2014 is a big year for the Tennessee Titans. For the first time 20 years, the coaching staff does not consist of Jeff Fisher or anyone connected to him by his coaching tree. They are starting fresh with a new head coach in Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt has brought in highly touted defensive coordinator Ray Horton and offensive coordinator Jason Michael, who was the quarterback coach last year in San Diego where Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator. The rest of the coaching staff is littered with experience.
Tight ends coach Mike Mularkey has 19 years of NFL experience. He has seen time as an offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons and was the head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars for three years. Quarterbacks coach John McNulty, who spent four seasons on Whisenhunt’s staff in Arizona, came over from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he worked with, and exceeded expectations for, rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. Wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, one of the few holdovers from Mike Munchak’s staff, is returning to continue his excellent work from last season with the deep group of wide receivers in Tennessee.
Sadly, none of this matters because the Titans’ success hinges on one player — Jake Locker. Locker was drafted with the eighth pick in the 2011 NFL Draft with the hopes he would be the Titans’ franchise quarterback. Things haven’t exactly gone smoothly for Locker, who has had trouble avoiding injuries in his young career. When he has been on the field, he has shown the progression you like to see in a quarterback.
Last season with Locker starting, the Titans were 3-1, one poor series defensively against the Houston Texans from being 4-0 and looking to finally get over the hump and into playoff contention. One awkward hit at the end of the win over the New York Jets on Oct. 29 put Locker on the turf with a hip injury. He rushed back with a noticeable limp, showing tremendous heart and leadership, and played in the Sept. 29 game against the San Francisco 49ers as well as in the following two games against the St. Louis Rams and Jaguars, but he just didn’t look the same. During the game against Jacksonville, Locker rolled out on a naked-bootleg — yes, a naked-bootleg was called for a quarterback with a hip injury — and sustained a Lisfranc injury in his right foot and his season, along with the Titans’, was over.
Locker is progressing well after surgery in the offseason. He participated to some capacity in all of the OTAs for the Titans and looks to be the starter for the season opener. In the past two seasons, Locker has missed 14 of a possible 32 starts due to injuries. If the Titans are going to win games they will need him to stay healthy and play well.
For the first time in years, the Titans have serious playmakers on offense. Wide receivers Kendall Wright and second-year player Justin Hunter have the potential to be one of the best young tandems in the NFL. Add in the experience of Nate Washington and the Titans have a formidable group of receivers for Locker to work with. Tight end Delanie Walker, who is a tremendous blocker with good hands, had a breakout season for the Titans in his first year as a starter.
The Titans spent early draft picks to get Locker help with offensive tackle Taylor Lewan in the first round and running back Bishop Sankey in the second. Lewan looks to maybe starting at right tackle to bookend with left tackle Michael Roos. Sankey is taking over for Chris Johnson and looks to give the Titans a boost at the position. Sankey runs hard and can catch out of the backfield which is perfect for the new offense installed by Whisenhunt.
Unfortunately, Locker is in a new offense for a third straight season, but he cannot let that become an obstacle. He is entering the fourth and final year of his current contract and has to do everything to prove to his new coaches that he is worthy of a new deal as the franchise quarterback.