Titans camp preview: Will this offense ever click?
Editor's note: These camp previews are up to date as of the start of preseason games. For the latest changes since then, check our updated rankings, projections and profiles.
Nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions. That's all the offensive output that Vince Young was able to manage under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Even though the Titans made the playoffs, six of their 10 victories came in games in which they scored 20 points or less; furthermore, finishing 21st overall in total offense wasn't exactly what Jeff Fisher had in mind. So, the team let Chow go and brought back Mike Heimerdinger, who had helped turn the Titans' Steve McNair-led offense into a scoring juggernaut (435 points in 2003), and more recently in Denver, developed Jay Cutler to the point where he was fifth in the AFC in passer rating last season.
Heimerdinger generally likes to develop a strong passing game that stretches the field and exploits weaknesses in the opposition's secondary. So naturally, the team went out and drafted a speedy running back, Chris Johnson, rather than attempt to upgrade a lackluster set of wide receivers. Huh? The team did bring back Justin McCareins, who had his best season under Heimerdinger's offensive scheme in 2003, but his production has all but vanished over the past four seasons with the Jets. They did bring in Alge Crumpler at tight end; he should give Young a big target over the middle. But with no-names like Justin Gage and Roydell Williams as their best returning receivers, the Titans still lack a true No. 1, go-to guy.
The Titans defense, normally their ace in the hole, underwent major renovations, with Jevon Kearse coming in to patch the holes in a defensive line that lost Antwan Odom, Travis LaBoy and Randy Starks to free agency. But assuming Albert Haynesworth's contract issues get ironed out, the unit will still more than likely disrupt opposing offenses enough to keep the team in each and every game, putting the onus for success squarely back in the hands of Vince Young.
It's time for Young to step up, throw accurate passes and become the leader this team has been waiting for, but quite frankly, we'll have to see it to believe it.
LenDale White emerged last year, but Vince Young regressed, and the passing game is still a work in progress.
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Key position battles: The wide receivers in Tennessee are a ragtag bunch at best. Justin Gage and Roydell Williams each had only 55 catches in 2007, but nevertheless, Gage's work ethic earned him a four-year, $14 million deal. As for Williams, he's coming off a broken ankle and could be suffering the aftereffects for most of 2008. So who is going to give these guys some support? That's the big question. In addition to McCareins, who hopes a return to the Volunteer State will see a return of his usefulness, the rest of the candidates are quite the motley crew: Brandon Jones, who is inconsistent, injury-prone and faces misdemeanor charges after bringing a handgun to an airport; Biren Early, a youngster with a lot of promise, but not enough to have been drafted last year; and Lavelle Hawkins, a fourth-round pick out of Cal. With Mike Heimerdinger preferring to take downfield shots, it might be nice if somebody on the Titans was actually able to get down there to catch them.
Fitting in: After watching the Falcons implode last season, Crumpler was anxious to make a fresh start somewhere he could once again develop some chemistry with his quarterback. It seems he's made the right choice in coming to Tennessee because he and Vince Young appear to have discovered a symbiotic relationship. Crumpler's size is sure to make him a key factor in the red zone offense. At the same time, with Young being tall himself (6-foot-5), Crumpler is able to see his quarterback clearly while running routes, making it easier to adjust on the fly. Alge, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Chris Johnson stood out at the pre-draft combines with blazing speed, which could serve this team best on special teams. LenDale White is a better fit for the straight-forward, run-up-the-gut style the team is likely to employ, but perhaps Johnson will be utilized on third downs, since he has decent hands. Still, Chris Henry was similarly singled out in 2007 and did nothing for the Titans. Will Johnson be any different?
On the line: Kevin Mawae suits up for another season at center, but he's certainly nearing the end of his career. However, he should be able to provide the leadership and stability on an otherwise-fairly-young line. Guard Jake Scott comes over from the Colts to fill the void left when Benji Olsen retired and Jacob Bell went to St. Louis. There may be a bit of a learning curve with a new emphasis on pass protection, but Young certainly should be mobile enough to make up for any early-season deficiencies. Still, this is a physical group that in the past has been very good at creating holes for the running game, and White is more than capable of plowing through even the smallest of openings.
It's all up to Young and whether he can pick up the subtle changes in footwork required to turn all those picks into clicks for six. If he can, this team could easily be playoff bound yet again, and a prime source for fantasy value. If not, people won't be too keen on remembering these Titans, except perhaps as the group of players who put an end to Jeff Fisher's tenure in Tennessee.
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.