1. Jake Locker has lucked out. Needing time to develop, Locker landed in the right spot. Matt Hasselbeck will lead the team and mentor Locker until he's ready. Locker said he is learning all the little details of the position as well as the study habits and techniques he needs from the veteran. Hasselbeck said he really enjoys helping Locker, whom he truly likes, and he doesn't seem very threatened by Locker's presence on the roster. Hasselbeck is doing a very good job of trimming the amount of words the quarterbacks need to say to get the play called and that is really helping Locker become comfortable in the huddle.
2. The Titans are set at corner, but what about the pass rush? It was clear at practice that Cortland Finnegan, Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner are very capable cornerbacks. That means the Titans will be a good nickel secondary, but is the pass rush there? They have to find a way to make up for the 17 sacks that Jason Babin, Tony Brown and Stephen Tulloch generated last year; all three are no longer with the team. Derrick Morgan, who only played four games in his rookie season before going down with a serious knee injury, Jason Jones and ex-Chief Shaun Smith all have to deliver. That's a tall order and this team may have to blitz more than they have in the past, especially against division opponents like Indianapolis and Houston.
3. The wide receiver group needs a leader. The Titans need consistent play out of their wideouts to move forward as an offense. Hasselbeck told me he really likes Kenny Britt, who new head coach Mike Munchak thinks has a chance to be a true No. 1 wide receiver that forces double coverage. The current No. 2, Nate Washington, caught just one touchdown pass in six division games. It's time for Damian Williams to step up. Physically, the second year wide receiver looks ready to take the next step after catching 16 passes as a rookie. Marc Mariani could be a factor, since he'll be active on game days as a returner. This might be an area where the club looks to the free-agent market in the next week or two.
4. Munchak is cleaning up the locker room. The former offensive line coach took over head-coaching duties from Jeff Fisher, who left the organization in the offseason after 16 years at the helm. Munchak wasted no time making his mark in the locker room. "We got rid of hats in the building, loud music in the locker room, head phones in the weight room," Munchak said. "We did it to focus better on the daily responsibilities and establish some discipline." The players I talked to seemed to be OK with the new rules. Many admitted to me that it was about time.
New guy watch
»Akeem Ayers. The rookie linebacker from UCLA has created quite a buzz after stepping right into the starting lineup as the Sam linebacker. As one defensive player said about Ayers: "He is playing like a guy that has been in pro football for a few years." Ayers has pass rush skills and could be an excellent blitzer to go along with his linebacker duties.
» Derrick Morgan. While not technically a new player, Morgan is like a having a first-round pick all over again for the Titans, who only got four games from him as a rookie. Munchack was quick to point out Morgan worked very hard at his rehab during the offseason, which was extra tough because the club couldn't have contact with him. Titans All-Pro left tackle Michael Roos told me Morgan has looked good in one-on-one pass-rush situations. GM Mike Reinfeldt said, "Morgan doesn't want to take a minute off during practice. We have to be smart with his return but he does look good."
"We want him in camp and when he does we are prepared to offer him a deal to make him the highest-paid running back in the NFL. He doesn't have to practice until the deal is done, but he needs to learn the new offense. Mike was clear with me that he is ready to negotiate if and when Johnson shows up but I think the negotiations may have to happen before the great running back even shows up."
--Reinfeldt on Chris Johnson
The Titans lost four defenders that accounted for 330 tackles and 17.0 sacks in 2010. The defense did pick up a few guys like Barrett Ruud, Shaun Smith and Jordan Babineaux. They will be asked to duplicate their levels of production in recent seasons. Right now, I see the Titans as a work in progress with an outside chance at eight wins.