Predicting the Winners of Tennessee Titans' Biggest Training Camp Battles
For a team that has so many unknowns, the Tennessee Titans will have plenty of interesting battles when training camp begins in just a few more days.
It will be critical for this team full of new faces to make plenty of progress during training camp as they adapt to a predominantly new coaching staff and playbook.
The schedule wastes no time challenging the Titans, with three of their first four games against teams that made the playoffs in 2013. Picking the wrong starters for these games could mean the difference between another mediocre season and possibly the franchise's first playoff berth in over five years.
Keep an eye on these important training camp battles, as well as who I predict will come out on top to start in Week 1 on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Battle: Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Tommie Campbell, Marqueston Huff
All four of these guys will get the opportunity to win a starting role to replace Alterraun Verner, but only two of them have strong chances.
Coty Sensabaugh probably enters training camp as the favorite over Blidi Wreh-Wilson thanks to his strong play in limited action since joining the team in 2012. During that time, Sensabaugh has managed to see some time as the nickel cornerback and has played in 30 games in two seasons.
As for Wreh-Wilson, this guy has a lot of upside. He was drafted in 2013 in the third round for the likely possibility that Verner would have been lost. Now that Verner is gone, Wreh-Wilson will get his chances.
This will be an extremely fun camp battle to watch between two young players in whom the organization must have a lot of faith, as it passed on plenty of good cornerback prospects at the 11th overall pick back in May.
Tommie Campbell has an outside chance of taking the position by storm with his athleticism, but I don't see him being anything more than a backup.
Then you have rookie Marqueston Huff, who will see most of his time this season on special teams. We'll get a nice measurement of how far along Huff is in his development as a fourth-round draft pick.
It will be one of the toughest camp battles in which to pick a winner, but Sensabaugh's limited track record over two seasons will win him a starting job by the narrowest of margins.
The Battle: Marc Mariani, Michael Preston, Derek Hagan, Brian Robiskie, Derel Walker
These are four receivers who I believe have the best chance to fill out the remainder of the depth chart at the position, with there probably only being room for two of them at the most.
The two incumbents are Marc Mariani and Michael Preston. These two have the best chance due to their already being familiar with the team, but a new offense under Ken Whisenhunt basically puts everyone on a level playing field.
Can Mariani finally break through as a wide receiver on this roster? This will probably be his last chance to prove that on this team, and I think he will. The guy is such a hard worker and dealt with an unfortunate setback last season when he was forced to injured reserve.
Then you have the ultra-athletic Michael Preston, who I believe has the best chance to become the team's fourth option behind Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and Justin Hunter. We've seen glimpses of how good he can be.
Preston was on the cusp of making the 53-man roster last season, but there was a lot more competition with guys like Damian Williams and Kenny Britt still there.
This is Preston's perfect time to really become a viable complementary receiver, much like Williams was.
You can't leave out Derek Hagan, who has seven seasons of NFL experience. This is Hagan's fifth NFL team, and I can't seem him beating out one of these younger receivers who have more upside to offer.
The handful of undrafted receivers all have unique opportunities to crack into a lineup that is thin and has limited experience after Washington. The player with the best chance out of this group is Derek Walker, who comes from Texas A&M. He'll have to really showcase his speed to possibly become the final receiver to make the roster.
In the end, the Titans will take five total receivers to Week 1, and the two incumbents will do enough in training camp to hold down their positions.
Winners: Michael Preston, Marc Mariani
The Battle: Karl Klug, Mike Martin, DaQuan Jones, Lavar Edwards
There are so many different directions and combinations the Titans could end up going with on the defensive line. It's a good problem to have for a coaching staff that is installing a completely new defense from last season.
The real battle for me comes down to a handful of guys, and the drafting of DaQuan Jones made this battle even more interesting than it would've already been in the first place.
Players who will be battling for roster spots on a crowded defensive line will be the likes of Karl Klug, Lavar Edwards and Mike Martin, per Paul Kuharksy of ESPN.com.
It will be extremely challenging to cut any of those guys, but someone is going to be on the outside looking in.
What makes this battle even more tricky to pinpoint is the shifts of Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley to outside linebackers. I'm interested to see if they'll still see some time at defensive end as well.
Ropati Pitoitua and Jurrell Casey will be your main guys lining up at defensive end, but nose tackle is where it gets tough to call.
I like Jones to actually win this position in training camp as the main guy in the middle, but it will be a revolving door throughout the season with players like Antonio Johnson, Al Woods and Sammie Hill. You can never have too many options at nose tackle in this type of defensive front.
Good players are unfortunately cut all the time, and I believe Klug becomes one of those players after a decent run in a Titans uniform. I thought there was a strong possibility of it last offseason as well.
Winner: DaQuan Jones
The Battle: Zach Brown, Colin McCarthy, Moise Fokou, Zaviar Gooden, Avery Williamson
Linebacker saw two huge additions in the form of Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard.
Woodyard is a lock to be one of the starting inside linebackers, while Phillips will be one of the outside linebackers.
That leaves an open competition to see who will fill in as the other inside linebacker. Zach Brown figures to be the favorite, but it was just an average year for him in 2013.
Adding to this competition will be fifth-round draft pick Avery Williamson, Colin McCarthy, Zaviar Gooden and Moise Fokou.
John Glennon of The Tennessean says that it's likely that McCarthy, Fokou and Williamson are not locks for the roster.
I'm most interested in seeing if McCarthy can show any glimpses of the linebacker that he was in his rookie year, when he became an unlikely leader of the group. He has one last training camp to prove it, and I'm just not sure that's enough time to overtake Brown and a surging Gooden, who has a ton of upside.
I also can't see Williamson not making the roster as he looks like a prime candidate to be an instant special teams contributor and eventual starter down the road.
It looks to me like McCarthy and Fokou will miss out on the 53-man roster, while Brown will get the early nod to start next to Woodyard.
The Battle: Michael Oher, Taylor Lewan
You don't draft a guy in the first round if you don't think he has at least a chance to win the starting role during his first trip to training camp.
The primary battle comes down to Taylor Lewan and Michael Oher, which is confusing considering how much money the Titans paid to get Oher just a few months ago.
Lewan has the heart of a lion, which is why I give him such a strong chance to overtake Oher. He just has that killer instinct that you love to see in your left tackle, even if the pick still baffles me.
On the other hand, Oher doesn't offer me much other than his nice background story. He put up some respectable years with the Baltimore Ravens, and the Titans probably signed him not realizing they were going to have a chance at drafting Lewan. It offers a great camp battle during the dog days of summer.
Oher may be the slight favorite here, but Lewan's competitive edge will win over a coaching staff that obviously likes him, since they were willing to draft him 11th overall.
The combination of Lewan and Michael Roos will make for a formidable duo to help protect the Titans backfield. Paying a hefty price for a backup left tackle in Oher will be a whole other issue to worry about.
Lewan may have been the pick to plan for the future when Roos could likely leave next offseason, but the time for him to make an impact will be right out of the gate in Week 1.
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