Albert Haynesworth (Getty Images)
The Tennessee Titans ended the Indianapolis Colts five-year run at the top of the AFC South in 2008. With the competition in the division, this offseason will have a lot to do with who will take the AFC South crown in 2009.
Tennessee won the AFC South in somewhat surprise fashion with a 13-3 record, but Titans quarterback Kerry Collins knows how tough it will be to repeat as champs.
“It’s really tough,” The Titans signal caller told Scout.com after the Pro Bowl. “The Colts are good every year, they’re at the top of the division, and I think Houston is going to be a team that came on late at the end of the year last year and is going to be much improved. They are looking for big things. Jacksonville had a down year last year and they’ll be back. It’s tough, it’s got to be one of the most competitive divisions in all of football.”
Titans Pro Bowl corner Cortland Finnegan.weighed in about the competition.
“From Jacksonville to Houston, who’s up and coming, to Indy with Peyton Manning, that stacks up as one of the best divisions,” Finnegan said. “So we’ve got our hands full in the south.”
Finnegan went on and spoke about his own Tennessee Titans team and what they need to do to take the next step forward.
“We just need to continue to get better,”Finnegan explained. “I think there’s some pieces there, especially with Chris Johnson who has some playmaking ability. We were a play or two away in the Ravens game. I think it’s just about getting better as a football team and if we do, we’ll find ourselves in the same position next year.”
To find themselves in that similar postseason spot as they did the two previous years, Tennessee must take care of a pair of free agents who could change the balance of power in not only the division, but maybe the entire NFL, in defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and quarterback Kerry Collins. Haynesworth is regarded as the best at his position in the game, and he has been a dominant force for two consecutive years. Haynesworth is looking for a big contract, and someone will give it to him. At the Pro Bowl, Haynesworth was being wooed by Colts Dwight Freeney and Peyton Manning, as well as others.
“I kid around a little bit, but I leave that to the general manager,” Manning said about his Hawaiian recruiting activities. “Nothing too serious.”
Although the Titans made the playoffs in 2007 with Vince Young at the helm, they became a much more complete team when Kerry Collins took over in the season opener against Jacksonville when Young went down with a knee injury. Collins numbers weren’t Drew Brees-like, but he avoided making mistakes and with the level of the Tennessee defense, that was all the team needed on most Sundays.
“I thought we played good team football and pretty much did that throughout the entire season,” Collins said. “We ran the ball well, we took care of the ball, we didn’t turn it over a lot and we obviously played good defense and good special teams. We had the formula and we stuck to it week in and week out and it allowed us to put together a really good regular season.”
One of the biggest decisions that the team is going to have to make is what they will do at quarterback. Vince Young is a former third-overall pick, but he hasn’t shown much improvement, if any from his rookie year. Collins seems to fit in well in Tennessee and hopes to return there.
“We’ll see, we still have to work out a contract,” Collins told Scout.com. “ But I hope it’s back in Tennessee, I really enjoy playing there and I really enjoy playing for the Titans. My family loves Nashville and I hope it will work out.”
Titans corner Cortland Finnegan spoke of the importance of retaining Haynesworth and Collins.
“Those two guys were instrumental in our wins last year and we’d love to have them back, but it’s a business and we all understand that.”
If Haynesworth moves away from Tennessee and to another team in the division, it could make that team an immediate favorite. If you add Haynesworth to Jacksonville, their average defense turns immediately good, assuming Derrick Harvey continues his improvement.
Put Haynesworth next to Amobi Okoye and Mario Williams in Houston, and they quickly become one of the most dominant front seven’s in football.
The biggest example may be if Peyton Manning gets his wish and Albert Haynesworth moves to Indianapolis. Imagine a Colts pass rush with Pro Bowlers Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney on the outsides, and Albert Haynesworth in the middle.
Albert Haynesworth could very well hold the key to who wins the 2009 AFC South title.