Offseason report card: Tennessee Titans
With the flurry of NFL offseason action nearly in the books, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar take stock of every team’s offseason. Find all our Offseason Report Cards here.
The Titans are in a pretty interesting place for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2008 and has a 36-44 record over the last five seasons. Head coach Mike Munchak was fired in January after refusing to accept a long-term extension that included the dismissal of several assistants, and Ken Whisenhunt was called upon to replace him. Whisenhunt's long history with quarterback development in Pittsburgh, San Diego and Arizona couldn't come at a better time, because the Titans are still trying to figure out what they have in Jake Locker, the team's first-round pick in 2011. Last season, Locker started strong but was lost for the season due to hip, knee and foot injuries. He's started just 18 games in his three-year career, and the team's recent decision to decline his fifth-year option means that this is the time to fish or cut bait. He's got one year left to prove that he's the guy, or Whisenhunt will go forward with his own preferred quarterback.
Just as important is the addition of new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, one of the most creative minds in the game. Horton and Whisenhunt worked together in Pittsburgh and Arizona, and Horton has a lot to work with. Still, the Titans will go as far as their quarterback takes them. That's encouraging, as Locker started 2013 well ... but it's also troubling that he's never been able to put up consistent stretches of above-average play, for a number of reasons.
Offseason grade: B-
Best acquisition: Wesley Woodyard, LB
The former Broncos linebacker will be an intriguing chess piece in Horton's defense; he can play and cover from the outside and rush from the inside with equal skill. In the Titans' base 3-4 defense, he'll most likely take one of the inside linebacker spots, but when Horton schemes out of base and sets variable fronts against opposing offenses (which he'll do quite often), Woodyard has the talent to play nickel 'backer from just about anywhere on the field. With Derrick Morgan and Shaun Phillips as the outside rushers and Woodyard and Zach Brown as the projected starting inside guys, Horton has some major weapons at his disposal.
Biggest loss: Alterraun Verner, CB.
That said, while the Titans have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, the loss of Verner in free agency could be a blow. In 2013, Verner allowed an opposing passer rating of 55.8, third best in the league among qualifying cornerbacks behind Seattle's Richard Sherman and New England's Logan Ryan. There had been some questions as to how he would fit in a more aggressive scheme, and the cap-strapped Titans were not in the game when the Buccaneers gave him a four-year, $26.5 million deal with $14 million guaranteed. Tennessee will endeavor to replace Verner with a committee of Blidi Wreh-Wilson (who allowed an 89.6 passer rating in 2013) and Coty Sensabaugh (94.6), and that could be good news for quarterbacks around the AFC South.
Underrated draft pick: DT DaQuan Jones, Penn State (Fourth round, 112th overall pick)
While Horton's base defense is a base 3-4, you can expect a lot of four-man nickel schemes, and that's where the 6-foot-4, 322-pound Jones comes in -- as a disruptive tackle and big end in different packages, who could be especially effective alongside the hilariously underrated Jurrell Casey. Jones dropped about 25 pounds before the 2013 season, which was a wise move -- he set career marks with 56 tackles, three sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss and led all Big Ten defensive tackles in quarterback hits.
Looming question for training camp: Can Bishop Sankey be an every-down back in the NFL? With Chris Johnson off to the Jets and the importance of a do-it-all back within Whisenhunt's offense, it's a good time to be Sankey, the team's second-round pick out of Washington. In 2013, Sankey broke Corey Dillon's single-season rushing record for the program with 1,870 yards, finishing with 2,174 yards from scrimmage and 21 total touchdowns in an offense that wasn't always firing on all cylinders. Sankey will be competing with Shonn Greene for the primary spot at the position, and he brings a lot more to the table than Greene does. Dexter McCluster projects as more of a satellite back. At 5-foot-10 and 209 pounds, Sankey blocks well, catches the ball out of the backfield adroitly and can run inside with power. Only 47 of his 327 carries came on third down last season, but he did average 6.3 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns in those opportunities. We'll see if the Titans increase that particular workload percentage.