After taking over for Jeff Fisher following a disappointing 2010 season, new Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak led his team to a 9-7 finish and just missed making the playoffs.
But for those looking for bigger and better things in 2012, it simply was not meant to be. Instead of challenging the Houston Texans for the top spot in the AFC South, the Titans stumbled to a 1-4 start (all four setbacks by 21 or more points) and digressed back to 6-10. Perhaps even more bothersome was the fact that the Titans were a mere 1-5 vs. divisional opponents in 2012.
But onto 2013 and here we will take a look at five players who could be critical to the team's success this upcoming season. While in some cases the obvious will be stated, in other instances the focus will be on a newcomer to the team or a performer looking to rebound from a disappointing year.
So here are five players to keep an eye on this season when it comes to the Tennessee Titans:
QB Jake Locker: In his first season as a starter, the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft certainly took his lumps. In 11 games in 2012, Locker completed only 56.4 percent of his passes, threw 10 touchdown passes as well as 11 interceptions, was sacked 25 times and lost all four of his fumbles. Locker did show he could do some things when leaving the pocket (291 yards rushing in 2012) but he has to be much more aware of his surroundings. He remains an intriguing talent in a division with a lot of young quarterbacks.
RB Chris Johnson: After totaling only 210 yards on the ground in his first five games a year ago, Johnson ran for 1,033 rushing yards and six scores in the team's final 11 outings. Still the former first-round pick, once a model of consistency, has been anything but that as of late. Johnson has rushed for less than 50 yards rushing in 12-of-32 games since 2011, something that occurred just seven times in his first three seasons in the league. Still, the Titans bolstered their offensive line in the offseason and Johnson could be primed for big things.
TE Delanie Walker: The longtime veteran, who spent his first seven years in the league with the San Francisco 49ers, brings a lot of versatility to Munchak's team. Walker has lined up at tight end and wide receiver in his career, been a part of the backfield and has excelled on special teams. His role as a pass catcher had somewhat diminished as of late, although six of his eight career touchdown receptions came in the last two seasons. Walker gives the Titans a lot of options on offense as well as other areas.
OLB Zach Brown: A second-round pick in 2012 from North Carolina, Brown enjoyed a pretty productive rookie campaign, finishing third on the team in tackles and totaling 5.5 sacks. The former Tar Heel also picked off three passes, two of those in last season's finale vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars and both returned for scores. The Titans' defense certainly took its lumps last season, allowing 47 offensive touchdowns, but that number could reduce if Brown and some of the other young players continue to improve.
SS Bernard Pollard: If Munchak was looking to add a physical component to his defense, he certainly got the right guy. The well-traveled Pollard, who led the Baltimore Ravens in tackles and helped the team win a Super Bowl last season, was surprisingly released by the club this offseason. Now the hard-hitting safety takes up shop in Nashville where the Titans come off a year in which the team allowed a league-high 471 points, which was happened to be the most ever allowed by this franchise in its 53-year history.
So what can we expect from the Titans in 2013? Has the team made enough moves this offseason to challenge both the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts? And who else will play an extremely pivotal role in the team's fortunes this season? It should be an interesting season for Munchak and company.
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Tennessee Titans
- Mike Munchak
- Houston Texans
- Delanie Walker