When Mike Mularkey was hired as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans earlier this year, he described the kind of team he was going to build: Physical. Tough. Smart. He also used a phrase to describe the offensive philosophy and system the team would be implementing going forward: Exotic Smashmouth. What did he mean by that? Simply put, the Titans are going to be a run heavy team with a healthy splash of creative play calling that will highlight their talented and physically impressive rookie QB, Marcus Mariota. It’s a throwback system and philosophy with a new paint job and a few new wrinkles.
Early returns are good for Mularkey and his new/old system. In the first pre-season game of the year, the Titans ran the ball with ease against the outmanned San Diego Chargers’ defense, racking up 288 yards on the ground. Mariota went 5-5 for 45 yards, using his feet to create room to throw on a few of those completions. The newly revamped offensive line did what it was created to do by opening holes and keeping a mostly clean pocket for Mariota. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry did exactly what everyone in Tennessee was hoping they would do when the team brought them in this offseason. They ran with power and vision. Overall, the new look Titans appear to be coming together as promised.
Winners and Losers:
Winner: Tajae Sharpe. This fifth round rookie receiver has been making a lot of noise this offseason. He has impressed the coaches so much he has been running with the number one team in practice. His first real game showed that it was not all talk. He caught two passes, one for 31 yards, before leaving the game with a possible concussion. He made his catches in traffic and held on to the ball, something many of the other receivers on this team have struggled to do consistently. And to make things even better, he was cleared the following day with no concussion symptoms, which means we should see him on the field this Saturday against the Panthers.
Loser: David Cobb. With a backfield as crowded as this one, a player cannot afford to miss out on playing time, but that is exactly what happened to Cobb in the first preseason game. He had to sit it out with a minor hamstring injury. Everyone knows that Murray and Henry are 1A and 1B on the running back depth chart. After that, it’s a fight between Antonio Andrews, Bishop Sankey, and David Cobb. (That’s not even factoring in fullbacks and the ever-hard-to-figure-out Dexter McCluster.) At least one of these three backs is not going to make the team. Perhaps even two will be cut by the time the season gets here. Missing valuable playing time at this point is a killer.
Winner: Taylor Lewan. No penalties or blown blocking assignments. Plus, his block on the long Murray touchdown run was a thing of beauty. Keep it up Taylor.
Loser: Dorial Green-Beckham. He has done so little in camp and he looked so lost and apathetic in the preseason game, the Titans decided they had seen enough and they traded him to the Eagles this morning. For all that potential, he never showed that he truly cared enough to be great. That seems to be a common theme for receivers drafted by the Titans.1 Hopefully with Jon Robinson in charge, that will not be a problem moving forward.
Final Note: Expectations
It would be very easy to let this first preseason game get the fans overly optimistic. I would caution you to temper your expectations. Don’t get me wrong, I want to believe that what we saw on Saturday is what we have to look forward to this season. But if the past is a true compass, then getting too excited about an early win is pointless.2 Plus, it’s the preseason and there is no telling what each team was trying to do in that game. “You play to win the game” doesn’t really apply to the preseason. Be optimistic, but pepper that optimism with a healthy dose of skepticism at this point. This young team still has a long way to go before we can expect consistent greatness. Hopefully, they are finally on that path, even if they have only taken the first few faltering steps.