NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey wants his Titans to ignore all the talk about how good they might be coming off the franchise’s first winning season since 2011.
”That’s pretty much the message,” Mularkey said. ”It’s: `That was then, this is now.’ It’s a different year. These guys understand that. You’ve got to be careful of listening to some of the noise that’s out there. It can get you if you listen to it.”
The Titans went from a 3-13 record, giving them the No. 1 pick overall in the 2016 draft, to 9-7 by listening to Mularkey. They lost a chance to play for the franchise’s first AFC South title since 2008 in a defeat when quarterback Marcus Mariota broke his right leg in Jacksonville on Dec. 24.
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Their success was rewarded with five Pro Bowl selections with rookie right tackle Jack Conklin named an All-Pro.
General manager Jon Robinson spent his second offseason working to give Mariota better options at receiver, and swapped out most of a secondary that was the weak spot on defense. Robinson had the luxury of two first-round picks thanks to swapping that No. 1 selection overall in April 2016 to the Rams. He used that selection on wide receiver Corey Davis of Western Michigan . The Titans picked cornerback Adoree Jackson at No. 18.
Now the Titans have to prove last season was no fluke as they chase Tennessee’s first playoff berth since 2008. Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker says having high expectations are good inside the locker room as long as the Titans keep working hard.
”We haven’t done anything,” Walker said. ”I mean everyone’s talking about us for what we did last year. It’s a whole other year. We’re going to have to show up and show out, and basically do what we think we can do. And that’s be a good football team.”
Here are some things to know about the Titans:
MURRAY AND HENRY: DeMarco Murray showed his stint in Philadelphia was an aberration, returning to form by leading the AFC in rushing with 1,287 yards and earning his third Pro Bowl berth. Yet Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, got a lot of work during the preseason as Murray recovered from an injured hamstring, and he also averaged 4.5 yards per carry as a rookie. Mularkey has made clear Murray remains the Titans’ starter at running back. The coach also has refused to say exactly how carries will be split between Murray and Henry.
AIR MARIOTA?: As much as the Titans start their offense with the run, Mariota now has a lot more options when it comes to throwing downfield. In addition to Davis, the Titans also drafted receiver Taywan Taylor of Western Kentucky and tight end Jonnu Smith of FIU . Then they signed veteran receiver Eric Decker to a one-year deal in late June, taking advantage of the Jets’ salary cap cuts.
Mariota ranked 10th in the NFL with a 95.6 passer rating, yet only 23rd with 3,426 yards passing. His new teammates join Walker and receiver Rishard Matthews, who is coming off the best year of his career.
LEBEAU EFFECT: Coordinator Dick LeBeau enters his 59th season in the NFL with a defense that ranked sixth last season with 40 sacks, and the Titans added Erik Walden (11) to Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo (10 +) and Derrick Morgan (nine). Only Dallas gave up fewer yards rushing. A revamped secondary features veterans Logan Ryan from the Patriots and Johnathan Cyprien from the Jaguars to go with Jackson and second-year safety Kevin Byard to boost a unit that was 30th against the pass last season. The group should allow LeBeau to dig even deeper into his playbook to confuse opposing quarterbacks.
NOT SO SPECIAL TEAMS: Mularkey wants much more out of the Titans’ special teams units, and that’s why general manager Jon Robinson signed safety Brynden Trawick and linebacker Daren Bates, along with drafting Jackson out of Southern California. The Titans have tried to add better tacklers to coverage units that ranked 18th against kickoffs and 26th defending punts. Jackson, who scored eight touchdowns on punts and kicks in college, is expected to provide immediate improvement.
AFC SOUTH: The Titans’ biggest challenge will come inside the division, where they went 2-4 last season. They’ve lost eight of the last 10 to Houston and 11 straight to the Indianapolis Colts.
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