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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Major Concerns of the Tennessee Titans 2011 season


How great is the feeling of football coming back to us? All signs point to the lockout ending in a few days so its time to get back to the business of talking on the field football again. The Tennessee Titans probably have the worst situation coming out of the lockout. Let’s go down the list of problems facing this team:




• New coaching staff in transition including new Head Coach (Mike Munchak), Offensive Coordinator (Chris Palmer) and Defensive Coordinator (Jerry Gray)

• The retirement of Kerry Collins may hinder the development of the Titans first round draft choice Jake Locker

• The saga of off-field incidents involving the Titans best receiver Kenny Britt.

• The contract dispute in the making for the Titans best player RB Chris Johnson

• The possibility of losing major players due to free agency (Stephen Tulloch, Jason Babin, etc)



These are the biggest question marks for a team that less than a year ago was one of the most stable franchises in all of the NFL. The time has come to assess the Titans biggest needs as free agency is set to become a 2 or 3 week bonanza due to the labor strife.



Biggest Concerns:



1. Quarterback. To be a top team in this league, you have to have a surefire QB. The Titans carousel days of Vince Young and Kerry Collins have mercifully come to an end with the Titans selecting Jake Locker with the 8th pick of the draft. But with Collins retiring and the Titans undoubtedly not ready to toss their future QB to the wolves just yet, they have to sign a veteran QB to facilitate the transition of Locker. Most reports have Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck as the primary target of the Titans. He has connections to the franchise as GM Mike Reinfeldt was formally of the Seahawks and has ties to Hasselbeck as well as incoming OC Chris Palmer. Even Hasselbeck’s brother Tim of ESPN has discussed the possibility of Matt joining the Titans.



Another interesting name floating around was soon to be former Redskins QB Donovan McNabb. The Redskins will probably release the former Pro bowl QB as soon as the lockout is lifted going in favor of John Beck (Who again?). McNabb did look past his prime a bit last year with Washington but he still can get the job done as a veteran mentor for Locker. McNabb could parlay a year of good play with the Titans into a multi year deal with another team.



Off the radar picks include former Arizona Cardinal first round pick Matt Leinart, Baltimore backup Marc Bulger, and Trent Edwards formally of Jacksonville. All these players could be stop gaps until Locker is ready to take the reins.




2. Kenny Britt’s head: Britt seemed to enjoy his extra off a little too much this year. He was involved in several highly publicized incidents including: Allegedly made inaccurate statements on his driver's license applications on two occasions, Britt was also charged with tampering with evidence, obstructing a government function and resisting arrest while allegedly crushing a cigar containing what officers suspected to be marijuana, He was charged with theft-by-deception, a misdemeanor, after he was accused by two bail companies of not following through on paying the bail money for a friend who had been arrested, Britt pleaded guilty to separate motor vehicle violations related to an April 12 arrest on speeding charges in his hometown of Bayonne. He initially faced felony charges before prosecutors dropped them, citing his lack of a criminal record, and finally he was accused of being involved in a bar fight Oct. 22 in Nashville, but authorities later decided not to charge him. Whew, what a list. Dennis Rodman would be proud of Kenny for this but unfortunately he isn’t the one signing the checks for him. He is all but guaranteed himself a call and maybe a suspension from the commish Roger Goddell. I have spoken about Britt on my radio show to gauge the response on how the community feels about him and what I received was an indifferent attitude towards his transgressions. Britt is talented and has the potential to be a top flight NFL receiver but following in the footsteps of former Titans headache Adam “Pacman” Jones will do him no favors. A veteran has to step up and mentor the young Britt and tell him his place in the league. Just because one has success doesn’t mean that they are destined to great. Britt was recently seen at a Britney Spears concert onstage with the pop singer here in Nashville and it seemed to get a little racy at times. All in the day of the life for Britt, hopefully when the season ramps up, the shenanigans will end for him.



3. Chris Johnson’s contract dispute. As much as it pains me to say it, being a running back in the NFL means that more than likely you have a shortened career due to the nature of the position. You are constantly being hit rather it be from tackles or blocking for the QB. So when you come into the league and exceed expectations, you want to get that big and loaded contract as soon as possible. Johnson has certainly earned a new contract as he is one of the top 3 RBs in the NFL. To illustrate my point here are Johnson’s numbers since arriving in the NFL as the 24th pick of Tennessee:



Season Team Rushing Receiving Fumbles

G GS Att Yds Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Avg Lng TD FUM Lost

2010 Tennessee Titans

16 16 316 1,364 4.3 76T 11 44 245 5.6 25 1 3 2



2009 Tennessee Titans

16 16 358 2,006 5.6 91T 14 50 503 10.1 69T 2 3 3



2008 Tennessee Titans

15 14 251 1,228 4.9 66T 9 43 260 6.0 25 1 1 1



TOTAL 925 4,598 5.0 91 34 137 1,008 7.4 69 4 7 6



• He broke the 2,000 yard barrier and also set the single season yards from scrimmage record (2,509) in 2009 and was named to the All-pro team.



• His 1,364 ranked him fourth in league last year despite constantly facing eight man and sometimes nine man fronts from the defense.



• He was ranked the 13th best players in the league by the NFL Network.



If these numbers don’t make you want to sign a guy to a long-term contract, then I don’t what will. Bud "Bottom Line" Adams is usually thight with his wallet but he pays his stars (See: Eddie Geroge, Steve McNair and Frank Wycheck) but thats about all he pays. As I stated earlier, RBs usually have a short shelf life in the NFL, but that shouldn’t hinder Johnson from the dollar signs. He is only in his fourth year and the biggest declines at that position usually happens with players in their late 20s and early 30s. He is the main attraction for Titan fans as his speed and style electrifies LP field on Sundays. When you go Titans games just look around and see how 28 jerseys you will see. The Titans tried to appease Johnson by moving $2.5 million into a signing bonus for the 2010 season but Johnson wants his full due now and why shouldn’t he. If the Titans are serious about being a contender for the next few years, they have to sign the centerpiece of the team. If Johnson ever makes it to free agency, he could be as good as gone.




4. Coaching staff in transition: One of the worst parts of the lockout in my opinion was the no interaction of the players and coaches. Teams with new coaches like San Francisco, Carolina, Denver, Cleveland, and Tennessee haven’t had a chance to integrate their locker rooms as a result. It puts those teams at a disadvantage out the gates as they will have to quickly accustom themselves to their new surroundings. The Titans situation couldn’t be a worst position as they parted ways with Jeff Fisher, the longest tenured coach in the league at his time of dismissal. Hiring Munchak was good because the team did have familiarity with him as he has been the Titans offensive line coach under Fisher since 1994 and overall with the franchise since being drafted by the Houston Oilers back in 1982. Munchak may not be new to the team but OC Chris Palmer is. He will be giving the task of molding young Jake Locker into the eventual leader of this team. Palmer does have a good track record as he guided Eli Manning to his best season ever. DC Jerry Gray also has some experience with the Titans as he was the defensive back coach for the 1999 and 2000 season.



Furthermore, the team will basically have to learn an entirely different system under all of the new coaches. Munchak has promised changes and will run a more flexible offense around Chris Johnson with Palmer calling the signals. On the defensive side, Gray also has promised changes and hinted at shifting between a 3-4 defense and 4-3. These type of changes in philosophy and mentality take time and with the short amount they will have, can you not expect some problems in this transition? Munchak also has to put up with the problems created off the field with Britt to show what kind of enforcer he will be as the head man in Tennessee. It’s going to be a lot of his plate to make this first season successful for the Titans.



So as you can see, the Titans face a litany of questions coming into the 2011 season. There are plenty reasons of concern that this could be a down year in Titanland. But one thing I have learned in this business is to never underestimate this team. The last time I did back in 2008, all they did was obtain the best record in the league that year at 13-3. Hopefully this is one of those situations this time around as well.

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