NFL 2014 Preview: Tennessee Titans

Jake Locker will be playing under a new head coach in 2014. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Tennessee Titans.

Last year’s record: 7-9

Coach: Ken Whisenhunt

2014 is about… The development of Jake Locker. Considering the Titans didn’t pick up his 2015 option and he will be a free agent after the season, it is truly a make or break year for the fourth-year quarterback. Locker’s erratic play and durability issues have limited his once-promising potential. He has only played 23 games in three pro seasons in which he has a lousy 57.2 completion percentage with only 172.8 yards per game. The Washington product was finally starting to come around last season before suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury. If Locker doesn’t break out, the Titans will move in a different direction at quarterback for 2015—especially considering the new offensive coaching staff had no role in drafting him.

Core players: Jake Locker (QB), Kendall Wright (WR), Jurrell Casey (DT), Chance Warmack (G)

But they lost… Chris Johnson (RB), who used to be the face of franchise, but was never the same player after he got paid; Alterraun Verner (CB), who was the lone Titan selected to the Pro Bowl last year; Kenny Britt (WR), a highly talented receiver who couldn’t stay out of trouble with the law or his previous coaching staff.

Yeah, but they got… Shaun Phillips (OLB), a veteran outside pass rusher who should fit into new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s aggressive 3-4 scheme; Wesley Woodyard, who was a productive inside linebacker with Denver, racking up 298 total tackles and 7.0 sacks over the last three seasons; Dexter McCluster (WR), an undersized but explosive offensive weapon who can line up all over the field.

Growing from within: Bishop Sankey, who was the highest running back drafted this year and will replace Johnson as the feature back; Justin Hunter (WR), a big wideout whose role is expected to expand in a new offence that has historically featured three-receiver packages; Blidi Wreh-Wilson (CB), who played just 93 snaps in his rookie season but is the internal favourite to replace Verner.

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Why this team? Umm… the jerseys are nice? What the Titans do have is a promising young offensive line that includes their past two first-round picks (tackle Taylor Lewan in 2014 and guard Chance Warmack in 2013) that will help open up things for Locker. The Titans quarterback has a chance to return to his early-season 2013 form thanks to an up-and-coming group of skill position players that features a rookie running back (Sankey) and a pair of highly drafted explosive receivers in Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter.

Why not? The Titans are devoid of quality young talent throughout their roster and have massive questions at quarterback. Other than that, everything is just fine. In all seriousness, the Titans have not drafted well enough in recent years, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They lack an elite pass rusher and do not have enough big bodies up front to consistently stop the run. Losing Verner leaves a gaping hole in their pass defence.

Perfect for fans of… Sacramento Kings. Both Sacramento and Tennessee had a solid run with veteran teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but have faded into the oblivion in recent years. Tennessee somehow won seven games last year, but that was mostly a result of a weak AFC conference. Like the Kings, the Titans are a young team with some upside but lack overall star power.

How much hope? 3/10. Despite an impressive new coaching staff, the Titans are much closer to landing the first-overall pick in 2015 than making a playoff run. They lack players that fit their new defensive scheme and are fully banking on a healthy productive year from Locker. If not, all they have behind him on the depth chart is long-time backup Charlie Whitehurst, who has far better hair than football ability.

Will you be mocked for front-running? Absolutely not. The Titans haven’t made a post-season appearance since Kerry Collins was their starting quarterback and have not won a playoff game since the 2003 season.

A Meme To Remember: It’s not only a good movie, but a very accurate reflection of his career:

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