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VOL. 40 | NO. 31 | Friday, July 29, 2016

Titans have a fresh face on preseason roster: Hope

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Hope is what Tennessee Titans have to offer their fans when training camp officially opens on Saturday.

That hope is not to be confused with Super Bowl expectations. It is an optimism that things are finally headed in the right direction after several years of fluctuating between mediocrity and bottom-of-the-NFL barrel horrible.

All eyes will be on second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota, who showed signs as a rookie last year that he could finally be the franchise leader the Titans have lacked since trading Steve McNair in 2006.

But Mariota can’t do it all by himself. We saw that first-hand when he had little in the way of consistent help, outside of tight end Delanie Walker.

To that end, comes the real reason the Titans have hope for the future heading into the coming season and beyond.

First-year general manager Jon Robinson changed the culture almost immediately after joining the organization. He acquired running back DeMarco Murray, signed other key free agents and engineered a promising draft class, headed by first-rounder Jack Conklin.

Robinson came to the Titans from Tampa Bay after cutting his football teeth in the New England Patriots organization, a franchise that accepts nothing less than winning.

The way Robinson wheeled and dealt throughout the off-season, even shedding the top overall pick in exchange for a valuable haul from the Los Angeles Rams, has made it easier for fans to buy in to his quest to make the Titans great again.

Obviously, we have no way of knowing if all Robinson’s moves will work out. Chances are some won’t.

But after the Titans mainly sat on their hands or shopped the bargain bins over the past decade or so, Robinson’s activity this off-season has helped to create a much-needed buzz around a team that has struggled on the field and seen attendance slide.

There also have been problems off the field. Concessions and gate admissions problems have encouraged some fans to stay home.

Then there were reports that the Titans had been working with a professional ticket scalper to keep the team’s sellout streak alive.

So for an organization that had the city of Nashville eating out of its hand for the first few years in town, the freefall of the past few years, both on the field and off, has been hard to swallow, and maybe even a bit humbling.

The first step toward rescuing that bond with the city and the fan base is, of course, winning. And for the first time in quite a while, the Titans may be poised to do a little more of that than in the past.

Granted, the past two years have set the bar quite low with a combined 5-27 record, but Robinson’s work this off-season has at least made the Titans seem interesting again. No one is expecting a Super Bowl in 2016, but just pointing the arrow up again with a competitive product should help restore some of the team’s luster.

Robinson’s aggressive style has even bought Coach Mike Mularkey some time.

Many were not happy initially when the Titans elected to keep Mularkey after a 2-7 run as interim coach last year. But Mularkey and Robinson have quickly aligned their efforts.

Mularkey’s first challenge is to re-establish some sort of identity for the franchise, which had none during Ken Whisenhunt’s tenure and was unable to stay the course during Mike Munchak’s era before that.

Mularkey seems to be trying to emulate his success with the Pittsburgh Steelers, complete with Dick LeBeau running the defense and several coaches and players with past ties there. But the most important Steelers trait might be stability, something that has kept that franchise relevant and in contention for the better part of four decades.

If the Patriot model of building a winner rubs off from Robinson, and the Steelers’ staying power seeps through from Mularkey, maybe the Titans can have hope for the future. That’s the message that is being preached to the players, who are putting in the work to try and recreate respectability to the team.

“I think these guys get it. They know what we’re wanting, the demands on them,” Mularkey said. “We’ve been pretty demanding in these OTAs and mini-camp. They know the way we want to play, and they’ve got to come back in that kind of mindset and that kind of shape.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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