The Tennessee Titans finally have gotten to the point where they are tired of staying home during the playoffs. With owner Bud Adams spending more than $100 million this offseason, they finally feel ready to do something about that now.
Coach Mike Munchak promised Titans fans during training camp this year will be different.
"Believe me, we will not disappoint you this year," Munchak said.
This franchise hasn't reached the playoffs since 2008, and it's been nearly a decade since their last postseason victory back in January 2004. That doesn't cut it in the NFL, and Adams' patience may be up with Munchak if the coach doesn't deliver a playoff berth in his third season.
Injuries, including to Jake Locker, led to a miserable 6-10 record in 2012. Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster promised to revamp the roster and remake the Titans into a physical team. This roster could have as many as 25 new players.
The biggest makeover came on the offensive line with veteran left guard Andy Levitre and center Rob Turner. The Titans also drafted right guard Chance Warmack at No. 10 overall bringing his winning experience from national champion Alabama.
Munchak also changed up his staff, bringing in Gregg Williams after a nearly yearlong suspension from the NFL for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal. Munchak went with youth, naming Dowell Loggains, 32, his offensive coordinator after he handled the final five games last season. He hired Sylvester Croom to coach running backs and Shawn Jefferson for receivers.
Loggains' playbook meets Munchak's mandate to be a run-first offense both to help Locker and help the Titans hold the ball longer after an NFL-worst 27 minutes, 18 seconds per game.
The defense could have four new starters with tackle Sammie Hill and end Ropati Pitoitua adding much-needed bulk on the line. Change was needed after the Titans gave up at least 30 points in each of their first five games last season and in eight overall in allowing a franchise-worst 471 points.
"We want to take it to the next level," receiver Kenny Britt said. "We don't want to be one of them mediocre teams out there not making the playoffs every year."
Here are five things to watch as the Titans try to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008:
LOCKER'S TIME: This is a make or break season for the No. 8 pick overall in 2011 because if he doesn't succeed, Munchak may not be around either. The Titans cut veteran Matt Hasselbeck in March turning the offense, and the team, over to Locker. He is fully recovered from the dislocated shoulder that kept him out of five games last season, and the Titans believe they have put enough talent around Locker offensively so that the quarterback won't have to carry the team.
THE RUN GAME: Staying on the field longer means converting first downs, something the Titans were ranked next to last in the NFL in 2012. They signed Shonn Greene to pick up the tough yards on third down. Johnson was a little concerned early how they might work together, but "he sees what coach Munchak did with the offensive line and the talent we've accumulated around him," Loggains said. "That'll change anyone's attitude."
AGGRESSIVE DEFENSE: Too often the Titans found themselves steamrolled by opponents in 2012. Williams, given a one-year contract, has been pushing defenders to play hard and fast. Safety Bernard Pollard was signed to bring his Super Bowl ring with Baltimore to town, add his physical tackles to the run defense and be an on-field leader. Gray will call the schemes trying to use every player on the roster in different packages starting Sept. 8 when they open at Pittsburgh. "There's a lot of stuff that you guys haven't seen on film," Gray said. "We're just waiting to unveil it. We're not going to show it in preseason."
TAKING FLIGHT: This is the team's best and deepest receiving corps since moving to Tennessee in 1997. Britt's troublesome knees are healthy, and he's motivated in the final year of his contract. Kendall Wright led the team in catches as a rookie in 2012, and they also drafted Justin Hunter with the 34th pick overall to add to Nate Washington and Damian Williams.
TITAN TIME: This is the franchise's 15th season as the Titans, and they still rank seventh in the NFL since the start of the 1999 season in winning percentage with a 125-99-0 record. The schedule isn't easy with the first two games on the road before the home opener Sept. 22 against San Diego. The Titans also visit Seattle and Denver with a visit from San Francisco.
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