To quote former NFL head coach Jim Mora, “Playoffs!?! Are you kidding me? Don’t talk about playoffs!”
I know, we’re not even out of the preseason yet and before you fall out of your seat laughing at the notion of the seemingly hapless Tennessee Titans making it into the playoffs, know that worst-to-first scenarios are not that uncommon in the National Football League and you only have to look as far back as 2013 to see the most recent.
An organization that has been stumbling around the bottom of the league for the past several years, the Titans now seem to be pointed in the right direction. New General Manager Jon Robinson came in and immediately began to make moves and shake up the roster in order to get personnel more talented and more suited to the likes of new Head Coach Mike Mularkey. They started quickly with free agency signings, offensive and defensive, notably CB Antwon Blake and LB Sean Spence coming over from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hall of Fame coach and new Titans Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau spent 2004-2014 with the Steelers in the same capacity and Blake and Spence will be familiar with the aggressive, blitzing defense that LeBeau plans to employ.
In March, they made a trade that landed the 2014 rushing leader DeMarco Murray from the Philadephia Eagles for next to nothing. Murray’s downhill running style is perfectly suited for the new ground-and-pound offense that Mularkey and new Offensive Coordinator Terry Robiskie are looking to implement.
Then came the NFL Draft. Knowing that they already have their quarterback-of-the-future in Marcus Mariota and that their main concern was depth and personnel suited for the new offensive and defensive schemes, Robinson and the Titans dealt the number one overall pick to the Los Angeles Rams for a slew of draft picks in 2016 and 2017. They used their ten 2016 draft selections on a balance of offensive and defensive talent, procuring one of the best offensive tackles in Jack Conklin from Michigan State and one of the top pass rushers in defensive end Kevin Dodd from Clemson.
In August, they went back to the trade table with the Eagles and swapped wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham for offensive guard/tackle Dennis Kelly. Green-Beckham is a WR long on potential yet short on production. OC Robiskie has been a NFL WR coach for many years and knows what they had in DGB and what kind of players they had behind him; which made him expendable. The addition of the versatile Kelly gives the Titans more options and flexibility along the offensive line and keeping QB Mariota upright and unharmed is their priority.
The AFC South is largely considered the worst division in the NFL and is wide-open for the taking. With a weak schedule, an upgrade in talent and their new, smash-mouth, ball-control offense geared toward gobbling up yards and time of possession as well as stressing ball security combined with the attacking, “turn-you-over” defense they will be operating, it is not too far-fetched to believe that the Titans could be making some noise come playoff time.