After months of tinkering, the Tennessee Titans are now in the final stages of putting together the back end of their 53 man roster.
New general manager Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Mularey worked tirelessly this offseason to upgrade the talent on a roster than compiled just five wins the last two seasons.
Their collective effort led to 22 new players donning two-tone Titan blue this fall, and the majority of them will be heavily counted on this year.
With that in mind we’ll analyze the Titans’ new-look roster today, and rank it by position.
1. Defensive Line
For the second straight season the defensive line ranks as the deepest and most talented position on the team. Led by 2015 Pro Bowl defensive end Jurrell Casey, the Titans return their massive 300 pound starting trio that includes Al Woods (nose tackle) and DaQuan Jones (defensive end).
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau can now rotate six guys up front. Karl Klug and Angelo Blackson combined for 6.5 sacks in a reserve role last season, and things are finally starting to click for rookie nose tackle Austin Johnson (2nd round) after a shaky start to training camp.
Tennessee also returns their 2015 starting linebacker quartet of Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard, Brian Orakpo, and Derrick Morgan. The group combined for 20 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, an interception, a blocked kick, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown last season.
The Titans addressed their depth issues at the position by adding veteran free agent Sean Spence, as well as rookies Kevin Dodd (2nd round) and Aaron Wallace (7th round). While Spence and Wallace had solid offseasons, Dodd remains the x-factor.
After missing most of the summer recovering from preventative foot surgery, Dodd’s ability to learn on the go will be instrumental to the unit’s success this season. His freakish ability and relentless pursuit of the quarterback makes the rookie an integral part of the Titans’ plans on defense this season.
3. Running Backs
Tennessee’s biggest upgrade this offseason occurred at the running back position…a position that was one of the weakest links of the roster a year ago. Bishop Sankey, David Cobb, and Dexter McCluster are all gone, thanks in large part to the Titans’ new Thunder & Thunder duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry.
Murray ran like a man possessed all summer, averaging 8 yards per carry in the preseason.
Henry looked like anything but a rookie through four preseason games. Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner finished second in the league in preseason rushing yards, and chipped in 3 touchdowns in four games as well.
Antonio Andrews, Tennessee’s leading rusher last season, won the war of attrition for the team’s third running back spot. He displays a similar downhill running style to Murray and Henry, giving Tennessee the bruising three-headed monster they envisioned to usher in the exotic smash mouth era on offense.
4. Tight Ends
After being one of the highest ranked units on the team last season, a recent departure coupled with upgrades elsewhere has the tight end position checking in at four this year.
Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker looks to improve his overall production for a fourth straight season in Tennessee, and remains the team’s top receiving threat.
Walker’s primary backup, Craig Stevens, abruptly retired midway through the preseason. Anthony Fasano and Phillip Supernaw were both elevated on the depth chart as a result, and both are capable receivers. But it remains to be seen if either can fill Stevens’ shoes as a proficient blocker in the run game.
Marcus Mariota looks poised to take a giant leap forward in his second season as Tennessee’s starting quarterback. He put on some muscle this offseason, completed just under 75% of his passes this preseason, and looks much more comfortable running the offense this time around.
Behind him there are still questions, however.
Matt Cassel had a disastrous 2015 as the primary backup qb for the Dallas Cowboys, and was ultimately benched for their third string qb last season. Cassel’s preseason performance in Tennessee was also shaky, which may be the reason the Titans elected to keep third string qb Alex Tanney on the active roster.
Tanney was on the practice squad last season, played in just one regular season game in 2015, and has zero NFL starts on his resume. If Mariota misses any games, as he did four times last season, then Tennessee’s offense could find themselves in real trouble again this year.
6. Offensive line
The offensive line finished the 2015 season ranked dead last on this list, but an upgrade at center (Ben Jones) and the accelerated progression of rookie right tackle Jack Conklin (8th overall pick) has this unit trending in the right direction.
There are still red flags, though.
Will left tackle Taylor Lewan turn the corner and finally play up to his first round potential this year? The same can be asked of right guard Chance Warmack. Can Quinton Spain finish the season as the starting left guard if healthy? How quickly will Jack Conklin adjust to the speed and physicality of the regular season? Is there adequate quality depth? The Titans’ success on offense this season will hinge on the answers to those questions.
7. Wide Receivers
The wide receiver position grossly underachieved last year, and because of this, two newcomers will start the regular season in 2016. Rookie Tajae Sharpe and free agent acquisition Rishard Matthews sit atop the depth chart, but like the o’line and qb’s, depth behind them remains a concern.
Kendall Wright missed the entire preseason with a reoccurring hamstring issue. His availability for the regular season opener is in serous doubt.
Andre Johnson and Harry Douglas are both serviceable veterans, but they are also past their prime and lacking explosiveness. With all of their offseason moves the Titans are still lacking an elite number one receiver that can command extra attention from opposing defenses.
In a nutshell, if a rookie fifth round pick climbs to the top of the depth chart in relatively short order, then the unit as a whole still needs work.
The secondary was problematic for the Titans last year, and their preseason performance this year was equally bad…especially from the starting unit.
Starting cornerback Perrish Cox missed time this preseason with an ankle injury, and has yet to string together consecutive games playing opposite of Jason McCourty, who missed substantial time last year with his own injury issues.
Newly acquired corner Antwon Blake struggled mightily filling in for Cox this preseason, routinely giving up big plays in the passing game. The BWW cornerbacks are now gone after the Titans released Blidi Wreh-Wilson and B.W. Webb. Brice McCain and Cody Riggs replaces them, and will be used in nickel and dime packages.
At safety the Titans brought in Rashad Johnson to replaced longtime Titan Michael Griffin in a move that appears to be an upgrade on paper. Da’Norris Searcy regressed toward the end of last season, and has been less than stellar this preseason as the second starting safety.
Keep an eye on rookie third round pick Kevin Byard, who picked off two passes in the preseason and several others during training camp. He plays with a swagger and has the body language of a starting NFL safety. Don’t be surprised if he supplants Searcy in the starting lineup by season’s end.
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