The offseason ushered in the departures of three significant contributors to the success of the 2008 Tennessee Titans.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz left to become the head man of the winless Lions, DT Albert Haynesworth departed for the financially greener pastures of Washington and last but certainly not least, return man Chris Carr joined forces with the hated Ravens.
With one game in the books, let’s take a look at how the Titans fared without the presence of the aforementioned individuals while also pondering which of the three losses will serve as the greater hinderance to the Titans’ attempts of succeeding in ’09.
The struggles of the return game have been a recurring theme for the Titans through five preseason games and one regular season contest.
Designated Chris Carr-replacement Mark Jones was undone by a lingering hamstring injury that led to his dismissal. Rookies Jason McCourty, Ryan Mouton and Javon Ringer, while displaying intriguing skillsets at their natural positions, also failed to impress on punt/kick returns.
Against Pittsburgh, Ringer again looked less than adequate on kickoffs. On punt returns, a rusty Cortland Finnegan had his share of mishaps. Of course, that’s to be expected from a guy who prior to Thursday Night, hadn’t returned a regular season punt since 2007.
Chris Carr was an unheralded hero for the Titans in ’08. He didn’t take one to the house, but his solid returns often led to solid starting field position for the Titans last year.
All of the attention has been on the loss of Albert Haynesworth but in my mind, replacing Carr is going to serve as the toughest task for the Titans in ’09.
While Schwartz is taking on the Herculean task of trying to right the ship of the putrid Detroit Lions, former NFL bad-boy Chuck Cecil is manning the fort as the Titans’ new defensive coordinator.
Cecil’s first game as D-coordinator was filled with mixed results. There were times when Cecil’s presence was felt as the Titans sent a few blitzes in the path of Ben Roethlisberger. During the waning stages of the game as the Titan defensive line tired, the lack of a blitz or two allowed Ben the time to operate as he led to Steelers to an overtime victory.
During his days in Nashville, Schwartz relied heavily upon front four pressure while eschewing the urge to blitz for the most part. Of course, that’s not a bad strategy when you have a behemoth such as Albert Haynesworth disrupting the opposing offensive line. Without Fat Albert, Cecil is probably going to need to blitz a whole lot more than Schwartz did.
With Chuck at the helm, I’m expecting the Titans to still have a pretty darn good defense. We just have to be a little patient as Chuck suffers through his growing pains while earning his stripes as a defensive playcaller.
Against Pittsburgh, I saw a defensive line that was playing with a chip on it’s shoulder as a result of trying to prove to the world that they can succeed despite the absence of Albert Haynesworth. They were constantly after the quarterback while also punishing the Steeler running game.
Even without #92, there’s still a lot of talent remaining in the cupboard. Talented second-year players Jason Jones and William Hayes continue to make strides while developing into pretty good NFL players. Combining with vets such as Jevon Kearse, KVB and Tony Brown, the Titan d-line is still a talented bunch.
Under Jim Washburn’s tutelage, I expect the Titan defensive line to continue to play solid football despite losing Fat Albert.
Your turn, guys. Carr, Schwartz or Haynesworth: Who do the Titans miss the most?