Five Concerns for the 2013 Tennessee Titans
Oh my goodness. These injuries scare the Titans fan in me. Many teams experience injuries during the offseason, but the Titans have been experiencing too many for it not even being the preseason yet. Free agent signing, tight end Delanie Walker, former 49er, is beginning the preseason of the Physically Unable to Perform list, along with other teammates: right tackle, David Stewart; running back, Chris Johnson (ankle); left guard, Andy Levitre; wide receiver, Justin Hunter.
The most concerning injury is the re-injury of middle linebacker, Colin McCarthy. McCarthy only played in seven games in 2012, while struggling with an ankle injury sustained in the 2012 season opener against the New England Patriots and a concussion sustained later in the season. McCarthy had surgery on the ankle that ruined his NFL sophomore season earlier in the offseason. This ankle injury has possibly led to the injury of McCarthy's hamstring. McCarthy, the 2012 defensive captain, is now expected to miss at least one preseason game with this new injury.
Free agent signing, Moise Fokou, has been replacing McCarthy in the 1st-team reps during OTAs and training camp and has looked good; however, Fokou is no McCarthy. Colin's injury is so frustrating for Titans fans because of what he is able to do when on the field. In 13 games in 2011 as a rookie, McCarthy recorded 68 tackles, 13 deflected passes, one interception, and 2 forced fumbles. McCarthy's injuries prevented him from making that kind of impact in 2012; however, in only seven games, he recorded 38 tackles and returned a Ryan Tannehill interception for a touchdown. These numbers are not horrible for only playing seven games, but they are not what Titans fans expected from their young playmaker.
With a healthy team, the Titans should be a scary force in the AFC South; however, if the Titans are plagued by injuries, as they were in 2012 and the offseason of 2013, they could be in some major trouble.
2. Jake Locker
Let me clarify first- I love Jake Locker. He is my man-crush; however, I am being realistic here. Jake Locker is not an elite quarterback (yet). He's not even a top 20 QB (yet); however he is extremely talented. His talent, work ethic, maturity, and leadership are amazing. The one thing he is missing is the mechanics of an elite quarterback.
Locker struggles with the decision making and progressions. He isn't able to look through his progressions and make the right decision consistently (yet). His accuracy is sketchy, and he throws the ball too high often, even according to some reports from Titans training camp in 2013. His footwork is not that of an elite quarterback either. He threw too many interceptions in 2012 and had a poor completion percentage. Locker did not play very well in 2012, and if he plays the same in 2013, he likely will not have that same opportunity in Tennessee in 2014. Locker's inexperience and failure to make good pre-snap reads also led to his injury against the Houston Texans, which left him with an injured left shoulder for the whole 2012 season.
Jake Locker isn't a bad quarterback, but he is inexperienced. He's only started 11 games in his two seasons in the NFL, and all of those starts were in 2012. Locker's inexperience could be the Achilles' Heel of the Tennessee Titans in 2013. He is surrounded by fantastic weapons and a great offensive line, and there is no excuse for him to not perform well in his third season in the NFL.
3. Tough Schedule
This schedule is tough. The Titans have few easy games (such as the New York Jets), but they also are going up against some very difficult opponents. They have 8 games against teams that have been in the playoffs in the past two seasons, and they also play the San Diego Chargers, a team that the franchise has never beaten since moving to Tennessee. The Titans will have to travel to Pittsburgh, Houston, Seattle, St. Louis, Oakland, Indianapolis, Denver, and Jacksonville. Although the Titans have improved drastically on paper during the offseason, they will have some very difficult games in 2013 that the 2012 Titans would definitely had been blown out by, as they were by the Bears and Packers.
The Pittsburgh, Houston, Kansas City, Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Denver defenses will likely be very difficult for young Jake Locker. His ability to stay calm and be "clutch" will be the determining factors in these games, as he will have to probably keep up in shootouts with the likes of Kaepernick, Wilson, Luck, and Manning.
If the Titans can compete well against these teams, they will be a legitimate threat in the playoffs; however, if they do not play to they best of their abilities, these strong teams will definitely be victorious.
4. Young Players
In today's NFL, young players are able to contribute immediately and help lead teams to the playoffs. With this in mind, these young men are still human beings and are more susceptible to making mistakes than their veteran teammates. The Titans are not lacking young players, as six of their starters have been drafted within the past three seasons, including Jake Locker, Colin McCarthy, Kendall Wright (wide receiver), Chance Warmack (right guard), Zach Brown (outside linebacker), Akeem Ayers (outside linebacker), and Jurrell Casey (defensive tackle). Even more of the rotational players that will get a lot of play time are draftees from the past three seasons, including Justin Hunter, Taylor Thompson (tight end), Mike Martin (defensive tackle), Tommie Campbell (cornerback), Coty Sensabaugh (cornerback), and more.
These young guys are all very talented and capable of doing very well on the field; however, they are still young players. Their lack of experience will likely lead to mistakes that many veterans do not make. Only four of the Titans' starters are 30 years old or older (George Wilson, Michael Roos, David Stewart, and Rob Bironas). This team is very young, which could be a problem in 2013, as it was in 2012.
Oh, the schemes. The schemes on offense and defense were a major issue for the Tennessee Titans in 2012. Former offensive coordinator, Chris Palmer's offense was too complicated with many option routes. This did not combine well with young receivers and an inexperienced quarterback in Jake Locker. This led to many incomplete passes and interceptions. New offensive coordinate, Dowell Loggains, has said that there will be a simpler offense in 2013; however, will it be dynamic enough to win games? It appears to be doing well in training camps... but training camp is training camp.
The defense was atrocious in 2012. They allowed more points than any other team this past season. The defense suffered from Jerry Gray's "vanilla" schemes, which had the cornerbacks lined up many yards off of the receivers. Jerry Gray and new assistant and former Saints defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, have stated that the defense will be more aggressive with more press coverage. This press coverage should solve a lot of problems that plagued the Titans in 2012, but they may not have the cornerbacks to execute this new style. Jason McCourty is a very solid corner, but he is only one. Third-year veteran, Tommie Campbell, has the physical build and speed to be an elite cornerback in today's NFL, but he does not cover that well and commits a lot of dumb penalties. He may not be capable of taking Alterraun Verner's starting spot. Verner, himself, may not be capable of being a press corner. With a 5'10", 187 pound frame, Verner is very small for cornerback that will have to face the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin, and Reggie Wayne. Verner is very intelligent and does not commit dumb penalties, as Campbell does, but his ability to cover in this scheme is questioned by many. The Titans may not be able to cover receivers with a questionable cornerback group.
The Titans are likely to do very well in 2013, as they have improved drastically; however, there are some underlying causes behind every losing team, and these are the possibilities of what could prevent the Titans from pushing a playoff berth in the 2013-2014 season.