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2012 Tennessee Titans Team Preview: When Will Locker Take the Reigns from Hasselbeck?

John Budrow

John Budrow

John Budrow writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

Who will be behind center in Week 1 has yet to be determined, but the Titans believe that whoever wins the anticipated QB competition will be a more than capable option. Veteran Matt Hasselbeck is heading into his 14th season, but in his first year with the Titans, he was able to put up numbers that were not dissimilar to the serviceable marks he put up with the Seahawks. Meanwhile, last year's eighth overall pick, Jake Locker, came into games for an injured Hasselbeck last season and showed that he may be capable of taking over as the starter sooner rather than later.

The passing attack has a chance to be potent this season, keyed by the expected return to health of Kenny Britt, who should be back and healthy from ACL surgery that kept him out of 13 games last season. He'll need to avoid setbacks with his knee this summer in order to cash in on his massive upside, however.

To both complement and insure Britt, the Titans spent their first-round draft choice on a playmaking wideout, in Kendall Wright. They believe that the Baylor product can work as both an inside and outside receiver, which should create match-up problems for opposing defenses. Even if Britt comes out of the gate slow, Nate Washington, who gained over 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career in 2011, returns to provide a capable alternative, with Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins on hand as well. Meanwhile, Jared Cook came on late last year, solidifying the team's tight end position.

A reliable passing attack should prevent defenses from stacking the box and allow RB Chris Johnson to improve on the worst statistical season of his career. With his contract no longer an issue, Johnson is on board for a full slate of offseason activities, and the hope is that the added preparation and renewed focus will result in a bounce-back campaign.

On the other side of the ball, there have been many changes to the Titans' defense. To start, the squad lost several former starters, including feisty cornerback Cortland Finnegan to the Rams, former coach Jeff Fisher's new team. The Titans didn't do a ton in free agency to fill the holes on defense, but DE Kamerion Wimbley should at least fortify the team's pass rush. The Titans did spend most of their later round draft choices in 2012 on defensive players at various positions, however. Overall, the Titans have depth and size on the defensive line, but are shallow up the middle in the backfield. With the Colts in rebuilding mode, it's now the Texans that the Titans must leapfrog to claim the division title, a daunting but not insurmountable hurdle.

KEY ACQUISITIONS
Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor (Round 1, 20th overall)
Small, but fast receiver with the explosiveness to create big plays. Could be in for a big role if Kenny Britt's knee issues persist.

Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina (Round 2, 52nd overall)
An athletic and strong player with questions surrounding his desire to initiate and take contact. He should battle for a starting spot at linebacker.

Taylor Thompson TE, SMU (Round 5, 145th overall)
Gives the Titans some added youth and depth at tight end.

Kamerion Wimbley, DE (Raiders)
The former Brown/Raider will help bolster the team's pass rush.

Steve Hutchinson, G (Vikings)
Former All Pro guard who should help the team improve on last season's poor running game.

KEY LOSSES
Barrett Ruud, LB (Seahawks)
Steady and professional linebacker whose leadership will be missed.

Cortland Finnegan, CB (Rams)
At times, he was the Titans' best defensive player and he played with an edge.

Jason Jones, DE (Seahawks)
Possibly the best pass-rusher the Titans had last season.

TEAM NOTES

A RECEIVING SQUAD PACKED WITH TALENT
Kenny Britt is coming off ACL surgery that kept him out most of last season, so his health will be under the microscope once training camp begins. He played in just three games in 2011, but with his progression from 2010 and into the first three games of last season, it's easy to see that he has the potential to become a top notch wideout, when healthy. Britt's absence last year helped the capable Nate Washington attain career-highs with seven touchdowns, 74 catches and 1,023 yards. He'll return to the mix along with Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins, who both showed promise last season. To further crowd the Titans' receiving position, they used the 20th overall pick in April to draft big play threat, Kendall Wright. He's an exceptional playmaker, who could make an early fantasy splash as a rookie if Britt is slow out of the gate to start the season.

WHEN WILL IT BE LOCKER'S TURN TO TAKE OVER?
Matt Hasselbeck signed a three-year deal with the Titans last season in the hopes that he would keep the team competitive while helping to groom the eventual heir to the starting quarterback position in Jake Locker. While Hasselbeck had a solid season last year and may provide the Titans with their best chance to win in the short-term, Locker will be poised to step into the starting position if Hasselbeck gets injured or plays poorly for any extended period of time. Hasselbeck struggled through several injuries last year, and Locker didn't look out of place when he filled in. Hasselbeck is still tentatively expected to begin the season as the starter, but the four touchdowns, no interceptions and 99.4 passer rating Locker posted when he had the chance to hit the field as a rookie, have many in the Titans' organization intrigued by what he can offer once he claims the team's starting gig.

IS Chris Johnson STILL ONE OF THE BEST?
With a new contract signed last season with the Titans and Johnson slated to attend training camp with the rest of the team for the first time in his career, the once-electric back will likely be in much better playing shape out of the gate this season. Johnson had a year to forget in 2011. He rushed for career-lows in both yards (1,047) and touchdowns (four), while putting together just four really effective games. With a solid receiving squad that should keep defenses honest and the addition of All Pro guard Steve Hutchinson, Johnson is surrounded by an offensive cast that can provide the speedster with space to run. He may not break 2,000 yards again, but he should certainly improve upon last season's statistics and potentially reclaim his status as a top five back.

VALUE METER
RISING: Jared Cook's skills were uncorked in the final three games of last season, as he made 21 catches for 335 yards and a touchdown.

DECLINING: Matt Hasselbeck hopes to have solid year as bridge to Jake Locker, but his Pro Bowl days are likely over.

SLEEPER: Kendall Wright could be a dangerous weapon, but it may be difficult for the first-round pick to get touches if Kenny Britt is healthy.

SUPERSLEEPER: If there is any injury to or poor play from Hasselbeck, you could see Jake Locker come in and make a statement.

IDP Watch
Jason McCourty, CB
Excellent cover corner going into his second year as a starter. He should go up against opponents' best receivers.

Alterraun Verner, CB
Another good corner heading into the season for the first time as a starter.

Akeem Ayers, LB
Versatile defender who can do almost anything that could be asked of a linebacker.

TEAM DEFENSE:
RotoWire Rank: 20