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VOL. 40 | NO. 49 | Friday, December 2, 2016

Titans at their break: The season so far

By Terry McCormick

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Marcus Mariota looks to be a franchise QB. Mariota, in just his second season, is emerging to be all the Titans could have hoped for and more at the most important position on the field.

After shaking off some early-season struggles and making it through a rash of ugly turnovers, Mariota has been near flawless in recent weeks. He has thrown for 2,998 yards is completing 64 percent of his passes and has 25 TD passes, the most a quarterback accumulated for this franchise in a at least a quarter century.

After hoping that Vince Young could learn to read defenses and praying Jake Locker could stay in one piece, the Titans look to have finally found the new face of the franchise.

The offensive line is the real deal. After being much maligned for the past few years, the Titans seem to have solved this thorny issues. Taylor Lewan and rookie Jack Conklin have emerged as one of the best tackle tandems in the NFL, and Ben Jones has solidified the center position, something that was an under the radar problem ever since Kevin Mawae retired.

The line has given the Titans their identity back on offense, opening holes for a rejuvenated DeMarco Murray. Lots of credit goes to Coach Russ Grimm as well for simplifying the scheme and instilling much-needed confidence in this group.

The pass rush can be a force. For years, the Titans waited and wondered about first-round pick Derrick Morgan, who was a solid, but unspectacular player, who also had some injury issues. Their patience has been rewarded as Morgan has a career-high eight sacks.

Some of the credit goes to Brian Orakpo, who has nine sacks, and seemingly gets them in bunches. Add in Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug on the defensive line, and the Titans have a decent front seven that should be solid for another year or two.

Three things that have gone wrong

An overhaul of the secondary. It doesn’t take a general manager to figure out that the weak link of the Titans defense is the defensive backfield.

The release of Perrish Cox was the first domino to fall, but it probably won’t be the last one, as this figures to be the top priority for Jon Robinson in the off-season. Look for the Titans to use both free agency and the draft to upgrade a disappointing unit.

Special teams is still a disaster. The Titans fired Bobby April as special teams coach earlier in the season. That change at least showed the sense of urgency, but what is really needed here is an overall improvement of the coverage and units.

The Titans also need more explosiveness in the return game. The only part of special teams that gets a passing grade is the kicking unit. Other than that, everything else should be open to competition.

The enthusiasm has been slow to return. OK, there are still four games left, but the Titans have made great strides this season, considering where they have been the past couple of years. A 6-6 record isn’t exactly setting the league on fire, but it is good enough to have the Titans in the thick of the division race.

What’s more, this is a team that has been in every game this year – not a single blowout, which had been their calling card the previous two years. That said, fans have been slow to grasp this it seems. Just a few weeks ago, there were a good number of Packers fans in the stands. The Titans have to hope that at some point, if they continue to improve that the fans’ enthusiasm for the team will come back as well.

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