By Ron Wynn
Neither Titans’ management nor fans were satisfied with last season’s dreary 6-10
season, and last week’s draft selections suggest that substantial change may be on the horizon. The Titans added eight draftees to the 12 free agents they had already acquired, selecting four in the final rounds Saturday. Things will be quite busy at their rookie orientation May 11, when they welcome the newcomers to their ransk.
There was some discussion whether the Titans would take Alabama’s Chance Warmack or North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper as their top selection, but it turned out that Cooper was already gone by the 10th pick. But the Titans maintained that the All-American Alabama guard was their preference all along, and after the Cardinals took Cooper at number seven, the Titans were able to get Warmack.
But the Titans surprised some observers with their choice of Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter. They traded up and grabbed Hunter with the 34th pick., giving their 40th choice to the San Francisco 49ers. Hunter came back from knee surgery to have a big season for the Volunteers, but wide receiver is one of the team’s most crowded positions. Someone from this year’s squad won’t be there in the fall, and some see Hunter as insurance in case something happens either on or off the field with Kenny Britt. However it is also quite possible that Nate Washington, who was on the trading block for part of last season or Damian Hawkins could be in trouble. Then there’s Marc Mariani, who missed last season due to injury.
Their fourth-round pick California’s Brian Schwenke played both guard and center in college, but is viewed as competition for their incumbents, who include last year’s starter Fernando Velasco and new comers Rob Turner and Chris Spencer. The Titans were quoted over the weekend calling Schwenke “the best center in the draft.”
The Titans took two cornerbacks in the draft. They selected Connecticut’s Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the third round and Nevada’s Khalid Wooten in the sixth. Neither is considered a slot type, but both will be in a battle for outside positions along with the veterans Jason McCourty and Alterraun Vetner. They also drafted another defensive back, safety Daimion Stafford from Nebraska, in the seventh round. He joins a pair of free agent acquisitions at the position, Bernard Pollard (Ravens) and George Wilson (Bills).
Another problem area last year was the defensive line, which seldom got sustained pressure on quarterbacks. LSU defensive end Lavar Edwards was their fifth round choice. He’ll be part of a group that has returning members Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley and Scott Solonom.
The Titans also have added a host of undrafted free agents who will be competing for jobs at rookie camp and later during the preseason. The list includes Western Kentucky tight end Jack Doyle, Nevada running back Stefphon Jefferson, Oklahoma linebacker Tom Wort, defensive lineman Stefan Charles from Regina, Canada, South Florida kicker Maikon Bonani, Arizona State receiver Rashad Ross, Louisiana Tech tackle Oscar Johnson, USC safety Jawanza Starling and South Florida cornerback George Baker.
The best bet among the draftees for a starting position is Warmack, whom Titans’ coach Mike Munchak envisions as at minimum a 10-year starter at guard and at best a possible future All-Pro and/or Hall of Famer. The offensive line is being rebuilt, and it is anticipated that free agent signee Andy Levitre will be the new left guard and Warmack will take over on the right side.
Schwenke is also seen as a viable contender to start at center. In addition, Edwards, despite being injured and not getting that many starts in college, is seen as a contributor at both end and tackle. Hunter could be a challenger at wide receiver as well. But whether it’s new draftees or free agents, the Titans’ coaches have sounded the word that no one’s slot is safe and that only the best performers will be playing when the 2013 season begins in September.