The Titans wasted no time getting back to winning ways under Mike Munchak in 2011. Tennessee is a franchise with high expectations for the new campaign as they had only experienced five losing seasons in 16 years under Jeff Fisher. This is a team used to winning, and with the AFC South blown wide open by the colossal fall from grace by the perennial Peyton Manning-led Colts team, the Titans will absolutely be eyeing a place for themselves in the playoffs.
This is a team with a good nucleus of players for the future. This team had a lot going for it in 2011, perhaps its most valuable asset being an offensive line which we ranked 6th in the NFL. However, with several key players about to become free agents, and underperforming players now under the microscope, there are certainly areas of the field they will need to concentrate their efforts in bringing in new talent. Let’s take a look at where they are and how the Titans can go forward.
Primary Need: Defensive End
Pass rush off the edge was non-existent for the Titans in 2011. The only man who managed it at all was rookie Karl Klug (+7.3), who played often sparingly at the defensive tackle position. There were some big disappointments here as Jason Jones, who performed excellently inside at DT in 2010 (+21.6), was shifted out to the edge in an attempt to harness his pass rushing skills. This experiment left quite a bit to be desired with Jones earning a -9.3 grade in 2011. He only managed a QB disruption once every 31 snaps on average. Jones wasn’t the only disappointment here, as 2010’s first round draft pick Derrick Morgan was still shaking the rust off after his rookie season in 2010 was cut short due to injury. Morgan went on to log a -9.4 grade for 2011.
One player that makes a lot of sense to target here is long-time division rival Robert Mathis (+16.8). Mathis has a proven record of disrupting QB’s, although it would be interesting to see how he fares without Dwight Freeney on the opposite side of the line. The other huge benefit to a move like this is that they would be stealing talent from within their own division, handicapping a rival and making their own job easier. Should Mathis prove too difficult to land, a true pass rush veteran (albeit older) like John Abraham (+37.8) could be a superb short-term option to kick the Titans defense into life.
Secondary Need: Center
While the offensive line in its entirety was one of the best in the business last season, the Center position remains the weak link. Eugene Amano (-13.8) was the only man to receive a negative grade in 2011, because he was something of a liability when it came to running the ball. Running off-Center, the Titans averaged just 2.2 yards per carry. Compare that to 4.1 ypc off -guard, and 4.0 ypc off-Tackle. After back-to-back seasons as the starting center (-26.4 grade in 2010), it would appear Amano is not the answer to the Titans problems. Head coach Mike Munchak did admit that he is considering moving Amano to guard for 2012.
Looking at the available free agent Centers, there are two big names that are slated to be out there. Chris Myers (+32.6) and Scott Wells (+15.9). The Titans are in a strong position in terms of salary cap space, meaning if they were aggressive enough they could pursue Myers. In similar fashion to Mathis, they can handicap a very talented Houston Texans team in the process and give themselves perhaps the most fearsome offensive line in the league.
Tertiary Need: Safety
While the Titans are pretty flush with talent at cornerback (unresolved future of Cortland Finnegan aside), the other half of the secondary is lacking. What’s worse is both starting safeties are due to become unrestricted free agents this year. Michael Griffin (+4.7) saw a return to form in 2011, but with an inconsistent history behind him it’s difficult to predict what the future may bring. Jordan Babineaux (-7.4) was our 67th ranked safety in 2011, and his -8.3 run stopping grade made him 4th worst in this category, with 18 missed tackles to his name.
The free agent safety pool is not rife with talent this year, and with Tyvon Branch now off the list, their options are even fewer. One player the Titans could take a risk on is LaRon Landry (+2.7). Although Landry also has something of an inconsistent past and some recent injury concerns, there is no doubt he has talent. A fresh change of scenery away from Washington could be exactly what he needs to finally start tapping in to more of this first round potential. Landry is the perfect candidate for a “prove it” deal – a short term contract which puts the onus on the player to earn what he thinks he’s worth, something that could interest a team like Tennessee.