AFC South: Brian Schwenke

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans have spent two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick on offensive linemen in the last two years.

They are unlikely to spend a premium pick on an offensive lineman again for sometime.

Incumbent left tackle Michael Roos, one of the team's best players for his nine-year career, is heading into the final year of his deal.

But here's what the Titans have in terms of contractual control of linemen going forward:
LT Taylor Lewan through 2018
LG Andy Levitre through 2018
C Brian Schwenke through 2016
RG Chance Warmack through 2017
RT Michael Oher through 2017

They need the quarterback who benefits from the security they should provide. They need another running back who can get the yards they block for.

I thought heading into last year the Titans were poised to have one of the best lines in the league and it simply didn't pan out that way.

If new offensive line coach Bob Bostad can develop guys like he did when he coached at Wisconsin, if Ken Whisenhunt can scheme to make the group maximize its talent and if they all play close to expectations, the Titans should do better at reaching such expectations.

Whisenhunt wants it to be a tone-setting group.

"I expected that before (Thursday night's) draft," he said. "We talked about that as a group the other day. That is an important piece of your offense, the mentality of that group. I certainly think that Taylor fits that mentality."

The case for and (more) against Munchak

December, 27, 2013
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Mike MunchakJim Brown/USA TODAY SportsMike Munchak has a .091 winning percentage versus teams finishing the season with winning records.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Monday the Titans begin the process of deciding what to do with Mike Munchak, who’s under contract for one more year as head coach.

Let’s set aside all the predictions and expectations.

We know very little about how team president and CEO Tommy Smith will operate in his new role and how he will balance his family’s long-term relationship with Munchak against the results he’s produced as a head coach. We don’t know if Munchak has the backing of general manager Ruston Webster going forward.

We do know what goes into the case for him and the case against him. So let’s examine those and then delve into things I consider significant issues where I don’t see a clear counterargument in his favor:

For: The Titans are on the verge. They’ve lost six one-possession games this season. Make the jump in just half of those and they could be a 10-win playoff team.

Against: They are unable to finish games, and there is no reason to expect they find it all of a sudden under the same leadership.

For: The division is bad and there is room to get better in a hurry against rebuilding Houston and Jacksonville.

Against: The Titans are 3-8 in the division in the past two seasons and 1-4 this year heading into the finale against Houston. Tennessee lost to the Texans and Jaguars this year when it should be sweeping those teams when they are having down years. That’s the path to actually competing for the division.

For: This roster has stood firmly with Munchak. There has been no dissension. They haven’t quit on him and have been playing hard to the end. His message is working. They work hard to execute what is asked of them.

Against: Having a roster of guys committed to following a coach who’s not doing a good job is nice, but if he’s not doing a good job it doesn’t matter as much. What is asked of them isn’t right often enough. This team’s in-game adjustment to what opponents do is typically poor.

For: Smith has pledged another big offseason, and the Titans will create a spring and summer buzz much like last year’s, when they spent over $100 million on free agents and had the 10th pick in the draft.

Against: The fan base is angry and/or apathetic. The tickets are bought, in part because so many people are financially committed with PSLs. But that hasn’t meant they have showed up. A new coach and staff will also have a free-agent class and draft and that will do a lot more to get Nashville interested.

For: Though they were overmatched, the Titans stood toe-to-toe for a good while with some of the NFL’s best -- Seattle and Denver. They lost twice to the AFC South champion Colts by a combined 11 points.

Against: Munchak is 2-20 -- not a misprint -- against teams that finish the season with a winning record. Whether they are close to the caliber of those teams or not, that is a .091 winning percentage against winning teams. How can Smith endorse that?

For: They could be one player away, and we’ve seen them make a big addition and a big jump before.

Against: The odds of landing Jevon Kearse are small, and the 1998 Tennessee Oilers had more pieces in place than the 2013 Titans do.

For: They’ll move away from Chris Johnson and by doing so they’ll be in line to have the run game they expected this year. This offensive line needed time to jell. In 2014, Shonn Greene and a mid-round draft pick will be more effective.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsMike Munchak wanted the Titans to be a run-first team but inconsistency in the run game plagued Tennessee all season.
Against: Three years in and a Hall of Fame offensive lineman as a head coach with a Hall of Fame offensive line coach still haven’t produced a team that can run consistently. How can they possibly say, “We need more time” and get it? How did lines with injuries in Seattle and Miami manage to play well enough to win? They have to replace David Stewart at right tackle, right? Another change positions them for more excuses about needing time to jell.

For: The Titans didn’t have their starting quarterback for nine games this year. Who wins without their starting quarterback? Injuries to Greene and center Brian Schwenke also hurt.

Against: It would be a good argument if Jake Locker was a proven NFL franchise quarterback. He is not and they sold Ryan Fitzpatrick as a top-flight alternative. We know Locker has potential and is injury prone. Pinning hopes on that for 2014 seems dangerous. The Greene and Schwenke injuries should not be regarded as hugely impactful and are on par with the sort of thing every team in the league deals with.

For: He doesn’t care about the peripheral stuff; he’s not going to play the game. He just wants to coach and do things the right way.

Against: Tough for him. A head coach is a CEO and the responsibilities require more. You have to be a PR guy and a marketer. He doesn’t embrace that stuff and it hurts the franchise. You can’t play the “I just want to coach” card until you’ve proven you can win.

A few other things don’t fit as neatly in a for-and-against format and mostly qualify as arguments against his return.

I think it’s very difficult to make a case for him based on his work in the division, his record against winning teams and his inability to explain what’s wrong.

Warped thinking: Munchak endorsed a foolish onside kick approach with an unconventional, tee-less spinner that kicker Rob Bironas clearly did not like. Worse, the coach judged his team to be 1-for-3 with it rather than 0-for-3 because San Francisco bobbled the kick before recovering it. Note to Munchak: Such a kick is judged a success if, and only if, you recover it. We know it’s very difficult to do. We also know it’s ridiculous to deem one a success when the other team comes out with the ball. Lo and behold, the Titans recover a conventional, high-bounce onside kick during a furious comeback against Arizona.

Straying from his philosophy: Over and over Munchak spoke of how the 2013 Titans would be able to get the tough yard on the ground. These Titans were going to throw it when they wanted to, not when they had to. But given a chance to win the Arizona game with 10 seconds left with a two-point conversion play from the 1-yard line after a penalty, he chose overtime. The team he promised shouldn’t have even considered kicking the extra point. In sharing more about his logic a day later, he said the team hadn’t run it in an hour as it played hurry-up to overcome a big deficit. Shouldn’t a team built around the offensive line and backs be able to run for a yard whether they’d been running it or not?

Salesmanship: He’s a better salesman than he is a head coach. In memorializing Bud Adams when he died, he spoke about how he used to walk the hallways of the team’s facility on a Saturday before the game with Adams and Adams’ friends, looking at the pictures of the team’s history and telling stories. It showed me that Munchak was shrewd in how he dealt with the owner, playing right into what the owner liked and taking Adams right where Adams liked to go. It endeared him to his boss and did a lot to make him the choice when the team and Jeff Fisher parted ways. I expect he will do well selling Smith on the plan going forward. But the team gets better by adjusting the plan, not by selling the plan better to a new person at the top of the organization. Old-time Oilers memories should mean nothing now.

Lame duck: His résumé certainly doesn’t warrant an extension. That means he and his staff would be working as lame ducks in 2014. Lame-duck scenarios aren’t typically healthy. They make it hard to attract players and assistants. They make it easy for a team to tune out if and when things don’t go well.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 10

November, 11, 2013
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An examination of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 29-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at LP Field:

Who’s a cancer? Safety Bernard Pollard and now tight end Delanie Walker have talked after recent failures about players who may be holding the Titans back. Walker went so far as to say after this loss that it may be time to start calling guys out and that the Titans need to “find the cancer.” So who’s the cancer? Nobody is saying at this point, though the Twitterverse is drawing some conclusions. I'm not going to speculate who qualifies without anyone telling me a name. But I think the place to start looking is where big paychecks aren’t meeting big production.

Spencer
Depth issues: Teams aren’t going to be deep everywhere, but they need to be deep at the right spot. I don’t know what kind of player Chris Spencer really is. That’s the first we’ve seen him at center in the regular season. But Brian Schwenke had been a difference-maker in two games since he became a starter. He was lost relatively early to an ankle injury, and his physical presence left when he did and Spencer took over. The Titans ended up running for 3.1 yards a carry and just 83 yards total against the NFL’s worst run defense. That’s not close to good enough for a team that expects to be one of the top rushing attacks in the league.

Quarterback: The Tennessean reported that Jake Locker is not expected to play again, and a source told me he was 99 percent sure the quarterback is done for the season after suffering a foot injury late in the first half. Ryan Fitzpatrick was an ineffective starter when he filled in for Locker against Kansas City and Seattle. Perhaps he will be better this time around. Locker grew in his third season and second as a starter, but not enough. He showed gradual improvement in his first four games. Then he missed two games while hurt, and he wasn't strong in the three games since he came back. Now he’s going to carry a question about whether he’s injury prone.

Self-inflicted: Four giveaways, missed tackles and poorly timed penalties were all factors in the Titans' loss. They aspire to be a disciplined team that plays crisp football and puts stress on opponents. At 4-5, they more often hurt themselves in the ways bad teams do. Still, they are one of five teams with four wins in the AFC, just one game behind the Jets, who are in line for the final playoff berth at 5-4. As bad as things look, they aren’t dead yet.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In the Tennessee Titans' first four games, Chris Johnson caught four passes. And one of them was a freelance flick from Ryan Fitzpatrick when he was in a jam.

In the next four, Johnson’s caught 14 for an average of 12.5 yards.

The team has done better getting him the ball as a pass-game outlet.

Johnson
Still, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is reluctant to say the team intends to throw more screens to Johnson on a regular basis.

“It was really based on the front (against the Rams) because those guys rush so well, they’re going up the field and they are aggressive that way,” Loggains said. “We had some success with the screen, it gave us a chance to get the ball in 28’s hands.

Against the Rams, Johnson had a 20-yard catch, fullback Collin Mooney had a 22-yard catch, and running back Shonn Greene a 28-yarder.

Those three receptions accounted for 38 percent of the Titans’ passing yardage.

But the degree to which the Titans are going to screen is a game-to-game deal that Loggains said is “based on the opponent we’re playing.”

I think the Titans should go into every game intending to throw the ball to Johnson at least three times. It can’t hurt, and there is potential for things to open up for him when he gets the ball a different way and in space.

For the past two games there has been a giant new element in the screen game: 322-pound rookie center Brian Schwenke, a top heavy player who is quite nimble for a man of his size and has shown he’s very effective when he can move out of the tackle box and block people on the move.

“I love screens, screens are so fun,” Schwenke said. “I feel like it’s the kind of play where you can go out there and score immediately. So much can happen on a screen. You can be on your 5-yard line and get a 95-yarder. I think screens are fun, explosive plays. I don’t know what their plans are as far as that part of our game, but I’m always happy when they are called.”

Greene has to add to Titans' run game

October, 30, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Anytime I’ve mentioned Shonn Greene as a potential boost for the Tennessee Titans, New York Jets fans who have noticed it have latched on.

The Titans are expecting a boost from Greene?

It’s true.

[+] EnlargeShonne Greene
Ronald C. Modra/Getty ImagesThe Titans are looking to Shonne Greene to help revitalize a stagnant run game.
The run game Titans coaches pledged would be the backbone of the offense ranks 18th in the NFL -- averaging 108.3 yards a game and 3.7 yards a carry. Feature back Chris Johnson is averaging 3.1 yards and has not broken off a run longer than 23 yards.

Enter Greene, who injured his right knee in the season opener in Pittsburgh, missed five games and was barely on the field against San Francisco.

When they signed Greene to a three-year, $10 million contract the Titans believed Johnson and Greene would be great as a one-two punch. Greene was expected to get the bulk of short-yardage and goal line work. Instead it’s been Johnson and third-stringer Jackie Battle.

Hopefully for the rushing offense, Greene’s running style proves more assertive than his personality. He’s been very ho-hum in conversations I’ve had with him about getting back and making an impact. That, of course, doesn’t have to mean a thing.

He didn’t sound real fired up about opportunities to run inside against St. Louis on Sunday.

“I don’t know about inside runs because they changed their defense up and pretty much have eight in the box every play,” he said. “We watch film and when they played Seattle they had eight in the box pretty much the whole game, so it’s going to be tough to get inside. But we’ve got a couple things for them, so hopefully those schemes will work.

That’s hardly in sync with the team’s preseason insistence that the Titans would impose their will and believed they would be able to run against virtually anyone virtually anytime.

I would think a majority of power backs would talk about thinking they can get yards up the gut no matter the defense.

Perhaps he’s just offering us a realistic view.

Greene said St. Louis’ determination to use eight in the box came after they watched the 49ers run for 219 yards.

It’s not as if the Rams then became an invincible run defense. Houston ran for 153 yards. Carolina ran for 102. They had a good game against Seattle, allowing only 44 yards on Monday night.

Coach Mike Munchak spoke encouragingly about what Greene can add.

“He looks good out here,” Munchak said. “There’s no reason he can’t do whatever. If he had to carry it 20 times, he should be able to do that now. We’ll just have to, again, hope that we can get in a situation where we run the ball 35 times so that he can get touches.

"That’s what we need him to do to help him get in shape because he hasn’t had any [carries] since preseason really. He looks good, and that’s exactly how we hoped he would. He’s running hard in practice. We had a good day today, so I’m looking forward to him getting some opportunities."

The excuses are about up for the Titans run game.

They’ve got Brian Schwenke in place as their starting center for a second game. They’ve got their full compliment of running backs. They’ve got an opponent that can give up yards.

If they don’t gain ground yards in St. Louis and next week against winless Jacksonville, I don’t know why we should expect they’ll ever get them. And I don’t know how they could justify staying the philosophical course.

Locker Room Buzz: Tennessee Titans

October, 20, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Observed in the locker room after the Tennessee Titans31-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Pollard
Two conversations: Bernard Pollard had two conversations as he quickly left the field after the final snap. He ran to find 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin, a teammate on Super Bowl-winning Baltimore a year ago. Then he found an official to whom he expressed his dismay. “We played against their 11 and then some,” he said. I understand the frustrations with another rough call against them -- Akeem Ayers' unnecessary-roughness call wiped away a Pollard pick -- and Pollard hardly put all the blame on the officials. But the Titans can't think the league is out to get them, because it isn’t.

Huge crowd: Darius Reynaud drew the biggest crowd of media in the locker room after a terrible game, with four plays misjudged as the return man and a drop in one of his rare chances as a receiver. The Titans have minimized receiver Kenny Britt’s snaps because of his struggles and pulled center Rob Turner out of the lineup in favor of Brian Schwenke. Mike Munchak said they’ll now consider making a change with Reynaud.

Debut: Schwenke said he thought he fared well in the Titans' limited attempts at running the ball and came to understand a lot about pass protection on the fly in his first NFL game. “I learned it as it happened,” he said. He pledged he will be a lot better player when the Titans resume their season in St. Louis on Nov. 3.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The big change the Tennessee Titans need is Jake Locker back at quarterback. It sounds like any chance of that happening for Sunday’s game against the 49ers is quite small.

But the next-biggest thing the Titans could do to spark an anemic offense and help to wake up a stalled run game is happening. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reports that fourth-round draft pick Brian Schwenke will replace Rob Turner as the team’s starting center.

I applaud the move, which I thought would arrive next week during the Titans' bye. Sooner is better than later. Schwenke is more physical than Turner and has far more upside.

Tennessee’s whole offseason was keyed around a rebuild of the interior offensive line. But left guard Andy Levitre, Turner and right guard Chance Warmack did not come together at a fast pace.

Whatever the team loses in terms of time together is offset by getting a better player in the lineup. Running backs Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene, if he’s back from his knee injury, and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick all should benefit.

Schwenke might have some rookie moments, as Warmack has had. But they'll be easier to swallow than Turner's poor play has been.

Testing out our Titans' hindsight

October, 16, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- My 20-20 hindsight is the only good vision I have.

So it’s time for a big round of second-guessing. Six games into the 2013 season, the Titans are a lot better team than they were a year ago, but they don’t have a ton to show for it at 3-3.

Five things worth some consideration after the fact, if not a full second-guess:

[+] EnlargeDarius Reynaud
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTitans return man Darius Reynaud isn't impressing anyone on special teams.
Special teams: Mike Munchak fired long-time special teams coach Alan Lowry, moving up assistant Nate Kaczor. The result through six games has been largely bad. The team got a great, long touchdown return from special teams in Seattle. But the group makes the same mistakes on a regular basis, highlighted by return man Darius Reynaud’s willingness to let punts bounce and his determination to bring kickoffs out from deep in the end zone. (I won't even mention he took the first kickoff of the season back into the end zone for a safety. Actually, I just did.) Munchak thought the team was starting to tune out Lowry. But he was pretty good at having his group ready for anything. It’s a far bigger adventure now.

Which begs the question: Was firing Lowry a mistake?

Marc Mariani: While we’re on the subject of Reynaud... At cut down day, the Titans put Mariani on injured-reserve with a shoulder injury that would have only cost him a few more weeks. Their roster wasn’t so drenched with talent that they couldn’t have found space for him until he was healthy. Defensive end Keyunta Dawson stuck, but was cut weeks later when Jake Locker got hurt and they needed space to add Rusty Smith. It turns out Mariani is a way better decision-maker than Reynaud.

Which begs the question: Do they privately regret that they didn’t create a way to have access to Mariani this year?

Sorting out center: Rob Turner won the center completion in the preseason, that was pretty clear. But did the Titans project what he could do correctly? They don’t want to single him out and he’s hardly the only guy having trouble. But they are invested in the other four in a big way and they all have higher ceilings. Turner brings a nastiness, but the attitude doesn’t matter if people are regularly getting past him.

Which begs the questions: Should they have stuck with Fernando Velasco, who’s now with the Steelers? Should they be turning to rookie Brian Schwenke now?

The tackles: All the focus has been on the interior offensive line. But the issues aren’t only with the middle three. Right guard David Stewart has a calf/leg issue having broken that leg less than a year ago. On a good week he practices twice, on a bad week just once. And Michael Roos isn’t run-blocking as well as he has in the past, particularly near the goal line.

Which begs the question: Did they err in taking it for granted that they were fine on the edges?

Paying Chris Johnson: The extension he got in 2011 included a provision that if he was on the roster five days after the Super Bowl in 2013, $9 million of his $10 million salary for this year would be guaranteed. I endorsed the $55 million extension when he got it. The Titans had long lacked an explosive playmaker, and at that point he definitely was one. But since he got it, he’s certainly not proved worth it. Only a knee injury to Shonn Greene has prevented a role reduction so far this season. They could have found a primary back who could do better than CJ’s 3.1-yard average for far less money.

Which begs the question: Is this going to be his final season with the Titans? He’s due $23 million more over the next three years. Unless his production spikes, it will be hard to justify it if they measure cost per yard.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 3

September, 23, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 20-17 win over the San Diego Chargers:

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsTennessee's offensive line needs to buy Jake Locker more time in the pocket.
Protection issues: The Titans have not protected Jake Locker as well as most of us expected considering the interior line rebuild. Left guard Andy Levitre and right guard Chance Warmack aren’t going anywhere. Center Rob Turner beat out Fernando Velasco in the preseason, while fourth-rounder Brian Schwenke fell behind while hurt. Velasco is with the Steelers now.

If Schwenke is up to speed, the Titans ought to consider making the change in the middle. It will not be easy, but Turner has not been good enough. Locker reacted to pressure pretty well against San Diego. But he’s been sacked seven times so far and under pressure too often.

Slow starts: The Titans have not been great out of the gate this season. In Pittsburgh they gave up a safety and a long drive at the start, but took the ball away with a goal-line fumble. The offense punted away its first possession. In Houston they traded first-drive touchdowns. Against San Diego, the Titans went three-and-out, then gave up a touchdown drive. Combined first possession scoring: Opponents 16, Titans 7. That’s not resounding, but Tennessee can start better.

Locker hurrying up: Two weeks in a row we’ve seen a very well-executed drive by Locker and the offense when they picked up the pace. In Houston they went 99 yards in nine plays for a fourth-quarter touchdown. Against San Diego they went 94 yards in 10 plays for a game-winning touchdown.

The Titans aren’t going to be a no-huddle, hurry-up offense all the time. But they ought to incorporate it more often based on how well Locker and the offense have been doing with it. It can still be a changeup if they do it a bit more often.

Get smarter: The penalty issue Sunday -- 11 for 116 yards and four first downs -- was something the Titans had to fight hard to survive. The Titans talk about being smart, but that is different than actually being smart.

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and Locker raved about the heady play Delanie Walker made on a drop during the game-winning drive. The tight end realized his mistake, kept playing and broke up an interception by Marcus Gilchrist.

“Smart players do smart things, dumb players do dumb things,” Loggains said.

Right now Kenny Britt fits into the second category. Others have flashed in to join him.

The Titans have to show they have more smart players and fewer dumb players.

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rather than tell you this is what’s going to happen, I’ll tell you this is what would happen if I had influence in the Tennessee Titans meeting room when final cuts will be decided.

Some cuts are already trickling out from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, so check his Twitter feed.

Quarterbacks: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick

There just is no room for Rusty Smith and there isn’t a need for a third quarterback unless things go incredibly wrong. The difference between a random third guy and Smith isn’t giant.

Running backs: Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Quinn Johnson (FB)

Battle has to contribute on special teams, but he was better than Jalen Parmele through the preseason. Wyatt says Parmele is already gone. Johnson’s been hurt and could lose out to Collin Mooney.

Wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Justin Hunter, Michael Preston, Marc Mariani (return specialist)

Preston is one of the best 53 players on the team. Even though he won’t be active on Sundays if everyone’s healthy, you keep extra quality depth at one spot if it’s better than weaker depth at another spot. Once he’s healthy, Mariani isn’t as explosive as a punt returner as Darius Reynaud, but will more regularly get 10 yards.

Tight ends: Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson

No need for a fourth on the 53. Sign Jack Doyle to the practice squad

Offensive linemen: Tackles Michael Roos, David Stewart, Mike Otto, Byron Stingily. Interior: Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack, Rob Turner, Brian Schwenke, Fernando Velasco

Velasco is guaranteed $2.02 million under his tender contract out of restricted free agency. I’m not sure he should stick over Scott Solomon at linebacker or Stefan Charles at defensive tackle. But the big push for revamping the line and the desire for depth after last year’s slew of injuries makes me feel like they will stay loaded.

Defensive ends: Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley, Lavar Edwards, Keyunta Dawson.

Dawson is a good guy to have. I can see him staying and the Titans going five ends as opposed to six tackles. But linebacker Akeem Ayers is a nickel end so he factors in here as well.

Defensive tackles: Jurrell Casey, Sammie Hill, Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson, Karl Klug (swing)

I’ve got Stefan Charles over DaJohn Harris but neither making it. If one of them sticks, it’s the last defensive line spot probably over Dawson. I see Charles on the practice squad.

Linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Moise Fokou, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy, Patrick Bailey

Scott Solomon is one of my last two cuts. I want to keep seven 'backers. The seventh guy would be a trade-off for Velasco, I think. Solomon is versatile, seems to be catching on to the position change and can still play end if needed. He’s not practice squad eligible. I just can’t fit him here. I might keep him over Bailey but I don’t think they rank him that way.

Safeties: Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, George Wilson, Daimion Stafford

The fourth spot isn’t strong and Stafford could probably go to the practice squad. But if they choose a veteran -- Al Afalava or Corey Lynch -- as the fourth I could see them trying to upgrade it with an outsider.

Cornerbacks: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

I’d expect Khalid Wooten on the practice squad.

Kicker: Rob Bironas

Punter: Brett Kern

Long-snapper: Beau Brinkley
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Look at the Tennessee Titans from any angle and the focus winds up on the same spot: starting quarterback Jake Locker.

The Titans did a lot of overhauling after a miserable 6-10 season. All of it puts the third-year quarterback in a better position to succeed.

“I think throwing with confidence makes a big difference, and that’s what I feel like I am doing this year,” Locker said.

The Titans parted with Matt Hasselbeck and brought in Ryan Fitzpatrick as the No. 2. They are confidant Fitzpatrick can step in and win games if needed, but they have no leash on Locker. The entire organization is committed to him and believes he’s the right guy to quarterback the team to a turnaround.

“He’s really taken ownership,” Fitzpatrick said. “You can see he’s a confident guy, and that’s one thing that you really need as a quarterback. He’s really worked at his game mentally. We’re progression-based now, and he’s really trying to take it to the next level in terms of his footwork and accuracy. This whole offseason I’ve definitely seen improvement.”

Locker will be running an easier, more straightforward system. He’s got a "move" tight end in Delanie Walker (not currently healthy) who adds a dynamic the Titans haven’t had since Locker was drafted with the eighth overall pick in 2011. The receivers are deep and talented. The offensive line could be a dominant group, which should mean a Chris Johnson/Shonn Greene run game will provide great balance. And the defense should get Locker the ball back more often and with better field position.

I’ve seen steady progress and more consistent play in recent practices. But he needs to carry that over into games, and he needs to address two things that might qualify as habits: a tendency to start slow, and a propensity to throw more comfortably and more accurately to his left than to his right.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeKamerion Wimbley
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceThe Titans hope to give pass-rusher Kamerion Wimbley a lighter workload this season.
1. The pass rush. The Titans generated a reasonable total of 39 sacks last season, with 6.5 from Derrick Morgan and six apiece from Kamerion Wimbley and Akeem Ayers. The Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens ran the same number of defensive plays (1,086), and they had 37 sacks.

But no single player on the Titans’ defensive front ranked as a scheme-changer that offenses had to account for before every play. And the committee work in conjunction with coverage that was far too soft, far too frequently, played a big role in allowing a league-worst 471 points.

They didn’t change a lot at end. They added size in end Ropati Pitoitua, who figures to play a lot of run downs, and depth in fifth-rounder Lavar Edwards. Ayers will be a much more regular presence as a pass-rusher, and both Morgan and Wimbley will play much less than 80 percent of the snaps, which wore them down a year ago. Does all that and a more aggressive scheme influenced by Gregg Williams turn the Titans into a more threatening pass-rushing team? I can’t say yes yet.

2. Two important coaches. Dowell Loggains took over as offensive coordinator with five games left last season, but it’s not like he could revamp everything Chris Palmer was doing. Given an offseason, he has. These Titans will be less reactive and try to dictate more, and the options routes that complicated things and counted on receivers and the quarterback to read things the same way are gone. Things are tailored to Locker now, and Loggains has more talent at his disposal than Palmer did in 2011 or 2012.

On defense, Williams returns from his year in Bountygate exile with a simple promise he expected would help him win players over: That he can make them better. He’s not the same guy he was back when he was the Titans' defensive coordinator from 1997-2000, but the season suspension certainly made him reflect and he comes back a different guy from the one who was coordinator for the Saints. I suspect he will positively impact key guys on this defense like Ayers, cornerback Tommie Campbell, safety Michael Griffin and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey.

3. The offensive line. Last season was a disaster, as the Titans had to call on more depth than any team can have. But the franchise counted on coach Mike Munchak and another offensive line Hall of Famer, line coach Bruce Matthews, to develop guys. A couple they counted on who never reached the expected level are gone now, and the Titans have much better players in place of Leroy Harris and Eugene Amano.

With a line of Michael Roos, Andy Levitre, Fernando Velasco/Robert Turner/Brian Schwenke, Chance Warmack and David Stewart, Tennessee feels like it has re-identified its identity.

“If we’re going to win, it’s going to be because our offensive line is a lot better than it was last year, and we’re physical, and we’re relentless, and we’re going to move people around on both sides of the ball,” Munchak said at the start of camp.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

They identified last season’s issues and have addressed them all in some fashion. That’s with coaching staff alterations, changes in thinking and scheme, major player additions in free agency and a draft that looks solid. This isn’t a team that sat back and assumed that given another year of seasoning, its 6-10 record could turn into 10-6. It took action. Now we have to find out if the moves and changes total up and produce a big difference in overall outcome.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker and Chandler Jones
AP Photo/Joe HowelThe Titans need QB Jake Locker to make big strides quickly if they are to survive a tough early schedule.
REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The unproven quarterback and the schedule. The Titans open at Pittsburgh and at Houston, and also play San Diego, a team Tennessee always struggles with, at Seattle and San Francisco before the Oct. 27 bye. It’s impossible to predict how the competition will be. But through the first seven games, 4-3 might qualify as pretty good but might still leave them having to chase to get into playoff contention.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Campbell has looked really good, and his physical makeup is tremendous, but is he ready to handle the mental end of the job? The team wants to play more press, physical coverage, and he’s suited to do so. They hyped him a year ago in camp then didn’t trust him enough to play him. We heard even better things about him this offseason, but recently they’ve put out the word not to count out Alterraun Verner and Campbell was tentative in the preseason opener. If they can’t get Campbell onto the field given his physical characteristics, I’ll question the effectiveness of the coaches who have raved so regularly.
  • Linebacker Colin McCarthy finally climbed back into the starting unit recently, then was sidelined the very next day with a hamstring injury. He’s a good player, but he’s always dealing with something. They are prepared to go with Moise Fokou, and I expect it’ll be very much a two-down job. The Titans are relying on all defenders getting a signal from the sideline, so the coach-to-player communication device won’t be a factor that helps keep a middle linebacker on the field.
  • Undrafted kicker Maikon Bonani has a giant leg, but he has to improve his control. Rob Bironas is recovering from back issues.
  • Weakside linebacker Zach Brown came into the league facing a charge by a prominent draft analyst that he was allergic to contact. He’s been anything but, and his growth as a rookie was a bright spot. He and rookie Zaviar Gooden are blazers at linebacker who can help the Titans deal with some of the tough coverage mismatches created against other offenses.
  • I expect offenses to target strong safety Bernard Pollard in the passing game. He’s an in-the-box safety, though he bristles at conversation about his coverage skills. The Titans plan to use George Wilson also, and he’s a more sound coverage safety. Pollard has brought needed swagger. But I wonder if Wilson won’t ultimately wind up with more snaps.
  • Two eye-catching undrafted rookies at camp have been tight end Jack Doyle and defensive tackle Stefan Charles.
Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean was first to report the NFL has completed its first-round signings: Chance Warmack and the Tennessee Titans have a deal.

The grand total is five missed days and four missed practices. The Titans are off today, but they'll be in full pads Tuesday night. Warmack is certain to be there.

Perhaps Mike Munchak will make him wait a little before he's plugged in as the starter. More likely, I expect Warmack will go right back where he was for OTAs and minicamp.

He'll work along side right tackle David Stewart, who was out for offseason work as he recovered from a broken leg. Rob Turner, Fernando Velasco and, once his hamstring is healed, rookie Brian Schwenke will get time at center in one of the team's bigger competition.
It's worth $12,166,646 over four years. He gets a $5 million signing bonus. The deal includes offset language, which was the major point under debate.

That's technically a win for the Titans, as it means if Warmack is cut during this deal, the Titans would be off the hook for what he's owed if he's on another team collecting another salary that matches or surpasses it.

As I said at the start of camp, the offset issue didn't deserve to be a big deal.

But four missed practices aren't a big deal either.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

The highly respected Andre Johnson seeks the ultimate team goal, not more personal ones, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Arian Foster isn’t going to rush to return from his lingering calf strain, says McClain and Tania Ganguli.

To which I say: And he shouldn’t. But it’s hard to forget in June he said the only reason it was attention-worthy was because it was a slow news cycle and the press needed headlines. If it was such a little a deal as he maintained then, he’d be practicing now, right?

Two injured candidates for the right tackle job, Derek Newton and rookie Brennan Williams, have worked their way back from knee injuries, says Dave Zangaro of CSH Houston.

The Texans' Week 3 game against Baltimore will come against a team missing tight end Dennis Pitta, who suffered a serious hip injury Saturday, says CSN Houston.

In these nuggets from Drew Dougherty of the team’s website: Johnathan Joseph’s new workout routine, video of Foster talking about his movie role, Brooks Reed on J.J. Watt practicing his motivational speeches, and receivers catching tennis balls.

Indianapolis Colts

With his traditional opening day arrival theatrics, Reggie Wayne got to Anderson, Ind. by helicopter, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

The newest member of the Colts, rugby player Daniel Adongo, started off by learning some basics -- like Practice details from Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union tell us of a far better day for Chad Henne than Blaine Gabbert.

To which I say: Fans who watched it and are reading about it should be upset that Gabbert was struggling just to take snaps. Even if it's just one afternoon, he should be past such things.

Was Gabbert’s bad practice a big deal, asks O’Halloran.

Gus Bradley said how Gabbert bounces back can be the biggest thing to come from Saturday, says John Oehser of the Jaguars website.

Low expectations of the Jaguars offense gives first-year coordinator Jedd Fisch an opportunity to formulate a creative offense, says Gene Frenette.

Marcedes Lewis wants to forget about the past two years, says Mark Long of AP.

First-year guard Drew Nowak tweeted that his car got hit on the way to the team hotel, but that he’s fine, say O’Halloran.

Tennessee Titans

Two newcomers from Super Bowl teams -- Bernard Pollard and Delanie Walker -- see great expectations with their new team, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

Details of Saturday’s practice fight, from John Glennon of The Tennessean, who also touches on Brian Schwenke’s hamstring, Coty Sensabaugh's surge, and the return of navy blue jerseys for a couple games. Here’s a picture that gives you a sense of the fight -- from a fan who took it during a period of practice when media was not allowed to take pictures or shoot video.

Pollard says part of what the Titans' defense has to do is get a kid receiver like Justin Hunter ready for action. (With video from Wyatt.)

If cornerback Tommie Campbell pans out, he could be like Seattle's Richard Sherman, says Pete Prisco of CBS Sports.

The coordinators talked of early standouts, on the other side of the ball, says Glennon.

The Titans' offense is streamlined under Dowell Loggains, says Teresa Walker of AP.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Fernando Velasco is the incumbent and Brian Schwenke was the center in the draft the Tennessee Titans thought was the best in the class.

But the pivot who’s in place on opening day for a revamped offensive line won’t necessarily be one of the two.

[+] EnlargeRob Turner
Mark Humphrey/AP PhotoThe Titans hope to rely on Rob Turner's veteran expertise to boost the offensive line.
Veteran Rob Turner is also going to get plenty of work and the Titans fully consider him in the mix. Thursday in the first practice of camp, with first-round draft pick Chance Warmack missing because he doesn’t have a deal yet, Turner and Velasco both saw significant time at center and right guard.

“It really shows the maturity of a guy when you’ve got guys who come in competing for the same position and there is no malice towards anybody,” Turner said. “We’re all trying to help each other and help each other improve. We know at the end of the day, sometimes the decisions are made because of money, sometimes they are made because of age or injuries, potential or things like that. But the biggest thing I have to say is we have a good group of guys who really care about each other, that want to help each other improve."

Turner played five seasons for the Jets before joining the Rams in 2012.

Mike Munchak poured out a pretty significant compliment for Turner when I asked about the sixth-year man’s potential.

“We like his attitude, his toughness, he reminds me of Kevin Mawae, he’s a bigger version, he’s a heavier guy,” Munchak said. “When I compare him to Kevin, it’s more his approach to the game, very smart, a takes-control kind of guy who knows all the tricks of the trade. He’s an interesting guy, I’m happy he’s here. He’ll be great with Jake (Locker) in the huddle. He has a lot of intangibles that way.”

The Titans have a lot of competitions to sort through. Munchak sounded as if center could be the first one settled. The Titans need to look at all the options and see how they mesh with the rest of the line and with Locker.

“I don’t think anybody goes anywhere not expecting to play,” Turner said after that practice, adding Chris Spencer to the list of guys fighting for the job. “I think we’re going to play these cards out and see where they play at the end of the day.”

A versatile interior guy, Turner said he thinks he’s the best at where he gets to practice the most.

A team that had to call on too much depth a year ago should be far better off in that area after adding Warmack and Andy Levitre to start at the guard spots, as well as Schwenke, Turner, Spencer, and tackle Barry Richardson.

The best guy will play. It makes sense for the Titans to hope Schwenke is quickly the best guy. A fourth-round pick out of Cal, he’s strong enough to anchor but very quick at getting to the second level. Getting him working next to Warmack as soon as possible would seem to be an ideal scenario.

Wherever Turner winds up, he has impressed the team since he signed.

The Titans' offensive line troubles grew when they didn’t re-sign Mawae for the 2010 season. He had slowed, and not bringing him back wasn’t a terrible move. It was Tennessee's failure to sufficiently replace him, relying predominantly on Eugene Amano who didn’t grow into the player they expected, that set the line back.

Amano missed last year with an injury and was cut this offseason since he was finally healthy.

Tennessee can go three different directions at center now.

With Schwenke, Velasco or Turner in the middle of the line between Levitre, a major free-agent addition, and Warmack, the 10th overall pick, things stand to be significantly better.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The question was about Jake Locker.

But in his wide-ranging answer, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak outlined clearly what he believes will determine the fate of his team in his third year as its coach.

And it's far more than the third-year quarterback.

“We went out and we identified our problems on Jan. 1 of this year and we made the changes we felt necessary on the staff, we made changes with the personnel, we went out in the draft and did exactly what we thought we needed to do,” Munchak said. “So, we’ve done what we think is necessary to do. Now hopefully we’re right. We have to go prove that we’re right in what we did.”

What the Titans did is no more significant at any position than on the offensive line.

Veteran Andy Levitre is the new starting left guard. First-round draft pick Chance Warmack is the new starting right guard. Another draft pick, Brian Schwenke, could be the starting center. There will be big battles for the backup slots and the depth should be substantially better.

A team coached by a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, who’s got another Hall of Fame offensive lineman as his offensive-line coach in Bruce Matthews, is going to be identified by that group as much as or more than any other.

“I think we put them in position, which is our job, to where there’s no reason we shouldn’t play better -- all of us, not just the quarterback,” Munchak said. “I mean, it starts there on offense, obviously, that position, but up front (too). If we’re going to win, it’s going to be because our offensive line is a lot better than it was last year, and we’re physical, and we’re relentless, and we’re going to move people around on both sides of the ball. And if we do that, which we’re very capable of doing with the guys that we have, then we’re going to win a lot of football games. If we don’t do that, then it doesn’t matter.

“You can overcome things, which we will. But our mindset has to be that we take over games when they’re on the line. We’re not going to hope that we can make a play, hope that defense can get a stop. We’ll have some of those games, but we need to take over games better than we have. So, that’s the challenge for all of us and the players know that. They’re excited about that, and that’s the plan. That’s how we think you win and we know we need good play by a lot of players, and quarterbacks included.”

I think those are comments, and this is a post, that we might circle back to frequently this season.

The Tennessee franchise has lacked an identity the past several years. Its offseason work sought to create one. On the eve of today’s first practice of camp, Munchak spelled out what the Titans intend to be.

Now they have to go be it.

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