Training camp is still about seven weeks away, and not even the OTAs are going on right now, but for those in need of a football fix, it’s time to examine the Tennessee Titans roster to see what might lie ahead for the 2009 season.
Today, we’ll take a look at five reasons Titans fans should be excited about the upcoming season, especially on the heels of a 13-3 finish a year ago that surprised many and carried the team into the AFC Divisional Playoffs with a No. 1 seed.
There haven’t been many major changes on the Tennessee roster, with the notable exception of Albert Haynesworth’s departure, and the pickup of a couple of new wide receivers, so let’s take a glance at what Titans fans have to look forward to this season.
1.The entire offensive line returns intact
While the defensive line got a great deal of the attention last season in Tennessee, the offensive line was the unsung unit of the bunch. Despite having two All-Pros in Michael Roos and Kevin Mawae, the Titans o-line didn’t garner the spotlight all that much, even as the team as Chris Johnson and LenDale White combined for nearly 2,000 yards rushing, and Kerry Collins was sacked just eight times all season.
The Titans return all five starters from a year ago, and, with the exception of the veteran Mawae, who is recovering from elbow surgery, the other four players are all young and potentially still on the ascent in their careers. Roos and right tackle David Stewart are both potential stars taken from the same 2005 draft.
2. Kyle Vanden Bosch is healthy
Consider this: The Titans went 13-3 last season, thanks in large part to a defensive line that was missing its leader for a good portion of the year. Vanden Bosch suffered a groin injury in early October that limited him for the remainder of 2008 and even required surgery in December. Vanden Bosch was never himself last season, and his return to form this year might be the biggest factor in helping to offset the loss of Haynesworth, even though the play different positions and fill different roles on the defensive line.
If Vanden Bosch returns to his usual 10-12 sacks per season, the Titans defense can roll on without missing a beat. And judging from the early returns of OTAs, Vanden Bosch appears to be running as well as ever, even as he has turned 30 years old.
3. Kerry Collins is the starter from the start
Collins did an admirable job last year, coming in once Vince Young went out of the lineup in the season opener and helping Tennessee to a 13-3 record. Collins admitted he was doing what he could throughout the season to make sure that this was “his” team, and confidence in his leadership grew throughout the locker room as the season wore on.
Now, Collins, armed with a new two-year contract, enters this off-season in a position he has never really had as a Titan _ knowing he has the keys to the team for the duration of the season barring injury. Remember, when he arrived in 2006, he had to learn on the fly, when the coaches gave up on Billy Volek in preseason, and had Young, with owner Bud Adams’ blessing, looking over his shoulder that entire year. When the Titans fell out of the game 0-3, the Titans turned the team over to Young, and it stayed that way until last year’s episode that forced the Titans back to Collins.
This year, there won’t be a camp competition, no one looking over Collins’ shoulder if he has a bad game or two or any of that, just a settled quarterback surrounded by a good young team that is striving to get better.
4. Improvement from the receivers
OK, this isn’t a given, certainly with the Titans past track record here with free agents and high draft picks. But at least Tennessee has made a conscious effort to address the situation, drafting Kenny Britt with the first-round pick, and signing Nate Washington to a six-year, $27 million deal. Justin Gage simply needs to stay healthy for 16 games to better his totals, and gone are Justin McCareins, whose return trip didn’t produce the numbers the Titans hoped for, and inconsistent Brandon Jones, whose flashes of talent apparently teased the Titans one too many times.
Beyond the top three receivers, depth is still spotty, though the Titans are considering Drew Bennett, if Lavelle Hawkins doesn’t emerge the way they hope. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger rarely plays more than three or four receivers in a game anyway, so barring injury, there is reason for optimism.
5. This team is hungry
OK, if you must, insert your cheesy LenDale White joke here, but the truth of the matter is, the Titans know they blew a golden opportunity in ’08 with costly fumbles by White and Alge Crumpler in the playoff loss to Baltimore. Both players have vowed to do what they can to atone for their miscues, and the entire organization believes they left a lot of unfinished business on the table that day.
There are no guarantees of a return to the playoffs this year, but history has shown recently that teams who have squandered a top seed like Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, have rebounded the following year to have Super Bowl success. If you believe in karma, maybe the Titans can atone for last year by following the Steelers and Colts model for ’09.