September 1, 2011; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Karl Klug (97) is congratulated by teammates following a safety against the New Orleans Saints in the first quarter during a preseason game at the Louisiana Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-US PRESSWIRE

Young Talent Must Shine Through For Tennessee Titans

Last year we saw glimpses of the future from the Tennessee Titans. Some glimpses showed apparent progression from young players, becoming the team’s “present”. Others showed stagnated growth, causing players to lose playing time and showing us that they can’t be counted on as we thought they would. Then there’s the young guns who still need to refine their game and/or their bodies to be able to contribute more consistently.

Along come this year’s rookies and the Titans are looking at a flux of young players eager to hit the field. Spots are limited, with veteran players also fighting for them. There aren’t many guaranteed spots on this roster, with the main ones being most of the offensive line and the defensive backfield.

Still, there are jobs to be won and lost. For the Titans’ sake we better hope that they’re won. And won by hungry football players.

Danny Tuccitto and Rivers McCown of Football Outsiders recently took a look at the young talent around the NFL, and the Titans surprisingly (to non-Titans fans) placed 7th in their rankings. Pretty impressive for a team that many are writing off so early in the offseason. They talk about the obvious young studs, such as Jake Locker, Kenny Britt, and Jared Cook. They also mention rookie Kendall Wright adding to a young, but very potent passing attack.

The Titans are banking on Locker becoming a franchise quarterback very soon. The fans are hoping he becomes one as early as this season. Britt and Cook have been models of inconsistency ever since they put on the two-tone blue. But for very different reasons. Britt just can’t stay on the field. Injuries have severely plagued his last two seasons (and probably this next one too) and run-ins with the law have been present his whole career. He’s still young, and when he’s been on the field he’s been dominant. Cook, on the other hand, has been an enigma when it comes to on-field play.

Both are needed for this offense to function, regardless of whether Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker is behind center. Wright might be needed just as much. It’s premature to count on Britt playing a full season. I think, for that reason, the Titans took Wright over an offensive lineman or defensive end in April’s draft. Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer has reportedly had Wright running plays at every wide receiver position possible. Wright will fill in if needed, but he can very well start from scratch.

As for the defensive side of the ball, the team gets even younger; six of eleven probable starters are 25 years or younger. Among those are cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner. They’re faced with replacing pro bowler Cortland Finnegan, a hard, but entirely possible task. McCourty has really come into his own and people are beginning to take notice. As for Verner, he’s highly underrated, but he just doesn’t get much exposure. He will after this season.

Where the young players need to prove their worth is on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps. Breakthrough defensive tackles Karl Klug and Jurrell Casey must build on stellar rookie years, while defensive end Derrick Morgan has to dispel the notion that he’s a bust and justify his 16th overall selection back in 2010.

The linebacking corps may very well start one rookie and two second-year players. Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers are etched in as starters. At the other outside linebacker position it will be either veteran Will Witherspoon or rookie Zach Brown. Brown is faster and more athletic, but Spoon is a better tackler and obviously has more experience playing the position.

In simple terms, if the Titans want to get anywhere this season and in the near future they’re going to need help from the youth of the team. The front office has drafted well, but it’s up to the players to prove that. It begins this year, and I’m anxious to see who’s ready to answer the call.

 

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