The Titans opened the season with a road blowout win against the Bucs that got everybody excited for the start of something new. They then went on to lose six straight before firing their head coach in week 8. Their most impressive performance was a road overtime win against the Saints a week after firing head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Their most disappointing game could range throughout the schedule, but after an impressive season opener, a week 2 dud at the Cleveland Browns and Johnny Manziel really told you where this team is going.
Ken Whisenhunt essentially proved to the world he is so much better as an offensive coordinator than a head coach. Mike Mularky, the interim and former assistant coach finished his year at 2-6 and while these two coaches weren’t handed a playoff ready roster, the game planning and the quit this team showed throughout the year will not be highlights in which these two bring to their next job interview. Mularky has no chance to be named head coach. Jason Michael, who followed Whisenhunt from San Diego to Tennessee, has to feel as though his seat is hot. Although it was not his fault, and his usage of Delanie Walker this year should be noted, it is likely a new head coach will want his own new coordinators. Ray Horton, the defensive coordinator also followed Whisenhunt, and his assistant and mentor Dick Lebeau joined the crew. Horton is a solid coach, especially when it comes to secondary play. Lebeau has the option to retire, or to hold out and see if the new coach would like his assistance. One would assume that if Horton is to be fired, there is no chance Lebeau will be back.
The QB position went from a huge question mark to one of the few bright spots in the organization heading into 2016. Marcus Mariota did have a lingering MCL injury, but he really played well overall for a rookie season. He showed a stronger pocket presence, a better deep ball than anticipated and ability to make multiple reads which were questions of his pre draft. He did show off his ability as a runner, but not in the primary sense. It is clear he will be given the next three years to start and to prove himself as a growing starter.
Zach Mettenberger proved if he is going to stay in this league it will be as a career backup. He also may need to improve to continue on that trajectory. Mettenberger is not a mess; he just isn’t your ideal quarterback. Mariota has shown superior to him almost across the board in the four games in which Mettenberger had to start. Still, the hope is these two have formed a relationship and the team is set at QB depth in 2016 and beyond.
Running back play
Granted, the offensive line was nothing to be impressed with, but man, neither were any of these running backs. Antonio Andrews emerged as the most trusted back on the roster, and he goes into 2016 as an unrestricted free agent. The interesting aspect here is that he is not a must keep guy. He has patience, which was needed with this line, and has versatility as a receiver and runner; the question is how much do you pay him? Bishop Sankey and David Cobb were drafted in the last two years and Cobb, the rookie will certainly be back. He has looked slow this year, but missed the first 11 games due to an injury. Sankey, on the other hand is borderline cut worthy. His upside is a third down, change of pace back, and he could hardly get on the field to do that. Cobb may have upside, that leaves Andrews looking on the outside next year, but in the end this team will have to add at least one running back this offseason.
Wide Receiver and Tight end
This group of players is second to the QB in positions in which the Titans should be somewhat happy. The 2012 draft brought in Kendall Wright who dealt with injury early and often, but still averaged 4 catches for 45 yards in his games played. Wright is a solid possession/slot receiver and while he can win on the outside, it is the 2015 rookies that bring a brighter light on this position. Dorial Green-Beckham was only able to start four games in his rookie season, but I have some high hopes for him next year and beyond. After missing the entire 2014 season in college, this year had little expectation and a lot of grooming to do. He earned his playing time, and in a few situations showed his 6’5 frame to be a mismatch. Fellow rookie Tre Mcbride was unable to see much offensive time, but he did look like a player in limited snaps. The big offseason question will be what this team thinks of Harry Douglas. Douglas is signed on for the next two years (one more than Kendall Wright). However, he leaves little dead money if he is cut this offseason, and in a youth movement it wouldn’t be the worst to move on from him and to extend Wright instead.
As mentioned in the coaching, Jason Michael made the best out of Delanie Walker this year. Whether Michael is back or not, it appears Walker and Mariota have a connection, and keeping Walker involved in the short passing game can open up some of the deeper targets moving forward. Anthony Fasano also saw a decent amount of time, as well as rookie fullback Jalston Fowler. The direction this offense seems to be heading is a run first, two tight end, I formation type, they just need the offensive line and the running back to step into these spots.
The Titans, with a young QB and young wide receivers have a very young core on the offensive line. Taylor Lewan at left tackle and Chance Warmack at guard appear to be set in place heading into next season. Warmack will enter season number four, Lewan into his third and second straight as the starting left tackle. Warmack will have to prove he is worth an extension next year, and the Titans should be willing to give it to him as they are bare everywhere else on this line. It has been a shuffle all season and currently leaves two rookies starting. Andy Gallik may win the starting center job heading into the off-season, but he isn’t a strong option, and really is just a placeholder while the Titans get themselves together. In the end, this ship will not right without more offensive line help. You would assume that is a priority for the Titans on offense this offseason.
The argument to keep Ray Horton for another year as your DC starts with the personnel mess he was given in year one of this job. Horton and Lebeau did a fine effort turning this defense into the 23rd most efficient in the NFL, because on paper there is little to build with here. To start with the defensive line is one of two or three pieces in which the unit will be built around. Jurrell Casey is the real deal. He can play a defensive tackle/end in any multiple formations, and can be productive in either. He is the defensive player signed on for the longest tenure and for good reason. The rest of the defensive line can be thrown out in an attempt to replace. Al Woods and Sammie Hill will be free agents at nose tackle, and while they may sign one or both to fill spots, it doesn’t make this position any less of a need come draft season. Nose tackle is a hard position to replace so the two may be fine, but it will certainly be a weakness heading into next year. Whoever the coordinator is next year will determine their fate, and will also determine the off-season plan. The team is currently running a 3-4, although they do not have the personnel to get after the passer. With limited resources on the line however, a shift to the 4-3 is basically accepting another multi year defensive project. Following whom they hire as a coordinator will be crucial into seeing the direction this team wants to go.
The 3-4 isn’t working well because their linebackers are poor. Brian Orakpo had a decent bounce back year in forcing 7 sacks as their top pass rusher. Orakpo, like Casey is signed long term and should be back. He has liabilities in coverage, and if the move to a 4-3 is made he can slot in as a defensive end without holding the process up. Opposite him is Derrick Morgan, another player tied into the team who can play either OLB or DE. The problem with Morgan is that he isn’t a good football player. He was hurt this year, but he has been a disappointment since the day he was drafted.
The even bigger problem is the lack of talent in the middle linebacker department. There is little depth or a future to look at in the whole position. Avery Williamson is only in his second year, but he is a depth linebacker in a starting role. Essentially, if this team were to move to a 4-3 they would need to draft a plethora of linebackers and pass rushers. It would be smart to hold onto the 3-4 defense that was installed this year, but really pass rusher and linebacker will still be needed.
With Ray Horton being a former secondary coach he actually had this unit playing a bit over their head. The safety position isn’t impressive with talent, but it may be the most stable position on this side of the ball. Michael Griffin and Da’Norris Searcy play well together and while Griffin only has one year left on his contract the safety position is far from the team’s’ most pressing need. Jason McCourty was hurt for most of this season and to get him back would be a big upgrade to the back end of the unit. In McCourty’s’ absence a crew of Perrish Cox, Coty Sensabaugh, BW Webb, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson held it down. None of these guys are extreme upside players, but most if not all will be retained and it gives them a position of depth on a team that has little to none to speak of.
Where do they go?
This one is easy. The Titans need to hire a head coach and they need to install a vision for this team sooner rather than later. Chip Kelly reuniting with Marcus Mariota comes to mind, and if Mariota embraces it, the offense could really be on the right page. The defense will need to be figured out exceptionally quick as free agency as well as the draft will be used primarily on defense. Personally, I think Horton and Lebeau should stay and see the rebuild of the defense through, but only time will tell.