As we await the start of the Titans' first training camp practice at 3:30 this afternoon, I thought I'd repeat a little exercise I did last year and do my best to predict the final 53-man roster as training camp opens. I believe I got 48 right last year, which was a little disappointing and would like to improve on that mark this year.
The roster on the official site is currently at 82 players. With Damian Williams signing last night and Derrick Morgan probably signing by Monday at the latest (speculation), there need to be two more players to go to get down to the 80-man limit. Hopefully I won't pick any of them...
As a reminder, here's what kind of distribution by position the Titans have used in the past:
Since LB Gerald McRath will be suspended for the first 4 games, the Titans will be able to keep essentially 54 players for that time period. With that and the likely positional distribution in mind, here's my prediction:
QB: Kerry Collins, Rusty Smith, Vince Young
Two questions here, with one being if a cheaper Chris Simms can beat out Collins for the backup spot and the second if there's a roster spot for Rusty Smith. I think Simms' arrest hurt his chances, and he's not good enough to overcome that. Smith was going to be my cut if I needed a roster space for another player, but I don't.
RB/FB: LeGarrette Blount, Ahmard Hall, Chris Johnson, Stafon Johnson, Javon Ringer
No surprises here. Like QB, this is a position I considered a cut possible, as I don't really expect both Blount and Johnson to make the team. It wouldn't surprise me if the Titans cut one of them, more likely Johnson, between the 53-man cutdown date and week 1 to add a veteran cut by another team. Alvin Pearman has an outside shot if the other punt returners all melt down. Yes, I speculated Hall could get cut but I doubt Willie Rose beats him out.
TE: Jared Cook, Sean Ryan, Bo Scaife, Craig Stevens
How much trust do you have in the young guys? The Sean Ryan signing tells me the Titans weren't confident in what they had, and Cook and Stevens are both big questions marks in terms of youth and performance. Stevens' concussion history also scares me, and I think Ryan is a reasonable option as veteran insurance.
WR: Kenny Britt, Justin Gage, Lavelle Hawkins, Nate Washington, Damian Williams
I don't see a roster spot for Marc Mariani unless he's very impressive and/or Damian Williams is a disaster as a return man. I'm not too thrilled with Hawkins, and if I did a 45-man active roster Hawkins probably wouldn't be on it unless one of the big 3 was injured. Still, I think he made enough progress the Titans can be comfortable with him in that role. The hardest call is just how many they keep. I opted for 4 TEs, but if they only keep 3 there or only 4 RBs, there's probably a spot for another wideout. In that case, barring that aforementioned Williams failure as a returner, I'd lean to Edison over Mariani due to experience in the system.
OL: Eugene Amano, Leroy Harris, Troy Kropog, Mike Otto, Michael Roos, Jake Scott, David Stewart, Fernando Velasco
Amano, Harris, Roos, Scott, and Stewart are your starters. Beyond that, it's very difficult to evaluate who will be what, simply because they've seen so little meaningful action. If Amano is injured, they could play Harris at center, but I think they'd prefer to make only one move. In that case, Velasco's experience at center and guard both earns him a roster spot over Ryan Durand. Otto and Kropog provide depth inside and probably also at right guard. If Kevin Matthews makes the team because of his pedigree, I'm going to scream unkind words very loudly.
DE: Jason Babin, Dave Ball, Jacob Ford, William Hayes, Derrick Morgan
You can't keep 10 defensive linemen. They've expressed a preference for 8 before, but I think they'll go with 9 again this year. There's a bit of a logjam at this position. Ford, Hayes, and Morgan are absolute locks. Babin, I'm not a huge fan of his play from what I've seen, but they at least threw money at him in free agency. Ball's decent enough and his flexibility to play inside earns him a roster spot since I'm only keeping 4 defensive tackles. I've never been impressed by Eric Bakhtiari.
DT: Tony Brown, Jovan Haye, Jason Jones, Sen'Derrick Marks
The 4 of the 5 that return from last year. Brown, Jones, and Marks are absolute locks. Haye was a tremendous disappointment last year, but I think he gets another year. If they don't keep him, that 4th spot goes to David Howard.
LB: Colin Allred, Rennie Curran, Stanford Keglar, Gerald McRath, David Thornton, Stephen Tulloch, Will Witherspoon
With McRath's suspension, there's an extra roster spot for the first 4 weeks, and I've given that to Keglar. This is probably the position I had the hardest time with, as Mike Rivera and Pago Togafau may have legitimate shots to make the roster. Curran, McRath, Thornton, Tulloch, and Witherspoon are the locks in my mind. Allred makes it because of his special teams experience, not because he'll play regularly on defense. Jamie Winborn may make it over Keglar if he's already exercised his vested veteran rights and his full season salary isn't guaranteed if he's on the roster Week 1.
CB: Cortland Finnegan, Tye Hill, Jason McCourty, Ryan Mouton, Alterraun Verner
Easiest position on the roster, by far. They like to keep five here, and there are five players listed there on the depth chart. Plus, there's a good independent reason to keep all five there-Finnegan's there if he's alive, McCourty and Mouton are second year guys who did ok as rookies, Verner's a 4th round pick, and Hill's a veteran addition to a secondary that needed experience. If I had to cut a guy here, it'd be Hill.
S: Vinny Fuller, Michael Griffin, Chris Hope, Robert Johnson, Myron Rolle
This was another position I had a very hard time with, and I actually switched my choice from when I first started writing this post. Fuller, Griffin, and Hope are mortal locks. Johnson has a clear inside track because he was a 5th round draft pick. I originally had Nick Schommer as the 5th safety here instead of Rolle, but changed my pick because I'm trying to mimic what the Titans will do here more than what I would do or think the Titans should do. Rolle effectively inherits Donnie Nickey's special teams contributor/I don't ever want to see this guy on the field slot. Yes, Nickey could still retain that job, or Schommer could take it. I don't trust any of those 3 on regular defensive snaps, so I don't see the Titans keeping more than one of them.
Other: LS/LB Ken Amato, K Rob Bironas, P Brett Kern
Chalk here, and there's no reason not to be as everybody returns and did at least a decent job at their task last year.
OK, have at it and give me your take? Who am I unfairly discounting, and who am I giving too much credit?