5 Biggest Takeaways from Tennessee Titans OTAs
The Tennessee Titans will enter the 2014 regular season with a lot to prove under a new coaching staff led by Ken Whisenhunt.
Positive vibes are flowing through Titans OTAs right now, which is typical for any team this time of year.
A playoff drought that extends all the way back to 2008 is still causing a lot of impatience, but the Titans are seemingly just a few pieces away from slipping into the playoffs.
It starts with stability at quarterback, and that has been a main focus during OTAs. A few rookies will also play key roles in getting this team back to playing winning football.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from OTAs as the Titans look to prove skeptics wrong.
Jake Locker Is Locked in as the Week 1 Starter
There is no question that Jake Locker's time as the Titans' long-term answer at quarterback is running out. However, he'll still get one more chance to prove himself.
The speculation of Locker's starting job being taken away from him before the opening kickoff of the 2014 season should come to an end. He is cemented as the starter as long as he doesn't suffer some disastrous injury setback during the offseason.
Ken Whisenhunt said he respects how Jake Locker has handled his business and how he's been studying #Titans— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) May 27, 2014
Locker's recovery from his foot injury is ahead of schedule, per the Associated Press, via WKRN.com. It is good news that Locker will be able to get the most out of offseason practices. He needs all the preparation he can get under the new offensive system.
However, it's unknown how long Locker's leash will be in the regular season. That part is up for debate and could be settled in OTAs and training camp. There's no reason to have too much confidence in Locker being able to make it through a full 16-game slate.
It's really all about how much rookie Zach Mettenberger can show leading up to the regular season. If he proves to coaches that he's making huge strides toward reading NFL defenses, he could see some action at some point in 2014.
As of now, it's completely Locker's job.
Shonn Greene May Lose Roster Spot
The Titans may be in danger of leaning primarily on a rookie at running back if Shonn Greene continues to struggle in his recovery from knee surgery.
Larry Hartstein of CBSSports.com says Greene's roster spot is not 100 percent safe, as originally reported by The Tennessean.
It comes down to how much Bishop Sankey impresses coaches in training camp and how badly the Titans want to possibly save over $2 million by cutting Greene.
The Titans need a bruiser such as Greene to remain on the roster to play along with Sankey and the shifty Dexter McCluster. Greene brings a veteran presence, but he has to prove he can stay healthy if he wants to avoid being cut.
Greene's roster spot may also be in danger thanks to rookie running back Antonio Andrews.
Andrews is an undrafted free agent out of Western Kentucky, and he broke the all-purpose yards record two years in a row. He could end up taking people by surprise and stealing Greene's place on the roster.
There is plenty of competition at this position, and Greene could very well end up being the odd man out in this committee of running backs.
Maikon Bonani the Front-Runner at Kicker
The Titans have some serious question marks at kicker now that Rob Bironas is gone, and there will be a battle for his replacement between two inexperienced kickers.
Maikon Bonani was in training camp last season with the Titans, and he's known to have a pretty strong leg. His downfall is his accuracy, but that is said to be improving, according to Lauren Moore of The Leaf Chronicle.
Leg strength is a very important trait to have as an NFL kicker, and the Titans learned that firsthand with Bironas. If Bonani shows that his accuracy has indeed improved, then it's his job to lose.
Travis Coons comes in as an undrafted free agent with just one solid season of experience at the collegiate level. His numbers were respectable, but he never attempted a kick over 50 yards.
It will be fun to see who wins this battle, and it's extremely important that the Titans make the right choice here. Bonani will win the battle unless he misses too many relatively easy kicks in preseason.
Titans Are Focusing on Introducing New Defense and Offense
This team is going to have a completely different look on both sides of the ball in 2014 under Ken Whisenhunt. That means the Titans have a lot of ground to cover during the offseason to make sure they are ready to hit the ground running in Week 1 against a formidable Kansas City Chiefs team.
Players are seeing multiple new things thrown at them during OTAs, according to Craig Peters of the Titans official website.
The biggest challenge will be for some of the inexperienced players on defense to learn how to play in a 3-4 defense. Some players already have experience, such as Shaun Phillip, but others will have to make the most out of OTAs to get a good feel for what defensive coordinator Ray Horton is installing.
Jake Locker is also seeing new things thrown at him on offense as he deals with yet another new offensive coordinator, making it all the more valuable that Locker was able to participate in OTAs.
These OTA sessions are critical for this team—more so than for many veteran teams that already know the game plan well. The positive vibes are flowing freely for the Titans as of now.
Akeem Ayers Had Two Surgeries This Offseason
It was not a season to remember for Akeem Ayers in 2013, but switching to a 3-4 defense should help him show off his pass-rushing abilities.
John Glennon of The Tennessean reported that Ayers had two knee surgeries in the offseason. He also has not been at 100 percent during OTAs.
The Titans need Ayers to have a bounce-back year in 2014. He could make this defense strong if he is able to consistently rush the passer and be aggressive.
Paul Kuharksy of ESPN.com thinks the Titans could be in for a vast improvement on defense if Ayers can blossom in the 3-4.
How effective Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley will as outside linebackers is up for debate, and that leaves Shaun Phillips as the only guy who has much experience at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Expect Ayers to play much better this season. Don't be surprised if he shatters his career high in sacks, which stands at six in 2012.
Fingers need to be crossed that this won't be a lingering injury for Ayers, as he still has a ton of upside.