Looking from the outside in, one might question the offseason moves of Jon Robinson and the Tennessee Titans. For a general manager and team who had the looks of regaining a reputable status in the league, clearing house on the coaching staff came as a massive surprise to those not invested in this team. To the normal eye, a trip to the Divisional Round of playoffs certified a resurrection in national respect. Credit to Mike Mularkey, former head coach of the Titans, and his staff for taking the Titans somewhere we had not been since January of 2009. So where came the logic in firing a coach who made solid strides towards establishing a winning program, a point so aggressively pushed by this organization the day Robinson was hired two and a half years ago? Truth be told, no matter how far we advanced in the playoffs last year, this team was not heading in the direction Robinson and owner Amy Adams had always envisioned. With the addition of new coaches Mike Vrabel, Matt LaFluer, and Dean Pees, and players such as Malcom Butler, Rashaan Evans, and Harold Landry, the message now shows clear this vision in place. So what exactly does Jon Robinson envision in the Titans? What can we expect from a new look team who hopes to stay in contention for a division title, which grows in difficulty by the day? Every answer seems to gravitate around the idea of a revamped scheme to mold around franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota, a true definition of who the Tennessee Titans are.
Since the day Jon Robinson was hired on Jan. 14, 2016, his mission for the team has persisted: surround Marcus Mariota with better pieces. Whether these pieces be acquired via draft picks, free agents, coaches, etc., Robinson has made significant moves to mold as solid a supporting cast around Mariota as possible. The first draft pick attached to Robinson’s name became Jack Conklin, now All-Pro Right Tackle- a more recent top-10 offensive weapon drafted being WR Corey Davis. Along with the addition of more notably flexible-schemed coaches in Vrabel and LaFleur, the right system to allow Mariota to thrive seems set in place now. Now with this new system in place, what will fans see out of our young QB and his offense? Fans can expect to see more play-action, RPOs, and zone scheme than we have ever seen. Our new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur has been part of a strikingly similar offensive scheme as a QB coach/ OC the past three years in the NFL: Washington in 2015 with Kirk Cousins, Atlanta in 2016 with Matt Ryan, and last season in LA with Jared Goff. All three mentioned players had historic seasons in those respective years. Now it’d be really ill-advised to directly associate quarterback success with their specific positions coach, but it’s still worth noting the connection between LaFleur and the clear rise in performance from his students. If Mariota can have his offense working even close to what those three offenses did these past seasons, Tennessee may be primed for a top-15 offense. Another reason to be optimistic about the new look offense of Tennessee lies in Mariota’s play using the play-action. Mariota posted a 115.8 passer rating while using the play-action last season (a mere 89.2 when not), which ranked 2nd in the league. The problem last year was fourteen other quarterbacks had more play-action snaps than Mariota, a critical mistake on former coach Mularkey’s end. Simple logic suggests molding your style of play to what your players can do best, but it seems this logic escaped the mind of Mularkey during the most important parts of last season. With this upcoming year, the combination of LaFleur and Mariota should help establish a more modern identity that has the potential to thrive in the NFL. One should expect a high-flying, versatile offense that proves willing to take shots when needed in this new look Tennessee offense. One should also hope for an offensive line that looks more like 2016 than 2017 with better competition at LG, and a thin receiving core to step up if Corey Davis can stay healthy and become the player fans all think he can be.
The defensive end of the ball was the Titan’s strong suit, and fortunately we were able to retain our strong core of players. Even better yet, there are a few key additions with three new players and one vibrant new assistant coach that embody what this team wants to do on the defensive side of the ball. The main difference for this season comes in the fact our blitzing numbers will likely decrease dramatically with the exit of legend coach Dick LeBeau, and our secondary play will likely dramatically increase with the addition of Malcom Butler and the experience gained by young star Adoree Jackson. Early indications from the beginning of training camp show a much improved secondary getting after it with new secondary coach Kerry Coombs, whose exuberance has shown a contagious effect on the players. This high-energy tenacity exemplifies the type of play we should expect from this group of established players. The key thing for me is not all-out blitzing so much due to the lack of confidence in your secondary holding up in coverage.One would think Vrabel will have a positive impact on the defense, specifically with rookie linebackers Evans and Landry ready to be molded. For the short time he’s been a coach in the league, the former Super Bowl champion LB has shown he possesses the necessary tools to develop Tennessee’s talent. I expect this defense to run middle of the pack in the league this year, with the secondary having a legitimate shot at being top five for its position group.
The new jerseys for the Tennessee Titans symbolize the fresh, modernized approach this front office has attempted to implement in Nashville. Much of the play one will see from Tennessee once season starts will drastically differ from what viewers witnessed a season ago. This season will deliver a more sound approach, but the question remains will this change result in more wins? Like I already mentioned, the division has only gotten better since season end and banking on immediate improvements from a new staff may be over zealous. What I do expect is the Titans, particularly Mariota, to not look as lost in the system when trying to run plays. I expect more cohesion between the players and coaches when it comes to play-calling, a cohesion that will result from the concerted effort by our coaches to adapt the playbook to what our franchise player does best. I want to see a franchise QB who doesn’t look lost and hand the opposing defense a lollipop because of confusion on the play. I want to see the play from Mariota that us true Titans fans have known him capable of since we drafted him in 2015. Our team play since 2015 has closely reflected that of Mariota’s production. This hopeful increase in production will surely set the tone for this new Tennessee Titans team. One might ask who the new Tennessee Titans are? I’d say they have been the same thing for going on four years now- a direct byproduct of our franchise player Marcus Mariota.