The Titans proved to be a resilient group in 2011, overcoming adversity and their critics to post a winning record for the first time in three years.
After 17 seasons, popular head coach Jeff Fisher resigned and assistant Mike Munchak took over the reigns.
Despite starting a 35-year-old quarterback, getting a career-worst season from star running back Chris Johnson and losing their top wide out in the third game of the season, Tennessee was able to claw their way to a 9-7 record, just missing out on a playoff berth.
Important Additions: DE Kamerion Wimbley, LG Steve Hutchinson.
Important Losses: CB Cortland Finnegan, DE Jason Jones.
Reasons To Believe
1. Offensive Playmakers - Despite losing Kenny Britt early-on, and finishing 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game, the Titans still managed to finish in the middle of the pack offensively. Nate Washington stepped up with his the first 1,000-yard receiving season of his career, while TE Jared Cook emerged, more than doubling his career-best for receiving yards. If Britt can return healthy and Johnson rebounds, the Titans offence has the potential to be one of the most potent in the NFL.
|After a prolonged contract holdout affected Chris Johnson's production in 2011 the Titans are hoping a full-offseason has their star back ready to go for 2012.
2. Don't Walk, Run - In 2011, Johnson set career-lows in rushing yards, average yards per-attempt and touchdowns. That being said, he still surpassed the 1,000 yard mark and averaged four yards per carry. With a full training camp under his belt, and running behind an offensive line bolstered by the addition of veteran guard Steve Hutchison, there's a good chance Johnson will return to being one of the premier backs in the NFL in 2012.
3. Off-Season Additions - By most accounts, the Titans had a productive off-season, addressing their areas of concern through the draft and free agency. Defensively, Kamerion Wimbley was brought in to help a pass rush that featured just one player with more than four sacks last season, while Brown and defensive tackle Mike Martin were drafted in the second and third rounds respectively, to assist the run defence. On offense, Wright was picked to provide insurance for the unreliable Britt and Hutchison was signed to help get the Titans' rushing attack back on track.
Reasons To Doubt
1. Quarterback Questions - The Titans are sitting on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their quarterback situation. Their 2010, eighth overall pick, Jake Locker struggled when given playing time in his rookie season, displaying the same issues that dogged him in college: throwing accuracy and making plays while in the pocket. Meanwhile, 36-year-old Matt Hasselbeck showed his age at times last year and is limited in his ability to lead an offense. Locker's play in training camp won him the starting job, but with a tough early-season schedule, he will be immediately thrown into the fire.
2. Defensive Questions - Jerry Gray's defense struggled in 2011 and despite some off-season moves to address the issues, questions still remain. Relying on rookies Brown and Martin to solve their run-stopping problems is a risky proposition, and besides Wimbley, there is a lack of pass-rush options. The Titans also let starting corner, Courtland Finnegan follow Fisher to St. Louis, and are now counting on three-year back-up Alterraun Verner to step in. Facing the prolific offences of the Patriots, Chargers, Lions and Texans in the season's opening month, will provide a difficult early-season test.
3. Kenny Britt - The Titans' receiver is an undeniable talent, but his off-the-field actions have put his career in jeopardy. Counting his off-season DUI - which will likely cause him to miss the start of the season for a violation of the league's personal conduct policy - Britt has been involved in five police-related incidents since the Titans drafted him in 2009. He may finally be down to his last strike with the team, which has stuck by him through all his troubles. As he showed in the two games before he was injured last season - when he totaled 271 receiving yards - Britt can be a difference-maker, but his presence on the field is far from a sure thing.
What To Expect
As they demonstrated last year, the Titans have the talent to contend for a wild card spot. Whether Munchak's crew is in a similar position in 2012 will likely come down to quarterback play. The team has done a good job building a solid core around Locker and if he can take the next step and establish himself as a competent NFL quarterback, Tennessee will be playoff bound for the first time since 2008.