The five players the Titans can least afford to lose
Among your tried-and-true football clichés perhaps none is truer than this old standby: Injuries are part of the game.
Indeed, they are. A really lousy part of the game. They’re lousy for the injured player, his teammates, his coaches and the fans. They can turn winning teams into average teams, average teams into losing teams, losing teams into, well, losing-by-even-more teams.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=Rob+Bironas&iid=7453389″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/7453389/tennessee-titans-kicker/tennessee-titans-kicker.jpg?size=500&imageId=7453389″ width=”234″ height=”368″ /]With that in mind, and certainly not wishing ill on anyone, here are the five players the Titans can least afford to lose as the start of training camp looms on Saturday, listed in order from 5-1. Some of my choices may surprise you. Feel free to share your own lists if you disagree.
5. K Rob Bironas. Kickers are a dime a dozen you say? Not ones as deadly accurate as Bironas. In the past three seasons he has made 91 of 104 field-goal attempts. That’s 87.5 percent. Only three active kickers have done better over that same time period. Bironas is a security blanket for an offense that seems to sputter in the red zone with alarming frequency.
4. LB Will Witherspoon. A free-agent acquisition with eight years in the league under his belt, he brings at least some stability to a group that’s a complete mess right now. MLB Stephen Tulloch, a starter last season, didn’t show up at any of the team’s offseason workouts, ostensibly because he’s upset with his contract. He has signed his tender offer, but what if he holds out? Second-year pro Gerald McRath is suspended for the first four games because of violating the league’s policy regarding performance-enhancing drugs. David Thornton, another starter last season, hasn’t been able to participate fully yet because of his recovery from shoulder surgery. Even with Witherspoon this unit needs to be shored up when the regular season starts.
3. LT Michael Roos. A lot of teams would be seriously hurt without their left tackle. The Titans aren’t particularly deep at the tackle spots, either. I suspect David Stewart would move from right tackle if something were to happen to Roos, but then you’ve got a problem on the right side. And Stewart is really good where he is. Of the players listed behind the starters on the Titans’ depth chart as training camp opens two have never played in an NFL game and two more have appeared exactly once. Yikes. You have to believe this will be addressed by combing the waiver wire during the preseason.
2. RB Chris Johnson. Why isn’t Johnson No. 1? For a couple of reasons. First off, he won’t be duplicating last season. Not one of the other five running backs to gain 2,000 yards ever did it again. And frankly I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the Titans to give Johnson the number of carries (358) it took him for him to reach 2,000 yards last season. He’s still explosive. He’ll still be one of the most productive backs in the league. He’s still a guy opposing defenses have to account for on every play. He just doesn’t have to have 408 touches for this team to be OK offensively. Plus, the Titans have a very good offensive line. Their running game would have ranked in the top 10 in the league even without C.J. Of course, with him it’ll push for No. 1 (the Titans ranked second in the NFL in rushing in 2009).
1. CB Cortland Finnegan. When he’s right he’s one of the five best corners in the league. His play dipped a bit last season after a stellar 2008 in which he made the Pro Bowl, but he still posted five interceptions. That’s five in each of the past two seasons, which no Titan has done since Darryll Lewis in 1996-97. Finnegan knows he wasn’t up to his own standard last season, but he remains supremely confident and the coaches feel the same way about him. They’ve talked about moving him all over the field to match up with the opposition’s best receiver. Finnegan even spent some time this offseason with Jets CB Darrelle Revis, which can’t hurt. He’s far and away the Titans’ best cover man. They can ill afford to lose him because the options to start on the other side are second-year pros Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton and rookie Alterraun Verner.