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.