Last season, the Tennessee Titans’ dream 3 – 1 start hit a major roadblock when starting quarterback Jake Locker was injured against the New York Jets and then again when he was injured against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Back-up Ryan Fitzpatrick had the tools to lead the Titans’ to the playoffs, but inconsistencies that have plagued him his entire career left Tennessee on the outside looking in.
With the 2014 NFL season rapidly approaching, Tennessee must move past their disappointing prior run and focus on turning the positives from last season into success this season. One of the bright spots from the Titans’ 2013 season was the play of rookie wide receiver from the Tennessee Volunteers, Justin Hunter.
Hunter was expected to be a top 15 NFL Draft pick before a rough injury against the Florida Gators that saw him miss the rest of the season for the Vols. His return season he looked a little more cautious but played fairly well, but the injury did just enough to knock Hunter down draft boards and allow the Titans to snag him in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
In Hunter’s rookie year, he caught only 18 passes for 354 yards. Those statistics don’t seem like much for a player expected to emerge in his second season, but it’s the touchdowns that have everyone so excited. He scored four touchdowns last season – all of which were crucial. They weren’t on broken plays or on routes left wide open by opposing defenses; the touchdowns came over two or three other defenders or in the back of the end zone. His little flashes of brilliance are what have Titans’ coaches and fans excited for what Hunter has in store for 2014.
One aspect of the new season that Hunter will benefit from will be the return of a, hopefully, injury-free Locker at quarterback. Fitzpatrick had a tendency to throw to the slot receiver whenever he felt pressure, which benefited Kendall Wright heavily. The back-up QB was able to complete a few key passes to Hunter, but he wasn’t able to get him into the rhythm of the offense.
Locker, on the other hand, brings with him the ability to break out of the pocket and streak down the field. For those of you who don’t remember, Locker ran a faster 40-yard dash time than Carolina Panthers’ QB Cam Newton in the NFL Combine. Play-action passing will be opened up with the added threat of Locker’s feet, which will benefit Hunter.
Although Hunter has the talent to have success catching the ball anywhere on the field, his specialty is as a big-play receiver. With safeties worrying about Wright in the middle, Locker and Bishop Sankey in the backfield, and Delanie Walker marauding just past the first-down line, Hunter will have every opportunity to succeed in 2014.