Foundation built, culture changed: Titans see bright future
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) A year ago, the Tennessee Titans went into the offseason needing a new general manager and a permanent coach while holding the No. 1 draft pick in the NFL.
Now they can tick off the mistakes that cost their them first playoff berth in seven seasons.
That's how quickly the Titans turned around a franchise that had been cycling through quarterbacks, coaches and losing seasons since the last playoff victory in January 2004. And they want much more out of 2017.
''Honestly, I'm going to be ready for Week 1,'' Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo said. ''We got our foundation. We know that we have to do. We can get better, a few wrinkles here and there, add some new pieces, and we're going to be a well-oiled machine.''
The Titans finished 9-7, the same record as AFC South champ Houston. But a 2-4 divisional record cost the Titans, who went 5-2 against playoff teams this season. The season's lone double-digit loss was the costliest, Dec. 24 at Jacksonville , ending Tennessee's playoff hopes.
''I think they understood how close we were,'' Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Monday. ''It wasn't about one game, one loss - Jacksonville. It was about things we did in those other losses that may have been the difference, as well. But a lot of positives came from this season.''
General manager Jon Robinson, who traded both for AFC rushing leader DeMarco Murray and turned that top draft pick into more selections, will have more ammunition for his second offseason. The Titans have two first-round draft picks and two third-round selections from their trade with the Rams, along with more than $24 million in space as this season ended.
Here are some things to know about the Titans this offseason:
MARIOTA'S DEVELOPMENT: Marcus Mariota missed the season finale after breaking his right fibula in the 38-17 loss at Jacksonville and will be recovering into May after surgery. But the second-year quarterback ranked 10th in the NFL with a 95.6 passer rating, third best in franchise history. He threw 26 touchdowns with only nine interceptions, and his 3,426 yards passing were the most for this team since 2011.
''I think he'll be even better,'' Murray said. ''Obviously just his second year in the league, still very young and raw. I think he's a great talent.''
RUN GAME: Mularkey told the Titans he wanted them to be a physical team and run the ball when the interim tag was taken off in January 2016. He delivered thanks to Murray, who led the AFC with 1,287 yards, rookie Derrick Henry and Mariota. The Titans jumped from 25th in 2015 to third, with Murray their first 1,000-yard rusher since 2013.
Murray said Sunday he had been playing with a torn plantar plate in his right foot . He plans to play in the Pro Bowl with rest likely the best option to heal up the ligament that connects the ball of the foot to the toes. Murray said surgery could be an option, but he is trying rest for a couple weeks.
PROTECTING MARIOTA: Robinson not only brought in Murray, he also signed center Ben Jones and traded back up to No. 8 overall to select Jack Conklin, who started every game at right tackle as a rookie. The Titans went from worst in the NFL with 54 sacks allowed in 2015 to giving up just 28, and left tackle Taylor Lewan earned a Pro Bowl nod, with Conklin an alternate.
DICK LEBEAU: Mularkey will be talking with his coaches over the next few days, and he fired special teams coordinator Bobby April in October. The biggest question is whether defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau wants to stay. He turns 80 in September and would be going into his 59th NFL season.
The Titans jumped from 18th to second in the NFL against the run. But teams attacked the secondary, so they finished 30th against the pass. Tennessee released cornerback Perrish Cox on Nov. 28 and started rookie LeShaun Sims the last two games. Rookie safety Kevin Byard, the first pick in the third round, started the final seven games. Veteran Jason McCourty missed the final two games with an injury and is due $7 million in 2017 in the final year of his contract.
OFFSEASON SHOPPING: Cornerbacks are at the top of the list. Rishard Matthews, one of Robinson's first free agent signees, led the team with 945 yards receiving and nine TDs. A speedy wide receiver would help stretch the field.
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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker