Mark Humphrey/AP

Mike Mularkey needs to prove to the Titans and their fans that his coaching style won’t stunt the development of Marcus Mariota.

By Rohan Nadkarni
July 28, 2016

Tennessee seems to have something special with Marcus Mariota, who played fairly well in his rookie season as the team stumbled to the league’s worst record, posting a 91.5 passer rating in 12 games. Though he turned the ball over often—like many rookies—Mariota flashed the potential to be a star. Which made it all the more frustrating when Tennessee removed the interim tag from Mike Mularkey’s head coach title, opting for an unsuccessful retread to nurture its young star.

Mularkey is 18–39 as a head coach in the NFL, including a 2–7 record with the Titans last year. Mularkey has had success as an offensive coordinator in this league, but Tennessee’s decision to keep him after firing Ken Whisenhunt is a bit of a gamble. It’s possible the Titans are banking on some sense of continuity to help Mariota grow, but if Mularkey doesn’t work out—and he never has before—the Titans’ franchise reset and Mariota’s comfort in the offense will both be pushed back a year.

Tennessee does have other talented veteran coaches on its staff (Dick LeBeau, Russ Grimm) and an intriguingly deep draft class that could be called on to contribute early that should make this season interesting, if not immensely successful.

The Rookie: Fifth-round draft pick Tajae Sharp is already earning rave reviews, and those who follow the Titans closely believe the UMass product could earn a spot in the starting lineup by Week 1. The Titans invested heavily in surrounding Mariota with quality options, picking up Rishard Matthews, DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the off-season, but Sharp could end up being the player who makes the biggest impact in the regular season.

Position Battle Spoilers: Speaking of Sharp, he will factor into what should be an exciting battle during camp for the No. 2 wide receiver spot. Will the rookie be moved to the slot to accommodate Harry Douglas on the outside? What does that mean for Matthews, who left the Dolphins expecting a bigger role in his new home? And how do the Titans handle Dorial Green-Beckham, who could have the highest potential of the bunch? For Tennessee, finding the right starter opposite Kendall Wright will be a delicate balance in finding the best player available while keeping everyone in the group happy.

The Stat: 23.2, Tennessee's rush attempts per game last season, the sixth-fewest in the league. It didn’t help that the Titans were often playing from behind, but running the ball so infrequently put a lot of pressure on Mariota. With Henry and Murray in the backfield, that rate should rise significantly, which could be a boon for the offense.

Preseason Watchability Guide: The Titans play Oakland in the “dress rehearsal” game of the preseason in Week 3. Watching Mariota duel with Derek Carr could be a fun showcase for the two up-and-coming QBs.

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