The dust has settled on what has been a questionable draft and free-agency period for the Tennessee Titans, but it has helped shine some light on what the team’s roster will look like on opening day.
Some position groups have been shrouded in mystery, and several player positions remain unclear on the defensive front seven. Offensively, things are fairly set in stone at all but one or two positions.
As we continue the walk through OTA’s, here’s my first crack at solving what the 2014 version of the Titans will look like.
Despite the recent fawning over Zach Mettenberger by the media during rookie minicamp, it’s highly unlikely to see any change at starting quarterback by the start of the season.
The oft-injured Jake Locker is in the final season of his contract after the team declined to exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
Charlie Whitehurst has proved to be inadequate as a starting quarterback while Mettenberger is recovering from two serious injuries and could possibly use some more recovery time.
The picture at running back is becoming clearer by the day now that we know all the players involved in the team’s committee approach with Shonn Greene going in for his second knee surgery. The battle for starting running back is all over: Bishop Sankey should be the starting tailback on opening day.
Jackie Battle remains with the them as capable reserve and a strong contributor on special teams while Leon Washington remains with the team solely for his ability on kickoff returns.
The situation at the top of the receiving corps has been set since the end of last season. The fourth and fifth receiver positions appear to be up for grabs.
Michael Preston should have a bit of a lead on the undrafted free agents the Titans signed after the draft, but the competition will be long and arduous before anything is declined.
Marc Mariani will be given an opportunity to make the roster as a receiver. However, after missing two consecutive seasons to injury, Mariani’s timing for the game may be off.
The only change I can see happening with the team’s current crop of talent at the position is if one of the undrafted free agents manages to outperform the disappointing Taylor Thompson for third on the depth chart.
Delanie Walker is entrenched as the team’s top tight end and should see the career-best numbers that he posted last season improve even more.
Craig Stevens is likely to be given a few opportunities to make some plays in the passing game after being used solely as a blocker last season.
I’ve been very skeptical of the team’s signing of Michael Oher in free agent, cutting his poor play over the last four seasons.
I could easily see Taylor Lewan winning a position battle with Oher this offseason, making Oher a very well-paid reserve for the upcoming season. Lewan saw reps at both left and right tackle during rookie minicamp over the weekend.
The rest of the starting unit is set after the wholesale change that took place on the interior during 2013′s offseason. While using nine roster spots on offensive line may seem like one too many, the need to keep Byron Stingily is there due to Michael Roos being on the final year of his contract and the uncertainty of Oher’s play.
Next offseason, the Titans are almost sure to let Roos walk and allow Lewan to slide over to his more natural position of left tackle. Stingily could then remain on the team as a swing tackle while Oher could either be cut or given the opportunity to start on the right side.
Overall, it’s a choice made for the future of the franchise in mind.
The defensive line is the most unsettled unit on the team at this point with players still not having their positions set. Ropati Pitoitua is the only player who will be manning one of the starting defensive end roles. There will be a lot of tough roster cuts to make among this group of players, but with the switch to an odd front, the need for a large defensive line corps is not a prominent as years past.
The inside linebacker position is just as muddled as the Titan’s defensive line situation right now. At the very least, we will see two new starters in the linebacking corps.
Wesley Woodyard seems to be a lock to start at “Mike” with Zach Brown being seen as the favorite to start at “Will”.
However, while the situation appears to be fluid, we can’t be sure what will happen with Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy or Moise Fokou. While McCarthy’s inability to stay healthy is concerning, he is capable of contributing on special teams and has shown flashes of being a quality all-around linebacker.
Avery Williamson is a guy that has promise; however Brown is your prototype “Will”. The concern is his poor play through the majority of 2013.
The main focus during the offseason will be the situation at right or No. 2 corner. The battle is for the position vacated by Alterraun Verner and will be fought over by Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
I expect Wreh-Wilson to edge out Sensabaugh due to his bigger size and more physical nature. Sensabaugh is more finesse but possesses great man coverage skills for covering the shiftly receivers in the NFL today.
I just don’t see it translating to the bigger and much stronger receivers that line up on the outside. Campbell will remain the Titans’ fourth corner and go mostly unseen.
Bernard Pollard and Michael Griffin are set to start another season together at safety after an excellent season paired together. George Wilson is likely to serve as the first backup for both and is sure to pick up a few snaps for certain subpackages.
He is best suited to play strong safety but has the ability to man either position and perform well. I expect Wilson to recevie more playing time as a result.
Daimion Stafford had a redshirt rookie campaign and will have the opportunity to contribute if he can remain healthy. I expect him to remain on the roster as a possible future replacement for Wilson or Pollard.
Finding a kicker as reliable as Rob Bironas will be a tough thing to do, but the Titans have two options on the roster they believe can get the job done.
Maikon Bonani and Travis Coons will compete with one another for the team’s kicking duties and have some big shoes to fill if given the opportunity.
I expect this situation to be resolved in preseason game action when the atempts begin to matter.
Brett Kern continues his solid play, finishing with a net coverage of 39.7 yards per punt in 2013. While his average is very middle-of-the-pack, his return average was third-lowest in the league and pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard-line 32 times.