Tennessee Titans: Reasons for Optimism in 2019
With the Super Bowl set to be played on Sunday down in Atlanta, we’re about a week away from the unofficial official kick off to the NFL offseason. Though, for the Tennessee Titans, that offseason began several weeks ago. Despite a wealth of adversity, the team still finished the year 9-7, marking the first time in franchise history that the Titans have had a winning record in three consecutive seasons. That loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the season finale stings quite a bit, but all things considered, I’d say this 2018 Titans team actually overachieved.
Mike Vrabel did a commendable job, the defense was one of the best and most underrated in the league, and they actually smashed the AFC Champion New England Patriots at one point in the season. But, with free agency and the draft quickly approaching, it’s time to shift gears and look to the future. I’m a good news first kind of guy, so let’s hit the reasons for optimism first (reasons for pessimism coming later this week). What do Titans fans have to feel good about heading into the offseason?
Continuity on offense
At first, the departure of Matt LaFleur seemed like a groan-inducing gut punch. Another new offensive coordinator for Marcus Mariota to work with? You’ve got to be kidding, right? I don’t think there’s a simple answer for why Mariota hasn’t clicked as we all thought he would – it’s equal parts tumult, health, supporting cast, etc. to me. But, he wasn’t granted any favors by a revolving door of OCs. I don’t care who you are, if you’re learning a new system every year, you just don’t have time to develop an ease of comfort with it.
But, Jon Robinson and company elected to promote tight ends coach Arthur Smith to the vacant OC position instead of hiring externally. While Smith lacks experience in calling plays, it still provides some semblance of system continuity. At the very least, do we think it’s safe to say this isn’t going to be a major disruption this offseason? I think so. This is a positive moving forward.
Dean Pees returning
Talking defensive coordinator extraordinaire Dean Pees out of retiring to come back and coach the defense was a major get for this franchise. The Titans were 8th in total defense, 3rd in points per game allowed, and 6th in passing yards allowed per game in 2018. Truly one of the elite defenses in the NFL, and you figure with Pees at the helm again in 2019, there shouldn’t be a lot of drop-off.
Promising young core
While it’s fair to say that it really takes a few seasons before you can get an accurate grade on a draft class, I’d say it’s at least safe enough to presume that the last two draft classes have yielded a strong core of talent to build around.
In 2017, the Titans took Corey Davis and Adoree Jackson in the first round. Jackson is already proving to be one of the brightest young corners in the game. No, Davis isn’t exactly lighting the league up just yet, but the dude still has elite potential and figures to be the team’s #1 moving forward. Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith have both been decent contributors out of that class, and still have a high ceiling. But, the most promising of all could be linebacker Jayon Brown, who had a breakout campaign in 2018, and looks like the next great Titans play-maker at linebacker.
J-Rob followed that class up with Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry in 2018. Though Evans struggled early, he hit his stride halfway into the season and looks like the perfect complement to Brown moving forward. Landry flashed glimpses of his freakish potential, and figures to be a key building block in the pass rush next season.
These guys aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
Up until late in 2018, Henry was one of the more frustrating Titans to watch. And, sure – there’s always the chance that that stretch was nothing more than lightning in a bottle. But, I choose to believe that Henry turned a corner in 2018 and that’s more like what we’ll see in the future. Let’s hope I’m right – ’cause if that is the case, Henry could become a force in the NFL. His finish to 2018 was unfathomable and came completely out of left field. Add a few pieces around him to make the passing game more dynamic, and this Titans offense could turn into quite the steamboat, baby.
I don’t know about this one…Spotrac estimates that the Titans will have about $37M to play with. While that’s certainly better than being strapped for cash, it isn’t like they have a wealth of resources to play with. It’s not like last year, when the Titans couldn’t have spent enough money (according to Titans Facebook, anyway). But, they should be able to add several key role players with this, and you still never know just how much cap space will actually materialize once we get closer to free agency. I’m barely counting this one as a reason for optimism.
Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD and #BeBetter. “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Alabama Crimson Tide football, the WWE, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley