If the Titans don’t finish the season ranked higher than this, owner Bud Adams is probably going to have a double-barreled middle finger salute for a few more people.
The Titans spent a pile of Adams’ money this offseason on free agents this offseason, and he’s made it clear he’s expecting results.
But the questions about whether or to what degree they’ll improve over last year’s 6-10 record remain.
While there are some talented pieces in place, they’ve placed their fortunes (and future jobs) into the hands of quarterback Jake Locker and first-year coordinator Dowell Loggains.
If those two can get on the same page and perform, there are reasons to believe the Titans can be solid.
But to put it simply, if they’re not good, the Titans won’t be either.
The Titans should have an exceptional offensive line, once the new parts blend in.
That should help on multiple levels, giving running back Chris Johnson room to move, and protecting Locker to allow him a chance to make plays.
They also have plentiful threats in the passing game, with a deep receiver group and new acquisition Delanie Walker at tight end. While some of the wideouts haven’t completely earned the trust of coaches, there’s no doubt that the addition of rookie Justin Hunter to go with Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Kevin Walter and Nate Washington give them a talented group to choose from.
Of course, all the parts on offense won’t matter much if Locker can’t get it to them.
He became more accurate last season, but still isn’t to the point he needs to be (55.5 percent career completion percentage). And while his mobility can be an asset, he needs to make better decisions when he’s on the move for this thing to work.
If he falters, they brought in former Bills starter Ryan Fitzpatrick to take over. If that happens, it’s effectively a disaster signal. Fitzpatrick has been acceptable at times, but he’s simply a younger version of the old Matt Hasselbeck, and if he’s playing, the Titans are going nowhere fast.
The Titans also aren’t terribly blessed with pass-rush talent, and should be in the market for a veteran before the start of the regular season. Unless Derrick Morgan continues to progress into a star, or they add someone with proven credentials, their pass rush is going to be a question.
They tried to sign interior linemen hoping to help the problem around the edges from the inside, but without some more personnel, it’s hard to see how it’s going to be enough.
Knowing this was a make-or-break season for many in Nashville, head coach Mike Munchak was willing to bring in veteran defensive assistant Gregg Williams when many would not have touched him in the wake of his bounty related suspension. It’s easy to call it a desperate move.
But while Williams has been trailed by controversy, he’s also been able to get results out of varied personnel in his career.
Much of that comes from the personality he teaches as much as the technique. And while Jerry Gray is still the de jure coordinator, it appears that Williams’ voice is the loudest.
Between his addition and Bernard Pollard’s mouth, the Titans will certainly have a more forceful approach to defense. Whether it translates into wins remains to be seen, but they’ve certainly created a new atmosphere. And when you’re a moderately talented fringe team, a change in attitude can make more of a difference than any change in personnel.
While the Levitre deal was huge, the Titans bought in bulk as well, and some of those free agents are competing to shore up some thin spots.
Former Colts and Eagles linebacker Moise Fokou was working in front of Colin McCarthy in the middle. McCarthy was very good as a rookie, but injuries limited him, and they’re making him win a job back against a solid player rather than simply handing it to him.
There’s also some competition in the middle of the offensive line, with incumbent Fernando Velasco needing to hold off fourth-round pick Brian Schwenke. That’s a good sign, as the lack of depth up front was one of the things that derailed them last season. Schwenke was regarded as a pro-ready prospect, and if Velasco isn’t sharp early, he could lose a job. Either way, the Titans have the chance to be solid in the middle for years to come.
The money the Titans spent was significant, over $100 million worth of total value.
But other than Levitre, many of the guys they signed were just guys, possibly upgrades over players already there, but not impact players.
While that could make the whole of the 53-man roster more competitive, which certainly has a benefit, it also might not make a huge difference in the fortunes of a team.
Hiring Williams was a tacit admission by Munchak that his own job was on the line, one of the last buttons you can push before you’re no longer allowed to push buttons.
If it works, the Titans could conceivably rise to the fringes of the AFC playoff picture.
Of course, that assumes Locker raises his own level, which is the first step toward them becoming respectable. That’s a lot of hope staked to one player, making the margin of error very thin.