The offseason program has officially begun in Tennessee, as April 20 marked the start of voluntary workouts for the Titans. OTA workouts soon follow in May, and mandatory minicamp starts in mid-June.
As players revisited with one another at Saint Thomas Park and began to answer questions from members of the media, there was a clear sense of optimism for the upcoming season.
“I think everybody this year is more energetic,” said running back DeMarco Murray. “We’re a lot more confident than probably we were a year ago. So I think from a coaching staff standpoint and player standpoint we know what we’re capable of doing.”
Much of this optimism comes from the team’s performance last year. The Titans not only finished the 2016 season with a winning record (9-7), but also were one victory away from a playoff birth – something the organization has not accomplished since 2008.
As the Titans enter the 2017 season, expectations are to improve upon last season and enter the playoffs. Every NFL team likely enters the season with a similar goal, but for the Titans, the postseason appears within reach. The following are reasons why.
The Return of Mariota
After breaking his fibula four months ago against the Jacksonville Jaguars, third-year quarterback Marcus Mariota is now on a steady path to recovery.
“I’m doing pretty much everything,” he said after voluntary workouts. “I haven’t been really able to run. I’m starting to jog here and there. But I’m just following the protocols and procedures that we have in place with the training staff here.”
If all goes according to plan, Mariota will be at full health by the start of training camp in mid-June. The final steps to recovery involve strengthening the muscles around his shin, which weakened while he wore a cast.
“It’s more [a process of] working back those muscles that were stagnant for two months when I was in a cast. So it’s kind of rebuilding those foundations back up."
Multiple First Round Picks
Assuming general manager Jon Robinson does not execute a trade prior to or during the Draft, the Titans are one of three teams in the NFL that have two first-round picks at No. 5 and No. 18 overall. Both selections will be immediate contributors on the field next season.
“I’m excited, whoever we get,” said outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. “You can go anyway — best available. You can go corner, you can go receiver, you can go another pass rusher [or] d-lineman. You can go all kinds of positions.
“Whoever we get I know is going to be a contributor because obviously first-round picks are guys who are going to come in here and contribute. They don’t just sit and learn. They come in here and play now. So whoever we get is going to play a big part of our team.”
The Titans' two-year absence from Monday Night Football will come to an end this season, as they host the Indianapolis Colts at Nissan Stadium Oct. 16. The team also travels to the Pittsburg Steelers for Thursday Night Football Nov. 16.
According to coach Mike Mularkey, these primetime games not only motivate players but also give evidence to the Titans’ recent improvement and national recognition.
“I know our players like playing in primetime. They like playing at night. And I think it gives our organization and team some recognition that we are going in the right direction. And I think people are going to be anxious to see these games on national TV.”
During free agency the Titans addressed their secondary and special teams by signing more than 10 players. Among these additions, the most intriguing is perhaps cornerback Logan Ryan who formerly played for the New England Patriots.
He not only addresses one of the Titans’ biggest positional needs but also brings the leadership and experience of having played in two Super Bowls.
“I think [signing Ryan is] big,” said defense lineman Jurrell Casey, “especially with somebody with that much experience. He’s been [to the Super Bowl two times], won two times, and he knows what it takes to get out there and get those wins. And he knows what it takes to push your team to get to those wins. We need somebody as a leader who can do that.”
Personnel, Coaching Continuity
From 2009 to 2016, there were a number of personnel and coaching changes that kept the Titans in a perpetual cycle of order, disorder and reorder. The team rotated through six starting quarterbacks, four head coaches and three general managers — which in large part explains the Titans’ cumulative record of 50-78 during those eight years.
As players entered Saint Thomas Park last week, there was an air of familiarity. Mularkey enters his third season as head coach, Robinson enters his second season as general manager, and the culture and expectations in Tennessee are clear: be dependable, work hard and put the team first. According to Orakpo, this continuity “helps a lot.”
“Same coaches, same regime, same scheme goes a long, long way. Basically we’re picking up where we left off. We’re not in a situation where we’re learning from scratch. You know, learning terminology, different signs and different personnel packages. It’s the same scheme and we’re tweaking a few things just to be better.”