Tennessee Titans: Ken Whisenhunt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- From early on in his first offseason working with Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff, Jake Locker said he felt empowered.

There were, and still are, questions about the Titans' quarterback.

Locker
But rather than breathing life into those doubts, Whisenhunt wasted little time showing confidence in the quarterback. It seems to me that has been a key in Locker's progress. And while we tend to make too much of preseason developments, Locker's been good.

He's got more freedom and more responsibility than ever, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

"I feel really comfortable and I really feel like I understand what we're doing offensively and I have ownership of it," Locker said. "So I thank (this coaching staff) for challenging me early. At this point, I really feel like I understand what's going on in this offense better than I have in the past."

Where, precisely, can we see an example of that?

Left tackle Michael Roos provided Glennon with an excellent one. Locker's actually allowed a blitzer a lane knowing he would find a beneficial throw out of it.

"There are times at practice when he's made himself the hot guy on purpose because he knows a receiver on that side is going to break off his route and it will be a good play," Roos said. "So there's that kind of stuff. It might not look right to us, but if he wants to do it and he knows what he's doing, then obviously it's going to work out."

That example is a solid development for Locker, and the Titans.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Zach Mettenberger has played a very solid three games in the preseason so far.

He’s hit on 68.6 percent of his passes at 9.88 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and two interceptions, four sacks and 97.2 passer rating.

The Titans are pleased.

But their quarterback depth chart has not changed.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Mark Humphrey/AP PhotoBarring an injury situation, the Titans pecking order at quarterback will be: Jake Locker folllowed by Charlie Whitehurst followed by Zach Mettenberger, above.
Backup Charlie Whitehurst didn’t play Saturday in Atlanta because of an injured pinkie on his throwing hand. But his limited preseason work has also been good -- 68.9 percent, 9.02 yards per attempt, a touchdown, no interceptions and two sacks for a passer rating of 105.6.

“Zach is (getting) more comfortable," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I still think at times he struggles with some things. Which is not uncommon for a young player. It’s been invaluable, the amount of reps that we’ve gotten him and how he’s performed. I think it’s been fantastic.

“He’s done a good job, he’s really made some plays for us. I think some things that really stand out about Zach is he’s got a good pocket presence, he’s made some accurate throws. It was nice to see him throw balls only to our team last night. He’s taking advantage of his opportunities to improve. That’s good to see.”

But with all of that, Whitehurst remains the guy the Titans will turn to if Locker goes down.

I asked if it’s in the realm of possibility that Mettenberger would be the backup on Sept. 7 in Kansas City.

“Unless it was an injury situation, no,” Whisenhunt said. “Charlie’s had a very good preseason, too, and a very good camp. And I’ve said Charlie was the two coming in. I don’t think that’s going to change. I think we’re very lucky that we’ve got a group of quarterbacks that we feel comfortable with.”

A good percentage of fans won’t like that.

I know it’s hard not to get caught up in a shiny new thing. And watching Mettenberger throw is fun. He's got a tremendous arm and has anticipated pretty well. But Whitehurst has been better than I expected and it makes sense, if you’ve got to insert a cold backup without much practice work, for it to be a guy who’s got more experience in, and understanding of, the team’s offensive system.

If the Titans need a long-term sub then Mettenberger should be considered, and I expect he will be, particularly if that need comes later rather than sooner.

For a game-day insert, Whitehurst is the right choice at this point.

Things can evolve to be different, but not based on Mettenberger’s work against mostly third-teamers in August.

Whisenhunt’s been intentionally -- and I would argue, unreasonably -- vague about playing time plans in advance of preseason games. He left open the possibility Mettenberger will start the preseason finale against Minnesota at LP Field Thursday night.

I can’t see it.

While Jake Locker is in a good spot, he talked after the game in Atlanta about how the offense still needed to communicate better. The offense isn’t at a point where it would not benefit from the starting quarterback and offense getting a bit more work together.

We don’t know if Whitehurst’s finger will allow his return or be best served by another game off.

Either way, Mettenberger will play a lot on Thursday.

And then he and Whitehurst won’t play for a good while if things break the way the Titans are hoping they will.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s early, for sure. We don’t know the 53-man roster. We won’t see the Tennessee Titans in action using a real scheme until Sept. 7 in Kansas City.

Acknowledging those caveats, I look at this team right now and think: It’s got to be an offensive football team.

I’ve said that at times in the past, that they needed to be, that they should be, that they had to be.

Things with this franchise in Nashville have always reverted to defense.

Longtime head coach Jeff Fisher was a defensive guy. While his successor, Mike Munchak, is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, the overall tone didn’t change much in the last three seasons. That was part of why a change happened.

Things are different a lot of ways now.

Ken Whisenhunt came to Nashville with an extensive offensive background and a reputation as a clever playcaller able to get the most out of players.

The Titans have dedicated major resources in the last couple years to the offensive line, to pass-catchers, to running back.

The Titans should block well, they should pass protect well, they should catch and run well.

There is less to see/expect/count on from the defense.

This needs to be, should be, has to be an offensive football team.
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans ...

Ken Whisenhunt said one bad game in New Orleans won’t determine the fate of cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

The Titans should finally face a No. 1 quarterback this week with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, says Glennon.

Positive plays outnumber negative ones for Zach Mettenberger against New Orleans, says Roland Bardon of Pro Football Focus. Coty Sensabaugh and Andy Levitre graded poorly.

Shonn Greene practiced and news on other injuries from Wyatt.

Derrick Morgan is a member of the All Make-or-Break Team from Robert Mays of Grantland.

Titans Radio play-by-play man Mike Keith sees a total belief in Ken Whisenhunt from the team.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans' first-team defense has given up long touchdown drives to open both preseason games so far, a development that seems pretty discouraging.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt thinks the way the first unit responded said good things, however, and doesn't seem to have any major concern.

None of what's unfolded is directly attributable to the Titans holding anything back, he said, though the defensive package will be a little different in a regular-season game.

As for the first-team defense in New Orleans after an 80-yard, 16-play touchdown drive by the Saints ...

"(The defense) responded after that first drive in the last game, and with the exact same players on the field, they got off the field a couple of times," Whisenhunt said. "We've just got to do a better job at the start of these games. I think everybody gravitates to that first series, which is the sensationalism of it, but if you look at what they did after that, they did respond better.

"It's a preseason game. I think we've got to do a better job of starting. Our mentality's got to be better this week. We played two good offenses. I think one of the points is that both of those teams have very good offensive skill players. They've been in the same system for a number of years, so they're going to be efficient, and we weren't. When we did it the right way, we were able to stop them. I think that's just what we have to continue to work on."

The Titans allowed four third-down conversions on that opening drive -- a third-and-4, a third-and-10, a third-and 1 and a third-and-6.

Those amounted to half the Saints' third-down conversions for the entire game.

Shonn Greene practiced Monday

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans running back Shonn Greene, who hyperextended his knee Friday night in New Orleans, practice on Monday and is fine, coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

“Shonn is fine,” Whisenhunt said. “He practiced."

Greene ran well against the Saints before leaving the game, and the Titans have been encouraged by his recent work. Through two games he’s carried 13 times for 66 yards and a team best 5.1 yards per carry.

Running back coach Sylvester Croom said Greene’s work in a practice at LP Field on Aug. 2 was the best the team had seen from him since last year’s opener in Pittsburgh, where he suffered a knee injury.

A second surgery on that knee cost Greene the offseason.
I invite Tweets tagged with #PKmail at any time. They’ll go into these mailbags and could produce posts all their own if you really hit on something.

Thanks for your participation.

Paul Kuharsky: The fumbling is a problem. Ken Whisenhunt said it's one of a number of things a rookie running back needs to sort through. I think Sankey is a guy who will learn from and resolve mistakes quickly. I liked the way he answered questions about a pass-protection flub in his first game and improved in that area in his second chance.

Paul Kuharsky: Where? At this point, good as Taylor Lewan's been, Michael Roos and Michael Oher have been taking care of their business and not leaving the door cracked. An injury anywhere but center and Lewan would be the guy. Otherwise, there doesn't look to be a spot for him to start.

Paul Kuharsky: Definitely carrying three. In games, at least early on, Charlie Whitehurst is the guy they'd want taking over. The game-day No. 2 won't have had much work during the practice week. If Jake Locker is out for an extended period, they could turn to Mettenberger given a chance to game plan for him and give him a full practice load. Mettenberger did some good things for sure. But let's not forget that Whitehurst has been doing good work -- better than many of us thought him capable of.

Paul Kuharsky: The Titans and the NFL have not chiseled it in granite that it has to be Maikon Bonani or Travis Coons. Coons has been pretty good. His trajectory was my biggest concern and it's improved a lot of late. He said they were working on quickening his approach and once they got that down he got back to his typical swing. They will have alternatives to the winner if they want them.

Paul Kuharsky: I'm not really sure what you think the scope of possible answers to that one is. They need to play better. There needs to be a better rush in front of them to help them play better.

Paul Kuharsky: I think Jake Locker is better. I think it's a better offense with a better scheme and better coaching, all of which will help him. Better enough? I don't know that. He still makes more bad choices than a QB you are hanging your hat on should.

Paul Kuharsky: I thought the one pass interference on Jason McCourty was a bit shaky. But overall I didn't have a huge argument with the officiating. It's on players to follow the rules and concern themselves with what's going to be called, not to count on the officials easing up.

Paul Kuharsky: They know what Leon Washington and Dexter McCluster can do as returners. They've been giving guys they are less familiar with a chance to show what they can do. 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A week ago after he failed to convert a route, receiver Justin Hunter was labeled “just another guy” by his coaches.

The nameplate on the back of his practice jersey was replaced by “JAG.”

[+] EnlargeJustin Hunter
AP Photo/Bill HaberThe Titans' Justin Hunter showed his athleticism in grabbing two touchdowns on Friday night.
After a week of great catches in practice, he grabbed two touchdowns in New Orleans, pulled in four catches for 111 yards and showed off the leaping ability that can make him practically impossible to defend.

“I think you’re seeing just a glimpse of what he can be, but because of what he did last night, let’s not make the mistake and think he’s, by any stretch, close to what he can be,” Whisenhunt said at his Saturday news conference. “There are a lot of things, from route depth to discipline on his releases, where even though he made some big plays last night, those have got to become more consistent.

“So he’s still got a lot of work to do. I’m excited for two things: No. 1 because he can make those big plays; and No. 2, because he seems to have the right mindset to work on those two things. Part of being a young player is you’ve got to be able to do that yourself. Right now, he has to be reminded at times to do that. Not from a negative standpoint, just because there is a lot going on. …

“I’m seeing growth, we’ve just got to continue to see that.”

The “JAG” jersey is still in his locker, maybe as a little reminder. Whisenhunt doesn’t expect to see it on the practice field this week.

“He definitely was not a JAG last night,” the coach said.

We’ll have to see how consistently Hunter can produce for the Titans outside the red zone. But once inside the 20 he will certainly be deployed as a target for fades and jump balls like the 4-yard touchdown he caught from Jake Locker at the Superdome.

There simply are not corners in the league who can match Hunter's combination of size (6-foot-4), speed (4.4-second 40) and leaping ability (39.5-inch vertical jump at the scouting combine).

I asked Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who’s either going to start at cornerback for the Titans or be part of the nickel package, how a defender can approach Hunter jumping for a pass in the end zone. Wreh-Wilson is 6-foot-1 with a 36-inch vertical.

“You can definitely see where he’s turned something on,” Wreh-Wilson said before the Titans went to New Orleans. “Something has clicked for him. … You have to play through his hands. You’re not going to find a lot of guys that can athletically jump with him. When it comes to the red zone when the ball is up in the air, he’s got a good advantage against a lot of corners. So you’ve got to play through him.”

Said the corner Wreh-Wilson is fighting for playing time, Coty Sensabaugh: “Hunter is a vertical challenge. He probably has one of the highest verticals in the league. I say you go through his hands and try to make him catch it one-handed.”
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans...

Better tackling is a necessity for the Titans, says John Glennon of The Tennessean. "Last week's start was really more about fitting gaps (properly) and tackling, so that's the area of focus," Ken Whisenhunt said.

The things Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean and most of us will be looking for Friday night as the Titans play in New Orleans. It’s really time for some more kicker developments.

Vince Young landed a job at the University of Texas, says Wyatt.

Can guys who showed up last week do it again, asks David Boclair of the Nashville Post.

In the mind of Will Brinson from CBS Sports, a worst-case scenario for the Titans includes neck beard-growing contests between Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger as they vie to replace an injured Jake Locker.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For the bulk of the time since the franchise was invented as the Titans, Tennessee was willing to accept an occasional offside penalty from its defense.

The thinking -- predominantly from long-time defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who's now in Detroit -- was that a super quick get-off involved some anticipation. In exchange for anticipating well, there would be times when linemen anticipated poorly and got flagged. A good pass rush with a very fast get-off would make an offensive line a bit jumpy, and an offside here and there wouldn't necessarily hurt that cause either.

I asked new Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt if there was any degree of acceptable offside calls on his watch, and he asked me to take the question to his pass-rushers.

"The tolerance level? No, it's a different philosophy," end-turned-outside linebacker Derrick Morgan said. "We've got to play smart. Our D-coordinator (Ray Horton) is always stressing the importance of being smart and wants smart players on the defense.

"Offside will kill you. There are a lot of statistics about the success of offensive drives when you get called for it. It's an important factor we need to be smart about. It's not an acceptable thing where, ‘OK, we're trying to get a good jump, so every once and a while we're going to go offside.' It's going to happen, but the tolerance isn't there for it."

Marty Callinan of ESPN Stats & Info looked into the correlation between sack totals and defensive offside penalties. Over the last 10 seasons, league-wide, it's 0.04. Negligible. Add in encroachment and neutral zone infractions and it's still weak, just 0.13.

Under Washburn, who left after 2010, the Titans consistently ranked high in offside penalties. Over the last 10 years only periodically has the team's sack rank come close to matching its rank for offside.



The top two teams in terms of sacks over the last 10 seasons (Steelers and Dolphins) rank 31st and 27th in defensive offside penalties during that time.

The top two teams in terms of defensive offside penalties (Cardinals and Titans) rank 12th and 16th in sacks over the last 10 seasons.

The strongest correlation between sacks and defensive offside penalties for the Titans in the last 10 years came in 2007 and 2008. Those were Albert Haynesworth's final seasons in Tennessee.

While Haynesworth was piling up the sacks, he wasn't the one drawing the penalties. Fellow defensive linemen Tony Brown, Antwan Odom and Kyle Vanden Bosch were responsible for 13 of the team's 27 defensive offside penalties during that two-year span, while Haynesworth accounted for just one.

Tracy Rocker coached the defensive line from 2011-13. Giff Smith is in his first year with the team now, with Lou Spanos new on linebackers as the team moves to a 3-4.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Monday's camp report detailed a horrific day of offensive practice.

How it unfolded warranted a separate post.

Each of the Tennessee Titans quarterbacks threw an interception, fulfilling what I like to call "The Pollard Prophecy." Safety Bernard Pollard frequently announces during the team's stretch that all the quarterbacks will be picked off.

There were at least three fumbles.

There were at least three bad snaps.

There were at least five drops.

Several members of the offense partially credited the defense for flying around. The defense did want to respond to playing so poorly on the opening drive of the Saturday night preseason opener versus the Packers. But I felt the offensive performance was far more self-inflicted.

"It was, it was," Pollard said. "But at the same time we dominated them too."

"We made a bunch of mental errors," fullback Jackie Battle said. "We just have to focus more on the small stuff. Don't get me wrong, the defense was flying around, I think they had one of their better days of training camp so far. It was just an all-around bad day for the offense."

The most recent example of something being very good or very bad often gets given too much weight. I am conscious of that even as I call it one of the worst offensive practices I can remember out of the Titans.

"I wouldn't say one of the worst, there's been way worse," said left tackle Michael Roos, the longest tenured player on the team who's heading into his 10th season with the Titans. "It was one of those bad days where things start off a little slow and then it snowballs."

The offense may have been dealing with tired legs left over from Friday night and the warm conditions. Those things contributed, certainly.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt is looking for a big bounce back and players are reflecting their coach's thinking.

"This is part of the process," Battle said. "Every day is not going to go perfect. This gives us an opportunity to see what we are made of, an opportunity to come back and bounce back tomorrow."

Tuesday is the last of the Titans' eight open training camp practices in Nashville.

But there isn't an official date for wrapping camp, as Whisenhunt isn't obligated to end it any time soon and can hold more padded practices if he keeps it going.

How the team practices the rest of the week and plays in New Orleans Friday can have a bearing on when the schedule changes and players can check out of the team hotel.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- From the locker room after the Tennessee Titans' 20-16 preseason opening win over Green Bay:
  • Coach Ken Whisenhunt said that heavy rain meant "a lot of things we had planned went out the window" for the first team on offense. "We didn't handle it as well as we could have early," he said. But he liked that the offense made plays and the defense stopped the Packers late in the game when things were being decided, and that "the whole team was into it."
  • Brown
  • Inside linebacker Zach Brown has been a starter all of camp, but it was Zaviar Gooden who was on the field for the first series with the defense. Whisenhunt said that was punishment for Brown breaking a team rule. "I would describe it as pissing me off," Whisenhunt said. Brown said "If he ain't elaborating, I ain't either" and that he assured his coach it wouldn't happen against and understood the consequence.
  • Whisenhunt wasn't sure about the extent of the left ankle injury for interior offensive lineman Chris Spencer. But the shoulder injury for linebacker Colin McCarthy means he "is probably going to be out for a while."
  • Rookie running back Bishop Sankey had a solid showing in his debut with 13 carries for 37 yards to go with three catches for 38 more and the game-winning touchdown. He's been good in pass protection in practices but made an error that resulted in a Jarrett Bush sack of Charlie Whitehurst. "I just missed that backside corner coming off," Sankey said. "I just need to pay more attention, really just scan backside more. I took a glance, and got out into my route without really scanning backside completely."
  • Whitehurst had a fantastic run-around play where he looked to be in major trouble as he spun and dropped way far back to avoid Mike Neal. Then he rolled right and hit Sankey along the sideline for a key first down. As he got outside he said to himself, "Oh my gosh, something could happen here." The play had some on Twitter calling him "Charlie Football," which he said he preferred to his far more common nickname of "Clipboard Jesus."
  • Outside linebacker Brandon Copeland had a big chance to recover a ball Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien put on the ground when he dropped it as he cocked his arm to throw from near the right sideline. But Tolzien got his hands on Copeland, pulled him back and got to the ball to secure it. "I guess when the ball is free it's fair game," Copeland said. "That's just on me. I've got to be more prepared. I probably should have got the quarterback out of the way first. I saw the ball on the ground, and thought that he was out of the way, then I felt a weight on my back. I'm going to definitely take some grief. You live and you learn." Copeland said he might see that ball on the ground in his sleep the rest of his life.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Colin McCarthy has started 19 games in three seasons for the Tennessee Titans. He was a defensive captain in 2012. Moise Fokou started 12 games for Tennessee in 2013.

Now in Ray Horton's new 3-4 defense, the middle linebackers turned inside linebackers are battling for roster spots. Neither has worked with the first team. McCarthy has been a second-teamer or worse, and Fokou often has been with the third team.

Fokou
The team listed Fokou as the backup to Wesley Woodyard on its unofficial depth chart, with McCarthy behind him.

"It humbles you," McCarthy told John Glennon of The Tennessean. "I got an opportunity my first year, my second year, to play a lot. But now, I have the opportunity to battle back and try and get on the field. The opportunity to compete brings the best out of you as a player and as a person, though. I'm excited about a fresh start. I'm just going to work hard and do the best I can."

“They’re doing a good a job out here, the real test for them is two-fold, I believe," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "One is the preseason games, two is special teams and showing up in those areas. They are veteran players that have played, that have done things for this football team. We get the chance to let that sort itself out.

Is it hard for guys who’ve been starters to be in a situation where they aren’t getting snaps high on the depth chart now?

“I know it was painful for me to do that as a player, but that’s this job,” Whisenhunt said. “With changes, I think the big things with players that have had a long career are the ones that understand their role and are efficient in their role."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Every team in every training camp talks optimistically. Every team with a new coaching staff talks about how things are different for the better.

The Tennessee Titans are lowly regarded by plenty of fans and media nationally. But they have a lot going on that they feel those people have not paid attention to.

With Ken Whisenhunt and his staff at the helm, new schemes on both sides of the ball, a schedule that doesn’t include some of the powers they faced a year ago and a division with two other rebuilding franchises, they might have a chance to surprise.

."You say each and every year, 'Feels different, feels different, feels different,'" safety Michael Griffin said. "Just, you can see every day, people out there talking, we always have guys picking people up. Each and every day there is competition. There are little side bets here and there -- who’s going to win this period and things of that nature. The whole time we’re all trying to get each other better.

"Again, it just feels so much different in this locker room, and everybody has the same goals in mind, and that’s a positive around here."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsNew coach Ken Whisenhunt brings a solid résumé and a strong coaching staff to the Titans.
1. Whisenhunt isn’t Vince Lombardi or Don Shula, but the Titans' new coach is a significant upgrade from Mike Munchak, who was unsteady in his first three years as an NFL head coach. Whisenhunt had success in the role during his six seasons in Arizona, and he is a well-regarded offensive mind who will do more with what the Titans have than his predecessors.

Whisenhunt had the connections and the interviewing skills to hire a staff that appears to be filled with strong teachers, including a few quality holdovers. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is turning the Titans into a less predictable 3-4 and comfortably works his way into different sections of practice when position work is unfolding. I've watched these coaches teach and I've seen them connect with players.

Whisenhunt may field a complex offense that's hard to defend, but he's good at keeping things simple. I don't see any changes in how the Titans function that aren't for the better at this point.

2. The Titans don’t have players the fans are going to pick to captain their fantasy squads, but Tennessee should have a good array of quality weapons on offense. Kendall Wright topped 1,000 yards in his second season, and now the team’s best receiver will be sent on a wider variety of routes, not just inside slot stuff. He's been excellent so far in camp. Justin Hunter is doing better getting his legs under him and is catching the ball more comfortably. He got behind Atlanta's defense a few times in the recent joint practice and should be a constant deep threat. Nate Washington is showing he remains a versatile, productive guy.

Beyond the receivers, tight end Delanie Walker and running backs Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey will be good pass-catching options. When the Falcons gave the Titans a lot of room underneath, Jake Locker hit McCluster with a pass over the middle, and he had a ton of space to take. The Titans have invested a great deal in their offensive line over the past two seasons. They have one more tackle than they need after signing Michael Oher and drafting Taylor Lewan. There should be better protection for the quarterback and better holes for the running backs.

3. The 4-3 defense in recent years lacked a star pass-rusher on the edge who an offense had to fear every snap. The Titans still don’t seem to have that guy. They have to find him, but even if he doesn’t emerge from this group, the overall production out of the pass rush should be better. Who is rushing and who is dropping into coverage? In the 4-3, opponents pretty much knew. In this 3-4, it won’t be nearly as clear on a regular basis. Jurrell Casey, who notched 10.5 sacks as a tackle last season, will work as an end now. He's worked on speed rushes off the edge as well as his bread-and-butter quick power stuff in camp.

Sure, some good quarterbacks can diagnose who is rushing and who isn’t, no matter the front. But outside of Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck (twice), the Titans don’t face any A-list quarterbacks coming off big 2013 seasons this time around. They don’t see Seattle and San Francisco this season either.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Locker is a really likable guy who works hard, says the right things and desperately wants to prove he is the long-term answer for the Titans at quarterback. But in two seasons as the starter, he's missed 14 games while dealing with shoulder, hip, knee and foot injuries. He's practiced pretty well, but there are plays splashed in that can be killers on a Sunday afternoon.

Getting 16 games out of him is hardly a certainty for the Titans. Even if they do and he fits well with what Whisenhunt is asking him to do, he has not been accurate or poised enough when he has played. He sometimes tries to do too much and isn’t poised under pressure. Though he moves well and is very fast, putting him on the move puts him at more risk of another injury. Behind him are more question marks. Charlie Whitehurst has had no real success in just 13 games in eight seasons and often fails to step into his throws. Rookie Zach Mettenberger has a great arm but slipped to the sixth round for several reasons and is rotating with Tyler Wilson as the third-team QB. (Update: Wilson was released Wednesday.)

2. The offensive weaponry looks good, but for those five pass-catchers to give the Titans the nice smorgasbord of options, they need to stay healthy. Also, guys like Hunter (second year), Sankey (a rookie) and McCluster (first year with the Titans and Whisenhunt) need to show that their potential and practice play translate into NFL Sundays in a Tennessee uniform. Wright was the best player on offense last season and should grow more. Can the others become known quantities?

Who is the star of the defense? DT-turned-DE Casey is a strong, quick rusher who was healthy and productive in 2013. He is going to land a big-money contract -- either soon from Tennessee or on the market next spring. There are some nice pieces around him, but the Titans need veterans to have their best seasons and youngsters to emerge, all simultaneously. In Georgia, no defender stood out and regularly gave the Falcons more than they could handle.

3. Forty-seven percent of the current 90-man roster has been in the league for two years or less. Youth is generally good, but it needs to be quality youth and it needs to be surrounded by quality veterans. The Titans lack experience in a lot of spots. There aren't kids in camp who weren't high picks but have forced their way up the depth chart to this point.

Maybe it’s a great mix of players and a good share of the inexperienced people can blossom together. But with new coaches and new schemes, it could be asking a lot for all that to happen in the first season.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] EnlargeJake Locker
    Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsJake Locker needs a healthy season if he hopes to become the long-term answer at QB for the Titans.

  • Locker said he feels more comfortable speaking up and being vocal, and he has shown himself to be more confident in how he carries himself. After one throw that looked to be too long for an undrafted rookie, Locker pointed to tell Julian Horton where he should have gone. He still has bad moments in practice, but the preseason has not started, and he is progressing.
  • The Titans have moved running back Jackie Battle to fullback, where he can offer some needed versatility. He appears to have a sizable lead on incumbent Collin Mooney, who has had, at most, a handful of first-team snaps.
  • Among long-shot late additions, veteran receiver Derek Hagan has been consistently good and Brian Robiskie is also gaining notice. He's competing for the fourth and fifth wide receiver spots with Marc Mariani and Michael Preston. Maybe they'll keep six.
  • Sankey is learning quickly how to be a pro, and he has shown a bit of everything the Titans said they expected when they made him the first running back selected in the draft. His first day in pads he looked like an experienced NFL-caliber pass protector. He has good vision and makes good decisions on when to go and when to cut. He also catches the ball well, can run inside and outside.
  • Weakside outside linebacker Shaun Phillips has not worked at all with the first team when Kamerion Wimbley has been practicing.
  • Tommie Campbell was politely mentioned with Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson as a contender for the starting right cornerback spot that opened when Alterraun Verner signed with Tampa Bay. But it’s a two-man competition, and Campbell has struggled horribly.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Seven-on-seven is a standard football drill.

The quarterback and his five eligible receivers (joined by an equipment guy serving as the center) take on the back end of the defense.

The offensive and defensive linemen are elsewhere. It's a pass-rushless passing period.

But seven-on-seven, while still the spirit of the words, is not an accurate game any longer. In the Titans’ new 3-4 defense, there are four linebackers to go with four defensive backs.

It’s seven-on-eight.

It was the same Monday in Atlanta, where the Falcons are also shifting from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense.

“In 3-4, there is always an assumed rusher [out of those eight]," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "So they’re not dropping eight. If they are, we’re going to start running draws.”

Veteran backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst said even with that presumed rusher, the name of the drill is now a misnomer.

“One of those guys is rushing, you’re going to get a four-man rush,” Whitehurst said. "It’s not like they are dropping eight against our five receivers every time. I think that’s the beauty of the 3-4. It stands another guy up that you’ve got to account for. It’s kind of another element to pass protection and in coverage you can do more stuff out of it.

“They do drop eight sometimes, usually take your stuff away down the field, and you’ve got to be proficient with the backs and stuff.”

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