What are some keys to look for when the Titans face off against the Falcons on Saturday.
The most rudimentary skill in the sport. This has to be the number one concern, but probably also the easiest of issues on this list to be remedied. With the NFL constantly chopping down "live" practices, teams seem to get out of the gate slower in this department, but the Titans have been notably rusty so far. Hopefully that changes in a big way when the Titans take on the Falcons in their dress rehearsal match-up. A lot of jobs are on the line on the defensive side of the ball, so I'd hope for some positive reactions to that out there.
2. The Battle For CB2
While Jason McCourty has been penciled in at No. 1 Corner for years, the other side of the field is in a state of flux. Thus far neither Coty Sensabaugh or Blidi Wreh-Wilson has been able to distance themselves from the other. If they are going to do so, now would be the time. They'll be facing a lot of Roddy White and Julio Jones on Saturday, easily one of the most dangerous combos in the NFL. And they'll have a real starting quarterback throwing them the ball too...
3. The Muddle Behind Washington, Wright, and Hunter.
The wide receiver group is top-heavy from the outside looking in, as most in the league are. There is only so much top level talent to go around. But much like the cornerback role, somebody is yet to take command of a definite role behind the obvious starting three of Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, and Justin Hunter. Michael Preston, Marc Mariani, and Derek Hagan look to be the front runners for those remaining spots, with Brian Robiskie also in the mix, however less likely (in my humble opinion).
It will also be interesting to see how Whisenhunt plans on using Wright; whether we'll see the increased frequency of routes down the field as many speculated when he was brought on board to be the head coach this offseason. So far, there's too few snaps to say for sure.
4. Getting A Quick Start On Defense
The Titans have been cursed with some poor performances out of the gate thus far, giving up two long, extended play drives ending in touchdowns. The Titans defensive front seven will need to be on point, in particular the linebackers, who are still getting comfortable in the new scheme. The signs of positivity have been there, but the team is yet to put on a well-rounded performance out of the first unit early on.
5. Jake Locker's Growth
While it may be tired to harp on this one, Locker is still learning and improving in this new offensive scheme. Locker has looked sharp in pre-season action so far, and looks to be benefiting with the new direction of the offense; as well as having a balanced rushing attack behind him to prevent too many 3rd and long situations. On top of this, he now has a bevy of receiving talent at his disposal. Now all that's left is to "put it all together", so to speak.
6. The split of carries between Greene, McCluster, and Sankey
In the wake of Chris Johnson's exodus, the Titans have moved to a running-back-by-committee approach. They have their all-around back of the future in rookie Bishop Sankey, their short-yardage bell cow in Shonn Greene, and their change-of-pace scat-back in Dexter McCluster. Seeing how the split of carries plays out should be interesting. I think Sankey takes the lions share by the end of the season, but early on I think it will be a lot of Greene and McCluster.
7. Who goes and who stays on the defensive line?
The defensive line is clogged, even more so since the group was cut down from four personnel to three personnel with the switch to Horton's multiple 3-4 scheme. Karl Klug, Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson, Sammie Lee Hill, Lavar Edwards, DaQuan Jones, Ropati Pitoitua, Jurrell Casey, Al Woods....is a lot of guys to play three positions. While there will be a heavy rotation, as we've come to expect from Horton over the years, there will be some players here left out. Who exactly those are may yet be determined throughout the course of the next two weeks.