Aug 29, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker (10) passes against the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
The Tennessee Titans are starting anew in 2014. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt takes over a struggling offense with hopes to chase down a wild-card playoff spot. That, or just to be anything but inconsistent.
That might be hard with quarterback Jake Locker still looking like the “for now” answer under center. Locker’s injury history, pocket presence and accuracy have left much to be desired for the past three seasons. Whisenhunt has been slow to endorse Locker as his franchise quarterback, while Locker isn’t even really guaranteed to start this season.
The Tennessee Titans are expected to at least look at some quarterback prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft, which could either provide competition for Locker, or at the very worst give Tennessee an alternative long-term option.
Needless to say, Locker’s development and/or a competition at the quarterback position will be at the forefront of the offseason, specifically during the preseason.
In addition, Tennessee will assess their situation at running back, as well as how to move forward with changes on defense. Chris Johnson is no longer with the team, which could make the plodding Shonn Greene the new starter or open the door to a new rookie running back making an impact. On defense, Titans fans will get a long look at new 3-4 packages implemented by new defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Tennessee will spend the preseason trying to figure out what and who works in their system, while trying to improve overall on defense. With a lot of loss and new coaching, there seems to be enough change in Tennessee to offer some optimism.
Let’s break down the Titans’ four 2014 preseason games and see what they might be able to take away from each contest:
Week 1 – vs. Green Bay Packers
Tennessee faces a stiff test right away as Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers come to town. Eddie Lacy also poses a threat. The Packers balances their offense out and could potentially give the Titans fits on the defensive end. This is still a game the Titans can steal in preseason play, however, as the Green Bay starters should only play a series or two and Tennessee’s depth might be able to snag the win.
On the other side, Green Bay’s defense is fairly porous, but new additions of the defensive line could test Locker. The Packers have been awful against the run, which could allow a solid start to August for Greene and Dexter McCluster.
Week 2 – @ New Orleans Saints
Locker and company take it to the road to battle Drew Brees and the Saints in what will likely be their first extended game action. It’s never easy playing on the road, but Tennessee will have their hands full even more so on both ends of the field. Jake Locker will be charged with trying to keep up with Brees and the potent Saints’ passing attack, while he’ll also have to figure out a pretty aggressive New Orleans 3-4 defense.
Dexter McCluster was signed in free agency to help open up the offense as Ken Whisenhunt’s own “Danny Woodhead”. It will be interesting to see how much he gets involved as a runner and receiver out of the backfield, and how much pressure that can take off of Locker. Needing to make some big plays to keep up with Brees early in the first half, Locker should also be tested with his pocket presence and some deep balls. The Titans probably won’t keep their starters in beyond the break, but this game should still serve as a nice measuring stick as they try to get on the same page.
Week 3 – @ Atlanta Falcons
As if the Packers and Saints weren’t enough trouble, Tennessee gets a third straight tough matchup here in week three – again on the road. The Falcons suffered through an injury ravaged 2013 campaign, but will return to full health in 2014 and are actually quite underrated thanks to a down year.
Atlanta will still come to play at full speed in week three, where NFL teams are widely known for revealing starters and playing key players the longest in the preseason. That should give the Titans a full dose of Julio Jones and Roddy White, as the two sides could go to war well into the third quarter.
The Falcons will surely test Tennessee’s resolve on defense, but the good news is that Atlanta’s defense isn’t anything close to elite on paper. Whether or not Locker can show marked improvement here and keep up with Matt Ryan could be a sign of what Titans can expect from him in 2014.
Week 4 – vs. Minnesota Vikings
NFL teams generally play their starters a series or two in the preseason finale, but the Titans may want to give Locker or his main competition some extra run as they prepare for week one of the regular season. Minnesota wouldn’t be a bad opponent to do so against, either, as the Vikes were awful against the pass a year ago and also lost some pass-rushing talent. Minnesota could be better in 2014, but on paper Locker and the offense could have a few good series and end the preseason on a high note.
As for the defense, the month of August could wrap up with yet another offensive test, depending on how much Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson is involved in the game. Peterson has gotten to the point in his career where he will be very limited in the preseason, and there’s a real chance he won’t even play a single down. With this being the finale, the odds of Peterson sitting out grow even more.
Still, the Titans matchup well with the Vikings on paper and it should be a competitive game. Cordarrelle Patterson should see some playing time on return duty and at receiver in the finale, as he tries to lock down a concrete role on offense. For the Titans, they’ll likely keep competition going in their secondary through the final game as they continue to try to make up for losing star corner Alterraun Verner in free agency.
Overall, the Titans have some very tough tests on their preseason schedule. While preseason records rarely dictate how a team does once the regular season kicks off, how the Titans fare against some truly elite offenses in week two and week three (when their starters play large portions of the game) should give Titans fans a good idea of where their team is at heading into the 2014 season.
This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more Premier Fantasy Football visit Fantasy Football Overdose, a fantasy football blog.