Work in Sports
Fisher's top priority is maintaining hunger for success
The Tennessee Titans, surprise Super Bowl participants after a 13-3 regular season in 1999, have not stood pat in the offseason. But it's never easy getting back. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons. Here are a few questions from Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, followed by CNNSI.com's perspective on some of the issues facing the Titans this season. You can find SI's season preview on CNNSI.com on Aug. 23.
Dr. Z wants to know:
1.) Why couldn't Steve McNair get the ball downfield last year? Was it his receivers' failure to shake coverage? Or his inability to read them when and if they did? Or the scheme? Or a combination of all the above?
2.) Offensive coordinator Les Steckel has departed for Tampa Bay, presumably to revive the passing game there. Mike Heimerdinger has arrived from Denver, presumably to revive the passing game here. Does it mean both teams will be revived?3.) Will the arrival of a pair of linebackers, middle man Randall Godfrey [who was just starting to come into his own with the Cowboys] and No. 1 draft Keith Bulluck, turn the Titans' defense, which was decent, not great, into a dominating outfit?
4.) If the answer is yes, then will an operation keyed to Eddie George's relentless running, backed up by a solid defense, be good enough to carry a decent, don't-screw-it-up passing game?
The Titans can make the playoffs if ... Coach Jeff Fisher can keep them hungry and at least gain a regular-season split with the Jaguars. Exciting quarterback Steve McNair is just coming into his own and should be healthier after off-season turf-toe surgery. The passing game is still iffy, relying on injury-riddled Yancey Thigpen and spotty Kevin Dyson. New offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger may help there. And there's always workhorse running back Eddie George (1,304 yards in '99), running behind a slightly retooled line that still should be good enough. Defensively, end Jevon Kearse was unstoppable as a rookie last season (14.5 sacks) and only figures to improve. Linebackers Barron Wortham and Joe Bowden are gone, but first-round pick Keith Bulluck should be able to step in, along with free agent Randall Godfrey. The Titans weren't great against the pass last season, but they should be improved there, too, as long as they stay relatively healthy.
Pivotal Games : The NFL opens the season with a grudge match pitting the Titans against their Music City Miracle victims, the Buffalo Bills (Sept. 3, at Buffalo). But a Monday nighter in Nashville on Oct. 16 against the Jacksonville Jaguars -- whom the Titans beat three times last season -- and the rematch in Jacksonville Nov. 26 are key. Another Monday nighter -- the third one of the season -- against the Dallas Cowboys comes on Christmas.
On the Hot Seat : Free agent offensive tackle Fred Miller, who came from the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, has to fill in for the departed and highly respected Jon Runyan. The running game needs him, and everything in the Titans' offense stems from the running game.
Up-and-comers : Second-year cornerback Donald Mitchell will push for a starting job, and the Titans are hoping this will be a breakthrough season for Dyson after his solid postseason in '99.