Tennessee Titans: One Pro, One Con at Each Position Group

Tennessee Titans: One Pro, One Con at Each Position Group

NASHVILLE – The seemingly endless offseason speculation cycle concludes Wednesday when the Titans hit the field for the first training camp practice of the season.

Players will start to earn praise and draw criticism based on how they’re actually performing at practice, as opposed to solely on what they did in previous years or during the offseason.

It never hurts to have one last overview of some of the upcoming Titans’ storylines.

We did so in as simple a format as possible, offering one pro and one con at every position:

RUNNING BACK

Pro: It’s hard to find a better positive than the sight of an apparently healthy Derrick Henry, who has averaged 116 rushing yards per game and just over five yards per carry over the past three seasons. His presence makes Ryan Tannehill a better quarterback.

Con: Were there signs of decline for Henry last season, even before he suffered the foot injury? His 4.3 yards per carry was more than a yard less than he averaged in 2020 (5.4), and his rushing yards over expectation dropped by about a yard as well, per Next Gen Stats.

QUARTERBACK

Pro: The addition of passing-game coordinator Tim Kelly (a three-year offensive coordinator in Houston) should help boost Tannehill, who appeared invigorated and energized during the team’s offseason work.

Con: Tannehill lost his favorite target of the last three seasons – Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown – and will have to adjust to new receivers like Robert Woods, Treylon Burks and Austin Hooper among others.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Pro: Left tackle Taylor Lewan is a year further removed from his ACL injury, center Ben Jones continues to be a rock of stability, and right guard Nate Davis – who missed games because of COVID and concussions last year – appears to be in great shape.

Con: The penciled-in starters at left guard (Aaron Brewer) and right tackle (Dillon Radunz) have a combined six games of NFL starting experience. Are they the answers to bolster a line that surrendered 47 sacks last season?

TIGHT END

Pro: The addition of two new faces – Hooper (two-time Pro Bowler) and rookie Chig Okonkwo (4.51 speed in 40-yard dash) – offer Tannehill a proven pass-catcher and a player with explosive upside down the middle, respectively.

Con: Both Hooper and Okonkwo have challenges, as the former must improve upon his production the last two seasons, while the 6-foot-3, 238-pound Okonkwo must show he can hold his own as an NFL blocker.

WIDE RECEIVER

Pro: In adding Woods (570 catches for 7,077 yards and 35 touchdowns in nine seasons) and drafting Burks (66 catches for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns at Arkansas last year), the Titans have the potential for an impressive one-two punch.

Con: The 30-year-old Woods is returning after ACL surgery last November and Burks (asthma, conditioning issues) practiced sparingly during the offseason, so both must prove they will be effective contributors.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Pro: It’s hard to go wrong with Jeffery Simmons, one of the game’s most dominant linemen, occupying one of three spots and underrated veteran Denico Autry (who also spends time on the edge) holding down another.

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Con: If Simmons is disgruntled over the lack of a contract extension (and we don’t yet know if that’s the case or not), it could have a ripple effect in the locker room.

INSIDE LINEBACKER

Pro: The Titans have the makings of a productive complementary duo in run-stopping Zach Cunningham (who led the team in tackles during his 10 games here last season) and David Long, who excelled as a full-time starter in 2021.

Con: Depending on how long it takes Monty Rice to recover from last year’s Achilles injury (he’s currently on the physically unable to perform list), there could be some depth issues here. Others in the mix include rookie Chance Campbell, as well as more experienced Dylan Cole and Joe Jones.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

Pro: With Harold Landry (12 sacks, 49 quarterback pressures), a healthy Bud Dupree (42.5 career sacks) and Autry (who rotates between edge and defensive line), the Titans have a formidable trio with which to attack opposing passers.

Con: The 29-year-old Dupree must show he has fully recovered from his torn ACL of 2020, after a sub-par 2021 season in which the injury slowed him.

CORNERBACK

Pro: The Titans have a wealth of young talent here, a group that includes Kristian Fulton (2020 second-round pick), Caleb Farley (2021 first-round pick), Elijah Molden (2021 third-round pick) and Roger McCreary (2022 second-round pick).

Con: There is a lot of upside here, but it has to be realized. Farley played just 60 snaps as a rookie before suffering a torn ACL, and McCreary will have to prove that his success on the college level will translate to the NFL.

SAFETY

Pro: The Titans have one of the better starting duos in the league, with two-time All-Pro Kevin Byard lining up next to versatile Amani Hooker.

Con: There’s not a lot of experienced depth behind the top two. A.J. Moore did start five games for Houston in 2020, but Joshua Kalu has been primarily a special-teams player and former University of Tennessee standout Theo Jackson is entering his rookie season.

KICKER

Pro: Randy Bullock provided stability and poise at the position last season, connecting on 26-of-31 field-goal attempts – a big upgrade from the team’s two previous years – and hitting three game-winning field goals.

Con: All five of Bullock’s misses came from 40-49 yards, a concern considering that distance is considered especially important to NFL teams. It’s close enough that teams generally feel comfortable giving kickers an opportunity to make clutch kicks at the end of halves or games.

PUNTER

Pro: A 14-year veteran, Brett Kern is a tremendous security blanket for the Titans, a punter who’s averaged over 44 yards per attempt in each of his last eight seasons.

Con: Over the past two seasons, Kern’s overall punting average and net punting average have slipped, which might raise an eyebrow considering the 15-year vet is now 36 years old.

RETURNER

Pro: Fifth-round draft pick Kyle Philips appears to offer promise in the punt-return game, after averaging 19.3 yards per attempt and scoring two touchdowns on 26 returns at UCLA.

Con: Though free-agent signee Trenton Cannon is expected to be an overall special-teams standout, he didn’t stand out as a kick returner last year in San Francisco, averaging 20.5 yards on 16 attempts. Undrafted free agent Reggie Roberson averaged 31.4 yards per return on nine attempts while at SMU, so he may be a darkhorse here.

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