Nov 3, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker (10) looks to pass against the St. Louis Rams during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
Since being hired, Ken Whisenhunt has mainly been touted for his work with quarterbacks. He’s known as a guru and an individual who can take your quarterback and make him noticeably better.
You could almost hear a collective Nashville-wide sigh of relief when Whisenhunt was announced as the team’s next head coach. With him comes a new offensive-minded philosophy and a fresh take on the Tennessee Titans.
A large contingent of Titans fans immediately raised the question: What does this mean for Jake Locker? That can be asked in two facets:
- Will he be the starting quarterback or will Whisenhunt and staff want to bring in their own guy?
- How much better is he going to be under this regime?
I’m confident in the ability that Locker has shown. I’m also confident that even if he isn’t “the guy,” a viable successor will be waiting to take the reins. If you read my first piece here at Titan Sized, you already know that I wasn’t initially sold on the hire . However, Whisenhunt has assembled an impressive coaching staff that I believe I can get behind.
Bottom line: I’m sold.
So, with that in mind, I’m not as worried about the quarterback position. The offense showed flashes of great potential both with Locker and in his absence. A lot of great pieces are in place to succeed on this unit.
In 2013, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chris Johnson took the brunt of the criticism, while the defense as a whole largely got a pass. Jurrell Casey looks like a star in the making, while the Titans’ secondary far exceeded expectations. Other than that, what does new defensive coordinator Ray Horton really have to inherit?
He’s established that he will bring his aggressive 3-4 defensive scheme to Nashville, where there aren’t any set starters at linebacker.
Before you say “idiot” – Akeem Ayers, Zach Brown, Moise Fokou, Colin McCarthy – I know…they’ve all had moments of brilliance. But they’ve also had stretches of mediocrity and downright inactivity (McCarthy can’t stay healthy. Brown was benched in ’13).
In a defense that schematically produces a pass rush, you need a rotation of guys capable of not only playing well, but playing fast. For goodness’ sake, it seems like Green Bay has a new linebacker every game!
I’ll give you this – the situations with Ayers & Brown may be blamed on coaching. The duo is as physically talented as you can ask for in the NFL, but for whatever reason, it didn’t click. The hope is that they will finally produce on a consistent basis in this system.
If you want a successful 3-4 in Nashville – linebacker is the missing link.
So, what’s a general manager to do? Free agency? To say the linebacker market is small is an understatement. More like dry of any real difference makers.
Ruston Webster has made no secrets about his desire to build this team through the draft, which is exactly how successful franchises grow. Finding at least 2 great pass-rushers is going to be paramount this offseason. Do they take one at No. 11?
One would assume that at least one of the three top linebacker prospects would be available for a first-round selection. Anthony Barr (UCLA) and Khalil Mack (Buffalo) figure to be outstanding fits as outside linebackers in a 3-4. C.J. Mosley played the inside position at Alabama. One of these three should definitely be a priority.
But the Titans should not stop there.
There is going to be a plethora of talent available in the early-mid rounds. Vic Beasley, Kyle Van Noy, Dee Ford, Michael Sam, Adrian Hubbard, and Jackson Jeffcoat all come to mind.
It seems like backwards logic in an age when the quarterback is the most important player on the field. Keep in mind, we’re trusting in Whisenhunt’s ability to manufacture one. That makes the pass rush the Titans’ number one priority in 2014.