Skip to main content

Titans Super Bowl Hungry After 2008's Stunning End

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The motto for this year's Tennessee Titans is simple: Finish what they couldn't a year ago.

The Titans surprised the NFL by starting 10-0 and turning in the league's best record at 13-3. But they wasted home-field advantage when they stumbled in the divisional round with a 13-10 loss to Baltimore. Reaching the postseason a third straight year for the first time under coach Jeff Fisher won't be enough.

"We have to handle our business," linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "Nothing is promised, and it's not guaranteed that we get a playoff spot. You have to go out and earn it."

Tennessee may be in better position to chase that than in 2008, even if Fisher isn't sure the Titans can match the wins from a year ago.

The Titans return 20 starters -- 10 on each side of the ball. The biggest loss was All Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to Washington in free agency, but they kept 10 linemen on the final roster -- opting to chase quarterbacks by committee with a rotation to keep them fresh.

"We've played without Albert in the lineup. We played exceptionally great with Albert in the lineup, and we've lost some games with Albert in the lineup. He's no longer here, and he's in a better place for him," Bulluck said.

Three of the four starters in the secondary went to the Pro Bowl, and Bulluck promised no dropoff in a defense that features new coordinator Chuck Cecil, who replaced Jim Schwartz when he became Detroit's new head coach.

Cecil was a hard-hitting safety when he played in the NFL, so the Titans may wind up blitzing more. Tennessee ranked second in the NFL in points allowed (14.6) per game, seventh in yards allowed (293.6) and second in turnover ratio at plus-14.

"It's a Titans defense," linebacker David Thornton said. "This identity was established before Chuck took the helm. He's just carrying on the torch and taking us to a new level."

The biggest changes for Tennessee come offensively.

The Titans signed veteran Kerry Collins to a two-year deal on the first day of free agency, giving him the entire offseason to establish himself as the starting quarterback. Collins, who turns 37 before the regular season finale, trails only Brett Favre and Peyton Manning in career yards passing among active quarterbacks.

Fisher can see a difference from Collins spending a second straight offseason with offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger.

"He has a real good understanding of what we're doing. He has a right to expect everybody to be in the right place. He'd probably tell you he's a little bit more critical of himself. He's that much further in the offense," Fisher said.

They also gave Collins some targets by signing speedy receiver Nate Washington to a six-year deal and drafting Kenny Britt of Rutgers with the 30th pick overall.

Tight end Jared Cook, a third-round pick out of South Carolina, dazzled through the preseason with his sticky hands and speed that will allow Tennessee to line him out wide as a receiver. The combination should only help an offense that ranked 27th in the NFL with 176.2 yards passing per game.

"Obviously, Nate's a proven commodity more so than the young guys. Yeah, they've got a lot of talent, and they can make big plays," Collins said, cautioning that "I don't think we can expect too much too soon."

The strength of this offense is the line -- all five lineman return, led by All Pro left tackle and All Pro center Kevin Mawae. They set a franchise record allowing just 12 sacks in 2008 -- Collins absorbed eight -- and opened holes for the seventh-best rushing offense.

Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson has returned, too, eager to improve on the 1,228 yards he ran for last season. LenDale White is more than 30 pounds lighter than a year ago when his 15 touchdowns rushing topped the AFC, and Tennessee improved its depth by drafting All-American Javon Ringer out of Michigan State.

The Titans are a veteran group even with nine draft picks making the roster. They face a difficult start with four of the first six games on the road, starting Thursday night in the NFL season opener at the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers. They play six playoff teams from a year ago and they cap their 18,040 miles of travel with a flight to Seattle in the regular season finale Jan. 3.

Only Indianapolis and Philadelphia have reached the playoffs more over the past decade than Tennessee, and the Titans host the Colts first on Oct. 11 as they try to celebrate their 50th season as a franchise by defending their AFC South title.

Tight end Alge Crumpler is confident. He sees the Titans as a true contender, already better now than at any point in 2008.

"This year everyone expects us to be good, and we will be," Crumpler said.

Related Content

Fan Zone

Titans + Nissan Stadium App presented by Verizon

Titans + Nissan Stadium App presented by Verizon

Stay up to date with team and stadium news, concert and event announcements, stream live Titans games and more!

Tennessee Titans Marketplace

Tennessee Titans Marketplace

A one-stop shop for Titans memorabilia, autographed items and more!

Tennessee Titans Email Newsletter

Tennessee Titans Email Newsletter

Get Titans news sent straight to your inbox.