Progress is key for Munchak and Webster

Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak sits in one of the hottest seats in the NFL going into 2013.  In fact, a 6-10 finish in 2012 almost ended Munchak’s 30-year history with the franchise.  Despite posting a 9-7 record in 2011, the Titans regressed into a losing season with two embarrassing losses to the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers.  With all eyes on him, Munchak will have to do something to save his job.

The question is, what exactly will that be?  Will the Titans need another winning season?  Will they need a playoff appearance?  Or will the Titans even need a division title in an AFC South where the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans both look talented enough to win in the playoffs?

Munchak may not exactly need to do any of these, although it would sure help if he did.  If the 2013 Tennessee Titans just show improvement in execution, particularly on offense, that could be enough to save the players’ and coaches’ jobs.

This seems to be what Munchak’s and Titans general manager Ruston Webster’s plan was heading into the offseason: put pieces around quarterback Jake Locker in hopes that he improves.  By adding former Alabama guard Chance Warmack with the 10th overall selection and trading up to 34th to take former Tennessee Volunteer wide receiver Justin Hunter in the 2013 NFL Draft, Munchak and Webster are doing everything they can to give Locker what he needs to succeed.  Locker looked inconsistent in 2012, and the Titans hope that more protection and weapons will equate to improvement from Locker.

And then, there’s Chris Johnson.

Tennessee wants Johnson to return to his CJ2K days, and the additions of Warmack and Hunter show that Munchak and Webster are taking steps toward that end.  Signing guard Andy Levitre away from the Buffalo Bills and drafting center Brian Schwenke 107th overall from California this past April, along with the signings of guards Rob Turner and Chris Spencer in free agency, continue to display Tennessee’s commitment to offensive improvement.  Tennessee hopes that these additions will result in more running lanes and bring Johnson back to his 2,000-yard rushing days.

It’s no longer a secret that the NFL is a passing league, and that’s why Tennessee’s focus on improving the offensive line and giving Locker another weapon makes sense.  If 2013 is a breakout year for Locker, Munchak and Webster have nothing to worry about.

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Loss of Rogers increases offensive-line burden

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about the importance of Tennessee’s offensive line being the Vols’ key to success in 2012.  The issue dwarfed any concerns that the defense might have, but wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers’ indefinite suspension, which ultimately led him to transfer to Tennessee Tech, only increases the burden that the offensive line carries into the first game of the season.

Prior to the loss of Rogers, Tennessee’s passing attack promised to be one of the country’s most elite.  Now, Tennessee’s passing offense might have to settle for a downgrade to exceptional.  Even though depth is no longer an issue at wide receiver thanks to head coach Derek Dooley’s most recent recruiting class, the offense does not want to ask their freshman wide receivers to do too much.

That’s why it wouldn’t surprise if offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s first-quarter gameplan would involve a lot of running plays to counter North Carolina State’s talented secondary.  While JUCO-transfer Cordarrelle Patterson’s role in Chaney’s offense will increase due to Rogers’ departure, they want to take some pressure off Patterson and Justin Hunter, who is returning from a knee injury he suffered a year ago.  A more balanced attack in the first half would surely open up the passing game late in the game.

Early success in the running game could help open up the passing game in the second quarter and the second half.  Going to the running game early would most likely also go against how North Carolina State believes Tennessee will attack them.  Sometimes offensive coordinators like keeping teams off-guard by doing the exact opposite of what is expected of their offensive gameplan.

Headlines leading up to Friday’s game will likely discuss Rogers’ absence and the impact it will have on the game.  All eyes, however, need to be on UT’s offensive linemen.  Providing more balance in Friday’s game could truly set the tone for the rest of Tennessee’s 2012 season.