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Before agreeing with management on a buyout of the final year of his contract in January of 2011, former Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher had held the longest tenure in the league at his position – 16 years. So when Tennesee entered the 2011 season under first-year head coach Mike Munchak, no one expected them to finish with a winning record of 9-7 in a loaded AFC and just narrowly miss out on making the postseason for the first time since 2008.
The man who played a major role in the Titans’ success last year was the wily old veteran, former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who led his team to a Super Bowl XL appearance against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tennessee signed Hasselbeck to a three year, $21 million deal last July. He went on to start all 16 games in 2011, throwing for solid totals of 3,571 yards and 18 touchdowns.
But the Tennessee organization came to the conclusion this preseason that with Hasselbeck’s 37th birthday quickly approaching at the end of the month and second-year quarterback Jake Locker waiting in the weeds, this was the perfect time to move toward the future and give Locker the starting job.
Locker impressed the coaching staff by completing 34 of 66 pass attempts for 542 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions in five short appearances last season.
Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson, who ran for a league high of 2,006 yards just two years prior, got off to a more than disappointing start in 2011 after holding out for all of training camp and the entire preseason. He did, however, manage to finish with 1,047 rushing yards.
The most significant offseason loss from the Titans upcoming roster is former one-time Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who signed a five year, $50 million contract with the St. Louis Rams this past March. The Titans hope that they will be able to maintain their quality defense without him, as they finished eighth overall in scoring defense last year, giving up an average of 19.8 points per game.
Seven-time Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson was added to the mix after signing a three year deal with the Titans following his release from the Minnesota Vikings in March. Hutchinson over the years has been widely regarded as one of the best linemen in the game.
The Titans’ 2012 first round pick, Kendall Wright, a wide receiver out of Baylor, is expected to be Locker’s main target for years to come. Tennessee selected him with the 20th overall pick.
With a young quarterback taking the reins for the first time, the Titans will expect growing pains and should be grateful to finish around the .500 mark by season’s end.
Image Courtesy of Official Tennessee Titans