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Ask Mike: Interest Builds During Titans Caravan

Posted May 13, 2013

Sorry that I haven’t updated this recently. Due to the Academy Sports + Outdoors Titans Caravan, things have been moving incredibly fast and I’m way behind on everything. My favorite Titans Caravan moments never change — I love it when kids see and meet an NFL player in person for the first time. It just never gets old and it’s the real reason that Titans Caravan is in existence.

Five other fun things from Caravan 2013 (in no particular order)…

1. Seeing new Titans safety George Wilson return triumphantly to his hometown of Paducah, Ky., and meeting all of his family and friends. One of the coolest stops that I have ever been a part of in 15 years of Titans Caravan.

2. Watching Titans Radio’s Larry Stone enjoy the school program that he originally created at — ironically enough — Stone Elementary in Crossville, Tenn. The show has come a long way in 13 years (lately due to show host Rhett Bryan), but it still has the important message for kids that Larry started with: making good choices is key at any age.

3. Working with Laura, Robert, Jessica, David, Hannah and Chelsea from the Tennessee State Parks on an everyday basis. The state of Tennessee should be proud of folks that represent its 54 state parks. The TSP’s involvement has added so much to Titans Caravan.

4. Getting to know many of the newest Titans. The free agents that the club has added are first-class people, reminiscent of Chris Hope, Kevin Mawae and David Thornton. The guys that I met understand that being a professional football player involves more than what happens between the white lines.

5. The all-new season ticket member events. I hope that they will continue in 2014.

As we have traveled, people have been incredibly vocal about the Titans’ off-season moves. The majority of your recent questions have dealt with the same thing.

By a wide margin, you like the re-tooled coaching staff, the free agents and the draft picks. You like the aggressive approach that the Titans have taken to the off-season.

But not everyone feels that way.

Matthew in Buffalo, Minn., is still down on the team:

Are Titans trying for #1 pick in 2014 draft? Because their roster is non-competitive.”

Cathy in Columbia, Tenn., agrees with Matthew:

“Why do the Titans keep getting rid of the best players? I know it's probably money but they are doing a sorry job. That's why each year we get worse. I'm not excited about the new season. It will be same thing, new year!”

Danny in Milwaukee, doesn’t understand Matthew’s and Cathy’s logic, but he’s heard them: 

“Mike, I for one have been very excited about what the Titans have done so far this offseason. A lot of people think we have made a lot of questionable moves. The way I see it we have done what was said at the end of the season. Why are a lot of people seeing some of these moves so negatively?”

MIKE KEITH: The reality is that when you go 6-10, you have issues and you have issues in more than one area. No one likes to hear it, no one likes to deal with it, but it’s true. When you go 6-10, you simply aren’t good enough.

Some coaches and general managers act like it isn’t so, saying things like “Well, if the ball had bounced our way” or “Man, if it wasn’t for those darn injuries.”  Sometimes those phrases are true and, yes, the Titans didn’t get one break in 2012 and they did have injuries.

But if you watched the Titans play in 2012, you realize that bad breaks and injuries were not the primary reasons for a 6-10 record.

To their absolute credit, Mike Munchak and Ruston Webster did not allow themselves to be fooled. They spent weeks looking at the 2012 tape and knew changes had to be made in every area. And they made them.

They swapped out the coaching staff. Some good coaches who are good men departed. It wasn’t easy, but, in the eyes of Munchak, the way the message was being delivered had to change.

Some good players who are good guys were allowed to walk or were cut. Again, not easy, but the salary cap dollars had to be reallocated in order to reshape and improve the overall roster.

And the philosophy of how talent would be assembled would be changed. The Titans would no longer be a “draft first, then fill in with some free agents” franchise. Suddenly, the Titans would become a “by whatever means necessary” franchise.

Big-money free agents to take are of glaring needs. Veteran free agents to create competition and to change the locker room/practice field dynamic. A 2013 draft that went against recent convention by drafting an offensive guard at #10 overall (Alabama’s Chance Warmack), by trading a ’14 draft pick to deal up in the second round for a wide receiver (Tennessee’s Justin Hunter) and by taking the best players on the board throughout the rest of the draft, knowing the free agent market would still be there to fill in the gaps as they went.

Bold. The one word for the Titans off-season. Bold.

Overwhelmingly, the fans like it. Not everyone, but a solid majority.

It wasn’t all easy while it was happening, but the vast majority of Titans fans are much more optimistic about the franchise than they were three months ago. One would be hard-pressed to say that the Titans are not better today than they were on December 30, 2012.

Optimism has returned.

Carolyn in Franklin, Tenn.: “Why doesn't Jake Locker practice with his receivers off site like Peyton Manning and other quarterbacks do? Will Jake perform better this year now Matt Hasselbeck is gone and it is his team?”

Alan from College Grove, Tenn., brought up a similar question, wondering about Locker’s accuracy.

MIKE KEITH: I think that it all ties into the same premise.

Matt Hasselbeck helped Jake Locker a lot and showed him a lot of things, but Jake has to become his own man. Now that this is Jake’s team, he will start doing things on his own, leading his own way. I believe that a more confident, more in-charge Jake Locker is emerging before our eyes. We will see it during the rest of the off-season and on the field this summer and fall.

I also think that the fact that Jake is the clear #1 quarterback is huge for another reason: he gets all of the first-team reps. Last off-season, that didn’t happen. Plus, as the clear starter, he doesn’t have to feel as if he must be perfect. Jake can simply go and play.

It’s Jake Locker’s team. His offensive line is vastly improved. The new offensive scheme will not ask him to carry the complete load. His shoulder is healed. Put it all together and I believe that Jake will be vastly improved in 2013.

Higgins in Dickson, Tenn.: “We get to see if we have a franchise QB. We got all the pieces. I think we will rely on the run and an aggressive defense. Do you think Munch has to make the playoffs to keep his job?”   

MIKE KEITH: Higgins, it’s never that simple. To me, a lot of it has to do with “feel”. If the season ends and everyone senses that the Titans have improved, you likely stick with the plan.

But that leads to, what is to me, the more important question: “What must the Titans do to prove that they are better than the 2012 team?”

The most important thing for everyone involved with the organization (not just Munch) is to establish an identity on both sides of the ball. They never did that in 2012, which is why they finished 6-10. If they do that in 2013, they’ll be in the hunt for the playoffs and on track for 2014 and beyond.

Michael in Tullahoma, Tenn.: “Are the Titans still going after (John) Abraham or (Dwight) Freeney? We could use another good DL...or maybe 2!”

MIKE KEITH: Michael, I will be surprised if the Titans don’t add a free agent defensive end and defensive tackle (Antonio Johnson was just signed). Tennessee has the salary cap room and would like to create more depth and competition in the defensive line. Plus, the prices are right at this moment. Good players at good prices.

Linda in Clarksville, Tenn.:Why hasn't the Titan administration snatched up Tim Tebow? He is one of the most popular players, is unemployed, and would boost ticket sales in our area. Is anyone thinking in terms of investment money out there?”

MIKE KEITH: Linda, I got this question on Titans Caravan numerous times, last weekend when I took part in the Lawrenceburg Rotary golf event and from several other questioners via e-mail. I’m going to simply take this question from a football standpoint, looking at Tim Tebow as a quarterback and looking at the Titans quarterback situation.  

Ruston Webster may shock me, but I would be very surprised if Tennessee signed Tebow. Teams keep two quarterbacks active on their 46-man gameday roster. The Titans have Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Rusty Smith and Nathan Enderle at quarterback. They may only keep two of those quarterbacks on the entire 53-man roster.

The numbers don’t work. Tim Tebow just doesn't improve the Tennessee Titans as a football team right now. And coming off a 6-10 season that is the #1 thing that Webster must consider.

Ralph in Dyer, Tenn.: “Has there been any talk of moving Karl Klug to DE?”

MIKE KEITH: Ralph, you are good. Klug is expected to get a look at defensive end.

Damion in Dickson, Tenn.: “Hey Mike, two questions. One why don't you have a twitter account? And second what rookie do you see making the biggest impact this year?”

MIKE KEITH: Damion, I do have a Twitter account, but I don’t Tweet currently. I’d say that I’ll start pretty soon. Late to the technology party, but learning.

The obvious answer to your second question is Chance Warmack, because he’s going to start at right guard. But that’s too easy, isn't it? To make it more interesting, I'll go with defensive end Lavar Edwards. He may be the steal of this draft class.

Click here to submit a question to Mike Keith!

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