Five of us asked to pick the AFC South have the Titans finishing fourth.
While the Titans transition has gone well to this point, there is an awful lot of change. Getting used to a new coach and staff, two new quarterbacks and a defense with major personnel and strategy changes is going to take some time. If you listen to the podcast with the preview file, you’ll hear me waffle on the Jaguars and Titans and third and fourth place.
Here’s my intelligence report on Tennessee. You can find it along with the predictions, a draft element from Mel Kiper and a look inside the numbers from Stats & Information here.
Five things you need to know about the Titans:
1. A full, fresh start: Coach Mike Munchak has a staff filled with fresh ideas, and his no-nonsense approach has a refreshing feel to it. His primary theme is simple: He asks players to know what to do, and to do it. Working without an offseason, he appears to have instilled a workmanlike attitude matching his own in short order. Players are appreciating and responding to his methods. He created mini-competition periods during camp that had the whole team watching and tended to bring out the best in guys. The spirit from those short periods, with up-downs at stake for the offense or defense, then spilled into the rest of practice.
2. Quarterback turnover: It's the position that sets the tone, and with Vince Young over the past five seasons, the tone was often unhealthy. Enter Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker. They are both natural leaders, both on the field and in the meeting rooms, who carry the work ethic that needs to go with it. Hasselbeck picked things up at the pace the team expected from a prominent veteran addition and showed a stronger, more versatile arm than I anticipated. Locker showed steady progress and the "it" factor the team loved when it decided to draft him eighth overall. As long as Hasselbeck stays healthy, he's the man, while Locker benefits from additional time to learn.
3. Bigger is better: In Jeff Fisher's final years, the team got small up front. Loaded with speed-rush types, the Titans' defense tended to wear down and, by the analysis of new defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, ventured too far from the basics of stopping the run first. So the Titans will be bigger up front with tackles like Shaun Smith and rookies Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug. Jason Jones will now be playing end in the base set and tackle in nickel, and Derrick Morgan could ultimately be a breakout guy at end. All the ends will line up more head on with tackles than way out wide, and defenders will be expected to stay disciplined in helping prevent big runs.
4. Weaponry issues: If the Titans have Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt and Jared Cook in action, they can be threatening on offense. But Johnson is a preseason holdout and Britt missed most of camp and the first three preseason games with a hamstring issue. Without them, the Titans are far less dynamic and will be relying on backs with far less experience and explosiveness -- Javon Ringer and rookie Jamie Harper -- and receivers who have consistently disappointed (Nate Washington, Justin Gage) or who have underachieved so far (Lavelle Hawkins, Damian Williams).
5. Secondary not quite settled: Cortland Finnegan will move inside to play nickelback most of the time, with youngsters Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner as the corners. Michael Griffin can be excellent at free safety if things in front of him and around him go well. Chris Hope is the biggest question in the secondary. He's slowing down, but Gray might be able to use him effectively anyway. The alternative is Jordan Babineaux, who played for Gray in Seattle and has some big-play ability. With Hope due $6.5 million, there still could be a move to be made at safety. If he remains with his current contract, the pressure will mount if he doesn't rebound in a big way in the new system.