Marcus Mariota (8) and the Tennesse Titans are looking to surprise this upcoming NFL season. Photo by Matthew Healey/ UPI | License Photo
NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee Titans open training camp with higher expectations in 2017 than any previous year since perhaps 2009 when they were coming off a 13-3 season.
The Titans jumped from just three wins in 2015 to nine last season, their first full campaign under head coach Mike Mularkey and now with more improvements in the roster this offseason, the team's first playoff berth since 2008 is the minimum requirement for the coming season to be a success.
First off, the Titans enter camp with no questions at the most important place on the field - quarterback. Marcus Mariota made major strides in year two and had 26 touchdown passes in 15 games a year ago. In Mariota, who is coming off surgery for a broken fibula that caused him to spend a good portion of the offseason rehabbing, the Titans are convinced they have their first true franchise quarterback since Steve McNair's heyday some 15 years ago.
General manager Jon Robinson has also set about trying to upgrade the pieces around his young quarterback, too, even adding former Jets and Broncos receiver Eric Decker to the roster just after the Titans ended their June minicamp. Decker's arrival may be the final piece to rebuilding the wide receiver corps, which got a facelift in the offseason. The Titans drafted Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick, and then added shifty Taywan Taylor as a potential slot receiver in the third round of the draft. Both of them should combine with Decker and holdover Rishard Matthews to form the nucleus at the position and give the Titans more weapons in the passing game beyond Pro-Bowl tight end Delanie Walker.
On the defensive side, the Titans remade their secondary in the offseason, bringing in Logan Ryan from New England and Johnathan Cyprien from Jacksonville, while drafting speedy USC cornerback Adoree' Jackson as part of the secondary makeover.
With most of the roster holes now seemingly patched, the Titans enter camp as the least flawed team in the AFC South, and with their sights set on a division title and a playoff bid.
TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS
---Make the pieces fit. As stated above, the Titans have added their fair share of new faces, especially at wide receiver and in the secondary. While they have the stability of numerous returning starters at other spots on the field (quarterback, offensive line, running back and linebacker being key areas for holdovers), the Titans have to hope that the receiver corps and the defensive backfield can jell quickly with their time together in training camp and preseason.
--Make sure Mariota is healthy. The key for the Titans this season is to keep quarterback Marcus Mariota healthy through a 16-game season, something he has not done in his first two years. Mariota played in 12 games as a rookie and played in 15 last year with the broken fibula coming in the penultimate game against the Jaguars. With Mariota having had surgery to place a plate in the leg, naturally there is the need to make sure that he is 100 percent and ready to go, especially for a quarterback whose mobility is one of his primary attributes.
--Develop some depth. Training camp is all about competition, and the Titans are hopeful that some competition will create some needed depth at some thin areas on the roster. Most prominent in that is the secondary, where depth may be a concern behind new starters Logan Ryan and Adoree' Jackson. The Titans hope LeShaun Sims' flash last year proves to stick, and must hope that one of D'Joun Smith, Kalan Reed and Demontre Hurst develops enough to push veteran Brice McCain for the fourth cornerback job. The same is true at linebacker, where the Titans need 2016 second-rounder Kevin Dodd to get healthy and be a solid backup on the outside, and could use some help inside in the nickel spot. They are hopeful that rookie Jayon Brown, who flashed in the offseason can impress when things count for real.
PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Marcus Mariota. Backups -- Matt Cassel, Alex Tanney, Tyler Ferguson.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- DeMarco Murray. Backups - Derrick Henry, FB Jalston Fowler, David Fluellen, Muhammad Khalfani, Akeem Judd, FB Joe Bacci.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Taylor Lewan, LG Quinton Spain, C Ben Jones, RG Josh Kline, RT Jack Conklin. Backups - C/G Tim Lelito, G Sebastian Tretola, T Dennis Kelly, T Tyler Marz, G Corey Levin, G/T Josue Matias, C Mark Spielman, T Brad Seato, T Jonah Pirsig, T Steven Moore.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Rishard Matthews, Corey Davis. Backups - Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe, Harry Douglas, Eric Weems, Tre McBride, Jonathan Krause, KeVon Mabon, Makale McCay, Darius Jennings, Giovanni Pascascio.
TIGHT ENDS: Starters - Delanie Walker, Phillip Supernaw. Backups - Jace Amaro, Jonnu Smith, Jermaine Cunningham, Tim Semisch.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE DaQuan Jones, NT Sylvester Williams, DRE Jurrell Casey. Backups - DE Karl Klug, DE Angelo Blackson, DE Mehdi Abdesmad, NT Antwaun Woods, NT Austin Johnson, NT DeAngelo Brown, DE Jimmy Staten, DE Cameron Robbins.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB Derrick Morgan, LILB Wesley Woodyard, RILB Avery Williamson, ROLB Brian Orakpo. Backups - ILB Jayon Brown, ILB Nate Palmer, OLB Josh Carraway, OLB Aaron Wallace, OLB Kevin Dodd, ILB Justin Staples, ILB Daren Bates, ILB Johnny Ragin, OLB Kourtnei Brown, OLB Victor Ochi.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Logan Ryan, RCB Adoree' Jackson, SS Johnathan Cyprien, FS Kevin Byard. Backups - CB LeShaun Sims, S Da'Norris Searcy, CB Brice McCain, S Brynden Trawick, CB Kalan Reed, S Curtis Riley, CB D'Joun Smith, CB Demontre Hurst, CB Tye Smith, CB Manny Abad, CB Jeremy Boykins.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Ryan Succop, P Brett Kern, KOR/PR Eric Weems, LS Beau Brinkley.