Training camp is still a month away for the Tennessee Titans. But plenty of people are excited about the 2018 season, while others wonder if the changes made with a new coaching staff and the new systems that come with it might cause the team to take a step back.
The Titans made the playoffs for the first time in nine years last season and won their first playoff game since the 2003 postseason. Still, lots of changes were made in the off-season, with the replacement of head coach Mike Mularkey with Mike Vrabel being at the top of the list.
So without first adieu, let’s examine three reasons the Titans could be improved in 2018. Later in the week, we’ll look at three reasons why they might not be.
1. Marcus Mariota could flourish in the new offensive system
Mariota is on his third head coach and fourth play-caller as he enters his fourth season. That can be career suicide for some quarterbacks, but Mariota has proven to be fairly resilient when it comes to digesting new terminology. Matt LaFleur comes over as offensive coordinator and will bring with him a version of the West Coast offense that has been used by countless others. Sure, it’ll be tweaked and modified a little here and there to fit Mariota, but it is essentially a similar version of the offense Bill Walsh used decades ago.
It is no secret that Mariota and the offense seemed to struggle with timing and routes during OTAs and mini-camps. In fairness, Mariota was throwing to guys who probably won’t be at the top of the food chain when it comes time to start the regular season. Word is that the offense takes a bit of time to learn and adjust to, but when it clicks, it really takes off for both the quarterback and the offense.
2. The secondary has standout potential
Not since the Titans sent three members of their secondary to the Pro Bowl in 2008 has the secondary shown the potential to be this good. Malcolm Butler tries to put his Super Bowl saga behind him and will take over as the Titans top cornerback. He will be joined by second-year pro Adoree’ Jackson, who showed steady improvement as a rookie, and Butler’s ex-Patriots teammate Logan Ryan, who likely spends most of his time as the nickelback. Kevin Byard hopes to build on an All-Pro season last year, and while he might not get eight picks again as teams now try to keep the ball away from him. Johnathan Cyprien is a hard hitter at strong safety. The Titans also have lots of depth, especially at cornerback where LeShaun Sims could battle to start on some teams. Tye Smith and Kalan Reed also looked solid in off-season work. Safety depth may be a bit thin, as fifth-round rookie Dane Cruikshank and Kendrick Lewis, who has been out of the league the last couple of years, are the backup options. Otherwise, a very solid group with the potential to dominate.
3. Vrabel’s intensity might pay off
Mike Mularkey was sort of a laid back player’s coach, and that worked well in the locker room to re-establish a winning culture with the Titans. Where Mularkey and staff went wrong – at least in the eyes of GM Jon Robinson – was being too stubborn at times to try and establish the run. There was also the feeling of the systems being somewhat outdated with such a veteran coaching staff on hand the previous few years. Enter, Mike Vrabel with a much younger coaching staff (defensive coordinator Dean Pees being the exception, though still 12 years Dick LeBeau’s junior). Fresh ideas and a more hands-on intense approach are what Vrabel and his staff are bringing to the table. Vrabel, like Mularkey, is a former player, so he should know how to get through to guys, especially since he himself is only a few years removed from being an active player. If the players buy in, Vrabel and his staff could push this Titans squad to the next level.