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VOL. 41 | NO. 2 | Friday, January 13, 2017

Former GM Reese: Titans on track to match early success

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Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese, left, and head coach Jeff Fisher, right, pose with their top two draft choices of 2002, University of Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and free safety Clevan “Tank” Williams from Stanford. Reese and Fisher helped transform the Oilers, who became the Titans, from hapless wanderers to perennial contenders. The Titans lost the 2000 Super Bowl and have not been back since.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

Are the Tennessee Titans on the verge of a breakthrough? It seemed as much over the second half of the 2016 season – the meltdown at Jacksonville notwithstanding.

But a man who knows something about building the Titans says the current edition is on the right track under the guidance of General Manager Jon Robinson and Head Coach Mike Mularkey.

Floyd Reese, who built the franchise into a Super Bowl team and perennial contender from 1999 to 2003, sees similarities in the Titans he built to the current edition.

Reese says there is a comparison to be made between where his Titans were in 1998 – finally coming to the end of their nomadic existence in the transition from Houston to Tennessee – and where the 2016 team finished.

The biggest similarity, as he sees it, is having a foundation in place and a commitment to expanding it.

“In both situations, you had a young quarterback, and I think you realized the importance of a running game and tried to emphasize that,” Reese says. “I think in 1998 and ‘99, we had a real strong focus on what we were doing and where we were going and how we were going to set it up.

“And this team now has great focus.”

The comparisons begin, as Reese says, at quarterback. Steve McNair was going into his fourth season in 1998, but it was only his second year as a starter.

Marcus Mariota started from the outset, but made major strides in his second season.

“I think as they grow we’re going to see more similarities (between McNair and Mariota), not necessarily in their style of play as much as in their improvement,” Reese explains.

“What they did with Marcus this year is kind of along the lines of what we did with Steve. We relied on the running game and tried to put (him) in situations where (he) could be successful and not fail and hopefully not get hurt.”

During the midst of the Titans’ run with Reese as GM, the offense eventually transformed from a run-based scheme that featured Eddie George to more of a pass-oriented system that showcased McNair.

Reese says the same will happen with Mariota as he gains more experience.

“I think as this team improves and Marcus improves, you’re going to see the offense move from more of the running game to one of a true pro quarterback, who can throw it whenever he has to,” Reese says.

Reese, who worked with Robinson in New England under Bill Belichick, likes the way the Titans have been able to shore up other problem areas, primarily turning the offensive line from weakness to strength in one season.

There is still work to be done and upgrades to be made, just as there was after 1998 when the Titans knew they needed an impact player and got one in defensive end Jevon Kearse.

These Titans need help on defense, as well.

“I like the front, but I still think the front can be improved,” Reese says. “I think you can still help the depth at linebacker, and the back end is still going to need some work. And I think they know that.”

Even though the secondary needs a facelift, Reese says it isn’t the worst thing in the world to have your major needs concentrated in one primary area.

“One of the good things they’ve done is to try to narrow down the problem areas,” Reese says. “Our philosophy was that if you have a problem, you can’t just donate one draft choice to it and think you’ve solved the problem.

“What you have to do is really put some resources there with a couple of draft picks and an unrestricted free agent.

That way, if all three hit, then you’ve got two starters and some solid depth. And if one of them doesn’t pan out, then you still might have a couple of starters and a little bit of depth.”

If those problems can be fixed in short order, the Titans that Robinson is building just might be able to someday stand alongside what Reese put together.

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