Open Rants by David Frost




Time to Take the Titans Seriously
Published at 2/27/2017
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Rewind to this point last year. The Tennessee Titans had just finished another dismal campaign in the Whisenhunt/Mularkey era (5-27 combined record in the '15-'16 seasons). They had the worst record in football, thus owning the #1 draft pick. Owner Amy Adams Strunk made the uninspiring decision to hire Mike Mularkey as the full time head coach, further cementing Tennessee's status as one of the laughing stocks of the NFL. Titans fans went crazy over this. I mean, why not go after someone from a winning culture, like say, Josh McDaniels? But Strunk wasn't finished.

The Titans ended up making a lot of great moves that offseason. The best of which was hiring GM Jon Robinson, a Tennessee native who had spent years in the scouting department for New England, a winning culture. Robinson was the architect in an aggressive offseason effort to change the culture in Tennessee. He owned the #1 draft pick on a team with a lot of holes, none of which were a franchise QB. He made the smart move by trading the #1 pick to the Rams, who foolishly fell in love with Jared Goff, for a bounty of draft picks in 2016 and 2017. The Titans also went from having Antonio Andrews, Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster as their "top" running backs, to adding 2014 Offensive Player of the Year DeMarco Murray via trade as well as drafting the year's reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry (also from a winning culture in Alabama). They went from having one of the worst offensive lines in football (there were some injuries in '15) to having one of the top-rated run blocking units per PFF. Taylor Lewan made his first Pro Bowl, finally showing signs of a future star left tackle. Robinson added to the mix another young stud tackle in Jack Conklin, who made the All Pro team as a rookie, as well as two new interior starters in center Ben Jones and guard Josh Kline.

Defensively, the Titans were a solid unit in Dick LeBeau's first real season as Defensive Coordinator, but they have plenty of room for growth, particularly in the secondary. LeBeau's system is notoriously complicated, so the defense should see a marked improvement in understanding in year two. Jurrell Casey was stout as usual. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan quietly ranked among the top 5 sacking duos in the league with the former earning a Pro Bowl nod in his second year with the team.

So what's next?

First and foremost, we (Titans fans) owe Mike Mularkey an apology. The majority of informed Titans, and really most NFL fans, immediately wrote him off as someone who would be gone in a year or two. He was given no real chance to succeed, only to fail. He could still screw things up next year, but as far as last season goes, he led the Titans to their first winning season in a hot minute, he kept his team fighting in most games, particularly in the wild, last-second win at Arrowhead, he further developed Marcus Mariota as a quarterback and coached some sense into Taylor Lewan, who as a result, committed less of his stupid penalties as the season progressed.

Tennessee ended up tying Houston in the division with a 9-7 record. The difference between playoffs and no playoffs was their divisional record (2-4 last year). Indianapolis is especially tricky for some reason, as they’ve beaten Tennessee in the last, at least 10 matchups.  They’ve also split with Jacksonville most every year, a team that Tennessee should easily be able to sweep until the Jaguars start winning consistently. The Titans must focus more on finding ways to beat divisional opponents if they are to be taken seriously as a playoff contender. The easiest way to the playoffs is to win your division, and the AFC South is a particularly vulnerable division compared to others.

The Titans also happen to have one of the top 5 estimated cap space situations. This offseason, J-Rob needs to continue with a somewhat aggressive approach while keeping in mind that they will eventually have to pay up for guys like Lewan and Mariota in order to maintain their young nucleus of players. Casey will soon be due for another big pay day as well seeing as he's only 27. The Titans' top offseason priorities should be to add many pieces to the secondary, add depth to the inside linebackers and add a big-time threat wide receiver.

My personal wish list as a Titans fan would be to go after guys like Eric Berry, Logan Ryan and Dont'a Hightower in free agency, understanding that we may only be able to obtain one or two, if any. Berry has the ball skills and instincts necessary to be their desperately-needed playmaker in the secondary along with his connections to Tennessee, where he played college ball. Ryan is the type of physical, disciplined corner that aligns with what Dick LeBeau likes in his cornerbacks. Hightower is a unique playmaker as a middle linebacker with the ability to blitz from the inside (LeBeau is a fan of unique blitzes). Alshon Jeffery has been mentioned as a possible target for the Titans, but his injury history and recent suspension for PEDs make him too risky for his price tag.

A big-play wide receiver could be addressed in the draft, where the Titans have two first and two third round picks, thanks to the aforementioned trade with the Rams. One of these first rounders could be spent on Mike Williams out of Clemson, or Corey Davis out of Western Michigan. Another possibility could be to address the secondary with one or both of their first round picks, someone like Marshon Lattimore or Malik Hooker of Ohio State, Jamal Adams of LSU or Marlon Humphrey of Alabama. Another possibility that's been thrown around is the chance that Robinson trades out of the top 5 yet again to obtain more picks, potentially putting them back into round 2 (they traded their 2017 second-rounder to move back up for Conklin). 

Rewind to this point last year. The Tennessee Titans had just finished another dismal campaign in the Whisenhunt/Mularkey era (5-27 combined record in the '15-'16 seasons). They had the worst record in football, thus owning the #1 draft pick. Owner Amy Adams Strunk made the uninspiring decision to hire Mike Mularkey as the full time head coach, further cementing Tennessee's status as one of the laughing stocks of the NFL. Titans fans went crazy over this. I mean, why not go after someone from a winning culture, like say, Josh McDaniels? But Strunk wasn't finished.

The Titans ended up making a lot of great moves that offseason. The best of which was hiring GM Jon Robinson, a Tennessee native who had spent years in the scouting department for New England, a winning culture. Robinson was the architect in an aggressive offseason effort to change the culture in Tennessee. He owned the #1 draft pick on a team with a lot of holes, none of which were a franchise QB. He made the smart move by trading the #1 pick to the Rams, who foolishly fell in love with Jared Goff, for a bounty of draft picks in 2016 and 2017. With guidance, the Titans also went from having Antonio Andrews, Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster as their "top" running backs, to adding 2014 Offensive Player of the Year DeMarco Murray via trade as well as drafting the year's reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry (also from a winning culture in Alabama). They went from having one of the worst offensive lines in football (there were some injuries in '15) to having one of the top-rated run blocking units per PFF. Taylor Lewan made his first Pro Bowl, finally showing signs of a future star left tackle. Robinson added to the mix another young stud tackle in Jack Conklin, who made the All Pro team as a rookie, as well as two new interior starters in center Ben Jones and guard Josh Kline.

Defensively, the Titans were a solid unit in Dick LeBeau's first real season as Defensive Coordinator, but they have plenty of room for growth, particularly in the secondary. LeBeau's system is notoriously complicated, so the defense should see a marked improvement in understanding in year two. Jurrell Casey was stout as usual. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan quietly ranked among the top 5 sacking duos in the league with the former earning a Pro Bowl nod in his second year with the team.

So what's next?

First and foremost, we (Titans fans) owe Mike Mularkey an apology. The majority of informed Titans fans, and really most NFL fans, immediately wrote him off as someone who would be detrimental to the progress of a young team and gone in a year or two. He was given no real chance to succeed, only to fail. He could still screw things up next year, but as far as last season goes, he led the Titans to their first winning season in a hot minute, he kept his team fighting in most games, particularly in the wild, last-second win at Arrowhead, he further developed Marcus Mariota as a quarterback and coached some sense into Taylor Lewan, who as a result, committed less of his stupid penalties as the season progressed.

Tennessee ended up tying Houston in the division with a 9-7 record. The difference between playoffs and no playoffs was their divisional record (2-4 last year). Indianapolis is especially tricky for some reason, as they’ve beaten Tennessee in the last, at least 10 matchups.  They’ve also split with Jacksonville most every recent season, a team that Tennessee should easily be able to sweep until the Jaguars start winning consistently. The Titans must focus more on finding ways to beat divisional opponents if they are to be taken seriously as a playoff contender. The easiest way to the playoffs is to win your division, and the AFC South is a particularly vulnerable division compared to others.

The Titans happen to have one of the top 5 estimated cap space situations. This offseason, J-Rob needs to continue with a somewhat aggressive approach while keeping in mind that they will eventually have to pay up for guys like Lewan and Mariota in order to maintain their young nucleus of players. Casey will soon be due for another big pay day as well seeing as he's only 27. The Titans' top offseason priorities should be to add many pieces to the secondary, add depth to the inside linebackers and add a big-time threat wide receiver.

My personal wish list as a Titans fan would be to go after guys like Eric Berry, Logan Ryan and Dont'a Hightower in free agency, understanding that we may only be able to obtain one or two, if any. Berry has the ball skills and instincts necessary to be their desperately-needed playmaker in the secondary along with his connections to Tennessee, where he played college ball. Ryan is the type of physical, disciplined corner that aligns with what Dick LeBeau likes in his cornerbacks. Hightower is a unique playmaker as a middle linebacker with the ability to blitz from the inside (LeBeau is a fan of unique blitzes). Alshon Jeffery has been mentioned as a possible target for the Titans, but his injury history and recent suspension for PEDs make him too risky for his price tag.

A big-play wide receiver could be addressed in the draft, where the Titans have two first and two third round picks, thanks to the aforementioned trade with the Rams. One of these first rounders could be spent on Mike Williams out of Clemson or Corey Davis out of Western Michigan. Another possibility could be to address the secondary with one or both of their first round picks, someone like Marshon Lattimore or Malik Hooker of Ohio State, Jamal Adams of LSU or Marlon Humphrey of Alabama. Another possibility that's been thrown around is the chance that Robinson trades out of the top 5 yet again to obtain more picks, potentially putting them back into round 2 (they traded their 2017 second-rounder to move back up for Conklin). This strategy would continue Robinson's trend of stockpiling picks for the future of his team.

So to summarize reasons for optimism if you’re a Titans fan: this is a good, young football team that should only continue to grow and improve. Last season, they were a few missed plays away from upsetting Oakland early in the season and down the stretch, they beat Green Bay, Denver, Kansas City on the road and Houston. They have building blocks in a young franchise quarterback and a stout offensive line, but the real reason for hope lately has been GM Jon Robinson. Because of Robinson’s efforts, this is now a team with a clear identity as a physical, pound-you type of football team on both sides of the ball. They have plenty of draft resources, or “draft currency” as Robinson refers to it as, to move up and down the board as they please or to continue stockpiling for future drafts. The market in Nashville has been growing steadily in the past few years as well as Nashville’s reputation for having a friendly, hospitable culture. All of these above reasons for optimism should make this an attractive destination for free agents. Obvious pauses for concern would be Tennessee’s lack of consistency in recent years, seeing as they haven’t made the playoffs since, wait for it…Kerry Collins. The same could be said for Coach Mularkey, who has not had a track record of success in previous head coaching stints. The bottom line is that Titans fans have a reason to be excited for the first time in a while. With continued additions and progress this offseason, Tennessee has a legitimate chance to unseat Houston for the AFC South division title and make a run in the playoffs.





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