Five Questions Facing the Titans for 2021

Can Derrick Henry have a second 2,000-yard season? Should Jadeveon Clowney get a second chance? And more.

Regardless of how well a team’s season went, questions arise when the offseason arrives.

The Tennessee Titans are no exception. The sudden start to the offseason following a wild card loss to the Baltimore Ravens meant it was time to begin to ponder certain things about the future, whether in the offseason or beyond.

There are obvious reasons for optimism and equally obvious causes for concern, but here are five questions that must be answered prior to and during the 2021 NFL season.

Can Derrick Henry rush for 2,000 yards again? Henry became the league’s eighth 2,000-yard rusher this season, and it won’t be long before many start to wonder if he can do it in a second consecutive season.

None of the previous seven 2,000-yard rushers came remotely close to rushing for 2,000-yards in back-to-back seasons. But that doesn’t mean the 2021 season won’t be a successful one for the two-time rushing champion. All but one of the 2,000-yard club members had more than 1,000 rushing yards in the following season.

If Henry does somehow manage to accomplish this thus-far-impossible task, though, the Pro Football Hall of Fame might as well start putting him on the ballot and clearing space for him in the museum.

Another chance for Jadeveon Clowney? It’s no secret now. The three-time Pro Bowl defensive end was a massive disappointment for the Titans, who signed him to a lucrative one-year deal following a months-long pursuit. A knee injury ended his season after eight games, 19 tackles and zero sacks.

But it wouldn’t be shocking if the Titans wanted to give Clowney another shot. One of the biggest factors in his decision to join the Titans was his familiarity with coach Mike Vrabel. The No. 1 overall pick in 2014, Clowney spent his first five NFL seasons with the Houston Texans, and Vrabel was his defensive coordinator in 2017. That season Clowney set career-highs for sacks (9.5), tackles for loss (21), quarterback hits (21), forced fumbles (two), fumble recoveries (two) and tackles (59) and he was the only AFC player with at least 20 tackles-for-loss (21) and 20 quarterback hits.

Who will be the defensive coordinator? If recent news is any indication, it will most likely not be outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen, who effectively served in that role this season despite not having the official title.

The Titans last week interviewed Steelers senior defensive defensive assistant/secondary coach Teryl Austin with the idea that he could direct Tennessee’s defense. Austin was defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions from 2014-17 and for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018. His best defense was his first. The 2014 Lions finished second in the NFL in yards allowed, third in points and were the NFL’s best against the run, in terms of yards per carry and yards per game.

There have been no reportst that the Titans have spoken to any other candidates since.

Whoever coordinates the defense next season will have plenty of cleaning up to do at every level. The Titans had the third fewest sacks in the league and will forever be remembered as one of the worst third-down defenses in league history. The unit was the third worst against the pass this season and middle of the pack against the run. Simply put, there is a lot to be desired.

What happens with Isaiah Wilson? First-round pick Isaiah Wilson headlined the Titans’ underwhelming 2020 draft class by virtue of his draft position as well as the fact that he contributed next to nothing on the field.

The 6-foot-6, 351-pounder was expected to compete with veteran Dennis Kelly to be the starter at right tackle, but any chance had at that ended before it even started. The 29th overall pick finished the season on the Reserve – Non-Football Illness list in order to deal with what the team characterized as “personal issues”. He was removed from the active roster for the final team on Dec. 9, days after he served a one-game suspension for a violation of team policy. That followed two stints on the COVID-19 reserve list (one of which lasted more than a month), a drunk driving arrest and being caught at an off-campus party at Tennessee State University.

Vrabel and the Titans seem committed to standing by Wilson and helping him grow through his disappointing off-field behavior, but one more headache could really seal Wilson’s already uncertain fate with the team. As veteran right guard Rodger Saffold said, his future with the team hinges on General Manager Jon Robinson and Vrabel.

What must the next offensive coordinator replicate the most? It’s not yet clear who will replace the newly named head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Arthur Smith, at offensive coordinator. Whoever that is, though, will need to keep the trend of red-zone success going.

The Titans had the second-best red-zone offense in the league this season, scoring a touchdown 75 percent of the time (48-for-64). Only the Green Bay Packers were more efficient in the red zone with an 80 percent conversion rate (48-for-60).

In 2019, Smith’s first season as offensive coordinator, the Titans finished first in the league in red zone efficiency. They had a 75 percent conversion rating in that season too, scoring touchdowns on 34 of their 45 trips.

It’s imperative that this trend continues, regardless of who calls the plays. Scoring touchdowns in the red zone at a high rate usually means wins, and the Titans’ offensive success has certainly been the biggest factor in their back-to-back postseason appearances.