The Tennessee Titans are coming off a disappointing 6-10 2012 campaign looking for a major rebound back into playoff contention. The team was extremely active this off season overhauling their roster through free agency and the draft.
The answers to these four questions will go a long way toward determining the success of the Titans in 2013:
1. Is Jake Locker the answer? Matt Hasselbeck is gone, having signed in Indianapolis as Andrew Luck's backup/mentor. His departure means the Titans' 2011 number one pick has the quarterback position all to himself. The question is whether or not that's a good thing.
Locker has been inconsistent at best in his two years under center. He has the arm and the athletic ability to make plays and drive opposing defensive coordinators nuts. He's also tended to stare down receivers (his pick six against the Colts last season) and try to force passes into tight windows resulting in costly turnovers.
Tennessee signed Ryan Fitzpatrick who was let go by Buffalo. Fitzpatrick doesn't have the experience that Hasselbeck brought to the table as a mentor, and if pressed into action, he's shown himself to be just as mercurial as Locker.
With a rich class in quarterbacks expected in the 2014 NFL Draft, this may be Locker's time to answer the bell…or else. Tennessee owner Bud Adams is getting older and is pulling out the stops to make a Super Bowl run before his time comes. He likely won't have much patience with Locker if he continues to struggle.
2. Will Kenny Britt ever be a legitimate deep threat again? The Titans' number one wideout returned last season from the knee injury that sidelined him for most of 2011. Britt stayed healthy, but showed a noticeable drop off in his production last season. His yards per game totals were almost half of what he had produced in previous years and his yards per catch numbers were way down.
Britt didn't shrink from his 6'3" frame, but his long strides got a little shorter in 2012. Britt didn't record a catch over 50 yards for the first time in his career. If Britt isn't Locker's deep threat, there's not one that immediately shows up on the roster to take his place.
3. Will the overhauled offensive line mean the return of the old Chris Johnson? Not that long ago, Chris Johnson was among the most feared offensive weapons in the NFL. His 2000 yard season in 2009 was a sight to behold and his 38 combined touchdowns rushing and receiving his first three years put him in the elite of NFL scoring threats any time he got his hands on the ball.
His numbers rebounded a bit last season, but Johnson still hasn't looked like the back he was before signing his most recent contract. Tennessee has completely revamped its offensive line, particularly on the interior, signing former Bills guard Andy Levitre and drafting Alabama's Chance Warmack.
Will this mean Johnson getting to second level more often where his blazing speed can leave linebackers in the dust? The Titans certainly hope so.
Tennessee also added former Jets pounder Shonn Greene to give Johnson a breather and as a short yardage specialist. They should be much improved in their ability to run the football.
4. Can the Titans' defense stop anybody? Tennessee finished 27th in the NFL in total defense and surrendered the most points in the league last season, the major reason for their poor record. AFC South offenses haven't gotten any less formidable in the off season, so the Titans' defensive unit will once again be challenged to corral their division rivals.
Tennessee has two outstanding edge rushers in Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan. In fact, their front seven is very respectable when healthy. It's the secondary that has struggled.
After letting Courtland Finnegan leave via free agency, the Titans struggled defending the pass. Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner return at CB with a revamped safety corps. Athletic veteran Michael Griffin will be joined by hard-hitting former Ravens safety Bernard Pollard.
Tennessee looks to be improved for 2013. The answers to these questions will let us know if that just gets them closer to .500, or if Tennessee can make a legitimate playoff push.
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