The Tennessee Titans – High Hopes and Legitimate Concerns
This week, we are going to take a little break from our usual league-wide coverage, and focus only on the Tennessee Titans. For those that think that seems unfair, too bad. It’s my column and I can do whatever I want. Last season, the Titans finished second in the AFC South with a 9-7 record. They missed the playoffs in a tie-breaker to the Houston Texans. The Titans have made what look to be smart moves this offseason to improve the roster and hopes are high in Tennessee.
Or, they were high until the preseason started. The Titans were uninspired and seemingly bored the entire first preseason game against the New York Jets. Their offense was anemic and their first team defense gave up a quick score to an awful Jets’ offense. The Titans rebounded and looked good the following week against the Carolina Panthers. Both sides of the ball made plays and they calmed the doubts and fears that had been festering in the hearts of the Tennessee fan base after the first game.
And then Sunday happened. The Chicago Bears, one of the worst teams in the NFL last season, came to Nashville and proceeded to make the Titans’ first teams look out of sync and ill-prepared. Mike Glennon, veteran back-up QB, led the Bears on a 96-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter. The first team offense for the Titans didn’t really fare any better. If you spent any time on social media during or after the game, you probably read more than one fan call for the firing of Mike Mularkey, the benching of Marcus Mariota, or the complete dismantling of the team.1
I am here to tell you that those lunatics need to be ignored. That is not to say there are not legitimate concerns with this team. There are, and I will address them below, but the concerns are getting blown out of proportion while any good in the first three games is getting completely overlooked. So, let’s tackle the concerns about this team based on the first three preseason games.
- The offensive line is not getting any push. This same O-line took the league completely by surprise last season. They do not have that luxury this season. Everyone knows they are coming and are going to give them their best shot. It does not appear, through three preseason games, that the O-line has adjusted. If this unit does not step up in 2017, this team will not meet expectations.
- The secondary is not in synch yet and it will take some time for that to happen. Buckle up. I said this on July 9th – “I expect the secondary to struggle the first half of the season as they gel and learn to play together. This is a group that will have as many as three new starters from last season. That is a lot of turnover. Let’s hope the rest of the team can hold on and do enough to win games during that transition.” I stand by that today. Most of the time, an entire unit doesn’t get a makeover of this magnitude and come out as crisp and as good as they will eventually be. Titans’ fans need to give it time.
That’s it. Those are my only real concerns at this point. I know some people are complaining about Mariota, and while he has not looked at the top of his game, his stat line proves he is playing at a high level, even in the preseason. For a guy who is eight months away from breaking his leg, I am more than happy with what he has done in these games. (For what it’s worth, his passing numbers for the preseason are 20/32 or 62.5% completion percentage, 2 TD, 0 INT, 8.4 yards per attempts, 110.0 passer rating, and 27 yards on the ground.)
If you are worried about the receivers, I think you need to give that entire group an “incomplete.” They have missed starters in every game. First round pick, Corey Davis, has yet to play. Free agent acquisition, Eric Decker, has barely played. Tajae Sharpe, played in his first preseason game on Sunday. This unit, if healthy, will look substantially different in the regular season than they have looked in the preseason. Plus, the injuries have allowed us to see more of Taywan Taylor and he has done nothing but impress.
Let’s all take some advice from Aaron Rogers and R.E.L.A.X.
Five Questions with Paul Kuharsky.
Even though we are a small operation here at REO, we felt it was worth the effort to at least try to get some interaction going with those who have covered sports in the Nashville market for a long time. So, I reached out to Paul Kuharsky. “Paul Kuharsky is an award-winning writer who has covered the NFL for over 20 years in California, Texas, and Tennessee. He spent the last nine years helping build ESPN.com’s NFL Nation covering the AFC South and then the Tennessee Titans and he’s a popular radio personality in Nashville, where he’s co-hosted The Midday 180 on 104.5 The Zone since 2012.”2 He responded almost immediately that he would be happy to answer a few questions. We wanted to keep the format really simple, to take the least amount of his time as possible, so we kept it to five questions. No back and forth. No follow up questions. We hope that maybe down the road, we can make this a more comprehensive conversation, but this was a good way to get things started.
Q: In your time covering the NFL, which rookie has jumped out the most at training camp to you? Where you said – this guy is going to be special?
A: Jevon Kearse was unreal. As I recall the story, he was waiting in line for some testing related to vertical jump and asked a coach, “If I can touch the ceiling in here can I be done.” And the coach said yes given that it was an awfully high ceiling and he didn’t think it was possible. And Kearse jumped and got it and walked out. I think he may have even displaced a ceiling tile in the process. At one training camp drill where four linemen hit a sled and then turned and raced to gather one of three cones, the guy who didn’t get a cone was the big loser. Except that Kearse once raced ahead and scooped up not two but all three cones, leaving everyone else empty handed.
Q: Is Marcus Mariota, baring injury, a top 5 QB by the end of the season. Why or why not?
A: I don’t know. Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Ryan, Rivers, Stafford and Luck. I’d say those guys start ahead of him for sure. Can he get ahead of two of them? What defines top 5? Rating? QBR? TD-to-pick ratio? I think he will be very good. I think people should be happy if by most measures he’s top eight or 10 in Year 3.
Q: Going into this season, what are the Titans’ biggest weaknesses?
A: Perimeter play. That’s ball skills at corner and and ability to get open and go get it at receiver. They addressed both in a big way through the offseason. Now we need to see the additions succeed at improving the team in those areas.
Q: Based on what we have seen so far with the new ownership structure, Jon Robinson as GM, and Mularkey as HC, do you believe this leadership team can bring the Lombardi trophy to Nashville?
A: Yes, this group is capable of winning a Super Bowl IF it continues on the current track. It’ll help somewhere in the next five years if the Patriots stop being the Patriots for a year or two.
Q: Who was your favorite Titan to cover all time?
A: It’s hard to pick just one guy. There are a lot of them over such a long stretch. Frank Wycheck was great to me in the locker room, and I’d get in trouble with him now if I didn’t mention him. Samari Rolle was a really great guy who understood my job and we shared a very nice mutual respect.
We want to thank Paul for taking the time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer our Five questions. We hope you enjoyed them. We are hoping to do more of this sort of thing in the future. Paul has now ventured out on his own and has his own website where he covers all things Titans. You can visit Paul’s new website by clicking the logo below. If you are a Titans’ fan, it’s worth checking out for sure.
This is your time to get involved. Next week, the REO staff will once again post our predictions for the season. For what its worth, we did very well last season – with most of us within a game or two from the actual record. But first, we want to see what you are thinking about this year’s team. Vote below and tell us about it in the comment section at the bottom of the article.