Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
With apologies to The Who, new Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who met with the media on Tuesday, now steps into the same challenge as the past four play-callers Tennessee has employed.
That challenge is how to maximize the talents of quarterback Marcus Mariota, now entering his fifth season under his fifth play-caller, and try to somehow keep him healthy.
Smith said he will keep the current offensive system installed last year by Matt LaFleur, who was hired as head coach by Green Bay, in place to help with continuity not only for Mariota, but for the rest of the offense as well. Smith said he believes that keeping the same system should help Mariota, who had just 11 TD passes in 2018.
“I think the key is – really what will help him, just like it would help anybody, is the whole offense improving,” Smith said. “That goes back to why we’re not changing the language, so when we come in here April 15, and we have a plan of how we want to improve offensively, it’s going to help him.
“There’s a familiarity where you’re not asking him, ‘Hey, this is the way we’re going to read these plays right here.’ He’s already changed enough. So, when he comes in here he’ll know exactly how we’re reading plays, he’ll know exactly how we’re calling plays, it just allows him to take another step. So to answer your question, I think as the whole offensive improves in Year 2, it will help the quarterback.”
It also should help that young receivers like Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor won’t have to learn a new system either, and that tight end Delanie Walker will be back from his leg injury.
In terms of the offense, Smith, who has survived four head coaches and has been on the Titans staff since 2011, will keep the same language and system, but he also
As for how to keep Mariota upright for 16 games and not be bothered by injuries that have plagued him throughout his first four seasons, some of that is simply luck. But Smith said the play-calling can have an effect as well.
“There are things that you try to accomplish, that you make sure you keep changing the launch points for him, that helps. The way the game is going, you’re able to run the ball or you’re able to move people off the line of scrimmage, it opens up a lot of things for him,” Smith said. “So yeah, there’s certain areas of play-calling that go into it, and understand what your matchups may be week to week. Whether they’re inside or outside, the percentage these guys are going to blitz you in certain situations.
“That all factors into it. But, play-calling definitely can help. It’s not the end-all be-all, but there definitely will be a conscious effort to keep him healthy.”
Based on how Derrick Henry finished the season, Mariota should have a solid run game at his disposal, and Smith plans to keep Henry as a main cog in the offense.
“Derrick is going to be a big part of our offense. Derrick has got a rare skillset, he’s one of the few guys that – he’s a home run hitter,” Smith said. “Obviously, like I said, we’re taking another step hopefully with him. What he did the last five weeks will open up a lot of things, and hopefully, again, to improve what he did. But, Derrick will be a big part of the offense.”
Smith said he hopes that the Titans offense can become more explosive, but adds that the bottom line is simply doing whatever it takes to win.
“If you can look aesthetically pleasing, people will like that in the short-team. But, at the end of the day, we’ve got to win games and it will always come down to that. You can lead the league in points – and certainly we’re going to try to score as many points as we can. but, at the end of the day, we’re going to try to win as a team in all three phases,” he said. “Just to be aesthetically pleasing? That’s not the end goal. The end goal is to be the best offense we can be, and to win that game. I know what you’re saying where people are infatuated with the college game. You go watch a Big 12 game, it looks like a Big Ten basketball game, it’s 54-53. That’s not what it’s going to be. The NFL is not going to let you – there’s been what, one game that played like that? We’re certainly going to try to get explosive, and I think that’s always your goal.”