Jose Yau, AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans will spend the offseason thinking of the three games that cost them a playoff berth and looking ahead to a promising second season under coach Mike Munchak.
Just how many are back for 2012 remains to be seen with contracts of more than 20 Titans expiring. With Munchak taking over a team that went 6-10 and didn't have an offseason due to the lockout, the Titans have high expectations for what's next.
"Who would have thought we'd be 9-7?" fullback Ahmard Hall said Monday after the Titans cleaned out lockers. "Who would give us a chance to be 9-7? Munch is building something great here, and everybody wants to be a part of that."
Hall is among those whose contracts are up, meaning the Titans have plenty of personnel work ahead.
For a franchise that got rid of a quarterback and head coach a year ago, handling a secondary where four defensive backs are pending free agents should be much easier. Defensive captain and cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safeties Chris Hope, Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux all are up with no contract talks since Finnegan bolted training camp in August.
Finnegan doesn't sound as if he expects to be back, though he hopes to return after six seasons in Tennessee.
"Coach Munchak is building something really special around here," Finnegan said. "He plans to talk to everyone. We'll see what the future holds."
Munchak said the salary cap will decide how many players they keep. He hopes they keep as many as possible in free agency along with another crop of rookies to go with a promising draft class where three started on defense.
"You got a nice little core here, so I think it's something we can build on," Munchak said. "I think that's part of the excitement of selling to the guys that are in this room is that yeah, 9-7 was OK. It wasn't quite good enough this year, but a lot of good things happened at 9-7 that we're excited about as an organization, as a team and that we can build on."
The Titans finished the season beating the Houston Texans 23-22, missing out on their first playoff berth since 2008 when the Jets lost to Miami and Denver lost to Kansas City. That left Tennessee tied with Cincinnati but losing the head-to-head tiebreaker due to a Nov. 6 loss to the Bengals where the Titans blew a 10-point lead in losing 24-17.
"Hopefully the lesson we learned is you can't hope that someone else can do your job for you," Munchak said. "We had to earn our way in, and we didn't."
Tennessee also lost its opener 16-14 in Jacksonville and became the first team to lose to the previously winless Colts 27-13 on Dec. 18 when a win would have put the Titans into the AFC's sixth and final playoff spot.
At least Munchak has his quarterbacks in veteran Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker going into a full offseason to push for the starting job. Hasselbeck started all 16 games and became the first quarterback for this franchise not named Warren Moon to throw for at least 3,500 yards. He finished with 3,571 yards passing with 18 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. Locker threw for four TDs with a 99.4 passer rating coming off the bench in five games.
Munchak said the quarterbacks will compete again with the player who should start being an obvious decision when the time comes.
He plans on keeping his coordinators, giving Chris Palmer to work on an offense that ranked 17th in the NFL in passing even though top receiver Kenny Britt tore his right ACL in September.
The biggest focus will be on a run game that ranked 31st in the league averaging a measly 89.9 yards.
Chris Johnson ran for a career-low 1,047 yards after missing the preseason before getting his new contract extension. He has plenty of incentives in that deal to spend plenty of time working in the Titans' offseason program, and he said the Titans simply need to improve their execution.
A full offseason will help Jerry Gray's defense too.
"We were limited in what we could do because guys were learning it on the run," Finnegan said. "That'd be huge for this defense."
A fourth rookie, Karl Klug, led Tennessee with seven sacks, and the Titans ranked eighth in the NFL in points allowed per game. But Tennessee still must find a way to tighten up a run defense gashed for big runs far too often, leading to a No. 24 ranking giving up 128.3 yards per game.
Notes: The Titans will pick 20th in April's draft. ... The Titans' 2012 home schedule features visits from Houston, the Colts and Jaguars in the AFC South along with the Patriots, the Jets, the Steelers, Chicago and Detroit. Tennessee will visit its AFC South divisional rivals along with trips to Minnesota, Green Bay, Miami, San Diego and Buffalo after finishing second in the division.
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