A 3-1 start and the possibility of doing some damage in the AFC with a rapidly improving Jake Locker fell apart quickly for the Titans. Locker suffered an injury four weeks into the season, returned a month later for a pair of games and then was done for the year. Tennessee won two of their next 10 games after a hot start and, a two-game winning streak to end the season aside, limped to the finish line.
It wasn't the final sort of season Bud Adams, who passed away midseason in 2013, would've wanted. But there were some bright spots for the future. That future will feature a new head coach in Ken Whisenhunt, who replaced the fired Mike Munchak and an uncertainty surrounding the two biggest names on offense in Locker and running back Chris Johnson.
What Went Right
Locker legitimately looked improved early on in the season. He didn't throw a pick in his first four games (111 attempts, six touchdowns) and completed more than 62 percent of his passes in that stretch. Given the cheap cost for the fifth-year option coming to 2011 rookies, it wouldn't be surprising if the Titans kept him around. Whiz has been a quarterback whisperer in recent years as long as you're willing to overlook Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and John Skelton. (I am. They're terrible.)
The defense continued to blossom. Alterraun Verner, slated to be a free agent, picked five passes and had 23 passes defended for a strong season. Jurrell Casey was a monster, wracking up 10.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position. He's an under-the-radar stud in the making.
Kendall Wright emerged as a viable target and topped the 1,000-yard marker in receiving yards. Justin Hunter flashed impressively down the stretch, with a pair of 100-plus-yard receiving games late in the season.
Chris Johnson rushed for 1,000 yards?
What Went Wrong
Chris Johnson rushed for 1,000 yards?
CJ?K and the running game, which had a lot of money invested in it, was not very good. Johnson is a definite candidate to be cut by the Titans before 2014 but it's not like Shonn Greene -- a bizarre free-agent signing if there ever was one -- was any good either.
I mean ...
That's the second- and third-leading rushers for the Titans last year.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was adequate as a backup goes; backup quarterbacks are almost never really great with a few exceptions. But the team went 3-6 with him.
Kenny Britt, a former first-round pick, caught 11 passes for 96 yards. Incredible how poorly his run with the Titans both went and ended.
Jurrell Casey. Seriously, he was a monster. Criminally underrated.
Chris Johnson. Johnson had his moments but he ended up averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Considering the Titans signed Andy Levitre in free agency, they should've been better. The offensive line wasn't perfect (and could certainly be addressed again in the draft); they ranked 19th in terms of run blocking at Football Outsiders. But generally speaking Johnson was a disappointment again in 2013, something that's become a disturbing trend since he signed his deal a few years ago.
What Has Happened Since the End of Season
The Titans dumped Munchak and replaced him with Whisenhunt. Landing Whiz should be considered a coup given that the Lions were also in hot pursuit of the former Cardinals coach. Arguably the biggest change that Whisenhunt brings is the addition of Ray Horton, who runs an attacking 3-4 defense and will be forced to fit the players from Tennessee's 4-3 defense into his scheme.
Impending Free Agents
Verner is going to hit the market and is one of the better free agents available across the board. He could get paid and very likely end up not coming back. Britt's time is up in Tennessee.
Free-Agency Game Plan
The Titans could end up having major needs at pass rusher (for Horton's scheme), they'll need to shore up the backup quarterback position, they need to get help on the offensive line -- particularly if David Stewart is released -- and at cornerback if Verner is out. Running back could very much be a position of need. Kamerion Wimbley indicated he's not expecting to be back in Tennessee when we spoke to him at the Super Bowl.
Draft Game Plan
Gotta think that cornerback or offensive line -- two positions where the draft is deep at the top -- could be addressed with their first-round pick. Someone like a Darqueze Dennard or Justin Gilbert makes sense, but if they grabbed a tackle like Taylor Lewan to replace Stewart and eventually take over for Michael Roos it wouldn't be shocking either.
Ridiculously Premature Prediction for 2014
An easy division helps things here but it's hard to know exactly what Tennessee will look like. If Locker can stay healthy, it's easier to be bullish on this offense, especially given their current wideout weapons and the talent on the offensive line. But can he step in and wing it 30 times a game if Johnson won't take a paycut and gets dumped? That's questionable.
Horton's done great work defensively before and there's reason to believe he'll succeed in Tennessee, but there's also reason to wonder if there won't be some transitional struggles out of the gate as the 4-3 personnel adapts to his scheme.
Predicted 2014 Record: 7-9