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Tennessee Titans' five troubling preseason developments

10:59 AM, Aug 20, 2013   |    comments
Jae S. Lee / The Tennessean Titans quarterback Jake Locker throws a pass during the second quarter against the Redskins at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013.
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By Jim Wyatt | The Tennessean

In some cases, the NFL preseason sets the stage for things to come in the regular season. It also can mean nothing.

Case in point: the Titans finished 3-1 in the preseason last year and were 6-10 in the regular season. In 1999, when the Titans went to the Super Bowl, they were 1-3 in the preseason.

If nothing else, training camp and preseason games provide opportunities to build momentum and confidence. For the Titans, 0-2 this preseason, it's been a mixed bag.

Quarterback Jake Locker looks better than he did a year ago, and a revamped offensive line has opened up some big holes in the run game. But there are several reasons fans should be concerned that the Titans will be no better than they were last season.

Here are five troubling developments:

The defense is getting pushed around

A big point of emphasis was to get bigger on the defensive line, so free agents Sammie Hill (328 pounds), Antonio Johnson (328) and Ropati Pitoitua (300) were signed.

Through two games, however, the Titans are allowing 5.5 yards per carry. Last season, the figure was 4.2. The Bengals racked up 193 yards Saturday and, yes, a good chunk of the damage occurred when backups were on the field, but the Titans have yet to flex their muscle.

Secondary is shaky

Strong safety Bernard Pollard had some difficulties in coverage against the Bengals, but he wasn't alone. The Titans allowed seven pass plays of 15 yards or more -- and three drives of53 yards or more -- in the first half, when their starters were on the field.

And how's this for a sobering thought: the Titans didn't even face the opponent's best offensive players in the first two games -- Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green did not play.

Kicking is concern

Rob Bironas has been one of the NFL's most reliable kickers, so there's no reason to panic after he missed 37- and 38-yard field-goal attempts against the Bengals. But he's worth keeping an eye on.

He sat out a long stretch of training camp with back soreness, and while he looked good in practice after his return, the misses were way off-target. The Titans hope it's a one-game blunder after signing the ninth-year pro to a two-year, $6.67 million contract.

The offense is not at full strength

Tight end Delanie Walker will be a big part of the offense -- when he's healthy. He returned to the active roster Monday after recovering from knee surgery, but he'll need some time to get up to speed.

Wide receiver Kendall Wright established himself as a key weapon, but sprained his right knee and will miss the rest of the preseason. The offense will lack some firepower going into the season opener at Pittsburgh on Sept. 8.

Linebacker plan has gone awry

The Titans won't come out and say it, but they wanted Colin McCarthy to win the middle linebacker job. It's not going to happen. He's been sidelined with a hamstring injury, meaning Moise Fokou almost certainly will be the starter.

Fokou is no slouch -- he's more physical a player than I envisioned when camp started -- but he's never been a full-time starter, and the Titans didn't sign him to be one for them.

NEXT GAME

FALCONS (0-2) AT TITANS (0-2)

* When: 7 p.m. Saturday

* TV/radio: WKRN-2/104.5-FM

Reach Jim Wyatt at 615-259-8015

or jwyatt@tennessean.com.

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