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:
New England Patriots
New York Jets