Senior Writer

Titans draft needs: Young miss creates chain reaction


It seems like it was just yesterday that I was sitting in Jeff Fisher's office last summer as he talked about being the longest-tenured coach in the league and went on and on about the talent on his 2010 team.

"This is the best team we've had," Fisher said.

Oops. Here we are eight months later and Fisher is no longer even the coach in Tennessee, and the team is trying to pick up the pieces from a disappointing 6-10 season.

Mike Munchak, the team's offensive line coach, takes over for Fisher and he does so with a major problem.

Who plays quarterback?

Vince Young, who was a flop last season and ultimately was benched by Fisher, is on his way out. Kerry Collins is a free agent and might retire. Chris Simms is also a free agent and might not be back. That leaves Rusty Smith, whose only start as a rookie was a disaster.

Do they need help or what?

Munchak hired Chris Palmer to run the offense, and he has a reputation for being good with quarterbacks. He'll need to be.

The defense wasn't very good either last season. The Titans were 26th in total defense and gave up more first downs than any defense in the league.

Five possibilities: Titans
Jake Locker, QB, Washington: Have you looked at their QB depth chart? They need help and they like Locker.
Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas: He is a strong-armed passer who would help back off defenses for Chris Johnson.
Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn: His defensive line coach at Auburn was Tracy Rocker, who is now the D-line coach for the Titans.
Martez Wilson, ILB, Illinois: He would help at a position that needs it in the worst way.
Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina: He has the speed, but he's coming off a serious ACL injury. Might be worth a look in the third round.
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Munchak has a big rebuilding job in front of him.

Where did all that talent that Fisher talked about last summer go?

QB: With Young gone and the two veterans now free agents, the only player to evaluate is Smith. He was a sixth-round pick last year who impressed Fisher in camp. He is smart player with a good arm. But when he was forced to start, he was horrible, getting picked off three times in a 20-0 loss. Even so, he has the makeup to be a backup in the league for a long time. The Titans might draft a quarterback early in this draft. There is talk they like Jake Locker from Washington. If Collins returns, he could be a good mentor for two young passers. But how much does he have left? This is a serious problem for the Titans. That's what missing on Young has done.

RB: Chris Johnson remains one of the league's best. He is an explosive runner who can turn a handoff into a 70-yard run, one of the few in the league with that kind of ability. But Johnson, coming off his 2,000-yard season in 2009, wasn't as good as the year before. Part of that was because the Titans didn't run block as well and there wasn't a passing game to scare teams down the field. Javon Ringer is the top backup, a role he serves well. Fullback Ahmard Hall is one of the best blocking fullbacks in the NFL.

WR: The Randy Moss experiment didn't work. After they signed him midway through the season, he did nothing. He is a free agent and won't be back. Kenny Britt is the top receiver and when he's on the field he's a good player. But he has to stay healthy and out of trouble. Britt was arrested Tuesday and faces felony charges. If he plays, he is a big, strong player who should be ready for a big season -- if they fix the QB situation. Nate Washington hasn't lived up to what the Titans expected when they paid him a lot of money as a free agent a few years back. Justin Gage is a solid veteran player, but he doesn't run that well. Damian Williams showed potential as a rookie and should get on the field more in 2011.

TE: Second-year player Jared Cook played well as the season moved along, getting 15 catches in the final three games. He is a pass-catching tight end who should be more effective when the quarterback situation is fixed. Craig Stevens is the blocking tight end. He isn't much more than that. Bo Scaife, who is more of a flex tight end, is a free agent who isn't expected back. They could use a player here for depth.

OL: This seemed to be a strong point during much of Fisher's tenure, but it wasn't as good last season. Tackles David Stewart and Micheal Roos, one of the best tandems heading into the season, weren't as good as expected. The play inside also tailed off. Eugene Amano, who took over at center for veteran Kevin Mawae, wasn't as good in the run game, and it showed. He got hurt late and Fernando Velasco played decent in his place. Left guard Leroy Harris really struggled and right guard Jake Scott was just OK. The result was they didn't get as much push in the run game. They have to be better inside and could use an early pick on a lineman. There is some young depth, which the Titans have to consider using inside next season.

DL: Under Fisher, the one thing you could always count on was a good front. Not last season. It was a unit that underachieved and was bothered by injuries. End Jason Babin was the unit's best player and finished with 12½ sacks. He is a free agent and might not be back. The new regime likes bigger lineman. Jason Jones started strong at tackle, but seemed to slow as the season went along. He's still a good player. Tony Brown was bothered by injuries all season and didn't live up to the new contract he got from the team. Rookie Derrick Morgan, the team's first-round pick, showed pass-rush ability from the end spot when he was on the field, but his season was ended by a torn MCL. William Hayes and Jacob Ford, two players the Titans thought could be productive pass rushers heading into the season, didn't do what was expected. They both have ability. Veteran defensive tackle Jovan Haye wasn't very good. This is a unit that has some talent, but it needs to avoid the injury troubles of 2010

LB: This is a major position of concern. Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch makes a lot of tackles but he can't cover anybody. He is a real liability in coverage. He can run to the football, but he isn't big and guards can sometimes eat him up. Veteran Will Witherspoon was solid but he is in his ninth season. He's starting to slow down. The other spot saw Gerald McRath start 12 games after being suspended for the first four for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He didn't play with the same suddenness as he did in 2009 and was a disappointment. There isn't much in terms of backups, although Tim Shaw and Rennie Curran are good special-teams players. Curran, who is small, might get a chance to challenge for time this season.

DB: This was a unit that didn't play as well in 2010 as it did the year before. Cortland Finnegan is still a good corner but he had an off year. He seemed to get caught up too much in the dirty player talk and didn't play as well as in recent years. But he is the least of the concerns in the secondary. Jason McCourty was solid on the other side, but missed time with a broken forearm. Alterraun Verner showed well as a rookie nickel corner and as a starter when he took over for McCourty. He was a steal. The veteran safeties were just OK. Chris Hope seems to be slowing down some and he really struggled. Michael Griffin was the better of the two, and did improve over 2009, but he still isn't as good as his reputation. The backups are mostly special-teams players, although Vincent Fuller has been the nickel corner and Ryan Mouton has seen playing time.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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