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.

Three NFL quarterbacks that need big 2012 performances

In an era of professional football where the demand of having a high-quality quarterback on a roster is at an all-time high, some quarterbacks have a lot to prove in 2012.  For some of these quarterbacks, 2012 will be the deciding year in determining if they have what it takes to be a franchise quarterback or if they will be thrown in the “bust bin.”

2011 presented each franchise with a different set of challenges due to the NFL lockout.  Free agency did not take place until after a collective bargaining agreement had been reached, but the 2011 NFL Draft took place anyway.  Four quarterbacks (Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder) came off the board after the first 12 picks.  Two showed glimpses of success in 2011 while the other two left much to be desired.

Christian Ponder arguably bears the biggest burden of anyone in the NFL.  Minnesota drafted Ponder 12 overall in the 2011 draft, which was a huge surprise.  Even though speculation exists that had Tennessee passed on Jake Locker and Minnesota would have taken Locker instead, the point still remains that Ponder was selected with the 12 overall selection and brought with it the high expectations of being a early-pick quarterback.

Christian Ponder’s 2011 can be described as unimpressive at best.  Should Ponder’s 2012 fare as well as 2011, that could lead many fans and even the front office to question whether they drafted the right guy.  Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier wants both to feel like Ponder can be the franchise quarterback.  By adding USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, the Vikings want to give Ponder more protection to find the open receiver in the passing game.  Minnesota’s rushing attack is led by Adrian Peterson and gives offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave hope for major improvement in 2012.

Musgrave utilized Peterson as well as Percy Harvin last year.  If Ponder makes huge strides in 2012, this is an offense that very productive heading into 2012.

Speaking of the need of improved play out of a team’s quarterback, perhaps no team went through more changes this past offseason than the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Not only does this team have a new head coach in Mike Mularkey, but the franchise is also under new ownership in Shahid Khan who hopes to build attendance back to where it needs to be.  Gene Smith remains as the team’s general manager from a year ago, giving the rest of the team some familiarity heading into 2012.  Smith drafted Gabbert in 2011 who, like Ponder in Minnesota, did not play very well at quarterback.

Mularkey was hired mainly to develop Gabbert into becoming a successful NFL quarterback.  Khan’s hopes that Gabbert’s successful development will mean increased attendance by the fans.  The addition of former Oklahoma State wideout Justin Blackmon will certainly help both.

Gabbert needs to have a strong showing in 2012 to gain confidence from both himself and the front office, but most importantly Gabbert wants to gain confidence from the new owner.  Another lackluster performance could lead Khan to think that maybe his franchise does not have the quarterback of the future.

The last of the three quarterbacks needing a big 2012 is actually a guy who has had success in the past, but rumors continue to swirl that maybe he’s not quite the guy his franchise believes he is.  For years, people have looked at Dallas and wondered if Tony Romo can truly succeed in the NFL.  Dallas continues to stand behind Romo, but their stance can quickly shift if Romo does not reach the level that everyone wants him to.

Being in the NFC East means battles against Michael Vick and Eli Manning.  Being compared to quarterbacks like that can be difficult, especially if one just came of a Super Bowl championship like Manning did.  So if Romo does not play at a high level, Jerry Jones might find someone who can.

Unlike Ponder and Gabbert, however, Romo’s situation is not as bleak.  Romo has succeeded before, and that success can be used to argue that Romo is their guy.  Romo has made the throws that head coach Jason Garrett asked him to make, but a mediocre season could make all of that success irrelevant.  Romo’s record in the playoffs continues to plague him, but a few playoff wins could cure that and silence Romo’s critics once and for all.