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Preseason Power Rankings No. 30: Tennessee Titans

Jake Locker

Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker warms up during an NFL football minicamp workout on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

AP

The Titans have been decidedly solid yet uninteresting the last several years, floundering between six and nine wins for each of the last five.

They responded by firing the solid coach, and perhaps the most interesting player in franchise history.

While they’ll get a shot of energy from new coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff, there are serious questions about how much he can do with this offense.

Running back Chris Johnson might not have been Chris Johnson any longer, but his absence still leaves a big hole, and there’s no way to have enough confidence in quarterback Jake Locker to fill that void.

With that much uncertainty, our PFT panel voted the Titans close to the bottom, at No. 30. They could end up better than that, but we’ll delve into the reasons why below.

Strengths.

Nothing against former coach Mike Munchak, but the Titans traded up in coaching staff.

Former Cardinals boss Ken Whisenhunt brought a good staff with him, as well as a reputation for working well with talented quarterbacks.

If he can get Locker to resemble a first-round pick, there’s a chance for the Titans to surprise people. But the first step will be keeping Locker on the field, and that’s been difficult.

With new defensive coordinator Ray Horton comes some new responsibilities for guys who were settled into a 4-3 scheme.

How he works Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley, Shaun Phillips and Akeem Ayers into the mix could define how successful their defense can be this year.

It’s a deep group of players who have shown they can rush the passer, and the shift could benefit Ayers, who has never lived up to his draft status.

The good news is they might be able to get by without him, as Phillips is the kind of solid veteran addition they made several of this offseason.

Their offensive line should be solid, and they have a good first three wideouts in Nate Washington, Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter. Coupled with a versatile tight end in Delanie Walker, there are options on offense if the run game stabilizes.

Weaknesses.

The Titans figure to play aggressively up front on defense.

Which should help, as their secondary could be a bit of a mess.

They never really replaced free agent departure Alterraun Verner, and have a committee of young players with chances to shine.

A solid group of safeties headlined by Bernard Pollard (who frankly had more in the tank than we expected last year) should help, but there are many question marks around the edges.

Of course, if Locker falters (or gets hurt again — what are the odds?), the Titans are in a mess. They brought in veteran clipboard-jockey Charlie Whitehurst, and drafted rookie Zach Mettenberger, but there’s no reason to think it will be anything other than a disaster if Locker’s not well.

Changes.

Whisenhunt should help move the Titans’ offense into the 21st century, bringing an up-tempo passing game which should mesh well with Locker’s abilities.

Getting the ball out quickly and allowing Locker to take advantage of his athleticism should help a team with a good group of pass-catching options.

It’s a bit of risk with Locker, now running his third offense in four years (while coming off foot surgery).

On the other hand, the simple act of changing things should help an organization that had gotten into a significant rut in recent years.

Munchak was a good solider, and probably got more chances than his record would have indicated because of his track record with the late owner Bud Adams.

But they’re entering a new era now, and unless Locker flourishes, there will be more changes on the way.

Camp Battles.

There are many, which is part of the reason it’s hard to peg the Titans this year.

Perhaps the most interesting will be to see what they do at offensive tackle.

In a problem few teams have, the Titans have three legitimate options to start.

Veteran left tackle Michael Roos is clearly nearing the end of a very good run with the team, but should have one good year left in him.

But then they went out and signed free agent Michael Oher to replace David Stewart, and used their first-rounder on Taylor Lewan, putting a lot of resources into the position.

While Lewan is the future at left tackle, and they’ll like that pick a year from now, his selection casts a different light on giving Oher guaranteed money.

Without Johnson, Shonn Greene will go into camp as the de facto starter at running back, but there’s an opportunity there for someone to earn some serious time, because Greene is Greene.

Bishop Sankey is an exciting prospect. While he might not have the potential to run for 2,000 yards, it’s easy to see him as a quality back.

They also need to find a new kicker, after parting ways with long-time Titan Rob Bironas.

For now, they have two guys named Maikon Bonani and Travis Coons, but this could easily be a revolving door that doesn’t stop until other veterans hit the street in September.

Prospects.

It’s not an overstatement to say the entire season, and the next few, hinges on Locker.

If he can earn the trust of Whisenhunt, they’ll have an expensive decision to make this offseason. They didn’t use the fifth-year option on him, leaving this year as a carrot for him.

And while Mettenberger is an interesting prospect, he’s hardly the next franchise passer, so if Locker fails, look for a high pick next year as they hit reset at the position.

At the same time, Whisenhunt has some parts to work with, and the defense has sufficient parts to keep them in games.

If they can keep Locker on the field and playing well, they have a chance to be competitive — which they were on the fringes of already.