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Titans Ready to Make Major Strides

See why the Tennessee Titans are one of the most improved teams heading into the 2016 season.

Mark Gunnels

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After going (3-13) this past season, there’s really no where for the Tennessee Titans to go but up at this point. This young team showed flashes of what their potential looks like, but ultimately, injuries and inexperienced at key positions derailed their 2015 campaign.

Franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota missed the last four games of the season due to a concussion. However, when the former Heisman trophy winner was on the field, he showed why Tennessee has so much invested in him.

Titans head coach Mike Mularkey selected on Mariota’s rookie year. 

“It was much better than most rookie quarterbacks starting out,’’ Mularkey stressed. “Marcus handled it all extremely well. All of the things he went through, including a head coaching change. I think he handled everything with poise.

“And anybody who walks into the locker room in Year 2 is going to be more comfortable, and have more confidence. It is overwhelming when you come in the locker room as a rookie, but things will be so familiar to him now. He won’t be starting from scratch. And that should help him a great deal.”

In 12 games, Mariota had a touchdown to interception of 19 to 10 to go along with 2,818 yards and a quarterback rating of 91.5.

As Mariota preps for year two, he isn’t shy about discussing areas he wants to improve at.

“For one, turnovers,’’ Mariota said. “Fumbling was kind of a bad habit that even I had in college that I need to continue to fix. To me what’s most important alongside of that is stepping up as a leader, being more vocal and then just finding ways to win. I think that’s kind of been the tone for the last few months here, is just finding ways to win, however that may be. Just find a way to get it done.”

Whenever you only win three games, it’s probably safe to say you need to improve in all facets of the game, but offensive talent just seemed to keep falling into their lap this off-season.

Tennessee acquired running back DeMarco Murray and former Alabama standout Derrick Henry, who fell to the second round. This past season, Tennessee finished 25th in total rushing.

Although it’s a passing league, having this type of dynamic duo could open so many other possibilities for Mariota and company. 

“It demoralizes you. It really keeps you honest,” linebacker Brian Orakpo admitted. “They can really pound. And that’s what opens the passing game. If you start off a game where your running game is completely shut down and you have to pass throughout the whole game, you’re going to be in some trouble, and we found ourselves in that situation numerous times (last season).”

And if you’re wondering if Murray is upset Tennessee took Henry, think again.

“I have heard a lot of great things about (Henry). He’s a great kid. I am excited to work with him. Obviously we have a lot of other running backs, too, I have gotten a chance to know. But I think Derrick coming in will push everybody, and I think it is only going to help the team. I am excited to have him and I want to teach him as much as I can and hopefully I can learn from him.”

Also, Tennessee shored up their offensive line with the acquisitions of center Ben Jones and first-round right tackle Jack Conklin.

Having said all of that, the Titans still selected six defensive players in the draft, headlined by defensive end Kevin Dodd. They also added four more defensive guys in the second round.

Now, I’m not sure any of these players will turn Tennessee into an elite defensive unit, but one must assume they can only go up from here.

All in all, expect the Titans to show major growth this upcoming season.

 

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.

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