Day: August 22, 2010

Gridiron Blitz: Tennessee Titans Season Preview

The next team up on our Gridiron Blitz is the Tennessee Titans

Music to listen to: In Memory of Elizabeth Reed by The Allman Brothers

This was the hardest selection of “music to listen to” so far for my Gridiron Blitz series because I lived in Nashville for seven years and could have gone in many directions. Should I pick a country music artist that moved to Nashville and made it a permanent residence like Johnny Cash or a modern example like Keith Urban. Do I go with the underrated hip-hop scene and pick Young Buck. Do I have to go with somebody that was BORN in Nashville?

I decided on some Allman Brothers because the principle members were born there. I know that they’re known more as a group from Georgia but exceptions can be made. Plus I get to show you the beast-like domination on guitar by maybe the “greatest” guitar player ever, Duane Allman.

I don’t like making statements about something being the “greatest,” especially when it comes to something as objective as music, but if you did make a list, Duane would be in the top-20, at least.

Current State: Last year was truly a tale of two seasons for the Titans. In the first portion, the Titans look uninspired, overmatched, especially on defense and lost its first six contests of the year, culminating in an embarrassing 59-0 loss at New England.

Fans, including myself, were calling for changes, especially at the quarterback position, where Kerry Collins was a disappointment. The Titans decided to insert Vince Young as the starter at QB and place further emphasis on the rushing attack led by All-Pro Chris Johnson. The result was an 8-2 record to finish the season and Johnson becoming only the sixth running back in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season and set the total yards from scrimmage mark at 2,509, a record previously held by Marshall Faulk.

Now that the Titans seem set at quarterback and running back, what direction does the rest of the team take in a continually improving AFC?

Biggest Change: The departure of two veteran defensive players, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Keith Bullock and most likely veteran offensive lineman Kevin Mawae will be more difficult for the team to overcome despite the decrease in skill for all three guys last season.

KVB may have been hampered with injuries the last two years and decided to take a more financially secure contract than he’s worth with the Detroit Lions, but his energy and leadership for the Titans was invaluable for the defense. Bullock suffered an injured knee at the end of last season and his contributions for his new team, the New York Giants, may be minimal but when you lose a linebacker with his experience, that isn’t easily replaced.

Mawae may come back to the Titans but in a reduced role. Tennessee has signed Eugene Amano to a long-term extension to possibly replace Mawae at center, which would allow Leroy Harris to move to his natural position at left guard. The Titans are prepared to replace Mawae but that’s another leader that will be missed.

Uniform Grade: I don’t like navy blue so that means the Titans uniforms will get negative marks from the start. My biggest pet peeve is when they wear the light blue jerseys with the dark blue pants. That’s too much darn blue for me to handle. I do like the helmets. The road look of white jerseys with light blue pants is ok as well. Grade: B-

Best Player: Johnson’s 2009 season was not only historical in the amount of yards he gained, but he represented the evolution of the running back position. There was a time when you had two running backs, one that you used the first two downs to gain yards and than another one for third-down situations where catching the ball out of the backfield may be needed. Johnson not only can do all of those things at an elite level but his speed, some have estimated he runs a 4.3 40-yard dash, means you don’t have to take him off of the field.

Some may argue that Adrian Peterson is the best running back in football. That’s fair because he does run with slightly more power than Johnson. However, the assembly of talent at Minnesota, especially in the offensive line, is better than Tennessee. If Chris Johnson was a Viking, 2,300 yards wouldn’t be impossible.

The flipside of that is the emphasis on the running game of the Titans. Johnson is the offense and has more opportunities to have an impact than any other back in the league.

The point is that you should enjoy viewing the greatness of Chris Johnson while you can.

Most Important Player: While Johnson may be the best player in the NFL, the Titans won’t make any of their goals without a stellar season from Vince Young.

His polarizing career has been a constant soap opera for Titans fans. Young went from Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowler to benched to almost getting kicked off the team to redemption last year with another Pro Bowl season.

Young still struggles with his throwing accuracy and decision making but still has the athletic ability to excel at moments for the Titans. He’s never going to be the elite quarterback that many people were expecting, however Young can develop into a solid pro who does enough to take pressure off of Johnson.

Best Case: Johnson stays healthy and continues on his excellence. The defense, especially against the pass, improves and doesn’t revert back to the tone from earlier last season. The offensive line can deal with some adjustments. Finishes with a winning record.

Worst Case: The first six games of last season were the reality of the true state of the team. Johnson slows down. Young regresses as a passer. The defense allows too many passing yards.

Coaching: Jeff Fisher has been head coach of the Tennessee Titans since 1994. He was the head man when the team was still in Houston, moved to Memphis and ultimately to Nashville.

First memory of team: My first year in college at Vanderbilt in 1999 was the same year that the Titans played their first season at LP Field. It was my first NFL season away from following the New York Giants while being in my hometown and I felt the hurt. I was used to turning on the local sports station or reading the newspaper and seeing direct coverage of the Giants to get my fill. When I moved to Nashville, I decided that since I was in a new city I would give the new NFL team a try.

Vanderbilt has a good amount of southerners but also many people from other parts of the country. In my dorm room floor alone, my roommate was from Dallas, my neighbors were from Minnesota, Washington, D.C. and several other places. Sunday afternoons were the best because we were bragging about our NFL teams back home but everyone gravitated towards the Titans because that was the local squad.

The Titans started to win and we followed them. I remember the “Music City Miracle,” Tennessee’s playoff win over Buffalo, like it was yesterday. I was in my dorm room watching it with the guys and we all shouted in glee over the moment, I’ll never forget it.

The Titans eventually went to the Super Bowl that year and my fandom for the team has been strong ever since.

Schedule: The Titans will have to deal with Indianapolis, Houston and Jacksonville in the division.

The home games are Oakland, Pittsburgh, Denver, Philadelphia and Washington. The away games are at the New York Giants, Dallas, San Diego, Miami and Kansas City. That schedule is not easy but not impossible to overcome.

City Nicknames: Music City is an awesome nickname. I dislike Nashvegas with a passion.

Fantasy Focus: Johnson should be your first pick in your fantasy league. If not, than your league has problems. I would be skeptical of every one else on the team.

Overall Outlook: The Titans are a solid NFL team but in a tough division and loaded conference. I see a mirror image of last season but with less of a rough start. Johnson will continue to get his numbers and Young will be solid but the Titans will not be a playoff team this season.

Final Record: 7-9

Gridiron Blitz 2010 Season Previews:

AFC East:

Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots

New York Jets

Miami Dolphins

AFC North:

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Baltimore Ravens

Pittsbirgh Steelers

AFC South:

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Houston Texans

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Triple Option Attack: #15 Pittsburgh

Next up on the Triple Option Attack is #15 Pittsburgh

Music to listen to: Every Rose Has A Thorn by Poison

When I did a preview of the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this week on the Blog, I had something from Christina Aguilera. This time I have to show love to Bret Michaels, who I actually like and think is a talented musician but I will never show love to Poison.

The Story: When Dave Wannstedt took over the Pitt program five years ago, his goal was to not only bring the Panthers back to respectability but to gain a national presence that was acknowledged in from the mid 1970’s to the early 1980’s when legendary players like Tony Dorsett, Hugh Green, Mark May, Dan Marino, Russ Grimm and many others were leading some of the best teams arguably in the history of college football.

Shoot, the program has won nine national titles and is in the top-10 in all-time wins in college football history.

However, the program had some downturns and actually was on a slight up-tick in 2005 when Wanny took over. While the talent may not be at the level of the guys mentioned earlier, there is optimism among the Pitt faithful that the Panthers can reclaim the Big East title that Cincinnati and West Virginia has had in their possessions the past few years.

Last Season: Finished with a record of 10-3, the first time that the school has had a ten-win season since 1981. While that was very good, the team lost its last two regular season games by a combined four points, including a one-point loss at home to Cincinnati, costing the Panthers the Big East title. The other loss was by three points to arch-rival West Virginia.

Offense: The last three Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Mark Ingram were sophomores when they picked up the honor. It may be a fourth consecutive year a sophomore picks up the honor and this time it can be Pitt’s running back Dion Lewis. He rushed for almost 1,800 yards last season and is the reigning Big East offensive player of the year.

The bad news is that Pitt is breaking in a new quarterback because Bill Stull graduated. His replacement right now is Tino Sunseri but the word this fall is that Pat Bostick may be available as well. The QB doesn’t have to do much on this offense, just keep it honest so that Lewis can have some running lanes.

Defense: The defense is anchored by maybe the top duo of defensive ends in reigning Big East player of the year Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard. Those guys had 13 sacks between them and helped Pitt lead the nation in that category. The Panthers also return the leading tackler from last season, linebacker Max Gruder and sophomore Dan Mason will also help the linebackers as well.

The Schedule

9-2-10 at Utah (Thur.)
9-11-10 NEW HAMPSHIRE
9-23-10 MIAMI FL (Thur.)
10-2-10 FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
10-9-10 at Notre Dame
10-16-10 at Syracuse
10-23-10 RUTGERS
10-30-10 LOUISVILLE
11-11-10 at Connecticut (Thur.)
11-20-10 at South Florida
11-26-10 WEST VIRGINIA (Fri.)
12-4-10 at Cincinnati

The Panthers have an unusual schedule in the fact that their first five games are non-conference contests before the Big East slate begins. Pitt has some tricky early games, especially the season opener at Utah. Anytime you head out to the western part of the country against a quality team like the Utes, that has to be acknowledged. The third game, hosting Miami on a Thursday night, can help increase the national profile of the Panthers as well. Pitt does have to go to Connecticut and Cincinnati, two of its main competitors for the Big East title.

Most Famous Sports Alum: You have to look at the football side for this honor. The list includes Pop Warner, Mike Ditka, Curtis Martin, Larry Fitzgerald, Darrelle Revis and the players mentioned earlier in this post.

However, when you win a Heisman Trophy, a national title, a Super Bowl title and become an NFL Hall of Famer, that’s pretty stout. Tony Dorsett, congrats on the honor.

Celebrity Alum “Crush:” A surprisingly decent list to pull from including some Miss Pennsylvania winners and even a Miss America. However, I’ve always had a thing for this person plus she was in TNA Wrestling so you know that she likes athletics.

Survivor TV show contestant winner Jenna Morasca, congrats on this win.

 

Prediction: 9-3

There are some swing games on the schedule, meaning that the Panthers can win or lose based on how they are coming into the contest. I think the losses are at Utah, Miami and either Connecticut or Cincinnati. Despite all of that, Pitt can still make a run at the Big East and that would be a nice season for the program.

Sports Inquirer Top-25 Preseason College Football Poll:

#25 West Virginia

#24 South Carolina

#23 Auburn

#22 Oregon State

#21 Arkansas

#20 Florida State

#19 Georgia

#18 North Carolina

#17 Georgia Tech

#16 LSU