The Tennessee Titans were done in by injuries, poor defense and inconsistent quarterback play last year.
Jake Locker missed several games with a dislocated shoulder, putting the offense on Matt Hasselbeck's 37-year-old arm for five games. This led to an anemic offensive attack that didn't get any better when Locker returned. Locker took an alarming step backwards after showing some promise in 2011, finishing with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Meanwhile, the defense allowed 471 points, most in the league.
All of this resulted in a 6-10 season. Owner Bud Adams put the entire front office on notice. Coach Mike Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster are firmly on the hot seat heading into 2013. They responded by investing heavily in the offensive line, signing left guard Andy Levitre and drafting right guard Chance Warmack. This should help boost a running attack that ranked 21st in the league. They also drafted wideout Justin Hunter, giving Locker another weapon to work with alongside Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright.
But if Locker doesn't take any steps forward, will all of this mean anything? Let's check it out.
3 Steps To Success
1. Locker finds his potential
Now finally healthy, Locker is running out of excuses at the NFL level. While he's a talented athlete with a good deep ball, his accuracy is still a major concern. An improved offensive line in front him, as well as Hunter teaming with a healthy Kenny Britt, Locker is being set up for success. He must improve on his 56.4 completion percentage and 6.9 yards per attempt.
2. Chris Johnson goes back to being CJ2K
Johnson should be the biggest beneficiary of the new line, but it's hard to trust him after his maddening inconsistency the past two seasons. Like Locker, this could end up being a make-or-break year for the talented, but enigmatic, back.
3. Nowhere to go but up for the defense
Of course, none of the offensive upgrades will matter if the defense can't keep opponents out of the end zone. The Titans didn't do much to address this unit, so they'll mostly be rolling out the same personnel that allowed the most points in the league last season. Having a healthy Colin McCarthy should help matters. At the very least, this young unit has another year of experience -- Kamerion Wimbley, 29, was the oldest starter on the defense last year. The team signed veteran safeties Bernard Pollard and George Wilson to add some experience in the secondary.
3 Feats Toward Failure
1. Locker doesn't develop
Locker has had accuracy issues going all the way back to his days at the University of Washington, and it's not often that a quarterback's accuracy improves at the pro level. If Locker can't settle down in the pocket and hit receivers on target, it's going to be a long year for both him and the Titans.
2. The defense doesn't go up
As mentioned above, the team made minimal changes to one of last year's worst defenses. The coaching staff is betting on a young unit to get better with a year of experience, but if they don't, well, that puts even more pressure on Locker and company.
3. Kenny Britt can't stay healthy
Britt has had two ACL surgeries and was hobbled by an ankle injury all season. He says he is 100 percent now and is heading into a contract year, so a breakout season is possible. However, his knee injury history remains a concern.
The Titans' entire season hinges on Locker. If he can stay healthy, live up to at least part of his potential, and use the weapons around him to command a potent offense while keeping the defense rested, a run at .500 or even the playoffs is a strong possibility.
If he doesn't, however, then the season could collapse in a hurry, and Munchak and Webster will almost certainly be fired. They invested a No. 8 pick in Locker, and their fates are inextricably tied to him. It's now up to Locker to prove them right, or he could be following them out the door.