NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After one final Monday press conference from Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the book is officially closed on the team's 2014 season. There wasn't any breaking news or new information that will dominate today's coverage, just the overall sense that everyone is ready to leave a 2-14 season behind and look ahead to the future.
"I told them 'thanks for the effort this year and I appreciate the way you worked'," said Whisenhunt in regards to his final message to the team. "It wasn't what we wanted to get done on the field, but I really respect the way a lot of these guys worked."
Titans players clear out their lockers and Ken Whisenhunt addresses reporters on the final day of the Titans' 2014 season. (Donn Jones Photography)
No one pointed fingers on Monday and everyone from top to bottom took responsibility for the season gone awry. No one apologized for bold expectations at the onset of the season and no one backed down from the belief that good things are to come in 2015 for the Tennessee Titans.
One reason for optimism is the stability that will come from having systems in place going into the new year. The arrival of Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton in 2014 brought new systems on both sides of the ball.
"This offseason will be important not in terms of learning a system, but getting better at the systems we have," Whisenhunt said. "The one thing I want to make sure is clear is that continuity is a big part of it. That's one of the biggest things when meeting with the players today that they were most excited about. We're going to have systems in place that they're familiar with. They have a chance to get better and believe in what we're doing."
That isn't to say that changes won't come. Changes always come. The combination of the draft and free agency make change inevitable for all 32 NFL franchises. However, after a 2-14 season there comes a natural sense of urgency to make improvements.
Players aren't the only ones being evaluated. Every coach goes through a similar process. Whisenhunt didn't beat around the bush when asked about his staff.
"I've been in this thing long enough to know that you're always going to potentially have changes in this business," he said. "That's just the way it works. We'll go through the process of evaluating that and meet with them. A lot goes on today, so that will happen over the next week or so.
"With anything there are always parts of things you work through when working with guys you've never worked with before. There are things that can get better and things that you like. It's hard to say you're pleased with anything with the way our record went."
The beginning of an offseason is always a time for soul searching and reflection – reviewing every decision and adjustment made over the course of the last five months. Whisenhunt said it's important to avoid playing the what-if game when recapping the season.
"There's always the chance for second-guessing and hindsight is always 20-20," he cautioned. "We did a lot of different things during the year. In order to address penalties we brought in officials. We've tried to change some of the ways we approach practice and the process for how we prepare for third downs. You do all of those things when you're trying to get better.
"Do I feel like we could have done better? We were 2-14, we could have done a lot of things better. I don't think we were rigid, though, and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole."
Identity was a big topic of conversation during the press conference, something that Whisenhunt said is hard to establish with so much of the roster in flux.
"A large part of that will be where we go with the team going forward," he admitted. "A lot of the guys we started the season with – the ones that you grow with and build with – we didn't finish the season with. We had at some points during the season when we're working with guys that had been here for three days that are playing in a game.
"As far as an identity, you've got to have a core group of guys that are your guys that are in your system."
He went on to touch on where he sees the biggest need for improvement going into next season – several being issues that plagued the Titans all season long.
"Obviously, there's a number of areas we have to be better at," Whisenhunt said. "Third down on offense is one of them. We've got to run the ball better. We've got to stop the run better. All of those things are part of the process of getting better."
The numbers help illustrate those three specific areas of concern.
The Titans were tied for last in the league on third down, converting just 30 percent of their attempts all season. In Sunday's game alone, the Titans capitalized on just four-of-16 attempts, while not converting a single third down in the second half.
Shonn Greene's 94 yard rushing performance against the Colts was an individual high for the Titans this season. Tennessee's 90.4 rushing yards per game ranked 26th in the league and its six rushing touchdowns were tied for 29th. Rookie back Bishop Sankey's 569 rushing yards led a Titans team that didn't feature a 100-yard back in a single game this season.
Defensively, Tennessee's 137.2 rushing yards per game allowed were second most behind only the Cleveland Browns (141.6). The Titans' 17 rushing touchdowns allowed were also tied for third most in the NFL.
Taking advantage of opportunities is what Whisenhunt wants from his players going forward. It isn't good enough to play well when given playing time. Someone has to make the play that instantly changes the momentum of a game – something Whisenhunt said there wasn't enough of in 2014.
"I think we had opportunities to make big plays this year and we didn't make those plays on both sides of the ball," he said. "If you watch games yesterday, when it comes down to the end, you have some guys who make those plays. We had opportunities and didn't get it done."
One play in particular that Whisenhunt singled out was the fourth-and-one the Titans failed to convert late in the fourth quarter of their Week 5 contest against the Browns, a game in which Cleveland erased a 25-point deficit and stole a victory at LP Field.
It's not too bold to say a play like that could have changed the course of the Titans season. Converting in that situation seals the game for the Titans and gives them a 2-3 record rather than 1-4. The ensuing win against the Jaguars would have put Tennessee at 3-3.
The margin for error is so infinitely small in this league. It goes both ways. Most playoff teams could easily have a few more losses if not for a few specific plays. Teams like the Titans on the outside of the postseason looking in, can dissect the plays that cost them precious victories.
That in and of itself should give Titans fans hope with their sights set on the #2 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. The franchise will draft a player they expect to be an instant contributor in the starting lineup.
As difficult as it may be, it's time to look forward. There is always promise in what's to come. Spend time scouring the web for different mock drafts for who might be wearing two-tone blue in a few short months.
This offseason will be anything but quiet for the Titans organization. The drive for success won't cease.
That's what Whisenhunt will take with him as he enters the beginning of his first full offseason as the head coach of the Titans.
"This is a great town," he said. "You want to win here because the fans have been so good. I'm excited for that opportunity."