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VOL. 39 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 6, 2015

Others might join Whisenhunt before it’s over

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The clock is ticking for Mike Mularkey, just as it is for most of the organization’s management team.

As the Tennessee Titans new interim coach, Mularkey has nine games now to prove himself worthy of being the team’s head coach beyond just the remainder of the team’s wrecked 2015 season.

Mularkey knows this and knows that getting a 1-6 team that had lost six straight under Ken Whisenhunt to suddenly play winning football is an uphill climb.

Even so, the Titans will cast a wide net in trying to find their next head football coach, though team president Steve Underwood says Mularkey will be considered.

As Mularkey works through the final nine games of the season to try and remove the word interim from the front of his title, there seems to be a stop-gap feel to the entire organization.

Since the death of founder Bud Adams in 2013, the Titans are now on their third head coach, their second team president and/or controlling owner, and have gone through five starting quarterbacks. Instability is making for bad business, and that seems to be a big part of why Whisenhunt was shown the door.

Reading between the lines, controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk, who is seldom seen and speaks only through interim president Steve Underwood or press releases from the Titans media relations staff, actually wants some sort of stability.

First off, she wants stability at the quarterback position and in protecting Marcus Mariota, the club’s current most valuable asset.

“It wasn’t a lengthy conversation, but I talked to him,” Mularkey said of Mariota. “It was positive. I just told him we were gonna do a couple of things different with him. We are gonna try to make sure he stays upright, and it was really not in-depth, but we’re on the same page.”

And being on the same page means changing things in order to protect Mariota’s health.

“We have to make changes,” Mularkey says. “On the offensive line, there will be some roster changes. I won’t go into that. Tight ends, receivers, everybody can help with protections, including the coaching staff first to ensure that that happens.”

Underwood says that was a point of emphasis from Strunk in making the change from Whisenhunt. The Titans have already given up 28 sacks this season, and Strunk and her family personally witnessed the beating Zach Mettenberger took last Sunday from the Houston Texans.

“She’s very concerned about making sure that we do everything that’s necessary, including keeping him out of games in order to avoid making his current injuries any worse,” Underwood said in describing Strunk’s concern for Mariota.

Mularkey has promised changes to the offensive protection schemes and personnel.

“We’ll do some things differently offensively, scheme-wise, more things that I’m familiar with in some of the offenses I’ve had,” Mularkey says. “We’re not going to change the whole offense, but we’ll do some things philosophically different to help us.”

But the quest for stability doesn’t stop there.

Mularkey won’t be calling plays, as Whisenhunt did, with that duty falling to offensive coordinator Jason Michael, while Arthur Smith, the team’s assistant tight ends coach, will step into Mularkey’s tight end coaching role.

Mularkey knows the end result is how he will be judged. Underwood said as much and, in the quest for that much-needed stability, everyone will be gauged in the same manner.

“Improvement in our business in measured in wins,” Underwood says. “You can be competitive, you can play in close games, but at the end of the day, it’s about wins and losses.”

And wins and losses affect the bottom line, which also apparently influenced Strunk to pull the plug on Whisenhunt and thus reset the quest for stability.

“Amy asked me questions about how it was affecting our team, about the fact that we had only won three of the last 23 games,” Underwood says of the controlling owner. “What affect that was having on our business side.

“She doesn’t really ask me a lot of football questions. That’s not really my area of expertise. We have a lot of other people that are good at football.

“It was certainly something that needed to be considered. When you’re not winning, and you can’t win, that’s when change happens in the NFL.”

Speaking of change, there were questions about both general manager Ruston Webster’s status with the club and Underwood’s own tenure, which is scheduled to end once at season’s end, though he left that door open to possibly stay.

“I think all of us – myself, Mike, Ruston – will all be evaluated for the rest of the season for the performance that we have, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” Underwood says.

The clock is ticking for Mularkey and the entire organization.

Four things to watch

1. Who is going to stop Drew Brees? The Titans defense has played fairly well for most of the season. At times, in fact, it has been very good, as in holding the Falcons to 10 points two weeks ago.

But Brees is coming off a game with seven, yes seven, touchdown passes and throwing for 511 yards against the Giants. What will he do to the Titans?

2. Marcus Mariota's knee. The Titans say Mariota's sprained MCL has healed to the point where he should be able to play this week. But how mobile will he be, because playing behind an offensive line that allowed seven sacks last week in Houston, he will need all the mobility he can get.

3. Can they fix the offensive line? Trying to fix things in-season is never an easy task. Injuries are bad enough, but when players don't live up to expectations and lineup changes are made, it can be unsettling. Mularkey has moved some players around, and it'll be interesting to see how they respond.

4. Play call chaos. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has been coming under fire in lots of areas. That sort of thing happens when you have a 3-20 record.

With offensive coordinator Jason Michael now calling plays for the first with an interim head coach, will this be an area of improvement or confusion?

Three matchups to watch

Titans pass rush vs. Drew Brees

The Titans defense has been solid for the most part this season. But they will be getting perhaps their biggest test yet with Drew Brees coming off a seven-TD performance last week. The best way to combat a hot quarterback is to pressure him, in order to make him uncomfortable and out of rhythm and to help your secondary.

Titans offensive line vs. Saints pass rush

You can bet the Saints took notice of the fact that the Texans sacked Zach Mettenberger seven times last Sunday. The Titans offensive line is in flux and struggling, and left tackle Taylor Lewan is battling a shoulder problem.

Andy Gallik vs. Stephone Anthony

Anthony has been quite the find as the Saints first-round pick. The middle linebacker is doing what middle linebackers are supposed to do, leading the team with 56 tackles. Gallik won't have Anthony all day, of course, but the rookie center does need to get to the second level often enough to make a difference, especially in the running game, where the Titans will probably need to try and control the clock to keep Brees on the sideline as much as possible.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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