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Tennessee Titans 53-man roster analysis

Now that the Titans have made the cuts necessary to get down to 53, it is time for me to take my promised look at the shape and form of the roster.

First, let's take a look at the positional distribution of the Titans as they stand right now, with the number of players at the position on the roster for the first game last year in parentheses:

QB: 2 (3)
RB/FB: 5 (5)
TE: 3 (3)
WR: 6 (4+1)
OL: 9 (9)
DE: 6 (5)
DT: 4 (5)
LB: 6 (7)
CB: 5 (5)
S: 4 (4)
Special teams: 3 (3)

While the Titans carried ten defensive linemen for the first game last year, after Kenny Britt returned from his one-game suspension, they dropped a defensive end (Pannel Egboh) and carried only nine defensive linemen the rest of the year. Injuries and other considerations changed that shape further over the course of the year (for a time, they kept five safeties and four running backs), but that was the basic shape. Compared to last year, the Titans seemed to value that sixth wide receiver and the tenth defensive lineman more than the third quarterback or the seventh linebacker.

Next, the position by position breakdown of who was kept and who was not. 

QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jake Locker
Analysis: The only suspense relating to this position is whether they would have space for that third quarterback. I thought they would, but apparently those mentions of a 25-25 split between offense and defense were quite serious. I think the Titans took a calculated risk in carrying only three quarterbacks in training camp, knowing they might not have room for Rusty Smith and he might get snatched up by another team if they cut him. Rusty cleared waivers and re-signed with the Titans' practice squad, so the gamble paid off.

RB/FB: Jackie Battle, Shonn Greene, Chris Johnson, Quinn Johnson (FB), Darius Reynaud (ret.)
Analysis: As Paul Kuharsky indicated, apparently the Titans thought more of Battle on special teams than I thought they would, and that was enough for him to win the third running back job. Will it be enough to keep him active for games? The Titans only kept all five backs active once last year, in the season finale, and Greene, CJ, QJ, and Reynaud all have their roles on the team.

Refusing to predict the Titans to cut Quinn Johnson until they actually do cut Quinn Johnson paid off for me. I may have described him in this analysis last year (and probably at other times) as a "difficult watch" for me, but the Titans like him.

Darius Reynaud wins the returner job by default. Again. Welp. You plan, you try, and things just happen. He might have won it both years anyway, but I am annoyed we never got to find out.

TE: Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson, Delanie Walker
Analysis: Jack Doyle made a push for a roster spot, but it would have been very hard to keep him unless Delanie Walker started the season on PUP. The Colts claimed him on waivers, and I will be curious to see if they keep him for more than the required three weeks.

WR: Kenny Britt, Justin Hunter, Michael Preston, Nate Washington, Damian Williams, Kendall Wright
Analysis: The Titans keep an extra body at this position, which means what? In last year's post, I included projected depth charts for each position. That is not necessary this year, as the Titans have basically announced who the starters will be. At wideout, they are Britt and Washington. Wright seems poised to play the slot, which means he will play just how much? The Titans are going to play more 2-TE sets than they did last year, so is Wright in for a role expansion from the 56% of the time he played last year? Also, what will Justin Hunter do as the fourth or fifth receiver that justifies his selection in a must-win season, or was trading up to get him the one move the Titans made that this offseason that was for the future instead of the present? Oh, I guess keeping Preston on the 53 could be considered another move for the future instead of the present, so consider the Hunter trade perhaps the only big such move.

OL: Andy Levitre, Mike Otto, Michael Roos, Brian Schwenke, Chris Spencer, David Stewart, Byron Stingily, Rob Turner, Chance Warmack
Analysis: Fernando Velasco was probably the second-biggest surprise among the cuts, but on reflection it made a lot of sense once Turner won the starting center job. Schwenke was a lock and is best playing center. Schwenke is a center. The other interior backup spot is thus at least as much about playing guard as it is playing center. Spencer has more experience playing guard, particularly right guard, than Velasco does. I do not think Spencer is a particularly good guard (the Bears benched him last year), but Velasco was not a good left guard. Theoretically, the Titans could look to add a better right guard, possibly a veteran, the way they did in swapping Troy Kropog for Deuce Lutui last year, but I think Spencer is that veteran and they would likely be on the hook for his full-season salary if they made that move.

DE: Keyunta Dawson, Lavar Edwards, Karl Klug, Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley
Analysis: Six defensive ends and four tackles seems unbalanced, but Edwards and Klug both kick inside in sub package situations in the preseason, so the Titans are instead keeping something like four ends, four tackles, and two linemen. The hard part is getting all of these guys into the lineup in games, especially if Ayers keeps kicking down to end the way he did in the preseason. While the Titans seem likely to make much more of a concerted effort to play their ends fewer snaps, the seventh and eighth defensive linemen generally max out around 15 snaps unless you get really creative and dressing more than eight is hard unless they're dynamite special teams players. I don't see one there. Dawson was the player I did not have a spot for, because I think he and Wimbley play the same role and I think they form a binary pair.

DT: Jurrell Casey, Sammie Lee Hill, Antonio Johnson, Mike Martin
Analysis: Jerry Gray has the bulk he wants in Sammie Lee Hill and Antonio Johnson. This should be an upgrade on the Shaun Smith experience, but if Gray gives a press conference at the end of this season where he talks about these guys the same way he talked about Smith, I might actually go nuts.

The Titans did dress at least four defensive tackles every game last year, but with Edwards and Klug kicking in I see problems getting all four of these guys in the lineup on a regular basis. In that case, who sits? Does Gray lose some of his desired bulk in Johnson, or will Martin go from a breakout player to one whose role actually diminishes in his second season? Or do the Titans decide "linebackers, shminebackers" and play a 5-1-5 or 5-2-4?

LB: Akeem Ayers, Patrick Bailey, Zach Brown, Moise Fokou, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy
Analysis: The Titans dressed six linebackers in 13 of 16 games last year. Gooden has already been ruled out for Sunday's game in Pittsburgh, while Ayers and Brown are both recovering from injuries. Why did the Titans only keep six linebackers? Why was the linebacker they cut Tim Shaw, who was special teams captain, played a lot in the preseason, played over Bailey in the defense in the past, as I recall played SLB in past preseasons, and has a better track record of health than Bailey? I understand why the Titans cut Velasco, but I do not get why they cut Shaw. I know, he played MLB last year, but keeping a third MLB would not have been a bad idea given McCarthy's injury history. They kept Jonathan Willard on the practice squad, but he was not an MLB. I guess they really wanted that tenth defensive lineman.

McCarthy needs to get and stay healthy so I can figure out if he is actually any good. Right now, he reminds me of the exasperating version of Stephen Tulloch.

CB: Tommie Campbell, Jason McCourty, Coty Sensabaugh, Alterraun Verner, Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Analysis: Chalk and cheese again as Verner wins the starting job from Campbell. Their love for Sensabaugh in the slot gets to me nearly as much as their affection for QJ, but I will keep as open an eye as I can for his second season. Khalid Wooten made it to the practice squad, which was not a surprise to me.

S: Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, Daimion Stafford, George Wilson
Analysis: Q: What is the plan if Griffin goes down? A: Yes, we have no bananas. I operated all offseason on the presumption the Titans would be keeping a backup free safety, but once Robert Johnson's foot proved too troublesome that was apparently it. The unofficial depth chart in the press release for the Steelers game lists Wilson as the backup free safety. I have seen George Wilson play. The online unofficial depth chart makes more sense, simply not listing a backup behind Griffin. At least he has not missed a game in his NFL career.

ST: K Rob Bironas, LS Beau Brinkley, P Brett Kern
Analysis: Chalk.

I would attempt to predict the inactives for the first game against the Steelers, but I did a horrible job of that in last year's post and have little confidence in my ability to make a good prediction about it this year. My guess is two offensive linemen, two defensive linemen, Gooden due to injury, at least one wide receiver, and who the heck knows aside from that.

UPDATE (2013/09/04, 1104 CT): Restored the inadvertently not-pasted-over WR analysis.