The Titans are hopeful returning offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger can do for Vince Young what he once did for Steve McNair a few years back, which is transform him into one of the league's elite quarterbacks.
Young has a 17-11 record as a starter in two seasons and led the Titans into the playoffs last year despite throwing 17 interceptions and just 9 touchdowns, which indicates he's a winner but not always an accurate or wise one. Young completed 62 percent of his throws but he threw nearly twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and those numbers have to be reversed.
Enter Heimerdinger, who was brought back to Tennessee to harness all of Young's talents and keep him from gambling too much on tight throws. If Heimerdinger can help Young to be more careful, he will help him to move to the next level and carry the Titans with him the same way McNair did.
Tennessee rushed a league-high 33.9 times a game and that figures to continue with bruising LenDale White (1,110 on 303 carries) doing the tough inside running and rookie Chris Johnson and former No. 2 pick Chris Henry hitting the edges with their speed. They'll have to do it this year with two new guards in front of them but one is Jake Scott, the reliable former Colts' starter who came to the Titans in free agency. His arrival improves Tennessee and weakens one of their chief rivals at the same time, a double benefit.
Heimerdinger intends to use that running game to control the clock, wear out opposing defenses and keep some of the pressure off Young, who is not blessed with anything more than average receivers to help him. What he will have though is free agent tight end Alge Crumpler. The four-time Pro Bowler spent every day this summer warming up with Young, reminding him he'll be his safety valve whenever he's under pressure. In the end, regardless of how Heimerdinger tries to limit the pressure on Young, his young quarterback will decide the fate of the offense and the team.
Defensively the Titans were in the top 10 in sacks, points allowed and rushing yards allowed. That will continue to be the case because they return a solid group anchored by Pro Bowl defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch. They lost two veteran defensive linemen to free agency but retained the core of one of the best defensive groups in the AFC. That defense and a ball control running game remain the staples of a Jeff Fisher coached team.
On the hot seat
Defensive end Jevon Kearse left the Titans four years ago as one of the most feared pass rushers in football. He returns this season after four disappointing years playing in an ill-fitting defensive scheme in Philadelphia. Kearse, 32, is trying to get his reputation back and prove he can still get to the quarterback after an injury-plagued season in which he had only 3 ½ sacks.
Rookie running back Chris Johnson ran a 4.2 40 at the combine that was so stunning Tennessee couldn't pass on him in the first round. Even though the Titans drafted backs in the first or second round the previous two years, they took Johnson despite having more pressing needs at other positions. Heimerdinger intends to get Johnson opportunities to show the football world why.
Hard road to hoe
The Titans would love to get off to a fast start to establish that last year's wild-card performance was no fluke. They open with three home games in the first four weeks and need to take advantage of it. They host Jacksonville, travel to Cincinnati and then host Houston and Minnesota before their bye week.
Titans will be better than you think if ...
Tight end Alge Crumpler can get back to the player he was in Atlanta, where he went to the Pro Bowl four times. Crumpler arrived with bad knees but says, "I went to the Pro Bowl four times with them, too." The fact he scored two spectacular touchdowns in his final game in Atlanta bodes well for increased production from him.
Titans will be worse than you think if ...
They again have to ask kicker Rob Bironas to carry too much of their scoring load. He converted 4 of 5 field goals beyond 50 yards, won one game with 8 field goals and generally had to soak his foot all off-season to get over the workload.