As we gear up for the New England Patriots opening week show down against the Tennessee Titans, it’s time to take a quick look at five players to watch on the Titans offense. Kenny Britt has been left off the list due to his merciful one-game suspension, as he definitely would have been a handful for our secondary (or any secondary, for that matter).
1. Chris Johnson RB
Last season was the aberration for Chris Johnson, and this season is his bounce back year. He has looked much better in training camp and has said that he is in better shape. Last season’s holdout hurt him, as well as a decreased performance in offensive line play. I was listening to the Football Today podcast last week, and K.C. Joyner and Matt Williamson were talking about how former offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger (bless him) and current O.C. Chris Palmer, especially initially, utilized him differently.
They said that Palmer designed less counter plays for Johnson on pitches, which hurt his ability to find a large hole around the edge and accelerate to the outside for big yardage (when he’s at his best). The Titans used these plays more as the season wore on.
When you combine that with the shape he is in and a better offensive line (although, still quite poor), you’re looking at another monster season in the works for Johnson.
2. Nate Washington WR
Even without Kenny Britt playing, Jake Locker still has a top deep threat to target in the underrated Nate Washington. He caught 74 passes for 1,023 yards last season in a breakout year when he was finally given the chances. Locker has a cannon of an arm, and the players in the Pats secondary are prone to getting burned. Devin McCourty needs to be up to the task of covering Washington, and the same should be said for Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory who must effectively bracket the burner. The Titans used him on shorter routes last season with Matt Hasselbeck- Washington is also versatile enough to play this role- but Locker and Washington can definitely hook up for a big gain, especially in what will be a more explosive offense in 2012.
3. Jake Locker QB
When formulating my rankings for the quarterbacks in the 2011 NFL Draft prior to the draft, I had Washington QB Jake Locker on top. In hindsight I feel like I was too low on Cam Newton, but whatever, Locker is a talented young QB in his own right. He showed a lot of potential last season and has an abundant amount of weapons around him to help lead an explosive Titans offense that can break a big gain on the ground or through the air.
Locker is a strong QB with incredible arm strength and has the ability to elongate plays with his legs. He’s a great scrambler and is a less accurate version of Ben Roethliserbger (a loose comparison). The problem is that he is a much less accurate player than Big Ben, but that is somewhat due to his willingness to take shots deep. He will get more consistent as he develops and the knocks from him coming out of college were overblown, but it is certainly fair to say that accuracy is a weakness for Locker.
4. David Stewart RT
The veteran right tackle had a huge season in 2011 and managed to outplay fellow bookend tackle Michael Roos. Stewart was ranked by the Pro Football Focus as having the fourth-highest pass blocking efficiency last season, with Roos ranking 18th. Both players are two of the top tackles in the game, but Roos is a tad overrated and makes Stewart an overshadowed player. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will need to be at their best against both tackles, with Ninkovich having biggest test against Stewart.
5. Michael Roos LT
Roos had a couple of disappointing seasons before getting back on track last season and finishing the year as one of the top pass blocking tackles in the league once again. While he did give up too much pressure when he struggled, Roos almost never gives up sacks even if he does allow pressure. Both Stewart and Roos are high-impact players as run blockers as well, and our rookie DE from Syracuse is going to have a tough test to start his regular season career in the NFL against Roos. If Jones can even put up an average day in terms of pressure, then we should all be pleased with that. The interior of the offensive line is another story for the Titans, but they have two terrific tackles.
Anybody I miss? Please give us your views on the players I listed and those I didn’t (Jared Cook, Javon Ringer etc.) so we can get a better perspective on the Titans. Check back on the site later for a look at five defensive players on the Titans, including Jason McCourty.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.