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. 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.
Best Hands: The run-and-shoot offense of the late 1980s Oilers benefited Drew Hill, Ernest Givins and Haywood Jeffires more or less evenly, but the nod goes to Hill.
Worst Hands: It's not Kevin Dyson's fault that he was picked ahead of Randy Moss in the 1998 draft, but while Moss enjoys a Hall of Fame career, Dyson's legacy is the answer to the trivia question: "Who scored on the 'Music City Miracle' play?"
Grading This Year's WRs: Derrick Mason just seems to get better every year, and the Titans can only hope their young group follows suit.
WRs grade: B minus