The sub-.500 season cost Mike Munchak his job, however, and the Titans are a team in transition. Ken Whisenhunt has arrived in town and brought with him Ray Horton as his defensive coordinator. And the team already has been active on the free agent market. But one of the big questions remains whether or not Jake Locker is the QB of the future.
Can Locker and Whisenhunt take this team to the next level? Or will 2014 be Locker’s last in town before the new coach brings in his own guy? And just how far is this team from making a playoff push?
Joshua Huffman, editor of Titan Sized, shared his thoughts. Here’s what he had to say:
Zoneblitz: Tennessee went 7-9, but lost two overtime games and six by eight or fewer points. What’s your assessment of the season?
Huffman: It was a letdown. I was expecting 9-10 wins. The Titans had a lot of close calls against eventual playoff contenders (e.g. Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks and the Indianapolis Colts twice). They just couldn’t close out those games. Ryan Fitzpatrick made too many crucial interceptions in key moments. Another problem was that whenever something went against this team (e.g. Denver Broncos kicker Matt Prater making a 64-yard field goal), they appeared to have this “here we go again” mentality.
Talented team with a poisonous mindset. Like Bernard Pollard, I’m putting that on the coaching staff.
Zoneblitz: What do you think of the decision to fire Mike Munchak?
Huffman: Good decision. One must look beyond the nostalgia that’s associated with a figure who has represented the organization for more than 30 seasons. It was a stretch to expect Mike Munchak to take the leap from offensive coordinator to head coach. Having spent his entire career with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, he didn’t appear to have the connections to assemble a top-tier coaching staff. Hiring him so late in the 2011 process didn’t help him.
Zoneblitz: What do you think of hiring Ken Whisenhunt as his replacement?
Huffman: He’s a former NFC champion head coach. Get him a quarterback and he will win. He has proven that with Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner and Philip Rivers. His failed projects (e.g. Derek Anderson, Max Hall, Matt Leinart, John Skelton)…would anyone have won with those quarterbacks? I’m very interested to see how he does with Jake Locker or anyone they draft as a long-term replacement.
Zoneblitz: What do you think of rumors that Chris Johnson will be traded?
Huffman: Whatever. Local media members insist that he’s gone. I’m thinking the franchise waits until they can either find a nice trade or they need that money for salary cap. While it doesn’t appear like a team would want to give up anything for a potential free agent, the Philadelphia Eagles did surrender a draft pick for Darren Sproles.
Zoneblitz: what do you think of Jake Locker’s future with the Titans?
Huffman: Stay healthy or nice knowing ya. The Titans can’t wait any longer on a quarterback who has nursed different injuries since his freshman season at the University of Washington. Jake Locker has played well when given the opportunity. Now he just needs to stay on the field and get those extra reps. He’s not going to improve while soaking in the hot tub.
Zoneblitz: What about the offense? With Johnson and three solid wideouts, there should be some firepower there. What does it take to get that unit to the next level?
Huffman: Locker has to stay healthy. It’s that simple. The Titans must see what they have anything other than a quarterback who has nothing in the durability department. The Titans were 3-1 before his first injury and finished 4-3 with games that he started. They were 3-5 with Fitzpatrick, and two of the games he started came against teams who mailed it in during weeks 16 and 17.
Zoneblitz: What do you think of the Michael Oher signing?
Huffman: It’s risky. The Titans have an oft-injured quarterback who must prove that he’s the franchise quarterback. Oher doesn’t provide much as either a run-blocker or pass-blocker. Of course, in 2012, Oher was among the Pro Bowl leaders at offensive tackle.
Even if Oher doesn’t live up to his potential, I’m not sure if fans will notice. David Stewart was playing hobbled all season long. Worst case scenario is that right tackle remains the weak link of the line.
Zoneblitz: How big a loss is Alterraun Verner?
Huffman: They have two young pups who are waiting in the wings: Coty Sensabaugh and BlidI Wreh-Wilson. Over the last decade, the Titans have had good success with finding mid- to late-round gems at cornerback. This includes Verner (fourth round), Jason McCourty (sixth) and Cortland Finnegan (seventh).
It’s a process. What’s important is that McCourty remains planted at his No. 1 position. Even without Verner, I don’t consider cornerback a top draft priority at No. 11.
Zoneblitz: What does the rest of the defense look like heading into 2014?
Huffman: Ray Horton brings a new defense with him. It’s too early to tell how everything will fall in place. What’s certain is that at least three-fourths of the starting defensive backfield plus their nickel back will return. Linebackers are a mystery. The Titans could use a true nose tackle to go with Jurrell Casey, Derrick Morgan and Ropati Pitoitua.
Zoneblitz: With all the close games this team played, the season really could have swung dramatically for the better or the worse. How far is this team from being a playoff contender?
Huffman: Good coaching and healthy, clutch quarterback play. Locker stays healthy and this team would’ve grabbed the sixth seed. Furthermore, they’ve got to stop losing games to divisional rivals who are 0-13, 0-8, whatever you name it. They’ve done this at least once every season since Munchak debuted as a head coach in 2011. You can’t lose those games. Beating the 2-14 Texans and 4-12 Jaguars team would’ve meant the AFC’s No. 6 seed.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see Tennessee do in the draft and free agency?
Huffman: The Titans should find starting help at offensive tackle, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, and maybe running back and nose tackle. They could use more depth at aforementioned positions along with tight end, safety and maybe cornerback. The No. 1 free-agent / draft priority is to find some edge-rush specialists who can pressure the quarterback.
Zoneblitz: What’s the status of ownership with Bud Adams gone?
Huffman: His family owns the team. Bud Adams’ son-in-law Tommy Smith has taken over as president and CEO. Other family members will partake in the board of directors.
There’s no threat for relocation.
Zoneblitz: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Huffman: Stop losing to the Jaguars and any other divisional team that is challenging for a top five pick. Two of the last three seasons where those types of losses cost them a playoff appearance. Please stay healthy Locker.
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