Team Needs: Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans never could have anticipated being a 5-11 team in 2004. Consistently a playoff contender, the Titans swiftly fell to injury, as depth issues capped off a disappointing season.

Forced to play half the season without veteran quarterback Steve McNair, the Titans struggled. Running back Chris Brown, the replacement for longtime starter Eddie George, got off to a fast start only to succumb to injury, causing him to miss five games and parts of two others.

With 11 of their top-tier players hurt at season's end, the Titans limped to the finish line. Still, one offseason move also ended up hurting Tennessee.

The departure of star defensive end Jevon Kearse via free agency had a sizeable negative impact on the overall play of the defense. Unable to generate a consistent pass rush, the Titans struggled the entire season without Kearse and recorded only 32 sacks, the fifth-lowest total in the league. The Titans also finished 27th in total defense, as their veteran defensive backfield was often beaten due to the lack of a presence along the defensive line.

The once steady linebacking crops turned out to be the biggest disappointment. The linebackers were consistently lacked energy as a once formidable run defense yielded a league-worst 4.6 yards per carry.

LOOKING AHEAD

Change is everywhere. The Titans will field a new set of starting cornerbacks and new starters at defensive tackle, wide receiver, kicker, fullback, and offensive right tackle. In other words, it may be a long season in Tennessee.

Strapped by the salary cap, the Titans were forced to purge $27 million with the release of Derrick Mason, Kevin Carter, Samari Rolle, Fred Miller, Robert Holcombe and Joe Nedney. With that type of turnover, the Titans shouldn't be expected to improve on their 5-11 record. Due to limited resources, the Titans will look to sign players on short-term deals before training camp. They'll also bring in lower-end free agents to fill out the roster.

Steve McNair appears to be willing to play another season, but with the rash of changes in Tennessee, he may choose to retire after having offseason sternum surgery. His replacement would be Billy Volek, who filled in for the injured McNair last season and played 10 games.

The 2005 Titans will be an inexperienced group, but they'll have a solid head coach in Jeff Fisher to guide them through the rebuilding process. They could even be competitive if they can avoid another rash of injuries.

SALARY CAP STATUS

The Titans have approximately $3 million under the league-mandated 2005 salary cap.

TEAM NEEDS

Cornerback – Andre Dyson and Samari Rolle, the starting cornerbacks the past five seasons, are gone. Andre Woolfork, a first-round pick in 2003, will slide into one of the vacated starting roles, but the quality and lack of depth is the immediate concern. Tony Beckham, Michael Waddell or Rich Gardner do not appear to be the answer at the other cornerback spot, but they should be sufficient in nickel and dime packages. With the Titans' salary-cap issues, a modestly priced free agent may be an option, but the draft looks to be the place to improve this area.

Wide receiver – With Derrick Mason gone, Drew Bennett and Tyrone Calico are the anticipated starters. Behind them on the depth chart is a gaping hole. The Titans will have no choice but to bring in some lower-level or inexperienced talent to fill the roster.

Offensive line – Releasing veteran Fred Miller created a void at right tackle. The Titans are expected to address the issue through the draft, but expect them to add at least one experienced veteran to the mix.

Running back – The Titans loved what they saw from running back Chris Brown. The problem was that they didn't see enough due to injury. The Titans are concerned Brown may not be durable enough to carry the load as a featured back. The team will bring in another running back to compete and relieve some of the workload from Brown if he continues to wear down.

FREE AGENCY AND OFFSEASON

KEY ACQUISITIONS: None.

KEY DEPARTURES: DT Kevin Carter (released, Miami), RB Robert Holcombe (released), WR Derrick Mason (released, Baltimore), OT Fred Miller (released, Chicago), PK Joe Nedney (released, San Francisco), CB Samari Rolle (released, Baltimore).

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: PK Gary Anderson, WR Eddie Berlin, CB Andre Dyson, QB Doug Johnson, OL Jason Mathews, TE Shad Meier, S Scott McGarrahan, RB Antowain Smith, DL Juqua Thomas.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Rocky Calmus, DE Carlos Hall, C Justin Hartwig, S Lamont Thompson, LB Brad Kassell, LB Justin Ena, WR Darrell Hill.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: LS Ken Amato, S Justin Sandy, LB Cody Spencer.


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