Taking stock: Top Titans needs for 2018

Friday, February 09, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 6

With the Super Bowl in the books and another NFL season come and gone, it will soon be time to prepare for the 2018 season.

For the Tennessee Titans, that means trying to fill in the remaining pieces of the puzzle to take another step toward reaching the big game.

Exactly how that puzzle fits together has become a little less clear following the firing of Mike Mularkey and replacing him with an unknown quantity in Mike Vrabel.

Vrabel’s hires for his coordinator positions look promising, with Matt LeFleur from the Rams selected to run the offense and Vrabel’s own defensive coordinator with the Patriots, Dean Pees, named to run the Titans defense.

Vrabel promised in his opening press conference that the Titans’ offense would open up more and be tailored for Marcus Mariota’s skills, and that the defense would take on more of a flexible look, much like the New England Patriots’ hybrid system in which the front seven look changes often, depending up on the situation.

In addition, the players General Manager Jon Robinson’s brings in through free agency and the draft will be key to 2018 success.

Vrabel preached versatility as a key component of what he wants in his football players. So finding players who fit that should be the Titans’ top off-season priority.

So, let’s take a quick look at some areas where the Titans have to get better for 2018 in order to continue the progress of the past two years and take it a step or two further.

Top offensive needs

It’s a given that Marcus Mariota need to regain his game. That’s not so much a personnel need as it is a coaching detail. So here are the Titans’ top personnel needs this off-season:

1. Shore up the offensive line. Upgrading at guard will probably be the biggest issue for a unit that took a step backward this year.

Right guard Josh Kline will be an unrestricted free agent and could be allowed to leave.

Left guard Quinton Spain is a restricted free agent, and it will be interesting to see what level the Titans tender him in order to keep him around. If they tender the former undrafted free agent at the lowest level, another team could sign Spain to an offer sheet. If the Titans do not match, they would lose him without compensation.

2. Add a game-breaking receiver. Corey Davis might still become this guy, but the Titans can’t bank on that. Taywan Taylor also has a chance if he can become more of a student of the game.

That said, the Titans need to add a true No. 1 receiver, and it might be easier to do in free agency this year, with such talents as Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry set to hit the market. That might be a better gamble than taking a chance on another rookie.

3. A change of pace back. DeMarco Murray’s future with the Titans looks murky, and the club could be poised to move on from him and make Derrick Henry the featured back.

Even if Henry carries the load, however, he is not necessarily great in pass protection or as a receiver. A third-down scatback – something both Super Bowl teams had – is a must for Tennessee to add to its roster.

4. A backup quarterback. With all due respect to Matt Cassel and the career he has had, the Titans have to upgrade here with someone who can fill in for Mariota without a major drop-off and run the same offensive scheme. How valuable is a good backup quarterback? The Eagles just demonstrated that with Nick Foles.

Top defensive needs

1. A good, young pass rusher. Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo are still productive, but getting a little long in the tooth. Kevin Dodd has been a disappointment, and Erik Walden is a 32-year-old free agent. Someone who can wreak havoc from the edge is a big need.

2. Inside linebacker. The Titans are a bit thin here, as well. Wesley Woodyard found the fountain of youth in 2017, but he is a 10-year veteran.

Can the Titans count on him to duplicate that play again next season? Also, Avery Williamson is a free agent, and the only inside linebacker of consequence behind the starters is nickel linebacker Jayon Brown.

3. Another cornerback. Malcolm Butler heads to free agency after his Super Bowl benching. Might Jon Robinson covet him the way he did Logan Ryan? Adoree’ Jackson proved himself competent as a rookie and should get better.

Tye Smith, LeShaun Sims and Kalan Reed are OK depth-wise, but adding one more strong corner either in free agency or the draft would give Tennessee three starting-caliber corners and allow Smith, Sims and Reed to go back to being what they are, decent backups.

4. Another big body defensive lineman. The best way to solve this issue is probably to re-sign DaQuan Jones and then add some depth in the draft. The Titans went the free agent route last off-season, adding Sylvester Williams, who turned in an OK season.

Jones was coming into his own when he suffered a torn biceps, and could probably return without breaking the bank.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com