Saturday will be the first (practice) test for the "new and improved" Titans. I'm sure that the team is excited, nervous, and chomping-at-the-bit to start hitting another team. The coaching staff is ready to prove themselves to the organization, but also to the city of Nashville. Finally, and probably most importantly, Jon Robinson is going to be on the edge of his chair to see if the risks he took will help this team escape the dumpster fire lit, dark alley they have lived in for the last two season.
There are going to be some interesting story lines that have already been brewing for the last couple of weeks. First (and most importantly), can this offensive line keep Marcus Mariota from getting pounded into an early retirement. There are the obvious starters in Lewan, Warmack, and Jones. Then there is the rookie, Conklin. He has had a fantastic camp, but can he continue that work when it meets with direct competition? Next, there is the left guard spot that is currently penciled in to Quentin Spain. He is a second-year, off-the-street free agent out of West Virginia. Right now this is obviously the weak point of the line on paper. The depth chart shows the rookie from Arkansas, Sebastian Tretola as the backup and second-year man Andy Gallik bringing up the rear. I have to believe that this is a very close race between these 3 men and it will be interesting to see how many mistakes this coaching staff will allow before making a change. My guess would be that if a veteran guard became available in free agency, that this GM will be more than willing to make the move to acquire them. I wouldn't even rule out a trade if this spot is seen as the difference between rebuilding and the playoffs.
Another storyline that cannot be ignored is wide receiver. Don't expect to see probable slot-receiver Kendall Wright in the mix due to his recent injury, but there are players on this squad that might need to "ball out" in order to make it onto this roster again this year. Yes, Justin Hunter, I'm talking about you. Hunter's University of Tennessee days are well behind him now so his "favorite son" status is long gone. He has been "ok" in camp, but that won't make this team any better, and this front office will not wait any longer for you to find a way to harness your raw talent into a bona fide deep threat. When you have a late-round rookie (Tajae Sharpe) step in and earn the starting slot over Hunter and second-year physical phenom Green-Beckham, that speaks not only to the skills of the rookie, but volumes to how this coaching staff will not put up with someone who isn't willing to put forth their full effort on every play and practice. The wide receiving corp also contains an aging but serviceable veteran in Andre Johnson. He is looking to finish his career on a more positive note than his pedestrian numbers from last season. Let's say that Wright, Sharpe, and free-agent acquisition Rishard Matthews are our starters. That most likely leaves 3 more open slots to fill. DGB, Johnson and Hunter will be competing to fill those spots with Harry Douglas, Andrew Turzilli, and Tre McBride. Douglas will most likely be one of the men on the outside because he hasn't brought enough to the table that will match his veteran salary. Turzilli or McBride will make this team and the other will be placed on the practice squad (as long as they clear waivers). In my opinion, that means Hunter is out unless he can prove his worth throughout the entire preseason. There are also two other receivers (Ben Roberts and Reece Horn) on the chart that won't make the team, but are playing for that chance they might fit in somewhere else.
This team appears to be on the cusp of making a real and meaningful change of direction to move toward a sustained return to playoff contenders. Yes, this may be too much to ask at this stage, but can this game help us as fans move from hoping a team will get better to expecting with few questions that a team will be better. Maybe I'm just tired of never finding that gold at the end of the rainbow, and am now on the edge of demanding a better product on the field at Nissan Stadium.
With all apologies to God and to paraphrase Psalms 23:4, the Tennessee Titans have come through the valley of the shadow of death, but they will fear no evil rivals. For two seasons now the Titans have dealt with inadequate coaching, questionable draft picks, absentee ownership, piss-poor stadium management, and almost zero team leadership. Not to forget, a vast amount of injuries, players playing well below their pay grade, and it even appeared that the hand of God himself was against this team when you throw in the weather at the beginning of this past season. However, through the morass of virtually insurmountable odds this team has hope, and that is a very powerful thing for a NFL fan. So, this is my "far too early season projection" with all the hope (and a dash of reality) I can muster.
The Titans are quite possibly coming off their best offseason in team history. With the hiring of first year GM Jon Robinson, the official hiring of head coach Mike Mularky, and signings of RB DeMarco Murray, C Ben Jones, and WR Rishard Matthews (among others), this team looks more solid across the board. The draft class has yet to prove themselves obviously, but there are some interesting (in a good way) players I can't wait to see on the field. Don't get me wrong, this team is young and has holes that remain to be filled, but no one can say they aren't better than they were over the past two seasons. Let's just hope that translates into more wins and not just another season lost in week 8.
The First Quarter
The first four games of the season start off with a home-away-home-away scenario. The Titans will host the Vikings (week 1) and the Raiders (week 3), and travel to face the Lions (week 2) and Texans (week 4). Three of these teams are on the way up and one appears to be on the way down. The Vikings and Texans made the players in 2015, but both were eliminated in the first round. The Raiders have a hot young QB (Derek Carr) that leads a dynamic offense under head coach Jack Del Rio. Only the Lions appear to be tilting at windmills with the retirement of Calvin Johnson, release of tackling machine Stephen Tulloch (an ex-Titan), and coming off a disappointing 7-9 record.
When you look at the Titans overall record over the past two season, they have had almost miraculous first games each season with wins over the Chiefs (2015) and Buccaneers (2016). Both of those games were away, but now the Titans start this season at home with a resurgent Vikings team that looks to take the next step. QB Teddy Bridgewater seems to have settled in with a better TD/Int ratio and more yards that his 2014 rookie outing. Also, there is RB Adrian Peterson wanting to continue his march toward being an NFL legend. However, the Titans first game history and my new found hope will give this game to the home team. Titans record: 1 - 0
The Titans then travel to Detroit to face a Lions team looking for an identity. Jim Caldwell is a capable coach, but somehow I don't buy into their program. I feel like the retirement of Johnson will leave them searching all season for that dynamic player at wide receiver. A local Nashvillian, Golden Tate might be able to help a little, but I think Johnson's shoes will be too big to fill. So, I predict another Titans victory. Titans record: 2 - 0
The Titans will then return home to host the reborn Raiders. This will be a trap game for the Titans. Hopes will be high and the home crowd will be quietly optimistic. However, the Raiders fans are everywhere, and with the recent history at Nissan Stadium of visiting teams infiltrating our hallowed confines, I think Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and company will deliver the Titans their first defeat of the season. Titans record: 2 - 1
The Titans will then travel to face their hated rival in the Houston Texans. The Texans won the AFC South last season, but that's not saying much since the entire division looked like they were playing hot potato to see who got to go to the playoffs. The Texans also embarrassed themselves by being blanked in the first round of the playoffs against the Chiefs. However, once again, I think the Titans aren't quite ready to travel to a heated rivals home and come away with a win. Titans record: 2 - 2
The Second Quarter
This is when the Titans have the opportunity to show which direction this season will go. They have 3 home games in this stretch (Browns, Colts, and Jaguars) and one away (Dolphins). A good run through these games might just draw the Titans fan base back home like the prodigal children they are.
The Titans start off by traveling to Miami which will still have summer like temperatures in the lower 90's to welcome our heroic bunch. Both of these teams are expecting better things from their respective franchises and it seems like QB Ryan Tannehill always has a great game against our Titans. This will be a close game, maybe the closest of the entire season, but I have to give the edge to the home team. Titans record: 2 - 3
Here is where it gets interesting with the first of a three-game home stand. The Browns come in to Nissan stadium with a team that has yet to really find their long-term QB (sound familiar Titans fans). Although last season gave Johnny Manzel his sole career highlight (almost) with the slashing of the Titans, I believe a change is a blowin' and the Browns are heading in the wrong direction. Titans record: 3 - 3
The second game in this home stand is against another AFC South opponent, the Colts. Even with QB Andrew Luck sidelined with injuries for much of the season, the Colts managed to end last season at .500. This might be the crucible for the entire 2016 season at this point for the Titans. At this point they will be a .500 club themselves and will need to make a statement at home to show we are not to be pushed around any more. Like the kid in school that has been bullied around for years the Titans will need to start throwing hay-makers to get some much needed attention. I think our boys in two-tone blue can shock the AFC South by landing one of those hay-makers right here. Titans record: 4 - 3
The Titans finish out the first half of the season by hosting yet another AFC South rival in the Jaguars. The Jags had a tremendous off season that mirrored the Titans, and even though many are pointing at the Jags huge wins in the draft everyone forgets about their unlucky nature with the injury fairy. I can't believe that this season will be any different and somehow the Titans find a way to beat the Jags. Titans record: 5 - 3
The Third Quarter
This part of the season is going to show whether the Titans can somehow make the playoffs or whether this was just a nice season to build upon. With 3 out of 4 games on the road and the rookies hitting the wall, this is where we will see if there is any true leadership on this team.
The Titans travel out almost as far as they can with a trip to face the Chargers. Even though the Chargers are also a rebuilding franchise, this has historically never been a very kind place for the Titans faithful. Somehow I can't bring myself to think that this year will be any different. The only hope here is if Phillip Rivers is injured and the Titans are facing their old QB in Zach Mettenberger, but I think that won't be the case. Titans record: 5 - 4
Traveling home the next week would normally be a good thing, but the Titans will be facing the powerhouse that is the Packers. I just don't believe that the Titans are ready to take the next step and steal one from a team that makes the playoffs their regular stop every year. Aaron Rodgers will probably throw TD passes to wide receivers no one could name. Because somehow this guy gets it done when it counts. Titans record: 5 - 5
Another AFC South matchup faces the Titans with the season rematch against the Colts. Although I would love to say we can take two from any of our divisional foes, I don't think that if Andrew Luck is healthy the Titans can leave Indianapolis with a win. Titans record: 5 - 6
Here is where the Titans might be able to right the ship (a little). Travelling to face the Bears in late November could be a weather disaster waiting to happen, but here is where I will chalk one up to Mother Nature and global climate change. The weather in Soldier Field will be a beautiful 50 degrees and the Titans will have a big day to bring us back to .500. Titans record: 6 - 6
The Fourth Quarter
The home stretch is a little scary. Three out of our last four opponents were playoff teams in 2015 and two of them are AFC South rivals. A 2 - 2 split would be great, but probably not enough to hope for a coveted spot in the playoffs. I will say that the Titans should have friendlier crowds in their final two home games. Hoping for wins is always an unreliable affair, and having reality check in is more likely the scenario for this team at this point.
Hosting the Super Bowl champions is not how any team would want to start their push for the playoffs, but as the "Nature Boy" would say, "If you want to be 'The Man', you have to beat 'The Man'." At this point the Broncos have question marks all over the QB position, and many believe that rookie Paxton Lynch will be stepping in for "Mr. Butt Fumble" Mark Sanchez by then. I'm not sold on the NFL readiness of Lynch. I think he might be more like a fill-in until they can find a true replacement for legendary Peyton Manning. Ask the Dolphins how long it will take to replace a QB legend. I think some might tell you they don't know yet. However, this Broncos team has a defense that cannot be ignored, and will deliver the
The Titans final two games are against AFC South foes who regularly expect to hand the Titans a loss at this time of year. They start off by travelling to the Jaguars, and always seem to play them close even in years like the last two. However, the Titans seem to always drop games like this especially when they have already beaten them earlier in the season. Here is where I hope I am wrong, but I can't see this team sweeping the Jags either. Titans record: 6 - 9
The final game of the season sees the Texans coming into Nashville, and here is where I'm going pull out my final hope of the season. I don't believe the Texans will be playing for anything (and neither will the Titans for that matter). So, I think the Titans will want to end this season on a positive note by beating this rival and proving to everyone that this team is truly headed in the right direction. I think the Texans still have questions (even if they won't admit it to themselves) at QB, and at this point will already be looking at the 2017 draft to see who will be available to take the helm. Titans final record: 7 - 9
I realize this is probably on the side of "best case scenario" according to most NFL pundits, but something tells me this may be the year for a Titans resurgence. When the Titans rely on the run and have a dominating offensive line is when good things happen. I believe both of these things will prove to be true in the 2016 season. Marcus Mariota will continue his maturation and will stay healthy for the entire season. Dick LaBeau will make this defense a legitimate force thus reinforcing his mythical status as a defensive genius. Head Coach Mike Mularky will show that he deserves one more season to prove he can create a winner in Nashville. Finally, the Titans fans can come out of the closet wearing their Titans' gear to proudly display their love for their team in front of friends and family. No longer will this team be met with laughter and PSL owners will no longer feel abject disgust when the Titans are mentioned in front of other sports fans, and local churches will no longer need to have special prayer groups to pray for a swift and painless end to the season. The Titans faithful can now feel motivated to stay until the end of home games. The main thing I want to do is look back on this season and say, "Welcome back Titans, we missed you!"
The Tennessee Titans Trade #1 overall, #113 overall (4th round), and #177 overall (6th round) to the Los Angelos Rams for #15 overall, #43 overall (2nd round), #45 overall (2nd round), #76 overall (3rd round) in the 2016 draft, and the Rams 1st and 3rd round picks from 2017. With this trade the Titans have 6 picks in the first 76.
"I'm not scared to do what's best for this football team," said Titans GM Jon Robinson.
This gives the Titans more "currency" to possibly move up and get a player the team was targeting from the beginning. Robinson said it is not out of the question for the team to move back up and get the player they would have taken at #1 and still have high picks remaining.