Training camp is rapidly approaching for the Tennessee Titans and the 31 other NFL teams, with goals of preparing for the regular season on the docket.
As for the Titans, they have several objectives in all three phases of the game to hone in on during camp and preseason.
The Titans will be forced to retool in several areas, because of key personnel losses this offseason.
Gone are leading rusher Travis Henry — whose $8 million roster bonus was not picked up — as well as leading receiver Drew Bennett and slot receiver Bobby Wade, both of whom received bigger paydays elsewhere.
Perhaps Tennessee’s biggest loss is that of cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, suspended for the entire season because of numerous off-field transgressions and his failure to report two arrests to the club or the NFL. Jones not only was the Titans’ best cover cornerback, excelling in man-to-man coverage, but he also was a dynamic return man whose talents in that area won’t likely be replaced.
Let’s examine what some of the Titans’ biggest goals will be during training camp and preseason.
The Titans’ offense will revolve around Vince Young and his marvelous athletic talent that showed through enough last year to earn him NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Young’s receivers are unproven and will need to improve in a major way for the Titans to offset losing Bennett and Wade, as well as David Givens, whose serious knee injury has his entire 2007 season in jeopardy.
However, finding receivers to assist Young’s growth and development won’t be the biggest offensive issue of training camp. Finding a running back to take the pressure off Young and the passing game will be.
The Titans re-signed Chris Brown last month to give themselves a veteran presence to go with youngsters LenDale White and Chris Henry.
Tennessee’s choices currently are Brown, whose pride took a hit last year when he fell to third on the depth chart; White, whose weight and health issues have called his reliability into question; and Henry, a rookie who shows loads of flash, but had no real body of work in college to draw from.
Whoever wins the job will run behind a strong offensive line, and that will help the running game considerably.
The best case scenario is that Brown or White seize the job, stay healthy, and hold onto it like Travis Henry did last season.
The worst case scenario is that Brown and White prove injury-prone, forcing the Titans to go with Chris Henry perhaps earlier than they would like.
Defensively, the Titans struggled both against the run and the pass last year. Thus, they have a two-fold mission on defense —to improve in both areas and somehow do that minus their top playmaker in Jones.
If Albert Haynesworth can play a full 16 games, it will be a strong start in helping to solidify the defense against the run. The Titans also hope that either Ryan Fowler or Stephen Tulloch can develop into a solid run-stuffer at middle linebacker.
Either way, the Titans’ front seven must play better against the run than it did a year ago.
Against the pass, the Titans have to get production at end opposite Kyle Vanden Bosch, and also need more pressure from the interior, which they hope Rien Long, back from an Achilles injury, can help provide.
In the secondary, Tennessee signed Nick Harper and Kelly Herndon and the team also is attempting to convert No. 1 pick Michael Griffin from safety to cornerback. The coaches probably won’t admit it, but with the personnel on hand and the loss of Jones, they will likely play more cover two zone this season. That would potentially accomplish two things — cut down on the big gains surrendered and produce more interceptions.
With Jones gone, the return units are back in protect mode, much like they were during the time between Derrick Mason’s heyday as a returner and the arrival of Jones two years ago. That means fewer risks, but also fewer rewards in the form of long returns that can change field position or produce cheap touchdowns.
One area of emphasis this offseason on special teams was the addition of experienced veterans there, such as Fowler and Bryan Scott. Those additions could help shore up the coverage units and perhaps help on returns as well.