Published: August 6th, 2009 | Tags: Bo Scaife, Chris Johnson, Cortland Finnegan, Eugene Amano, Jake Scott, Jared Cook, Justin Gage, Kerry Collins, LenDale White, Michael Roos, Mike Heimerdinger, Nate Washington, Solomon Wilcots, Tennessee Titans
One of the biggest surprises in the NFL last season was the Titans’ improbable run to a league-best 13-3 regular-season record and the dethroning of the almighty Colts, snapping Indianapolis’ five-year reign as AFC South champions. Even more stunning was the rebirth of 36-year-old Kerry Collins, who led the Titans to a 10-0 start and a No.1 seed in the AFC playoff race. Now, everyone wants to know if the Titans can do it again with Collins at quarterback.
A visit to Titans training camp revealed subtle but strategic moves to provide Collins with enough weapons to improve his 27th-ranked passing offense. Free-agent signee Nate Washington is receiving rave reviews from a Titans secondary that sent three of its four starters to the Pro Bowl. All-Pro CB Cortland Finnegan commented that Washington’s speed is more threatening to coverages and should provide plenty of room for underneath receivers to get open. That role partly belongs to TE Bo Scaife, who last year led the team with 58 catches.
Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger also will use athletic rookie TE Jared Cook in space to win a decisive matchup advantage against linebackers. Cook was a third-round selection who will add a new dynamic to the Titans’ offense, just as RB Chris Johnson did one year ago. Rookie WR Kenny Britt, who was taken in the first round, has been slowed by hamstring problems, but he comes to the Titans as a polished route runner who will win one-on-one battles opposite Washington and veteran WR Justin Gage.
Very seldom can one accurately predict the coming together of such talented players so quickly. The certainty, however, rests in the dominating play of the Titans’ stellar offensive line. LT Michael Roos allowed only one sack a year ago and has quietly become one of the best in the league at his position. RT David Stewart isn’t far behind, giving the Titans two young and talented bookends on their offensive line.
Guards Eugene Amano and Jake Scott were inserted into the starting lineup and quickly gelled with veteran C Kevin Mawae to complete a formidable offensive front that will bloody opponents’ noses. While paving the way to more than 2,000 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground, this physical group of blockers allowed the fewest sacks in the league last season, when Collins bit the dust just eight times. Such continuity and chemistry up front should provide enough time for Collins to unleash his new weapons on NFL secondaries. The ability to pound the running game of Johnson and LenDale White will create more room for wide-open receivers with play-action pass plays.
The strength of the Titans rests in their linemen on both sides of the ball. Remember, teams with dominant, physical offensive and defensive lines will always play consistent winning football. If the Titans can avoid costly turnovers, they will remain as one of the top five teams in the AFC. Only the Patriots (27) and the Colts (25) have won more games over the last two years than the Titans (23). The Steelers (22) and the Chargers (19) are among the teams who will challenge the Titans’ bid to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLIV.
When you place the Titans under the microscope, it’s easy to see how their recent success is just the beginning of their run toward something special. Call me crazy now, but let’s talk again in January.