Dear Tennessee Titans draft class of 2007: You are now officially on notice.
That’s because by this weekend, there will be a whole new crop of rookies who will come in and try to make an impression on coaches and earn themselves a role on the 2008 edition of the Titans come this fall.
Michael Griffin, you don’t have to worry. You’re firmly established in the starting lineup at free safety, probably for the next half dozen years or so, as long as the coaches can resist the urge to move you back to cornerback if the need arises.
The same can’t be said for the rest of the group of 2007, as their contributions beyond special teams were only minimal, and in some cases non-existent.
Granted, the climate changed around Baptist Sports Park last year from the way the 2004-06 classes received a baptism by fire with many being thrown into the lineup before they were really ready to do so. The Titans didn’t need to throw as many of their rookies into the fray early on as in years past.
Still, other than Griffin, only guard Leroy Harris from last year’s rookie crop appears assured of challenging for a starting role for the coming season.
Others are simply trying to force their way into the mix and find a role, hoping not to be — to use a college term — “recruited over” by the incoming class of 2008.
General manager Mike Reinfeldt admitted last week that it is time for the young players on the roster to step up and make valuable contributions in order for the Titans to take the next step as a contending franchise.
Receiver Paul Williams, who did not play a single down as a rookie, will be on the spot to show he can quickly adapt to Mike Heimerdinger’s system and take some playing time away from the veterans ahead of him. Ditto for Chris Davis, who showed flashes in the slot, but may be in danger of losing his shaky hold on the punt return job to free agent Chris Carr or a draft pick from this weekend.
Running back Chris Henry, last year’s second-rounder, will likely find competition nipping at his heels once the weekend is over, as the Titans will probably add another running back to the mix with one of their picks. How soon that pick is made might determine the organization’s feelings about Henry’s long-term future as a Titan.
As for defensive tackle Antonio Johnson and end Jacob Ford, the jury is still way out because of training camp injuries that derailed them before the season even began. One or both could eventually make an impact, but they will likely to find a rookie or two battling with them come camp time.
The same thing goes for rookie offensive lineman Mike Otto, who spent most of 2007 on the practice squad, a common practice as the Titans try to develop long-term depth across the line.
While the focus this weekend will be on the newcomers, last year’s group will be worth monitoring for progress as well, to see who develops and contributes and who falls through the cracks.