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Titans Brace Themselves For Their Season of Change

Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page H15

The Tennessee Titans, they are a-changing. Salary cap woes contributed to the offseason departures of Eddie George, Jevon Kearse and Robaire Smith, and retirement claimed the old reliable tight end, Frank Wycheck. Tennessee feels it has the youngsters to fill in those large gaps, but it's pinning its hopes on some unproven talent.

The biggest question is on the defensive line, where Kearse may actually be easier to replace than Smith, who was integral to the team's league-leading prowess in stopping the run. The team displayed its concern over the losses by drafting no fewer than four defensive linemen, but it must rely on veteran Kevin Carter to play more consistently than his enigmatic history would promise.

_____ Tennessee Titans _____
Titans Section

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_____Team Previews_____
In predicted order of finish

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys
Washington Redskins
New York Giants

NFC South
New Orleans Saints
Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Atlanta Falcons

NFC North
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions

NFC West
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams
San Francisco 49ers
Arizona Cardinals

AFC East
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans
Houston Texans

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns

AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs
Denver Broncos
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

However, according to reserve defensive tackle Rien Long, the new blood is just what the doctor ordered. "It's good to see young guys like Randy [Starks, of Maryland] and Jared [Clauss] come along," Long said. "We are going to be fine, there is no question about our group."

The Titans also suffered a major loss in their linebacking corps when Peter Sirmon tore a knee ligament in the preseason. The injury necessitated the promotion of Rocky Boiman to play alongside Rocky Calmus, with Pro Bowler Keith Bulluck on the right.

Despite the departure of Wycheck, the tight end spot is in good hands with veteran Erron Kinney and top draft pick Ben Troupe, last seen bulldozing would-be tacklers while at Florida. The real intrigue is at running back, as Chris Brown has big shoes to fill with only one season (56 carries) of experience. The Titans won't miss George's 3.3 yards per carry, but they might find themselves longing for his blocking, sure-handedness and savvy.

If Brown should stumble, Antowain Smith figures to do a pretty close -- probably too much so -- George impersonation. Fortunately for all concerned, quarterback Steve McNair is still very much on the job, and as long as last year's league co-MVP is healthy, Tennessee goes into any contest confident of success.

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