Prior to the 2016 regular season, Titans head coach Mike Mularkey made it clear that he would expect improvement from his wide receivers – a group that had the fewest catches and second-fewest receiving yards of any other team in 2015.
“They all know they’re going to be coached harder than any position there is,” Mularkey said. “First of all, because it needs to improve. There’s no question about that. If there’s a position on this team that could be better, it’s that one.
“We’re going to be in their ear. We’re not going to accept anything that’s not the best from them. If they don’t show that, we’re going to find someone that understands that.”
Mularkey’s vision quickly led to personnel changes.
Dorial Green-Beckham and Justin Hunter – physically gifted receivers who had proven unproductive through their first seasons in the league – were released, while Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe – receivers who excel at technical skills like catching and route running – were moved to the top of the depth chart.
The results were promising.
Both Matthews and Sharpe eclipsed 40 receptions in 2016, a feat that no Titans’ receiver accomplished the year prior. Moreover, Mularkey’s revamped receiving corps outperformed the 2015 group in receptions (159 vs. 130), yards (2178 vs. 1665), touchdowns (16 vs. 11), and catches of 20 or more yards (35 vs. 22).
Despite these improvements, Mularkey expects more from his receivers in 2017 — at least, from coaching of the position.
He fired wide receivers coach Bob Bratkowski and assistant receivers coach Jason Tucker on Jan. 4, and hired Frisman Jackson as the team’s replacement 13 days later. A new assistant coach has yet to be hired.
Jackson began his football career at Morgan Park High School in the south side of Chicago. He went on to play at Western Illinois University, where he became one of the best receivers in school history, setting records for most receptions in a game (14) and most yards in a game (286).
The Cleveland Browns signed Jackson as an undrafted free agent in 2012, when he graduated from Western Illinois. He played five seasons with the organization, appearing in 34 games and recording 40 receptions, 490 yards and a touchdown.
In 2007 Jackson signed as a free agent with the Jets, but he was released before the season began. At this point, he was debating how to proceed with his career.
“When I retired in 2008, I had no clue what I wanted to do,” Jackson said. “I actually took the LSAT. I thought I was going to be a lawyer. And my wife kind of hit me over the head and said, ‘That’s not really what you want to do. You want to mold young men and coach young men,’ and that’s what I decided to do.”
Jackson spent the next nine years coaching receivers at a number of universities. He first returned to his alma mater, Western Illinois (2008-09), and afterwards coached at Akron (2010-11), Northern Illinois (2012), NC State (2013-14) and most recently at Temple (2015-16), where he was passing game coordinator.
During his two years at Temple, Jackson guided the university to the 41st and 49th overall receiving offense of the FBS, which encompasses 128 NCAA teams. He also coached Robby Anderson, who signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2016.
“I was very impressed with Frisman during his visit,” Mularkey said when the Titans announced their newest hire. “He is passionate about coaching, smart and detailed.”
“The system they ran at Temple was similar to our system with their offensive coordinator, [Glenn Thomas], spending time at the Falcons when Terry [Robiskie] and I were there, which should help his integration into our system and staff.”
Jackson’s experience with Robiskie’s offensive system should certainly benefit the Titans, since, according to Paul Kauharsky of ESPN, “Continuity is generally underrated by fans. But it’s of great value in a front office, coaching offices and locker rooms.”
This continuity extends beyond schemes and systems though, as Jackson also promotes two values that Mularkey has emphasized during his time with the Titans: physicality and technique.
“The first thing I talk to my guys about is being physical,” Frisman said during an interview at NC State. “You have to be physical. A lot of times, guys think because you play receiver, you are a finesse guy. But I want to be as physical as possible.”
While coaching at NC State, Frisman had also discussed the importance of each receiver being able to execute three main routes: a slant, an in-route and a k-route.
It is difficult to predict whether or not all of Jackson’s coaching nuances will carry over from college to Tennessee, since he will be working under the directions of Mularkey and Robiskie.
However, it is not unreasonable to expect that Jackson will share with the Titans his values of physicality and technique and his knowledge from six years of playing in the NFL and from nine years of coaching.
Since 2015 the Titans have hired three different receivers coaches. Hopefully, Jackson sticks.
Photo: Tennessee Titans