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2005 preview: Titans

AFC South predictions
1. Indianapolis
2. Jacksonville
3. Houston
4. Tennessee
Tennessee Titans
Head coach: Jeff Fisher, 11th season
2004 record: 5-11
2004 rankings: Offense, 11th (342.9 yards/game); Defense, 27th (357.8 yards/game)
2005 strength of schedule: 11th (tie)
From SportingNews.com: AFC South overview

The Titans' 2004 collapse will be remembered for quarterback Steve McNair's odd sternum injury, which seemed to change Tennessee's complexion almost overnight.

After opening the season 1-1 against Miami and Indianapolis, McNair suffered the injury against Jacksonville and the Titans were never the same. McNair was in and out of the lineup for the next two months, but the offense was often ineffective unless running back Chris Brown was having a big day.

When McNair was forced out for good in December, the normally stout defensive team responded by allowing 177 points and going 0-4 for the month. It was a crash that would only be topped a few months later, when the Titans were forced to cut several marquee players to get under the salary cap.

OFFENSE

Norm Chow comes aboard with plenty of fanfare, but that doesn't guarantee success. Having the offense stay healthy should be Chow's No. 1 concern, and that should mean plenty of carries in the running back platoon of Chris Brown and Travis Henry. The two should complement each other nicely, and Henry is a great insurance policy against Brown's upright running style, which leaves him open to serious punishment.

The offensive line remains a question mark, largely because injuries didn't allow the group to fulfill expectations last season. Frankly, there's no way to know how the current group – with rookie Michael Roos in the mix – will perform.

Coach Jeff Fisher might not like the idea of rebuilding, but that's what he's looking at with the team's receiving corps. With Derrick Mason gone, Drew Bennett has to prove he can handle the adjustment to top receiver status, and Tyrone Calico has yet to be healthy and productive in the same season. That means tight end Ben Troupe will have to shoulder more of the receiving load this season.

DEFENSE

Outside linebacker Keith Bulluck is a Pro Bowl caliber player who never got enough credit. But after the team cut its two most visible defensive players – cornerback Samari Rolle and defensive tackle Kevin Carter – he'll get plenty of attention. However, Bulluck better be prepared for some trying times because there are plenty of growing pains ahead.

Linebacker Peter Sirmon has bounced back from a knee injury, and two starting defensive ends have to emerge from the trio of Bo Schobel, Travis LaBoy and Antwan Odom. On the bright side, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth could be a Pro Bowler if he can keep his focus and health together. Defensive tackle Randy Starks has shown some nice potential, too.

The secondary is going to struggle after losing both Rolle and cornerback Andre Dyson. Andre Woolfolk is still developing and really isn't ready to be a No. 1 cornerback yet. Help is on the way with rookie Adam "Pac Man" Jones, but he's been nothing but a headache since being drafted with the team's first-round pick.

Jones needs to get his act together, because with Rolle, Dyson and safety Lance Schulters gone, the Titans defense is going to need both talent and leadership from him.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Punter Craig Hentrich will do a fine job, but the kicking duties are unsettled. Ola Kimrin is going to get an opportunity to win the kicking job, but if he falters, the Titans may have to look on the free agent market, or hope another kicker – perhaps Mike Vanderjagt – gets released during the preseason.

The return game has been unimpressive, but it will get some fresh blood with Jones handling punts and Courtney Roby fielding kickoffs.

PREDICTION

The Titans will finish 4-12 and fourth in the AFC South.

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