My thoughts on the 2008 Tennessee Titans

A loss to the Chargers on that rainy January day in Southern California ushered in the seemingly eternal offseason. Free agency marked the return of former Titans such as  “The Freak” and Justin McCareins. Newcomers such as Alge Crumpler and Jake Scott were also brought into the fold.
Visions of playmaking and touchdowns emerged as a result of the team’s decision to draft speedy RB Chris Johnson. He wasted no time putting his rare abilities on display as he teased the fans with his electric 66 yard touchdown run in the preseason.
The offseason has finally ended and we’re only days away from the beginning of another NFL season. Let’s take a look at what 2008 may have in store for the Titans.

Offense
As usual, the success of the Titan offense in 2008 will hinge on their running game. LenDale White looks to be new and improved after playing the 2007 season on a bad wheel. The aforementioned Chris Johnson should serve as the speedy change of pace back and a weapon for the passing game out of the backfield.
Speaking of the passing game, the return of Mike Heimerdinger will hopefully translate into a better year for Vince Young in 2008. Young had his share of struggles during the preseason as he attempts to familiarize himself with the new offense.
One positive that I took from Young’s performance in the preseason was the recommitment to Vince running the football. Vince is at his best when he is tucking it and running, as demonstrated by his Texas days. Dinger is also maximizing Young’s athletic abilities by allowing him to roll out more on passing attempts.
Young has faced a lot of scrutiny due to his poor performance in 2007 so hopefully, Dinger’s influence means bigger and better things for VY in 2008.
While we’re on the subject of scrutiny, perhaps no unit has faced more scrutiny than the Titan WRs. Despite the calls for the addition of a true #1 WR, the Titans only devoted a small free agent contract to Justin McCareins and a 4th round draft pick on Lavelle Hawkins to improve the position. The recent release of Roydell Williams has also raised some eyebrows.
It remains to be seen if the Titans’ value approach to the WR position will reap success for the passing game in 2008. Personally, I’m content with the starters at the position (Gage and McCareins) but my worries lie in the depth of the WR group. I do like the potential of Lavelle Hawkins but unfortunately, a high ankle sprain has limited his playing time during the preseason.
If the preseason is any indication, expect the Titans to utilize the TE position early and often in 2008. Alge Crumpler is a great red zone threat and hopefully his presence will open things up for fellow TE Bo Scaife in Dinger’s two tight end sets.
The undeniable strength of the offensive line is the bookend tackle combination of Michael Roos and David Stewart. Eugene Amano and free agent Jake Scott will replace last year’s starters (Jacob Bell and Benji Olson) at guard. Hopefully, veteran Kevin Mawae will continue to hold up at center.
Defense
I’m excited about the prospects of this year’s defensive line. Jevon Kearse appears to be rejuvenated and ready to prove to his many doubters that there is still some gas left in the tank. Jason Jones has also looked good and will give the Titans some flexibility due to his ability to play DE and DT.
With the additions of Kearse and Jones and the presence of Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch, the Titans’ d-line should be the source of recurring nightmares for opposing offensive lines this year.
Veterans Keith Bulluck and David Thornton missed some time during the preseason, but they should be ready to go against Jacksonville on Sunday. Ryan Fowler appears to have won the battle at MLB, but if he is unable to go, the versatile Stephen Tulloch is waiting in the wings.
Hope has been restored in the Titans’ secondary as a result of the return of veteran Chris Hope at safety. His partner in crime, Michael Griffin, is poised to become one of the better safeties in the game.
Speaking of break out players, Cortland Finnegan is getting his share of positive publicity. He recently signed a contract extension, so its nice to know that the Titans will have his services for the foreseeable future. Veteran Nick Harper mans the fort at the other CB spot and playmaker Vincent Fuller is the nickel.
Special Teams
Rob Bironas emerged as one of the league’s best kickers in 2007 and I’m expecting more of the same from him this year. The always reliable Craig Hentrich should continue to shine at punter.
Chris Carr was brought in to be the primary returner. However, the Titans have a few other options such as Chris Davis and Brandon Jones and I wouldn’t be shocked to see rookie sensation Chris Johnson back there when a big return is needed.
Prognosis
Despite being overshadowed by the “sexier” Colts and Jaguars, I’m expecting another solid year from the Titans.
They are very good in the trenches on both sides of the football and the running game and the defense are the team’s strengths. The passing game is a concern but by the end of the year, I am hoping that Dinger’s influence will make that unit a better one.
At the end of the day, Jeff Fisher will once again find a way to get this team into the postseason.
Predicted record: 10-6 (2nd place in AFC South, Wildcard birth).
What are your Titan predictions for 2008?

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