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'It's not going to be easy': Titans' senior writer Jim Wyatt weighs in on Week 1 matchup

As the Broncos approach the season, we're chatting with reporters who cover each of the team's opponents. We begin with Jim Wyatt, a senior writer for TennesseeTitans.com who has covered Tennessee since 1999.

For a look at all angles of the Broncos' Week 1 matchup, click here.

Aric DiLalla: What are the Broncos getting in defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, and how much does he still have left?

Jim Wyatt: "Well, he's a great guy, been a player for this team for a long time, been a great player in the community. He was a two-time Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner on top of everything he did on the field. Went to five Pro Bowls — should've gone to seven. He turned down the chance to go to a couple earlier in his career. He was still playing well. Missed a couple of games in 2019 because of a stinger, but had two sacks in a playoff win at Baltimore and [is a] high-energy guy. He'll be missed here, and I'm sure he is going to be motivated. I know not long after the schedule came out, that was announced as a Monday night game in Week 1. He was already kind of bringing attention to that. He'll want to play well. The Titans will be motivated to play well too, because that was a clunker of a game for the Titans last year, and it's what prompted the quarterback change from [Marcus] Mariota to [Ryan] Tannehill, and really that's where the Titans' season changed ... in Denver last year. There will be a lot of motivating factors for each side that night."

AD: What did Tannehill bring when the Titans made the change last season?

JW: "I think he brought a quarterback who was more consistent and more accurate and more sure of himself. Marcus had a good run here. But somewhere along the way, he kind of lost his way. He wasn't the same quarterback at the end that he was when he first began. He was not as on the money. He was a little skittish in the pocket. He took too many sacks. Some of that was maybe because of injuries he suffered along the way. Some of it was because of all the changes he had to deal with from head coaches to offensive coordinators to people around him. He just wasn't very good at the start of last season. I think anybody that saw him play in Denver saw that. It was kind of the point of no return for the Titans in the season at that point. They were sitting at 2-4, they were shut out in that game. You either make that move and see if you can reboot, or you just continue to try to make it work with a quarterback that you knew probably wasn't going to be a part of your future. They decided to make the move, and Tannehill was just a lot better. And I think as he played and he played well, his confidence picked up. The confidence in the guys around him picked up. The end result was a trip to the AFC Championship game and really some optimism moving forward."

AD: How much did Tannehill's late-season success help Derrick Henry during his impressive stretch to end the year?

JW: "I think that's a big part of it. People aren't going to respect the pass if you don't show you can do it. Not to beat up on Mariota too much, but he just wasn't completing many balls downfield. He wasn't throwing the ball necessarily in tight spaces. He'd make a good throw here and there, and he had a good game against the Falcons earlier in the season. But he was inconsistent. Teams were able to kind of stack the box to slow down Henry. Once Tannehill took over and you had more downfield passes, [wide receiver] A.J. Brown was able to be more of a playmaker week in and week out. Other guys were able to make plays for them, and that allowed them to kind of rely on Henry and the run game. They kind of worked hand in hand as the season went on. Henry got a lot of attention and a lot of accolades — and all that was well-deserved — but this team had a lot of success throwing the football down the stretch. That's kind of what made the running game go, as well."

AD: Do the Titans feel like he can keep that same kind of production going in 2020?

JW: "I think the team is confident he can keep doing it. I think obviously you've got to regain and pick up that momentum again. Just because you did it at the end of 2019 doesn't necessarily mean you're going to do it in 2020. The offensive line's going to undergo some changes. The biggest one: Jack Conklin is gone at right tackle. Dennis Kelly is the favorite to be the starter there, I think, in Week 1. But the team drafted Isaiah Wilson in the first round out of Georgia, and at some point he's going to take over. That doesn't necessarily have to be in 2020, but at some point in the future he's going to. This offensive line's got to continue to open up holes, and they've got to continue to make plays downfield. If they can do that, I have no question Henry's going to show up for camp in good shape and be ready to go right out of the gate."

AD: The Titans will be moving forward without tight end Delanie Walker, linebacker Wesley Woodyard and cornerback Logan Ryan. Which player will be the toughest to replace? 

JW: "Well, Delanie, unfortunately for him, he was a great pro but he dealt with injuries the last couple of seasons. [He ended] up not really being a factor at the end of last season … was on IR and just wasn't the same player. Because of Jonnu Smith developing, because of Anthony Firkser, because of MyCole Pruitt, I think at the tight end position, they're in pretty good shape. Wesley Woodyard, one of the greatest pros I've ever been around. Just a committed player and teammate, who even though he took a backseat last year as far as the playing time goes, he still made an impact. Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans, the team's [starting] inside 'backers, they were on the field the most. David Long, a [2019] draft pick, was on the field a lot. Wesley, again, played in situational packages and was a great leader, but his snaps were down last year. So that leads me to saying that Logan Ryan is probably the player they'll miss the most, because he was on the field all the time. He helped them in coverage. He helped them in blitz packages. He helped step up in areas where guys were hurt. So he's going to be missed, and they're going to have to have guys step up and play well to replace him. Malcolm Butler's back, Adoree' Jackson's back, they drafted Kristian Fulton in the second round of the draft. They signed Johnathan Joseph from the Texans. They've got some other players that they're going to count on to still be solid in the secondary, but Logan Ryan's been a really good player for this team for the past three seasons. He was playing at a high level last season, which will end up being his last in Tennessee."

AD: What's the general feeling around the team in Nashville as we head into 2020?

JW: "People are excited, especially after what happened in the playoffs last year. To finish the season like the team did and to win at New England and win at Baltimore and then all of a sudden you find yourself against the Chiefs for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. People got amped up here — as amped up as they've been in years. It's a tough start as far as being on the road a little bit, but I think the mentality here is you've got to start off better than you did last year. The Titans were able to overcome a 2-4 start last year, but you don't want to find yourself in another hole at the start this year, because you've got five out of the last seven games on the road. It's a tough [road] down the stretch. The team would love to get off to a good start, win against Denver. It's not going to be easy. That's a tough place to play. I know people there will be fired up. Hopefully we'll have fans in the stands, and it'll be a great atmosphere on Monday night. But regardless, the Titans obviously would like to win that game and get off to a good start."

AD: We're still several months away here, but what will you be looking for in this Week 1 game and what do you think will be a key factor?

JW: "I think offensively, I expect the Titans to play well. I think if you look at the starting lineup now, as we're speaking in May, I can pretty safely name the 11 starters. … I named Dennis Kelly at right tackle and Isaiah Wilson trying to unseat him there. That's really the only question mark this team has. The rest of the offensive line is set, the receiving corps is set. The running back, quarterback — set. The questions are on defense, and I guess heading into the season, I'm just curious to see how some things play out. They've got to figure out how to move on without Jurrell Casey, who was a great player here. They've got to figure out a way to keep it going without Logan Ryan. Wesley Woodyard has been a leader even though he was in a reduced role. And they lost Dean Pees, their defensive coordinator from last year, who retired. They're going to go into the season with a new play-caller and some new pieces. How quickly that comes together will go a long way in determining what kind of a start the Titans get off to."

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