NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans saw it all too often. Defenses sticking an extra man near the line of scrimmage to stop Chris Johnson and LenDale White, daring Kerry Collins to beat them.
The veteran quarterback did it well enough to help them go 13-3.
Then the Titans signed receiver Nate Washington as a free agent, drafted receiver Kenny Britt and tight end Jared Cook to give Collins some more help. Everyone else also now has a full year in offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger's system, and the early results have the Titans optimistic that they can match Johnson's big-play potential on the ground by going to the air.
"I think the offense will take off in a way that no one can really imagine at this point in time," receiver Justin Gage said. "You look at CJ and LenDale, the defense's first thought right now is put an extra guy in the box to stop them and let's make the receivers beat us one on one.
"By throwing the ball and making some plays, they're going to have to bring that guy out."
The Titans always have been able to run the ball under coach Jeff Fisher, and both Johnson and White showed the ability to take off to the end zone in an instant. They also had eight different players have at least one catch 21 yards or longer last season, the longest a 56-yarder to Gage from Collins.
But they averaged just 176.2 yards passing per game, 27th in the NFL.
Ask Heimerdinger if they will throw more this year, he jokes Tennessee will toss 10 or 12 passes a game. But the Titans put up some eye-popping numbers offensively under Heimerdinger in 2003 and 2004. The best was 2003 when Steve McNair was co-MVP of the NFL with a 100.4 passer rating and an offense that averaged 242.6 yards per game -- fifth in the league.
"The nice thing now is I can call a play with the guys who've been here for a year I can make some things up when we do team stuff and everybody gets in the right spots," Heimerdinger said. "I feel good about that. We'll keep expanding and see how we do. Right now we're handling things good."
Washington, who earned a Super Bowl ring with Pittsburgh, adds speed to the receiving corps. The 6-foot-5 Cook showed off his potential as a deep threat himself Friday, though he dropped one long pass but caught another for a touchdown.
"Well, he runs very, very well," Fisher said. "That's particularly the reason we drafted him, because he can get down the field."
Speed on the outside should help open up the middle for tight ends like Bo Scaife, who had a team-best 58 catches in 2008, and Alge Crumpler. Johnson also is working on his route-running and catching skills after he had 43 receptions but averaged only 6 yards per catch in his Pro Bowl rookie season.
Crumpler said the Titans ran lots of routes into the middle of the field last season and were very successful.
"With the guys that we're adding now I think it's going to help us even more," Crumpler said.
That should translate into more scoring. The Titans had 24 touchdowns rushing but just 13 passing. Only St. Louis, Cincinnati and Cleveland had fewer with 11 apiece.
Collins spent the offseason working hard on his physical conditioning once he signed a two-year deal bringing him back. He's also focusing on starting faster in games after watching himself struggle early. Few were better than him in the fourth quarter, though as he had a 90.9 passer rating with three TDs and no interceptions.
"I wish I could put my finger on it, why the first quarter wasn't better. A lot of games are won in the second half, third and fourth quarter. I'd rather be playing better in the second half than the first half generally speaking. But I think there's room for us to be better in the first half," Collins said.
To Fisher, the offensive philosophy hasn't changed even though he feels they upgraded their offense.
"That's to do what it takes to win the ballgame whether it's run it or pick it up and throw it," he said.