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VOL. 39 | NO. 48 | Friday, November 27, 2015

Mularkey’s choice: Build resume or build for future

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Tennessee linebacker Brian Orakpo has at least one sack in the last four games, including this one last week against Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles.

-- Ap Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Mike Mularkey finds himself in a tough situation. The Titans head coach, who took over after Ken Whisenhunt was fired three games ago, knows he needs to win some games down the stretch to better enhance whatever chance he might have of being named permanent head coach.

But there is also the little matter of the Titans needing to evaluate all of their personnel as they once again look to the future. Though the Titans are mathematically alive at 2-8, they are slowly slipping off the radar and out of sight even in the mediocre AFC South.

So Mularkey must somehow balance his own desire and need to put the best, most competitive lineup on the field he can to try and win games versus moving on from a handful of veterans who probably won’t be on the roster in 2016, even if they are better right now than the unproven players behind them.

Mularkey promised on Friday after a loss in Jacksonville that he would “stay the course” on the 2015 season, because he believes the Titans are close to winning games, something he says will happen as soon as they cut down on the many fatal mistakes that have plagued them on a consistent basis.

But asked on Monday if thinks about the fact that he is auditioning to be the head coach each week of his interim status, Mularkey offered this.

“I’m coaching like I coach the tight ends or I’m an offensive coordinator. This is how I coach. I’m not trying to do anything more than my job, and my job is obviously now to have a little bit more control over other areas, but this is not for any other reason but ‘this is how I coach.’ I’ve got plenty to do other than worry about what’s going to happen after the year. I’ve got to worry about the ‘now,’ right now,” Mularkey said.

Mularkey is right in that he can’t afford to second guess himself or hold back on what he thinks is best for the team to have a chance to win. But Titans ownership would be wise to let Mularkey know that a big part of his evaluation process and whether or not he keeps the job going forward should be based on how well he prepares the team for the future.

Barring a miracle, the Titans games over the final six weeks will be meaningless as it applies to 2015. The Titans are playing out the string and will miss the playoffs for the seventh straight season. And yet, it would be nice for the team to finally end its double-digit home losing streak – they have another shot at doing that this Sunday against the Raiders – and maybe even notch two or three wins in the last six games.

But the bigger picture for Mularkey and the Titans and whether or not he is viewed as permanent head coaching material by the organization should be what steps he puts in place to make sure a solid foundation is set for next season.

If he keeps Marcus Mariota upright, changes the sad-sack losing culture, keeps the team competitive and fighting and maybe finds a diamond or two in the rough (Tre McBride, Quinton Spain, Cody Riggs?) who can be a future building block, then in the long run that should mean more for the franchise than a spoiler win over the Texans or Jaguars.

And it should be considered strongly when deciding whether or not Mularkey is the right man to lead this franchise out of the wilderness next season and beyond.

Five things to watch vs. Raiders

1. Amari Cooper vs. Titans secondary

There were many fans who wanted the Titans to grab the Alabama receiver in the first round of the draft. And while it’s pretty safe to say that 99 percent or so of Titans fans are happy with the choice of Marcus Mariota in the draft, there is the chance to see what a budding superstar receiver looks like. And around the Titans, that is a dodo bird-like quality.

2. Can they end the skid?

Ten games and counting. It has been since Oct. 12, 2014 since the Titans last won a home game. Nissan Stadium has been a tourist destination for opposing fans, and they have had their way often enough that running back Antonio Andrews remarked that “every game feels like an away game.” Unfortunately, that is likely to continue until the Titans win at home.

3. Patching the offensive line again

The Titans might be looking to do some more shuffling on the offensive line, this week and taking a look at some younger players. If they do, then those young players have to be placed on notice that protecting Mariota is still the top priority. He was sacked four times by the normally anemic Jaguars pass rush, including on the final play of the game, ruining a chance to win the game.

4. On the defensive

The Titans defense has played well enough in recent weeks that this team should have and could have won more games. The secondary is still beat up, but the pass rush has been solid for most of the season. Derek Carr was on a roll earlier in the season, but has slowed down of late. The Titans need to make him uncomfortable in the pocket with the pass rush led by Brian Orakpo.

5. Charles Woodson, ageless wonder.

Charles Woodson won the Heisman Trophy in 1997 and is still playing quality football at a time when most 39-year-olds have long since moved on to the next phase of their lives.

Three matchups to watch

1. Khalil Mack vs. Taylor Lewan

Mack has been an up-and-coming star for the Raiders defense. Lewan hasn’t had the best of seasons, thanks in part to a pinched nerve in his left shoulder. Lewan needs to win his share of this matchup on Sunday.

2. Perrish Cox vs. Amari Cooper

It will be interesting to see how the Titans divide up the responsibilities for covering Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Cox could draw Cooper exclusively, or they could just play one side of the field, leaving Coty Sensabaugh on one side and Cox on the other.

3. Brian Orakpo vs. Donald Penn

Orakpo has at least one sack in four straight games and is proving to be a good pickup for the Titans in free agency. Penn may have his work cut out for him on Sunday.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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