It’s been quite some time since the city of Nashville had such expectations of their Tennessee Titans football team. The days of McNair, George, Wycheck, Bishop and more are long gone. Also gone from this city has been the excitement that comes from a winning team ready for another season. Now, this team has made headway under the leadership of head coach Mike Mularkey and his staff. His brand of football some call “Exotic Smashmouth” has improved this team and put them on the cusp of an AFC South title. By week’s end, the boys in two tone blue will be back at it and be working for an AFC South title as camp gets underway.
It all starts with their franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota. He is just about 100% recovered from a fractured fibula suffered in the last game of the season last year. His full recovery is monumental to what the Titans want to do on offense. With DeMarco Murray and second-year running mate Derrick Henry, this team packs a solid one-two punch in the backfield so long as they both stay healthy. We will see how much Henry learned in the off season and how much that helps an already dangerous running game.
The situation at WR is a developing story, to say the least. Last year’s breakout receiver, Tajae Sharpe enters his second season as maybe the number four man. He has some legal issues to deal with and the 2017 NFL Draft was good to Tennessee. The fifth overall pick in the draft was WR Corey Davis of Western Michigan. The fact that he missed the Combine and his Pro Day looked to drop him in the draft. It did not happen and good for the Titans as this kid is the most NFL ready receiver in this draft. Their second pick of the first round (18) was the super athletic and talented CB out of USC, Adoree’Jackson. He is also a return man, but his size and strength will be a question until he proves otherwise.
The offensive line should be one of the best in the NFL led by their two tackles, Pro Bowl selection Taylor Lewan, and All-Pro rookie Jack Conklin. The coaching staff feels really good about where this side of the ball is at. There will be battles for positions like at C with Sebastian Tretola and Corey Levin. We will see if Quinton Spain is ready for his breakout year. Tennessee should be solid up front making life much easier for Mariota and the backfield.
The defense is as tough it gets and these guys are hungry to show they are in fact one of the best defenses in the league this upcoming season. Players such as Avery Williamson, the team’s leading tackler last year, Wesley Woodyard, second in tackles and Sean Spence, third, need to get to that next level of their game. Brian Orakpo had a good year last season and looks for more improvement from himself and DE Derrick Morgan. These two guys are ferocious and need to make more plays to open the “D” up for others to make plays. Kevin Byard enters his second season in the league and he looks like the real thing. His football IQ is really impressive and he just has to put it together on the field.
Put it all together and Tennessee looks to be the favorite to win the South in 2017. Of course, they will need to click on all cylinders and keep players healthy. The young talent will need to mature and contribute as soon as they can. But none of it will matter if Mariota cannot stay healthy all year long. The path to the South looks as clear as it has been in years. Still, the games have to be played and we all know how that can turn out.