With the preseason beginning and the offense aiming to be more successful than ever, the Titans are ready for their preseason opener against the Redskins in Nashville. But what should fans and analysts look for during the game besides touchdowns?
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The Titans start their 2013 preseason against the RGIII-less Washington Redskins. Although the star quarterback will be absent, the Titans will still have their hands full with a good team to test the starters and inspect the backups. Here are five things to look for on Thursday night on offense.
1. The Offensive Line
I am so excited for this offensive line. It has the potential to be better than the 2009 line that paved the way for Chris Johnson’s 2,006 yard season. Left tackle, Michael Roos, and right tackle, David Stewart, are a dynamic duo and now have a strong interior line to help support them. The former Buffalo Bill, Andy Levitre, will take over the left guard position which has been occupied by someone different for the past several seasons (Eugene Amano, Leroy Harris, and Steve Hutchinson). The star free-agent signing will really solidify the left guard position, while the rookie out of Alabama, Chance Warmack, will lock down the right side. Warmack won three National Championships in Alabama and is really excited to learn under two Hall of Fame offensive linemen, Offensive Line Coach Bruce Matthews, and Head Coach Mike Munchak.
The center position is the only position on the offensive line that is being competed for. Last year’s starter at center, Fernando Velasco, is fighting to keep the spot that he had to fight from the bottom of the depth chart to earn. He is competing with the 2013 fourth-round pick, Brian Schwenke, out of the University of California, who is known for his aggressiveness, which the Titans have lacked since 2009’s center, Kevin Mawae. Free-agent signing, Rob Turner, is also in the mix for the center position. The veteran started all 16 games last season at guard and center for the St. Louis Rams, but many Titans fans expected him to be merely a depth signing during the free agency period. Now with training camp underway, he has gotten many snaps with the first team offense and has a legitimate chance to take the job from Fernando Velasco.
The focus during tomorrow’s game for the offensive line will not just be on the center position, but also on the chemistry of the line. The group has not worked well in the past several seasons and has been a problem for the team, especially in 2012 when they (and their injuries) were one of the main reasons for many of the team’s (10) losses.
2. Jake Locker
No surprise here. Jake Locker has to improve in 2013 to keep his starting job in Tennessee. He has what should be a very good offensive line, with many weapons in Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, and Nate Washington. Locker has looked impressive and much improved during training camp, while still making mistakes and over-throwing receivers.
Locker has had all offseason to improve his footwork, learn to go through his progressions, and make better decisions. Now that he is no longer hampered by his left shoulder injury, he should be able to be more focused on the field and less worried about re-injuring his non-throwing side.
3. The Plays
One thing that will make Jake Locker’s life easier is Offensive Coordinator Dowell Loggains’s new playbook. Last year’s coordinator, Chris Palmer, conducted a very complex offense with many option routes, leaving plenty of room for mistakes for the quarterback and the young receivers. Now, Loggains has implemented his own simpler offense. Although there will surely be some trick plays with more complex plays, the offense is designed to involve less thinking so that the offense can move faster and more efficiently.
The offense is also supposed to be more run-oriented. With the new and improved offensive line, the Titans should be able to run the ball extremely efficiently and will likely take advantage of it. The Titans are expected to make the return of the Chris Johnson/LenDale White combination called “Smash and Dash.” Now with former Jets running back, Shonn Greene, in Tennessee for short yardage plays, the team will be able to go back to the two-back system of “Smash and Dash.” With this duo present, Loggains will likely call many run plays on third down and on the goal line.
4. The Receivers
It’s finally time for the Titans to have the elite receiving corps that many fans have been expecting for years. Nate Washington is a proven and reliable starter along with Kenny Britt, who looks to return to his post-injury 2011 form. Fans will need to watch Britt and see if he has returned to his former self.
The other receivers to watch are the young ones. The 2012 first-round pick, Kendall Wright, looks to be the speedy receiver that the Titans expected when they drafted him out of Baylor. Wright has dropped 15 pounds this offseason and looks shiftier in training camp. The Titans will likely use him in the slot and to sprint down-field to catch the deep bomb.
This year’s second-round pick, Justin Hunter, is also a focal point of the offense. The former Tennessee Volunteer looks to improve, as reports say that he has struggled with the offense and some drops. Hunter doesn't appear to be a diva, but he didn't practice much during OTAs due to an injured hamstring, which Receivers Coach, Shawn Jefferson, criticized him for. Hunter will likely use the preseason to become more consistent.
The backup receivers are also fighting for roster spots. Undrafted player, Mike Preston, will be using the preseason to build off of his success in OTAs and training camp. He has a chance to make the 53-man roster, as he has been very impressive thus far during the offseason since being signed by Tennessee in 2011. He will be battling Pro Bowl return man, Marc Mariani, who sustained a season-ending injury last preseason. Mariani has struggled with the offensive side of the ball but has excelled in special teams. Reports suggest that Mariani has improved during the offseason as a receiver but has still shown signs of his 2012 injury. He will need a strong preseason to remain on the roster, as the Titans have many other kick returning options in guys like Darius Reynaud and Damian Williams.
5. Taylor Thompson
With Delanie Walker injured and Craig Stevens taking many reps at fullback, the second-year player, Taylor Thompson, has been given many opportunities this offseason to adjust to being a starting tight end. The former defensive end is known for his ruthless blocking and freakish athletic ability.
During the Titans/Lions game of 2012, Thompson (#84) laid a devastating block to allow Darius Reynaud to score a 105-yard kick return touchdown.
Thompson is expected to continue to apply this blocking to the run game, as he has been very good at blocking in his limited time at tight end.
Thompson is also known for his freakish athletic ability that came with being a defensive end in college. The Titans drafted him out of SMU to play defensive end, as they expected him to fill the role of the hybrid Jimmy Graham-like player. Despite his phenomenal ability, Thompson struggled in 2012 with the basics of being a receiver- catching and running routes. Now, reports out of Titans training camp show that he has improved these aspects of his game and will likely see significantly more playing with Stevens possibly pushing the other fullbacks off the roster.