AFC South: Tennessee Titans
There are 76 ballots. Mine is of little influence in the big picture. I think they are going to be an average team and I had them 17th. It clearly didn’t tug them up much, and only the Bills, Browns, Jaguars and Raiders are below them.
I’ve written a lot about the national view of the Titans. They lack star power and flash. They have new systems on both sides of the ball. They have an unproven quarterback.
Even so, they have a far better coaching staff and an easier schedule. I’ve got them going 7-9 again. Here’s my game-by-game assessment (which holds for exactly one week.)
Brace yourself for this next part…
I ran through the game-by-game predictions for the 13 writers who cover the teams the Titans will play this season.
One of them -- one -- picked his or her team to lose to Tennessee.
Have the Titans on your team’s schedule, you are penciling in a win. Unless you are Texans reporter Tania Ganguli, who penciled in a split in the season series pitting Houston and Tennessee.
ESPN.com Tennessee Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Kansas City Chiefs
Tempting to pick a surprise win. But the combination of rowdy, unfriendly Arrowhead Stadium and the defensive concerns through the preseason prevent it. Prediction: Loss
Week 2: Dallas Cowboys
The Titans have a quality offensive line and quality weapons. Both will rule the day against a Cowboys defense that could be horrifically bad. Prediction: Win
Week 3: at Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are a totally different defensive challenge than the Cowboys, even minus Mike Zimmer. I see Cincy giving the Titans headaches on both sides of the ball. Prediction: Loss
Week 4: at Indianapolis Colts
No Robert Mathis will help the Titans keep it close. But this doesn't wind up being the game against the Colts that the Titans win. Prediction: Loss
Week 5: Cleveland Browns
Could this be Johnny Manziel's first game as the Browns' starter? They'll be coming off their bye week. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton should be able to confuse his old team. Prediction: Win
Week 6: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are better than people are willing to believe. Will it be showing up six weeks into the season? I think so. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: at Washington Redskins
Ken Whisenhunt wins the battle with Jay Gruden, another coach at the helm of his team for the first year. Prediction: Win
Week 8: Houston Texans
The Titans watched Ryan Fitzpatrick throw untimely interceptions for them in 2013. In the first matchup of 2014, they collect those from him to their benefit. Prediction: Win
Week 10: at Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens haven't replenished so much that they match the Super Bowl team of two years ago. But they are better overall than the Titans and should beat them in Baltimore. Prediction: Loss
Week 11: Pittsburgh Steelers
As the Steelers' offensive line coach, Mike Munchak returns to face the team he coached the past three seasons. A big draw at LP Field brings disappointment for the home fans. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: at Philadelphia Eagles
I am completely on board with what Chip Kelly and the Eagles are doing. The Titans fall to one of the NFL's best teams in their worst game of the season. Prediction: Loss
Week 13: at Houston Texans
J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney cause the Titans fits up front and terrorize Jake Locker (or his fill-in), and Fitzpatrick plays a better game than in the first matchup, with a couple of key scrambles. Prediction: Loss
Week 14: New York Giants
At this stage of the season, the Giants have found their footing. The offense dinks and dunks a lot, but does it effectively and consistently. Prediction: Loss
Week 15: New York Jets
Chris Johnson's homecoming. The Titans will be hell-bent on stopping him; he will be hell-bent on having a big day. He may find yards, but the Titans should find a way in this one. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee avenges the earlier home loss to the Jaguars by beating them on the road. Prediction: Win
Week 17: Indianapolis Colts
The game doesn't mean much to the Colts, who have already clinched the AFC South and don't have any room to gain or lose playoff positioning. The Titans are overdue to beat Indy and finally do. Three victories in a row create an upbeat lead-in to the offseason. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 7-9
"This league has become about rookies playing, they have to play early, that's an important piece of it," he said at his Monday press conference. "So you always want to try to get your rookies ready to play. ... You will at some point have to start young players."
I wouldn't necessarily tout how rookies need to play early as I prepared not to play him, however.
Whisenhunt reiterated that Lewan is "a good young player." The rookie is the Titans' primary backup at both tackle and guard.
"There will be some roles for us where he can play," Whisenhunt said. "I think both of our (starting) tackles had good camps and played well. And I think Taylor played a number of position because we obviously felt like he was going to have a hard time unseating them, so we wanted to prepare him to play guard or either tackle. I feel like we got that done.
"He played a lot of snaps. He's improving. I feel like he did a lot of good things, did some dumb things, which you expect from young players. If you told me Taylor had to play tomorrow, I'd be comfortable with that."
Second-round running back Bishop Sankey and fourth-round defensive lineman DaQuan Jones will get some work as part of rotations at their positions.
The Titans didn't have a third-round pick.
Fourth-round defensive back Marqueston Huff and fifth-round inside linebacker Avery Williamson figure to be just special teamers this year barring injuries in front of them.
And sixth-round quarterback Zach Mettenberger won't play if things go according to the Titans plan.
Succop hit on all three of his preseason field goal attempts and got the Chiefs touchbacks on five if his eight kickoffs.
Succop was costlier, however, and will turn 28 this month, so Kansas City went with Santos.
The Tennessee Titans decided they are safer with Succop as their kicker than with undrafted rookie Travis Coons
Titans assistant special teams coach Steve Hoffman was special teams coach in Kansas City when the Chiefs spent a seventh-round pick on Succop out of South Carolina in 2009.
Hoffman helped develop Succup then and clearly prefers him now to his latest project.
The Titans aren’t good enough to play it risky at kicker. I imagine they will be in several games decided by a field goal or less.
Succup has been there and done it. He should give them an increased degree of confidence.
In 2008, Jacksonville drafted defensive end Derrick Harvey in the first round and outside linebacker Groves in the second.
Since then, Groves has played for the Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals and Cleveland Browns, and Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton worked with him on the Browns last year.
Groves has played in 84 career games, recording 8.5 sacks. He played in five games last year and didn’t start any of them.
Still, Groves should be an upgrade over Patrick Bailey in the depth department after agreeing to a deal with the Titans. Bailey was a strong special-teamer but not much of an option on defense.
The Titans start Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan at outside linebacker in their new 3-4 defense. Shaun Phillips and Akeem Ayers are next in line. It seems they are down on Ayers, who hasn't been productive. I expect Groves could challenge for that fourth spot.
The Titans have not been shy about finding people from outside to bolster the roster.
Since they cut to 53 players, they’ve added Groves, receivers T.J. Graham and Kris Durham and cornerback Brandon Harris.
Per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, they are also set to sign veteran kicker Ryan Succop to take the spot currently held by undrafted rookie Travis Coons.
Titans assistant special-teams coach Steve Hoffman helped Succop in Kansas City, where he became a quality player.
If they are awarded a player with their claim, the attached cut is executed and the roster remains at 53.
We can look at Vallos’s presence in two ways:
- If the Titans believed they needed insurance for Spencer on Saturday, they’ll still need insurance for Spencer on Sunday and Monday and probably through the practice week. While Vallos is probably the 53rd guy on the roster, they might feel the need to stick with him for a while as they gauge Spencer. (Vallos is scheduled to make $730,000 this season, but only counts $570,000 against the cap.)
- Keeping a player for an extra day decreases the chance he gets picked up elsewhere. Teams have sorted through the names that have come free and have done what they need to do to try to bring in the ones they want. Vallos is in his seventh season. He would be a free agent when cut and would not have to pass through waivers. But a center-needy team might address the need in today’s moves and then be less likely to change course again Monday. That means he might remain available if the Titans need him again.
I think the next two players at risk are receiver Derek Hagan and linebacker/special-teamer Patrick Bailey.
The Titans should be able to find upgrades at both those spots.
Some value: Defensive end Lavar Edwards was a fifth-round draft pick in 2013 but didn’t fit the new scheme. The Titans got a conditional seventh-round pick from the Dallas Cowboys for him rather than simply cutting him, a good development. The Titans are deep on the defensive line where they have talented players such as rookie DaQuan Jones, free-agent addition Al Woods, Karl Klug, Mike Martin. Nine are starters but they provide some serious depth. Antonio Johnson (knee) was placed on IR.
What’s next: The Titans need better depth at receiver, where I expect they will look to upgrade on Derek Hagan as their fifth. They need better depth at cornerback, where Tommie Campbell was cut and the remaining guys behind the top three -- rookie Marqueston Huff, defensive back Khalid Wooten -- have little or no experience. They could look to a veteran instead of Travis Coons at kicker but I think the Titans will go with him in the opener.
Titans cuts: T Jeff Adams, CB Ri’Shard Anderson, RB Antonio Andrews, DL Chigbo Anunoby, K Maikon Bonani, CB Tommie Campbell, TE Chase Coffman, LB Brandon Copeland, QB Dominique Davis, DE Marcus Dixon, LB Moise Fokou, WR Marc Mariani, G Justin McCray, FB Collin Mooney, OL Eric Olsen, T Will Poehls, WR Rico Richardson, WR Brian Robiskie, TE Jason Schepler, CB Winston Wright.
Other moves: Traded DE Lavar Edwards to Dallas. Placed DT Antonio Johnson on IR.
Coons is on the roster, while Maikon Bonani is being cut, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
We’ll have to see how it pans out from here. Tennessee had three veteran free-agent kickers in for workouts recently. Jay Feely played for Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona. Rian Lindell and Garrett Hartley were also in Nashville.
I suspect the Titans intend to move forward with Coons but will be ready to change directions if he’s not good from the start.
Tennessee parted ways with pricey veteran Rob Bironas in the spring. They brought back Bonani, who showed a huge leg as the team’s extra kicker in training camp in 2013. Then Coons was their choice of all the undrafted kickers coming out of college.
Assistant special-teams coach Steve Hoffman has a good track record developing young kickers. Dan Carpenter and Ryan Succop are among the successful kickers he helped develop.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Friday he doesn’t anticipate anybody missing practice next week.
That means backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (pinkie), defensive end Ropati Pitoitua (broken hand) and fullback/running back Jackie Battle (neck/shoulder) will be OK. Defensive linemen Mike Martin (hamstring) and Antonio Johnson (knee) should practice as well, presuming they are both on the roster.
I expect they will be.
The Titans avoided new injuries to significant players Thursday night in their loss to Minnesota, largely because their most significant players sat out.
Campbell had a disastrous, three-penalty night Thursday, exchanged words with both safety Bernard Pollard and coach Ken Whisenhunt and gave up a bunch of plays. (One of those three penalties was declined, because the pass was completed for a touchdown.)
Campbell is an exceptional athlete.
I thought that would convince a new coaching staff to continue to give him time to develop. But his mental game has never caught up to his physical tools, and even his ability to force fair catches on punts was not enough to save him.
The Titans have Jason McCourty, Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson as their top three cornerbacks. Fourth-round pick Marqueston Huff will also be on the team.
Khalid Wooten has been used as a safety this summer, but started as a cornerback and is regarded as versatile and able to do both. But I have heard he is unlikely to stick. Undrafted rookie Winston Wright has not yet been cut. I don't know if they like him enough for him to make it.
With or without Wooten and/or Wright, the Titans will be scanning the waiver wire and looking to add to their pool of cornerbacks.
Now, as first reported by Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, Mariani has been cut.
He knew last night it was a possibility and left LP Field knowing it might be for the last time.
"It’ll suck to say goodbye, but it’s part of the gig," he said. "It’s been an amazing opportunity and I’ve loved my time here."
See him here in his final postgame chat.
I think he should be able to find work with a team that needs a return man. The Titans will lean on Leon Washington in that department.
Same at it's always been.
RUNNING BACKS (5)
Not a lot of mystery.
WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
The first three are locks, and after that it is wide open. I think Preston sticks and that Hagan makes it for now but gets replaced. I expect Marc Mariani and Brian Robiskie are out. The Titans will scan the market for a fifth who is better than Hagan.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
I can't see them keeping four. But they would love to have Chase Coffman if someone got hurt.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
- Michael Roos
- Andy Levitre
- Brian Schwenke
- Chance Warmack
- Michael Oher
- Taylor Lewan
- Chris Spencer
- Byron Stingily
A starting-caliber tackle is on the bench (at this point, Lewan). Stingily is still one of the best 53 and can play some guard.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8)
- Jurrell Casey
- Ropati Pitoitua
- Sammie Lee Hill
- DaQuan Jones
- Al Woods
- Karl Klug
- Mike Martin
- Antonio Johnson
Martin and Johnson have been out for a long time with injuries. I think Martin is still a certainty. Johnson still rates as a guy who can help and is worthy, in their eyes, of a spot.
- Kamerion Wimbley
- Derrick Morgan
- Wesley Woodyard
- Zach Brown
- Shaun Phillips
- Akeem Ayers
- Zaviar Gooden
- Avery Williamson
- Patrick Bailey
Bailey gets the last spot over Moise Fokou. But it's a spot where the Titans might look for a better 3-4 fit who can be a key special teamer.
Depth here is insufficient after the top three, and I think the Titans should be looking for outside help this weekend. Campbell can force fair catches, and likely still outranks the inconsistent rookie Huff, who also looks to be a good special teamer and is a roster lock as a fourth-round rookie. They could go with four receivers, eight offensive linemen and an additional defensive back when they find him.
The better leg who has now had two preseasons wins out over Travis Coons, the lesser leg who has had just one. The question is how long Bonani is the guy. The Titans looked at three veterans this week.
- Ken Whisenhunt asked if it rains every game at LP Field. It’s actually rarely rained during a game in Nashville, and never the way it rained for the team’s two preseason home games this summer. At least this time it eventually stopped.
- The Titans' second-team defense mimicked the first-team defense and played a mistake-filled first series that ended with a touchdown -- a 3-yard pass from Teddy Bridgewater to Adam Thielen over Tommie Campbell. “We had opportunities for three sacks, we had a couple penalties on third down,” Whisenhunt said. “Make any one of those plays, you get off the field. That can probably be said for all the opening drives in these games. This was a different group, but maybe we’ve got all that behind us now and that won’t be the case going forward. Just like you know we’re gong to get a bunch of turnovers, because what did we get, a big goose egg in the preseason? We’re due to get a bunch.”
- Whisenhunt said giving Maikon Bonani the second field goal and second kickoff chances was because the heavy rain was a factor on the first go-round. Travis Coons wound up with no work as there was no third chance at a field goal or a kickoff.
- Receiver Marc Mariani said he was thrilled to walk off the field after his last two preseasons ended with him hurt. He caught one pass for 13 yards. He returned two kickoffs for an average of 24.5 with a long of 28. The fan favorite said he didn’t want to speculate on his fate. If he doesn’t make it, “It’ll suck to say goodbye, but it’s part of the gig,” he said. “It’s been an amazing opportunity and I’ve loved my time here.” (See him talking at LP Field for possibly the last time here.)
- Whisenhunt said he thought Justin Hunter made his second catch of the game on a bounce, and the Titans raced to the next snap quickly to avoid a challenge. Hunter said he caught it.
- The Titans will have meetings tonight and in the morning and will be able to make some cuts pretty quickly, Whisenhunt said. Other moves will take a bit longer as an evaluation of this game will factor in.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Since their move to Tennessee, the Tennessee Titans never went with a wholesale sit-down in the preseason finale.
Count that among the changes under Ken Whisenhunt.
Only a handful of players who will have real roles on offense or defense played Thursday night at LP Field where the Titans lost 19-3 to the Minnesota Vikings, who also sat a bunch of significant players.
The Titans’ second-team defense did a good imitation of the first-team defense this preseason, missing tackles, committing penalties and giving up a touchdown on their opponent’s first drive.
Guys we saw play in this game who will play in the regular season even if the Titans are completely healthy: Receiver Justin Hunter, running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Taylor Thompson on offense. On defense: safety George Wilson and defensive linemen DaQuan Jones, Al Woods and Karl Klug (who I expect to be on the team and get some snaps in the rotation).
Here are some other thoughts on the Titans’ fourth preseason game:
- Rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger continued his impressive play, making assertive, well-timed throws. His primary issue is that he can hold the ball too long and not feel the pocket collapsing around him, which is what happened in the second quarter when defensive end Corey Wootton took the ball out of his throwing hand as Mettenberger cocked his arm, recording a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery.
- First-round draft pick Taylor Lewan had a World Cup-caliber dive in the second quarter, flopping after mild contact with Vikings defensive end Justin Trattou.
- The Titans brought fourth-string quarterback Dominique Davis in this week, knowing they wouldn’t play Jake Locker and allowing Charlie Whitehurst to rest his injured pinkie. They gave Davis the keys to the offense with a few minutes left in the third quarter, and he threw an interception deep down the middle on his first play. He finished with two completions in five attempts for 13 yards, the pick and a passer rating of 8.3.
- The Titans have alternated Maikon Bonani and Travis Coons throughout the first three preseason games in a kicking competition. In this game, it was all Bonani. He put two kickoffs to the back of the end zone for touchbacks, missed wide left on a 32-yard attempt when the snap was bad but the hold was fast and good, and hit from 29 yards. The way the kickers were deployed suggests Bonani has won.
- Outside linebacker Akeem Ayers played all the way through. I don’t think he gets cut because there is no better alternative on the roster. But it sure feels like he’s a backup rather than a guy in the 3-4 rotation for a team looking for pressure off the edge.
But before he’s played a regular-season down for the new staff, defensive lineman Jurrell Casey ’s earned a four-year contract extension that his agent says is worth $36 million, with $20.5 million guaranteed.
Casey was a tackle in the team’s 4-3 in his first three seasons and is now an end in the base 3-4, shifting inside on nickel downs.
He brings a great combination of strength and quickness and expects to build on the 10.5 sacks he made a year ago.
The extension shows the Titans are ready and willing to invest in foundational pieces. Casey is a very good player, the best on a defense that seems, though three preseason games, to be lacking firepower.
No other player from the 2011 draft class is a candidate for an extension at this point.
The Titans declined to execute an expensive 2015 option for quarterback Jake Locker, who is playing to prove he’s the guy for beyond this season.