’08 Preview: All eyes on Titans’ Young
The Tennessee Titans exceeded expectations in 2007, winning 10 games and making the playoffs in a year in which most figured they’d be lucky to finish .500.
In 2008, they want to make even bigger strides, but it will require stepping things up on offense. Veterans believe the foundation has been laid for good things ahead.
“Normally we come into the season wondering what we are going to do or how we’re going to do. Now we know,” Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck says. “We have an identity. We are a playoff team and we’ll have a better shot (this) year.”
2008 TEAM PREVIEWS
All eyes are on quarterback Vince Young, who’s headed into his third season. The NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2006 struggled in his sophomore campaign, and offensive woes kept the Titans from advancing past the first round of the playoffs.
The Titans will have some new faces on both sides of the ball this fall. In the league’s toughest division – the AFC South produced three playoff teams in ’07 – they’ll need to jell quickly.
The Titans scored one touchdown or less in nine of 16 games last year. They were last in the NFL in red-zone offense.
Something needed to change, and coach Jeff Fisher decided it should start with the offensive coordinator. Mike Heimerdinger was hired to replace the fired Norm Chow.
In his second stint with the organization, Heimerdinger will emphasize more of a downfield offense and allow Young to take his shots deep. But the Titans won’t stray from what Fisher likes best: running the football.
The Titans improved dramatically on defense last year. Their defensive line consistently pressured opposing quarterbacks, and took the pressure off the secondary in the process.
Even more important in the eyes of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was the team’s ability to stop the run. For years the Titans have taken great pride in run defense, but after slipping in previous years, the attitude – and mind-set – returned last season, and the entire unit fed off of it.
The book on: Vince Young
A rival sizes up the Titans’ talented quarterback:
“Young is at his best when he gets loose in the open field, so the key is to keep him from getting there. And he’s less effective throwing the ball when he has to make decisions quickly in the pocket. He can be forced into some bad mistakes.
“Young had his best success running the ball when teams blitzed him or failed to account for him with an extra man. The best way to keep him from beating you with his legs or his arm is to play zone coverage and keep an extra player near the line of scrimmage, using a spy that is fast enough to keep up with him. Some teams have tried, but Young has run right by that player …
“Young doesn’t seem as interested in taking off as much as he used to – maybe because he’s taken some shots he didn’t have to absorb in college. Young struggles most against zone coverages. In man-to-man situations, when the defender’s back is to the ball, Young has a chance to exploit you. But if you’re facing him and play with discipline, he’s going to have a tougher time beating you. He’s erratic with the deep ball, so that doesn’t scare you a whole lot either.”
The Titans won a lot of games they probably had no business winning last year, getting by even when their offense repeatedly failed them. While the team lost some players this offseason, the core returns and is ready for another run at the playoffs.
A return trip is certainly possible, but if Young doesn’t show significant improvement in Year 3, the Titans don’t figure to be ready to become a surprise team like the 2007 Giants just yet.
SN prediction: 6-10, third in AFC South.
Jim Wyatt covers the Titans for the (Nashville) Tennessean and Sporting News.