be able to play at a high level for a couple more years.
Leger Douzable, DT, Jaguars. Age: 26. -- Signed with Titans (1 year)
Tennessee Titans Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Cortland Finnegan, CB, Titans. Age: 28. Signed with Rams (5 years, $50 million)
Cortland Finnegan is a really good cornerback unless he has to cover Andre Johnson. He's expected to reunite with Jeff Fisher in St. Louis.
Michael Griffin, S, Titans. Age: 27. Franchised by Titans
Michael Griffin played very well in 2011, but had issues with consistency beforehand. He could join Cortland Finnegan in playing under Jeff Fisher again in St. Louis.
Jason Jones, DT, Titans. Age: 26. Signed with Seahawks (1 year)
Jason Jones thrived as a defensive tackle in a wide-nine scheme prior to this season. He was moved to defensive end in 2011 and consequently struggled. Jones needs to go to Detroit, Philadelphia or St. Louis this spring.
Jake Scott, G, Titans. Age: 31.
Jake Scott is a good pass-protector, but struggles to open up running lanes. Considering his size (6-5, 292), that's not a surprise.
William Hayes, DE, Titans. Age: 27. -- Signed with Rams (1 year)
Dave Ball, DE, Titans. Age: 31. -- Re-signed with Titans (1 year, $1.2 million)
Jordan Babineaux, SS, Titans. Age: 30. -- Re-signed with Titans (2 years, $5 million)
Daniel Graham, TE, Titans. Age: 33.
Chris Hope, SS, Titans. Age: 31.
Donnie Avery, WR, Titans. Age: 28. -- Signed with Colts
Fernando Velasco (RFA), C/G, Titans. Age: 27.
Tony Brown, DT, Titans. Age: 31.
Ahmard Hall, FB, Titans. Age: 32.
Barrett Ruud, ILB, Titans. Age: 29. -- Signed with Seahawks (1 year)
Tim Shaw, ILB, Titans. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Titans (3 years)
Mike Otto, OT, Titans. Age: 29. -- Re-signed with Titans (2 years)
Patrick Bailey, OLB, Titans. Age: 26.
Anthony Smith, S, Titans. Age: 28.
Duke Robinson, G, Titans. Age: 25.
Divisional Rival History: Houston Texans: The Texans would have swept this series last year if the Week 17 tilt meant anything to them. Indianapolis Colts: The Colts own the Titans again, having won six of the past seven matchups. Jacksonville Jaguars: If you watched old and improved NFL Primetime you might remember that Chris Berman always said, "The Titans know all and tell all at Alltel Stadium." That's definitely true; Tennessee has won seven of the previous 11 in this heated rivalry.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2012 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)