NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Who is the most indispensable Titan?
Not the presumptive team MVP. Not the guy they can least afford to lose.
Who’s the most distinct guy, the one who the team would have to alter its schemes without?
Here are the four I think qualify for the list, in the order of their distinctness:
RB Chris Johnson: There is one guy on the Titans who an opponent has to account for at all times, and it’s Johnson. He’s still got blazing speed, and if he gets free, he’s got as much potential to break off giant runs as anyone in the league. Having one guy with that speed is fortunate. It’s virtually impossible to have another. If the Titans were without Johnson, they’d still run the ball plenty. But it would be a lot more power-based with the stronger but much slower Shonn Greene taking the bulk of carries.
TE/F-back Delanie Walker: The Titans have yet to have him on the field for a preseason game, and they might leave him on the sideline this week to be extra cautious, and to keep him a bit of a mystery for Pittsburgh. As a “move tight end," he can line up in the backfield, on the line, in the slot, and even out wide. The Titans don’t have another guy anything like him in terms of being able to shift around and create mismatches. Craig Stevens is a more traditional blocking tight end. Taylor Thompson is more of a receiver. The Titans' offense is a lot different with Walker involved than without him.
LB-DE Akeem Ayers: At 6-foot-3, 253 pounds, Ayers is one of the biggest starting linebackers the Titans have had. He’s very much a strongside guy, and now he will almost exclusively be coming forward to be part of the rush. When the Titans go to nickel, he’ll often put his hand down and function as the right defensive end. Patrick Bailey played in Ayers' linebacker spot against the Falcons, but he can’t step up to be the defensive end. Scott Solomon is a defensive end who has been converted to strongside linebacker, and while his progress has been good, he’s not a natural.
WR Kendall Wright: At 5-foot-10 (and 191 pounds) he’s the shortest receiver among the guys who will be around. Shifty and quick, Wright has a knack for not taking a big hit in the middle of the field. The Titans don’t really have another guy in the same mold. Damian Williams is working in the slot as Wright recovers from a knee injury. Williams is a quality player and a bigger target. He’s a versatile guy who is technique-sound and a quality route-runner. But he’s not the same style or caliber of playmaker.