Last week, The City Paper brought out five reasons to be optimistic for the coming season for the Tennessee Titans.
So to be fair and balanced in our approach, it is time to show five reasons why the Titans should be concerned about the 2009 season with training camp approximately six weeks away.
1. Albert Haynesworth is gone
Yes, the Titans have moved to try and fill the void left by the massive defensive tackle’s departure, signing Jovan Haye of Vanderbilt, drafting Sen’Derrick Marks in the second round and asking Jason Jones to step into a bigger role.
However, until one or more of those players step up and fill the void, the specter of Haynesworth will remain, even if he washes out in Washington.
Critics of Haynesworth’s game often point out that the 6-foot-5, 330-pounder sometimes took plays off during the course of a game. And while that argument may have some merit, the fact remains that Haynesworth still occupied two blockers a good part of the time on defense.
Opposing offensive coordinators and line coaches didn’t know which plays Haynesworth might be “resting” on, so they still had to find ways to scheme around him. The Titans can be more creative to find ways to compensate for Haynesworth’s loss, but outright replacing him won’t be easy to do.
2. Team is back to ‘square one’
For most of the regular season, even through mid-December, the Titans wore the look of a bona fide Super Bowl team. But when turnovers foiled their hopes in the playoffs against Baltimore, the Titans were left to wonder what might have been.
While that loss certainly should be motivation to return to the postseason and atone for what happened against the Ravens, everyone who follows the NFL knows there are no guarantees whatsoever.
Last year’s 13-3 can become this year’s 8-8 with a key injury or two here, a bad bounce or bad call there. Likewise, a team that was 6-10 a year ago could catch enough breaks to launch itself into the title chase.
Here’s the rub: In order to get back to the playoffs with a chance to redeem themselves for last year’s slip-up, the Titans must first take care of business again in the regular season to earn that chance.
3. Championship window may be closing
The Titans are in the middle of a window of opportunity to try and win a championship, but who knows how long that window will stay open. Haynesworth was allowed to walk out the door, and the team’s free agent list at the end of 2009 is a large one with many key names on it.
How ‘key’ and how many? Consider this: Kyle Vanden Bosch, Keith Bulluck, Kevin Mawae, Eugene Amano, Nick Harper, Jevon Kearse, Dave Ball, Tony Brown, Bo Scaife, Alge Crumpler, Stephen Tulloch and LenDale White are among the Titans players whose contracts are up at the end of the upcoming season.
Sure, some could be re-signed, and others, if there is no new collective bargaining agreement, would be reverted to restricted free agents, but in any regard, that list of names is a healthy chunk of the players who have been vital contributors to the Titans’ latest round of success.
4. Injuries could be a concern
Last year, the Titans were blessed to play relatively injury-free football, especially when it came to major season-ending type injuries. The same thing holds true this season in many key areas.
While there is plenty of depth on the offensive and defensive lines, there has to be at least some concern in other spots where only rookies and unproven players rest behind the starters. Barring someone making a major move forward in camp and preseason, depth could be an issue behind the starters in the secondary, along with nickelback Vincent Fuller.
Tennessee is as solid as they come across the back line with Cortland Finnegan and Nick Harper at corners, Michael Griffin and Chris Hope at safety. But if one of the corners were to miss time, the Titans would have to hope that unproven Cary Williams, newcomer DeMarcus Faggins or a rookie steps up and fills the void.
An injury at safety would likely shift Fuller out of his nickelback role and force all kinds of shuffling in sub-packages.
At linebacker, except for Ryan Fowler, there is little experience behind the starters.
On offense, the Titans could ill afford many injuries in the receiving corps, and especially losing Chris Johnson without changing the complexion of the offense itself.
Developing depth across the board in training camp is a must for the Titans this preseason.
5. Team might take time to jell
The Titans seem to be excited about the additions at wide receiver with free agent Nate Washington and first-round pick Kenny Britt of Rutgers. The Titans deal in a timing offense, and Washington already has admitted that he has to relearn his approach to route-running in order to fit into offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger’s system.
Britt has plenty of athletic ability and should be able to contribute something right away, but he is still a rookie, and rookie wide receivers often face the biggest learning curve this side of quarterbacks in order to adjust to the professional game.
In time, the bolstering of the receiving corps should be a plus for Tennessee. But flawless execution immediately might be a bit much to ask of a team that still emphasizes a run-first approach on offense.