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53-man roster prediction as training camp opens

It’s an annual rite. The Tennessee Titans begin training camp, and I try to predict which players they’ll keep after the cutdown to 53. Some years this goes kind of okay, other years I end up on quixotic quests and stick on them long after it becomes obvious they are indeed quixotic quests (see, e.g., my attempts to cut Nate Washington last year). Most years, I’m happy to get 48 of the 53 right at this stage of the game, as the inevitable injuries, surprises, and attempts to be clever that don’t work out happen.

This year, though, with a coaching staff and new schemes on both sides of the ball, getting 48, which I regarded as a competent but not particularly good job, would make me particularly happy. I’m having trouble conceptualizing based on the thin gruel we’ve been fed this offseason just how a lot of the roster battles are going to shake out. Ken Whisenhunt and company could plausibly go a number of different directions with both specific roles and roster groupings.

To aid me in my attempt to do a decent job at this exercise, I took a look at the past four Ken Whisenhunt and Ray Horton rosters. By position grouping, here’s how it broke down:

QB: 3
RB/FB: 5
TE: 3-4
WR: 5-6
OL: 8-9
DL: 6-8
LB: 7-9
DB: 8-11
ST: 3

Groupings when Whisenhunt was in Arizona were pretty stable, particularly on defense with 14 players in the front seven and 10 or 11 in the secondary. Horton in Cleveland last year did things differently, setting personal records by keeping 8 defensive linemen AND 9 linebackers. For a 3-4, keeping 17 front seven players seems totally excessive, though it may have been more a reflection on his opinion of the Browns secondary. (He and DB coach Louie Cioffi have both disparaged the state of the Cleveland defensive back corps in interviews this offseason.) To keep the numbers level, the Browns only kept eight defensive backs. My strong expectation is that the defensive part of the Titans roster this year will look much more like an Arizona roster. I will also note Whisenhunt had a true fullback on the roster for each of 2010-13.

With those in mind, here’s my 53:

QB (3): Jake Locker, Zach Mettenberger, Charlie Whitehurst
Analysis: Locker’s the #1, Whitehurst is the #2, and Mettenberger should be the #3 unless he faceplants. I don’t think Tyler Wilson looks like a Whisenhunt QB and has an extreme uphill battle to beat out Mettenberger for a roster spot. Given Locker’s injury history, I doubt the Titans only go with two (and yes, I know they started out with two last year).

RB/FB (5): Jackie Battle, Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster, Collin Mooney (FB), Bishop Sankey
Analysis: With Battle taking snaps at fullback and Whisenhunt describing fullback as a position where the player needs to have an impact on special teams, that could create an opportunity for a player like Antonio Andrews, if you think Andrews is good. (I’m extremely skeptical.) The other possible beneficiary from that spot could be Leon Washington, but my expectation is Dexter McCluster will absolutely be the punt returner and is likely to be the kick returner as well.

TE (4): Dorin Dickerson, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson, Delanie Walker
Analysis: I’ll save my extended Thompson commentary for the TE positional analysis, tentatively scheduled for a week from Monday. I see three pretty chalky names, while the tweener Dickerson (listed at 6’1/226) keeps me from having to pick another name from the bottom of the receiver depth chart.

WR (5): Justin Hunter, Marc Mariani, Michael Preston, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright
Analysis: I have no more insight on the battle for wide receiving spots beyond the top three than anybody else does. Although wide receiver is a spot where you really would like a player to be there in training camp for acclimation to offense and chemistry with the quarterback reasons, this is probably the most likely spot on the team for a post cutdown addition from elsewhere to be there Week 1. Given the issues beyond the top three and a couple players at other spots with WR-like attributes in McCluster and Dickerson, the Titans could easily go light on bodies here.

OL (8): Andy Levitre, Taylor Lewan, Michael Oher, Michael Roos, Brian Schwenke, Chris Spencer, Byron Stingily, Chance Warmack
Analysis: Seven chalk names. Given how hard it is to find a good tackle on the street, I expect they’ll be carrying a fourth tackle. My guess is Stingily will be that guy and a gameday inactive about every week, but it’s impossible to evaluate a guy like last year’s practice squadder Jeff Adams from my position. Assuming that’s right, the question then becomes if there’s a spot for a second backup interior lineman. Whisenhunt kept only 8 OL three of the four seasons I examined, I could use the roster spot elsewhere, and none of the backup interior linemen stood out to me as a must-keep. The Titans could easily disagree with me.

DL (6): Jurrell Casey, Sammie Hill, Antonio Johnson, DaQuan Jones, Ropati Pitoitua, Al Woods
Analysis: Lavar Edwards, Karl Klug, Mike Martin, do these guys have a roster spot? I feel like I’ve always been lower on Klug and Martin than everybody else, while Edwards didn’t play last year and I think is very miscast in even a Ray Horton 3-4. The Titans could decide they like the talent of any of the three (or a surprise) enough to keep them on the active roster, but what’s the point if you may only keep 5 up on gameday?

LB (8): Akeem Ayers, Zach Brown, Moise Fokou, Derrick Morgan, Shaun Phillips, Avery Williamson, Kamerion Wimbley, Wesley Woodyard
Analysis: Cutting Zaviar Gooden and Colin McCarthy says more about what I think of them than what the Titans do, which remains opaque to me. The battle for the ILB spot next to Woodyard has very little clarity, but Fokou, Gooden, and McCarthy are all at risk if they don’t win the job. I kept Fokou because of his past 3-4 experience and general versatility; I was very tempted to keep Patrick Bailey instead of him. While I have him on the team, Ayers is currently my favorite “shocking” cut candidate but I didn’t see a fourth outside linebacker to keep and doubt they go with three there given the age of Phillips and Wimbley.

DB (11): Tommie Campbell, Michael Griffin, Marqueston Huff, Jason McCourty, Micah Pellerin, Bernard Pollard, Coty Sensabaugh, Daimion Stafford, George Wilson, Khalid Wooten, Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Analysis: There’s no way I would have kept 11 defensive backs without the Arizona experience showing me Whisenhunt/Horton’s past love for defensive backs. Notwithstanding Horton and Cioffi’s praise for the group, this is probably behind wide receiver the most likely position group to see an addition. I have little confidence in Campbell, Pellerin, Stafford, and Wooten making the team, though probably due to lack of notice from my part. Keeping Campbell was influenced by the way everybody kept mentioning the other starting cornerback job as a three-way battle, not just a two-way one between Sensabaugh and Wreh-Wilson. That could be Jerry Gray-ness, or it could represent genuine improvement in his game. In either event, he still has excellent height and speed for the position and can be a special teams contributor.

Special Teams (3): Maikon Bonani, Beau Brinkley, Brett Kern
Analysis: Okay, I lied, kicker, not wide receiver or cornerback, is probably the spot on the team most likely to see an addition from another team after cutdown day (or from the street during camp).

I plan to do another one of these after the second preseason game, at which point I’ll probably be able to look back and laugh at this one instead of putting up with this queasy feeling in my stomach after doing such a bad job.

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