A first crack at the Titans’ 53-man roster

I'm still in Football Outsiders Almanac 2013 writing season, but my head is a little higher above the water now so I'll be back here on a somewhat more frequent basis than I have been lately. Even if I were writing regular weekday posts, though, I wouldn't be spending much, if any, time on what I like to think of as "O T ephemerA." They're grist for the mill for other sites, and that's fine, but to me transitory reports of things like Moise Fokou practicing with the first team at middle linebacker or Michael Roos or Kenny Britt practicing every other day only start to approach particularly meaningful if they're still true come August 1.

I've tended to do my first roster prediction when training camp opens, but wanted to do it earlier this year. The Titans return plenty of players off last year's team and with all the new additions between veteran free agency and the draft, there are a large number of what would in other years be serious candidates to make the roster.  O T ephemerA will still be mostly O T ephemerA, but some of it can provide clues into how the various fault lines on the roster might shake out. Thus, this prediction.

In making this prediction, I'll stress that understanding what choices the Titans have to make is more important than my actual roster prediction. Subsequent roster moves and injuries (a big factor last year) will change how things shake out. As with any early prediction, if I get 48 of the 53 right, I'll be relatively satisfied. That said, here's my call:

QB: Nathan Enderle, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jake Locker
RB/FB: Shonn Greene, Chris Johnson, Quinn Johnson, Jalen Parmele
WR: Kenny Britt, Justin Hunter, Marc Mariani, Kevin Walter, Damian Williams, Kendall Wright
TE: Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson, Delanie Walker
OL: Andy Levitre, Mike Otto, Michael Roos, Brian Schwenke, David Stewart, Byron Stingily, Rob Turner, Fernando Velasco, Chance Warmack
DL: Jurrell Casey, Keyunta Dawson, Lavar Edwards, Sammie Lee Hill, Antonio Johnson, Mike Martin, Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley
LB: Akeem Ayers, Zach Brown, Moise Fokou, Zaviar Gooden, Greg Jones, Colin McCarthy, Tim Shaw
CB: Jason McCourty, Coty Sensabaugh, Alterraun Verner, Khalid Wooten, Blidi Wreh-Wilson
S: Michael Griffin, Robert Johnson, Bernard Pollard, George Wilson
ST: Rob Bironas, Beau Brinkley, Brett Kern

Like I said, though, the analysis is what's important here.

QB
Tom's Take: Fitzpatrick and Locker are locks. Two questions here. First, do they keep a third quarterback? That'll be dictated in part by need at other positions, but given Locker's history of injuries I think it's likely they do. Second, if they do keep a QB3, does Rusty in the final year of his rookie deal offer enough that he's worth it? While the end product will likely be similar to what he saw as a rookie, I think the scheme change on offense takes away a lot of his biggest edge, that of incumbency and familiarity. Further, I don't believe the Titans would have added another young non-rookie QB if they were locked into Rusty. I may be over-analyzing things, but I think there's a reasonable chance I'm right.
What to watch for: Anything said about a quarterback not named Jake Locker. His questions tend to take up a lot of oxygen.

RB/FB
Tom's Take: I think CJ, Greene, and Parmele is pretty much set in stone. Parmele would almost have to play himself out of a job to not make the team. Antonio Alvester is hoping to prove me wrong. I'll talk Darius Reynaud when I talk special teams, since I don't see him as a back the Titans would use if he makes the team. I've also never understood what the Titans like about Quinn Johnson, but like him they must.
What to watch for: Jalen Parmele doing really bad things, Antonio Alvester doing really good things, Darius Reynaud doing things on offense, anything about why they like QJ so much, praise for Collin Mooney (but see Jerry Gray's Pannel Egboh's "3 starters" comments last training camp).

WR
Tom's Take: The Titans have too many players to keep, all of whom are at least slightly different. Britt (barring further legal difficulty), Hunter, and Wright are the only absolute locks. Williams is a perfectly adequate WR4 with versatility to play every position. I have Nate Washington not on the team; I think that was a more controversial idea when I wrote back in February that he would probably be gone with any major WR addition than it is right now. Justin Hunter certainly qualifies in that regard. Walter gives them a much cheaper veteran who can block and has good size.
What to watch for: Everything. More specifically, how fast Justin Hunter is catching on. If he can play even the modest-volume role I think they want him to play as a rookie, then Washington's gone. If Hunter is noticeably struggling, then Washington has a better chance to stick.

TE
Tom's Take: Chalk. Do they keep a fourth? Even when they've used a lot of tight ends, they've only kept three.
What to watch for: Brandon Barden, Jack Doyle, or Martell Webb doing something impressive enough to demand the Titans keep them. Not a factor in the 53-man calculation but a big deal for the team is whether Stevens, Thompson, and Walker are catching the ball well. None of the three caught the ball well enough in 2012 for the role the Titans want the tight end to play in the passing game in 2013.

OL
Tom's Take: I don't think there's that much to think about here. You have the five starters (and I fully expect Velasco to start this year), two tackle backups, and two interior backups, at least one and preferably both of whom are able to play center. The only question is if they have a second backup tackle they like more than Byron Stingily. That's tough to judge from the outside.
What to watch for: Feel free to geek out on O T ephemerA injury news, as Andy Levitre's knee and David Stewart's leg are the most pressing concerns here, though I'm still waiting a couple weeks before I care about Roos's back. Also, are Schwenke, Turner, and Chris Spencer snapping the ball well? Finally, is another one of the backup tackles showing enough to outseat Stingily?

DL
Tom's Take: As I've written several times, there are a lot of directions the Titans can go, and they'll be cutting several players their past actions have indicated they think can play in this league. Casey, Edwards, Hill, Martin, Morgan, and Wimbley are the only locks in my view, which leaves Zach Clayton, Dawson, DaJohn Harris, Johnson, Karl Klug, Pitoitua, and Scott Solomon competing for between two and four spots.
What to watch for: Everything, including nagging injuries, defensive scheme, and random depth chart hints.

LB
Tom's Take: Five locks in Ayers, Brown, Fokou, Gooden, and McCarthy. I think they're keeping at least one of Patrick Bailey and Shaw, and Shaw is the one who (a) was healthy and (b) has taken snaps on defense. Given what happened last year with McCarthy and the lingering nature of his injuries, I think they go heavy at middle linebacker and keep Greg Jones. If they want a spot for somewhere else on the roster, though, they could easily keep only six linebackers.
What to watch for: Is Bailey taking actual snaps on defense? How is Jones on special teams?

CB
Tom's Take: As I indicated when I wrote up Wooten, I think he replaces Tommie Campbell as the next project defensive back with size. The other four names are locks.
What to watch for: What's the nickel package look like and specifically who's playing the slot? I'm not going to be a believer again, but is Tommie Campbell still drawing praise for his work? How quickly is Wooten catching on?

S
Tom's Take: Four pretty chalky names; some might quibble with that designation on Johnson, and I get that. Still, I don't see anybody else on the roster as a fit for the middle of the field deep safety role, which makes him a lock to me. If I'm right, the only question is is there room for a fifth? I picked an extra linebacker instead, in part because I have them keeping five corners. It wouldn't surprise me, though, if the Titans found room for a fifth safety, even if it means keeping ten defensive backs.
What to watch for: Impressive things from Al Afalava, Markelle Martin, Daimion Stafford, and Tracy Wilson that would demand the Titans keep them.

ST
Tom's Take: Three chalk names. The interesting thing is the returner battle between Marc Mariani and Darius Reynaud. Reynaud is the better punt returner, Mariani the better kick returner. Punt returning is more important than kick returning in today's NFL. Mariani on gamedays fills a useful role as the fifth receiver or even if the fourth if you need bodies at other positions. Reynaud played 9 offensive snaps in 5 games after Dowell Loggains took over at offensive coordinator. Anybody who wagers heavily on who wins that battle is (a) getting really good odds, (b) insanely overconfident, (c) has inside information that the Titans have already made their decision (which I don't believe), and/or (d) a fool.
What to watch for: Marc Mariani v. Darius Reynaud, the rematch that may not be decided by injury this time.

And there's plenty of time for things to change between now and cutdown day.

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