NFL team reports:
Marcus Mariota’s growth could continue to push Tennessee ahead. Players aside from star QBs might hold keys to Super Bowl runs by Falcons, Saints.
Three questions facing the Titans:
Can new coaches spark Marcus Mariota’s resurgence?
Mariota, who spent the offseason after 2016 rehabbing from surgery to repair a broken leg, is coming off his worst statistical season as a pro in which he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. But the offense thrived in no-huddle situations when he was tasked with calling the plays at the line.
This led some to blame the coaches’ play-calling for the team’s offensive struggles and to veteran defensive players pulling Mariota aside and telling him to run more. Mariota has yet to play a complete 16game season because of injuries but for the first time didn’t spend his offseason rehabbing.
The Titans picked up his fifth-year option, keeping him under team control through 2019, which was a no-brainer. The big payday comes next offseason, when Mariota is entering the final year of his contract. First he must produce on the field. New head coach Mike Vrabel and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur have vowed to tailor the offense around his strengths, meaning fans should expect a greater emphasis on spread formations, tempo, play action and run-pass options.
Mariota is at his best on the biggest stages. He stands to take a big step forward.
Is the receiving corps sufficient?
Three of the team’s top four wide receivers are entering their second season on the field, and veteran Rishard Matthews remains the team’s No. 1 wideout a year after the Titans drafted former Western Michigan star Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick. Davis, who battled injuries for much of his rookie season, came on strong late.
Tajae Sharpe, a 2016 fifthround pick who missed last season with a foot injury, and Taywan Taylor, a 2017 third-rounder, should battle for the No. 3 job.
Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker could remain Mariota’s favorite target, and tight end Jonnu Smith could take a step forward in his second season. Former Patriots running back Dion Lewis should also contribute by catching passes.
The running game will help. Derrick Henry and Lewis combined for 1,640 yards on 356 rushes. They’ll be the best backfield in the division if they average 4.6 yards per carry again.
Have Titans done enough to address pass defense?
The Titans were stout against the run last season but ranked 25th in pass defense. GM Jon Robinson bolstered the secondary by signing ex-Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, who will team with Logan Ryan and 2017 first-round pick Adoree’ Jackson to give the Titans three potential No. 1 corners.
But even the best secondary will struggle without the front seven consistently disrupting opposing quarterbacks. The Titans had the fifth-most sacks in the NFL last season, but Robinson saw the pass rush as a potential area of improvement, trading up three times to address the defense in the draft.
Linebacker Rashaan Evans should replace former starter Avery Williamson, who signed with the Jets. Harold Landry should contribute heavily. Former Arizona defensive back Dane Cruikshank could provide depth at cornerback.
Marcus Mariota led the Titans to the playoffs last season despite throwing more interceptions (15) than TD passes 13.