It’s tough to know what to expect from the Titans in 2010.
They went 8-8 last season, which means they’re not far from being a winning team or a losing team. Compounding the confusion is the fact that they had a six-game losing streak and a five-game win streak along the way.
The process of sorting it all out begins this week. Players report for the start of training camp on Friday and take the field for the first time Saturday.
Once again, the majority of training camp workouts at their MetroCenter headquarters will be open to the public. But with more than 80 players in action, it can be difficult for those who attend to know what to watch for.
Thus The City Paper offers the following, a look at some players and positions that might be critical to the team’s ultimate success — or failure — this fall.
Something to prove
• Vince Young, quarterback: The last time he entered a season as the starting quarterback (2008) he imploded, both personally and professionally.
Offseason optimism about his maturity and attitude were tempered when he was cited for an incident at a Dallas strip club. He has put up some quality numbers — a 26-13 record as a starter, 11 victories (six last season) when the team was tied or trailed in the fourth quarter, and a pair of playoff appearances — but still has to show the consistency that will convince fans and management that he is a long-term solution.
• David Thornton, linebacker: He missed five games last fall, including the last three, and then all of the offseason workouts because of health issues. His statistics have declined each of the past two seasons, and he’ll turn 32 before the end of the season.
It’s vital for him to get off to a good start at camp, stay healthy and show that he still can be a productive member of the team.
• Chris Simms, quarterback: He’s a veteran who’s currently third on the depth chart with a proven performer ahead of him (Kerry Collins) and a draft pick who shows a lot of promise behind him (Rusty Smith).
An offseason arrest in New York City (he was charged with driving under the influence of marijuana) weakened his already tenuous hold on a roster spot.
Key position battles
• Left cornerback: Cortland Finnegan is an established playmaker on the right side, but who will play opposite him is anybody’s guess.
Free agent Tye Hill (he had a hamstring injury in June), second-year players Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty (both struggled when given the opportunity in 2009) and Alterraun Verner (a rookie) will sort it out. McCourty got much more work with the first team than the others during the offseason.
• Wide receiver: Forget the top of the depth chart: Justin Gage, Nate Washington and Kenny Britt are locked into the top three spots, although Britt will have to be better than he was for many of the offseason workouts.
Behind them is a scramble. In previous seasons, coaches have kept as many as seven wide receivers on the active roster, but to do so has meant fewer bodies at other spots.
With two 2010 draft picks (Damian Williams and Marc Mariani) as well as inexperienced veterans Paul Williams, Lavelle Hawkins and Dominique Edison, there is at least one too many.
• Linebacker: Thornton’s injury opened the door for second-year player Gerald McRath, who had an outstanding offseason before the league suspended him for the first four games of the season.
Somebody has to be groomed to start the season: Thornton, veteran Jamie Winborn or draft pick Rennie Curran.
Rookies to watch
• Derrick Morgan, defensive end (first round): Titans fans learned with Jevon Kearse in 1999 that a first-year player could make a big impact at
Morgan, like Kearse, felt he should have been drafted sooner than he was. Then a post-draft injury and an off-the-field issue minimized his offseason efforts. Expect him to try to make an impression early and often in camp.
• Mariani, wide receiver (seventh round): No draft pick had players and coaches talking more during offseason workouts than the one-time walk-on at Montana.
He runs precise routes, which gave the quarterbacks confidence to throw in his direction, and catches the ball cleanly and with his hands when they do. He offers some promise in the return game. He looked like a practice squad candidate on draft days but will get a long look for a roster spot over the next few weeks.
• Alterraun Verner, cornerback (fourth round): The Titans learned the hard way last season that experience counts when it comes to playing cornerback. Nonetheless, the UCLA product will get a chance to earn a starting spot. He’s smart, athletic and very competitive.