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2013 Tennessee Titans Team Preview: Are the Pieces in Place for Locker to Turn the Franchise Around?

Justin Mertes-Mistretta

Justin Mertes-Mistretta

Justin Mertes-Mistretta writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

State of the Franchise

The Titans took a step back in Mike Munchak's second year as head coach, notching three fewer wins than they had in 2011, to finish at 6-10. On the offensive side of the ball, their struggles were brought on by both inconsistency and injuries. Jake Locker, who began the year as the team's starting quarterback, hurt his shoulder in Week 4 and sat out the next five weeks. RB Chris Johnson followed up his worst year as a pro in 2011 with a paltry 45 rushing yards over his first three contests. While he improved as the season wore on, consistency was an issue, as he turned in a total of nine games with a sub-4.0 YPC. Though WR Kenny Britt, who tore his ACL and MCL in Week 3 of 2011, managed to play 14 games last season, he was mostly ineffective, surpassing 50-plus receiving yards just four times.

Where the Titans experienced the brunt of their issues was on the defensive side, as they surrendered a league-worst 29.4 points per game. While there was a semblance of a pass rush up front with DEs Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley (12.5 combined sacks), the run defense was too giving (127.2 rushing yards allowed per game).

2013 marks a pivotal year for the Titans, as they continue to put their trust in Locker. His chances of success would no doubt be boosted by Britt approaching his pre-injury form, as well as improved play along the offensive line. The Titans lost G Steve Hutchinson to retirement, but they addressed their issues up front during the offseason by signing free agent G Andy Levitre and drafting G Chance Warmack 10th overall. Both are locks to start opposite each other in what figures to be a solid front line. This should help create running room for both Johnson and newcomer Shonn Greene. Moreover, the improved offensive line should also give Locker more time to throw to his receiving corps, a unit deepened by the selection of Justin Hunter with the 34th overall pick in April's draft.

Meanwhile, the Titans looked to shore up their shaky run defense with several offseason additions, most notably DT Sammie Hill and S Bernard Pollard. The Titans also added Gregg Williams as a senior defensive assistant, which could help give the team a smash-mouth defensive mentality. The team's young starting linebacker trio of Akeem Ayers, Zach Brown and Colin McCarthy, all in their third year or less, figures to improve with another season under its belt. The team's overall success could be dependent on it, as the Titans play in a division that features the likes of Arian Foster and Maurice Jones-Drew, which makes stopping the run vital. While Locker's development in his third year may be the most important offensive variable for the Titans heading into the coming season, without an improved defense, which gave up a franchise-worst 471 points last season, the team has little chance to succeed in 2013.

Offseason Moves

KEY ACQUISITIONS

Justin Hunter - WR, Tennessee

(Round 2, 34th overall)

A tall vertical threat, who could push Kenny Britt for playing time in the long-term.

Ryan Fitzpatrick - QB, Bills

Will back up Jake Locker, who has had trouble staying on the field.

Kevin Walter - WR, Texans

Could have trouble seeing the field in a crowded receiving corps.

Shonn Greene - RB, Jets

Will serve as the Titans' short-yardage back with CJ2K still the lead back.

Delanie Walker - TE, 49ers

Gets a chance to start after backing up Vernon Davis for years.

Chance Warmack - G, Alabama

(Round 1, 10th overall)

Will start out of the gate, providing a boost to Chris Johnson's value.

KEY LOSSES

Jared Cook - TE, Rams

Signed with the Rams in the offseason, reuniting with coach Jeff Fisher.

Matt Hasselbeck - QB, Colts

The 37-year-old will back up Andrew Luck in Indianapolis in 2013.

Steve Hutchinson - G, Retired
Retires after 12 seasons, playing with three different teams (SEA, MIN, TEN).

Team Notes

Smash and Dash 2.0?

Back in 2008, the "Smash and Dash" duo of LenDale White and Chris Johnson rushed for a combined 2,001 yards and 24 touchdowns. Since then, no Titans' running back other than Johnson has carried the ball more than 64 times in a single season. This is sure to change in 2013, with the addition of Shonn Greene. Though he was viewed as a somewhat plodding back with the Jets (career 4.2 YPC), he was able to churn out decent totals, featuring 1,000-plus rushing yards in both 2011 and 2012, plus a 14 combined touchdowns over that span. He'll never be mistaken for a game-breaker, but with an upgraded offensive line, Greene has the potential to be a very effective short-yardage back, much like White was in 2008. Greene should fit the role well, as he was a league-leading 11-of-11 on third-down runs of less than three yards last season. The addition of Greene may hurt Johnson's bottom line in terms of carries, especially near the goal line, but the possible timeshare should open up more opportunities for Johnson as a pass catcher and in general keep him fresher, which could help result in more explosive plays.

Britt's Last Chance?

Kenny Britt has been an enigma through his first four seasons in the NFL. Despite showing flashes of being one of the next elite receivers, he hasn't been able to put it all together for an entire season, as injuries and off-field issues have gotten in the way. Now further removed from his torn ACL and MCL, this could finally be his year. Britt had better hope so at least, as it's likely his last chance in Tennessee, given that he is in a contract year and the Titans have young talent waiting in the wings, namely Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, who were both selected by the team with early-round draft picks each of the past two years.

Locker the Shocker

Jake Locker, who the Titans selected eighth overall in 2011, has been knocked for his inaccuracy, as he's completed just 55.5 percent of his passes through his two NFL seasons. However, before he injured his non-throwing shoulder last season, his accuracy percentage, which factors incompletions due to drops, throw-aways, spikes, batted passes and being hit as he was throwing, was fourth in the league (79.8 percent). That's not to say that he has overcome his accuracy issues, but an improved offensive line should help his cause. Even the slightest improvement could mean the difference between a winning and losing record for the Titans in 2013.

Value Meter

Rising: With Nate Washington being phased out and Kenny Britt being, well, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright could very well be the Titans' top option at receiver this year.

Declining: Kenny Britt has the talent, but injuries and off-field issues have held him back. Maybe this is the year he puts it all together, but then again, maybe it's not.

Sleeper: Jake Locker has all the tools to break out in his third year (rushing ability, big arm, ability to throw on the run), but his accuracy will need to improve.

Supersleeper: Delanie Walker struggled with drops last season, but with Jared Cook gone, he'll be the top pass-catching tight end in Tennessee.

IDP Watch

Zach Brown - LB

Could make the jump into the elite IDP tier in his second season.

Akeem Ayers - LB

Finished last season as the team leader in tackles (104).

Jason McCourty - CB

Recorded a career-high four picks last season as the Titans' left cornerback.

TEAM DEFENSE

RotoWire Rank: 29