Minus a superstar, Titans looking for someone to step up

Andrew Robichaud,
8/29/2014 11:11:08 PM
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Since the release of running back Chris Johnson the Titans have been working with an offence that lacks a true superstar.

In Johnson the Titans cut a three-time Pro Bowler with six straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, including a 2,006-yard season in 2009.

What the Titans are left with is a trio of potential stars and it all starts under centre with fourth-year quarterback Jake Locker.

"We've got some skill players that we're excited about, but a lot of it is going to come down to what Jake can do for us," Titans' first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt told USA TODAY Sports.

"So far, that has been progressing very well. He has done a nice job in the preseason. He worked very hard. I said one of the first things that intrigued me about Jake was that he exhibited a lot of the qualities that you want to see in a quarterback and he has done nothing to disprove that in the short time we've been around."

The key to that is the short time Whisenhunt has been around.

Locker has appeared in only 18 games over the last two seasons due to foot, hip and shoulder injuries.

Sure, Locker has thrown 22 touchdowns in 23 career NFL games and in seven games before his season was cut short in 2013 he was completing 60.7 per cent of his passes. But if he can't stay on the field who cares?

In his defence, the 26-year-old pivot doesn't believe his painful past reflects the player he is.

"It does bother me," Locker told the Tennessean in November, a day before season-ending surgery to repair the Lisfranc injury in his right foot.

"I feel like I have always done everything in the offseason, and put in the preparation to be as healthy and as strong as possible to prevent things from happening. And I've just had some freak deals that have unfortunately been major injuries for me."

In a perfect world Locker will start all 16 games and have a chance to grow with two young and explosive receivers.

Kendall Wright may carry the majority of expectations coming off a 94-reception, 1,079-yard season in 2013.

"All the little things that I think it takes to be a good player, he's shown," Whisenhunt said in August, as quoted by the Associated Press. "He's doing that day in and day out, and that's important."

On the downside, Wright may have helped the Titans move the ball into scoring position with 52 first-down receptions, but the 5-foot-10 Baylor product found the end zone just twice.

It's hard to believe a player who caught nearly 100 passes and surpassed 1,000 yards in his sophomore season scored just two touchdowns. It's a shortcoming not lost on the third-year receiver or his coach.

"This year I plan on breaking a little more of those tackles, trying to get loose and go score," Wright said. 

"He can do a lot of different things," Whisenhunt added. "We're going to try to put him in situations where we can explode that. He's an explosive player, good hands, he's got good vision."

What could turn into the most pleasant surprise on the receiving end is sophomore Justin Hunter.

Hunter appeared in 14 games in his rookie year last season and caught 18 passes. It seems small, but the second-round pick averaged 19.7 yards a catch, amassing 354 yards, and scored four touchdowns.

It's never a sure thing, but with more reps and comparable averages it's safe to say Hunter could easily join Wright in the 1,000-yard club and hit double digits in touchdown receptions.

The Titans are keeping Hunter humble though. The sophomore was punished for running a bad route during a practice in mid-August and had his name on a practice jersey replaced with JAG, meaning "Just Another Guy."

If Hunter is who many think he is, then "Just Another Guy" is definitely a label that won't stick and the Titans will have a star for years to come.

"He's just so big and long and has the ability to jump, and he's got a big catch radius," Locker said. "So you're able to put the ball in a lot of different places to give him a chance."


If Locker is the answer at quarterback for the Titans then Whisenhunt is the light that will guide him to the Promised Land.

Spending last season as the offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, Whisenhunt lit a fire under Philip Rivers.

At 32, Rivers had one of the most productive seasons of his 10-year career, setting a career high in completions (378) and completion percentage (69.5) while throwing for 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions.

And not too long ago, Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner found new life when Whisenhunt arrived as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2007.

Warner threw for 83 touchdowns during their three-year partnership and fell five points short of a Super Bowl title together in 2008.

If anyone is going to get anything out of Locker, it'll be his quarterback-whisperer head coach.


Rookie left tackle Taylor Lewan, selected 11th overall in 2014, and rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger, a sixth-round pick in 2014, aren't guaranteed any playing time in their inaugural NFL seasons, but that doesn't mean they aren't a valuable part of the Titans organization in the future.

In Lewan's case, he sits behind a respectable pair of tackles in Michael Roos, a 10-year Titans' vet, and Michael Oher, a Super Bowl champ with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013.

“It's a unique situation. Most teams don't have the opportunity to draft a tackle in the first round and also have two outstanding offensive linemen,” Lewan said in August, via

He's not wrong. He also didn't get picked at No. 11 for no reason. And when he's called on for the challenge, he says he's ready for anything.

“When I get my opportunity, I'm going to do whatever I can to be successful and thrive,” he said.

Mettenberger, who leads all quarterbacks with 659 yards in the preseason, is in an interesting position as well. At third on the depth chart behind Locker and backup Charlie Whitehurst, coach Whisenhunt has admitted he has seen flashes from the LSU alum but he has also made it abundantly clear that Mettenberger will remain in the third slot once the season begins.

“Unless it was an injury situation, no," Whisenhunt said of the possibility of Mettenberger dressing as the backup in Week 1. “I still think at times he struggles with some things, which is not uncommon for a young player. It's been invaluable, the amount of reps that we've gotten him and how he's performed. I think it's been fantastic.”

But despite being the 178th pick in the draft, Mettenberger has found a way to get noticed and become a viable option for the organization going forward. He might find his way to the field sooner than many think.

Jake Locker (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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