Austin Johnson Jersey

Last year, Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Austin Johnson did an admirable job at the end of the season filling in for starting defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, who tore his biceps muscle in a Week 13 matchup with the Houston Texans. Johnson went on to start three out of the last four regular season games, one of the two playoff games and acquitted himself quite well.
At 6’4, 315 pounds, Johnson is a big, powerful dude, but he is also athletic enough to play all over the defensive line.

Last year the Titans had him line up everywhere from a tight 5-technique shaded heavy on an offensive tackle to a zero nose head up on the center. And he looked pretty damn comfortable in all of those alignments, which isn’t exactly a common sight. His versatility was impressive and he fit right in no matter where he lined up.

Johnson managed to notch 24 tackles and a sack last season. Along the way, he showed Tennessee he’s ready for an expanded role on defense. DaQuan Jones will be back this year, and he was having the best season of his career prior to getting hurt, but Johnson should at least be allowed to compete with him for the starting position. Iron sharpens iron and a competition between the former Penn State teammates is likely to bring out the best in both of them. As well as Jones has played as a starter for the Titans over the last three seasons, his old college backup might just end up being an upgrade.

Even if he isn’t a starter this year, after what he showed last season, Johnson’s playing time should certainly increase.

The Titans will see a tremendous boost in Johnson’s production this season with more reps. With a new head coach, Mike Vrabel, and a new defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, there are still a lot of question marks about how the defense will look at this point. How much will they use a traditional 3-4 alignment versus four down defensive linemen? How much will they stunt versus just lining up and playing? How much will they rely on their defensive front for their pass rush versus how much they will blitz?

For a guy with Johnson’s versatility and talent, however, there will almost assuredly be a role for him to play, no matter how those questions get answered. And if he does end up as a backup again, and someone ends up going down with an injury, Johnson should be able to fill in and do a great job at any spot along their defensive line.

Regardless of what his role is ultimately decided to be this season, if he stays healthy, Austin Johnson’s stats should take a big leap forward this year. He will be a vital part of the Titans defense.

Jonnu Smith Jersey

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NASHVILLE, Tenn.–With the busiest days of NFL free agency behind us, a clearer picture of each team’s potential moves in the 2019 NFL Draft has developed.

The Titans were not shy in free agency, signing former Buccaneers slot receiver Adam Humphries who is coming off a career season. The Titans also added Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, defensive end Cameron Wake and quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

All the moves provide the team with experienced and solidified talent at their positions.

With needed moves at the WR, DE, and OL taken, the team now can focus on what they will do with the 19th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft in April. As FOX 17 News Sports Anchor Dave Foster points out, the Titans originally needed an edge rusher and interior OL but free agency seems to have addressed those concerns -albeit temporarily.

So what are possible options?

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER/EDGE

Derrick Morgan is testing free agency and veteran Brian Orakpo has retired. While the team did sign Cameron Wake, his longevity is something to consider given he is 37-years-old.

The problem here is the three edge/OLB players considered NFL-ready should be off the board by the time the Titans pick at 19. There might be better value there at 19 to address other positions, leaving the Titans to look at guys like D’Andre Walker of Georgia or Brian Burns of FSU in the second round.

TIGHT END

One potential area of concern looking ahead is tight end. Delanie Walker is coming off a leg injury in Week 1 of the 2018 season which caused him to miss all but the opener. At 34 and with 12 seasons under his belt, Walker still has plenty of productivity under his belt given he never had more than 38 targets in a season until he joined the titans in 2013.

Since then, he has been a model of consistency, receiving over 100 targets and at least 800 yards in 2014 through 2017. However, age is still a concern and he won’t be around forever.

While Jonnu Smith still could be an heir apparent, the Titans would be able to select one of the top three tight ends at the 19 spot. Iowa tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are each considered the top two prospects followed by Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. who has the offensive potential of Walker.

However, with Walker returning and Smith’s potential, tight end isn’t necessarily a pressing need this season.

WIDE RECEIVER

Dave Foster says current momentum seems to indicate the Titans could still be in the market despite the signing of Humphreys. Humphreys provides a reliability in the slot the Titans have not had in some time but questions remain out wide.

Corey Davis improved drastically from his rookie campaign and is showing promise but he only had two games where he totaled over 100 yards receiving in 2018. In ten games he totaled under 50 yards. On the other side, Tajae Sharpe finished with just 26 catches on 47 targets.

Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf could be around when the Titans select at 19, offering speed to burn at the position. Metcalf has the size (6’3″) and speed (4.33 40 yard dash) which could be enticing for the Titans. Metcalf’s physical measurements and athleticism have been compared to former Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson.

OFFENSIVE LINE

While the Titans did sign guard Rodger Saffold, they were unable to retain guard Josh Kline. That leaves Kevin Pamphile, Corey Levin, and Aaron Stinnie among the potential fill-ins on the other side of Saffold.

The Titans need to protect Marcus Mariota and bringing in an NFL ready, young guard to grow with the quarterback could prove fruitful. One possibility is Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom. Considered one of the top three guards in the draft, Lindstrom could wind up being the safest choice of the three positional possibilities.

Corey Davis Jersey

Every NFL team seems to have a cursed position somewhere on the roster that they just can’t get right no matter how many different approaches they try. For the Bears, that position has been quarterback. For the Buccaneers, it’s kicker. The Lions can’t ever find a good running back (post-Barry Sanders obviously). For the Titans, that position is wide receiver.

Since the team became the Titans in 1999, they’ve had exactly seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Four of those came from the same player and just two of them have happened in the past 15 years.

To give some context, there are eight individual wide receivers that have more 1,000 yard receiving seasons over that same time span than the Titans do as a team.

It’s just a position that has consistently eluded the franchise. Heading into 2019, receiver is once again a hotly debated position among Titans fans. Former 5th overall pick Corey Davis has shown some real promise, and probably would be more highly thought of if the team simply passed the ball more often in 2018. Davis accumulated 891 yards — good for 21st among all NFL receivers — despite playing on a team that attempted just 437 passes (2nd fewest in the league). If the Titans had passed the ball at a league average volume, Davis would have ended up near 1,125 yards receiving (14th among receivers) assuming he maintained a similar rate of production. It would be a disappointment if Davis didn’t become the fifth player since the team moved to Nashville to top 1,000 yards next season, but he needs help.

I covered my thoughts on what Humphries will bring to the team in depth here, but the short version is that he will be a reliable player who will thrive in the slot when the Titans go with 11-personnel — a personnel package the team used on 58% of snaps in 2018 per Sharp Football — and play some snaps outside as well.

However, after those two, things get a little more dicey. Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe have both had their moments as Titans, but neither young receiver was able to step into the number two role behind Davis in 2018. So what do the Titans do behind Davis and Humphries at the receiver position? I think there are three options, each with their pros and cons.

Option #1: The Status Quo

The Titans essentially stick with what they’ve got. In this scenario Davis gets a similar snap share to the 88.4% number he saw in 2018, Humphries handles the slot and splits snaps on the outside in two wide sets, and then some combination of Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe, Darius Jennings, and Cameron Batson split up the rest of the outside receiver snaps. The team probably throws a mid-to-late round rookie in here as well, but not necessarily a player that’s going to start right away.

This option is effectively a vote of confidence in Taylor and Sharpe. The current Titans coaching staff clearly view Taylor as an outside receiver. He played in the slot on just 16% of his total offensive snaps last year — a rate very similar to his college usage at Western Kentucky — rather than the primarily slot-based role he saw under Mike Mularkey during his rookie season.

Sharpe had the most snaps in the slot of any Titans receiver in 2018 with 254 — just ahead of Corey Davis’ 240 — as the Titans rotated guys through that spot in the absence of a true dedicated slot receiver. I would expect that to change with Humphries on board. Davis and other receivers will certainly see some snaps in there — it can be a good way to create mismatches for a big-bodied receiver like Davis — but I would expect Humphries to dominate the snap count at this position.

So where does that leave Sharpe? I would say that in this scenario he is likely competing with Taylor for snaps outside, and I would give the edge to Taylor here. There are a couple reasons that I would suspect Taylor to be ahead of Sharpe for an outside role opposite Corey Davis. First, are the numbers from last year.

Sharpe provided far less production despite being given far more opportunity. This is further reflected in PFF’s Yards Per Route Run (YPRR) metric where Taylor actually led the team in YPRR at 1.87 — just ahead of Corey Davis’ 1.83 — while Sharpe checked in at 0.96. In fact, Taylor’s YPRR is quite good even compared to the rest of the NFL. He ranked 28th out of 108 qualifying receivers while Sharpe checked in at 99th.

The second reason that I think Taylor would have an edge here is that he simply fits better as a puzzle piece in the Titans offense than Sharpe does. Tennessee has their do-it-all receiver in Davis and a couple chain movers over the middle in Humphries and tight end Delanie Walker. What they don’t have is that vertical speed threat that can keep opposing safeties from playing on their toes all game. Taylor provides that element.

Taylor’s drop rate in 2018 was concerning. He failed to haul in 11.9% of his catchable targets according to PFF charting, the 17th highest rate among 108 qualifying receivers. Inconsistent hands and body catching were the two most common knocks on Taylor coming out of Western Kentucky in 2017 so this shouldn’t surprise anyone, but the question is whether A) he can improve his hands and technique through training or B) if what he does well is enough to overshadow the occasional drop. So far, it hasn’t been and that’s the reason that most fans want to see him pushed down the rotation, but Taylor is still a young, developing wide receiver.

The upside to this solution is that if Taylor does emerge, you get a dynamic deep threat for just a $1M cap hit in 2019 and a $1.1M hit in 2020 and you get to spend your top draft picks on the offensive and defensive lines or maybe even grab an heir apparent to Delanie Walker to either compete with or supplement Jonnu Smith once Walker’s playing days are over. Maybe you still grab a developmental receiver on day three of the draft for depth, but you get to spend your higher picks on positions that have lower bust rates (i.e. anywhere but receiver).

The downside is that Taylor might not turn the corner and in the most critical season of Marcus Mariota’s career, that would mean the Titans fail to provide him with more than three reliable targets. If Davis, Humphries, or Walker were to go down with an injury, things would get pretty dicey pretty quick.

Rashaan Evans Jersey

When the Titans drafted inside linebacker Rashaan Evans in the first round of this year’s draft, there were pretty high expectations for this Titans’ defensive front. But with injuries limiting his impact in the first half of the season, things went south for Evans.

Thankfully, that seems to be out of the picture, as Evans has gradually gotten better through the season’s progression. It’s tough to take anything away from tackle stats, as they can boil down to where the play ended. Still, Evans has 40 tackles in his rookie season, with 18 in his last three games.

Again there’s nothing we can take away from tackles, but I’ll say this: Evans looks more and more like a key part of this Titans defense, showing up in a big way in the team’s wins against the Jets and Jaguars. So with that in mind, let’s dive into what stands out about Rashaan Evans’ rookie season.

Here, he rams his own teammate—nose tackle Austin Johnson—out of the way and stuffs Isaiah Crowell. How he’s able to find this tiny gap to make the tackle I don’t know, but he gets it done and in a big way.

Perhaps my favorite trait of Evans’ young NFL career is his patience as a linebacker. He does these fast, short hops in the air whenever he remains hesitant and it’s pleasing to eye because he gets a clean burst off of it. As shown here, he displays that quickness and patience, and uses his chase down speed to take down Carlos Hyde.

Evans has held his own against the run, and he’s also growing against the pass as well.

Evans was also instrumental on the Titans shutting down the Jaguars offense (although they seem to do that pretty well themselves). On this 4th and goal, Evans’ aggression and power both come into play yet again. At the same time he understands to control his speed, and instead of watching Leonard Fournette sail past him, he makes an incredible shoestring tackle to stop Jacksonville’s drive and turn the ball over on downs.

One complaint I had about Evans at Bama was that he’d occasionally tackle far too high, resulting in some slip ups and broken tackles. He’s appeared to clean that up nicely, and I haven’t seen much of the slip ups from him. I would like to see him more and more as a pass rusher, as that was my favorite part of his game in college.

Nevertheless, Rashaan Evans was one of my favorite draft prospects of 2018, and he’s turning into the impact player much of us thought he’d be when Tennessee drafted him. His skill set has high potential; His quickness, patience, power, burst, and ability to find tiny creases and meet the player at the right time make him so enticing as a young defender.

Here’s hoping even better things come from Evans.

Delanie Walker Jersey

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As his teammates packed up earlier this week, one player was already itching to start back.

Titans tight end Delanie Walker has been a spectator too long.

“I know some of these guys may want to take a break after a long season,” Walker said. “I am trying to get back so I can hit this ground running. I can’t wait to put on cleats and get out there running again.”

Walker, of course, was lost for the season in Week One when he broke his right ankle against the Dolphins. Walker was placed on Injured Reserve, and he’s been recovering – and rehabbing — ever since.

The Titans finished the year 9-7, barely missing out on the playoffs.

It was a tough fall for Walker, he admits.

“It is promising, to see where we were at even with the type of players we had hurt. To see what they did, I was happy – I thought guys did a great job for us to lose guys like we did this year,” Walker said. “It was hard watching it from the outside, and knowing I am not able to help the team. It just hurt me not being out there, not being able to help my team and my quarterback.”

So where is Walker, a three-time Pro Bowler, in his return?

Walker isn’t yet running. He hopes that will happen in the coming weeks.

He knows he still has a ways to go, even though he’s made great strides.

“The schedule is coming along just the way we all thought it would be – on track pretty much. I feel like I am pretty ahead of where I should be, and I am just going to keep working,” Walker said. “I have three more months until I am fully recovered. I just have to keep trusting the process, and try and get better for next year.

“My goal is to be ready for OTAs, but I am not sure what they are going to have me do. I don’t think they want to rush this, knowing what time of injury I had. I want to be able to run and catch balls and run routes (in OTAs), but we’ll see what happens.”

Walker, 34, knows some will doubt whether he can make it back to pre-injury form. He’s heard it before, he said.

Walker was voted as a captain by his teammates before the start of his 13th NFL season. He was named to his third straight Pro Bowl in 2017 after he led the team with 74 receptions for 807 yards and three touchdowns.

In his career, Walker has caught 483 passes for 5,673 yards and 34 touchdowns. He played his first seven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before signing with the Titans prior to the 2013 season.

“I don’t really remember how old I am,” Walker said with a smile. “They can judge me all they want. I already know people are going to say it’s going to be a struggle to come back off an injury like this. … They doubted me before and look how far I got. I am just going to prove everybody wrong.

“(Coaches) know the type of player I am, and they just want me to get back and be healthy. When I am on field I am going to try and make plays, and I know coaches are going to give me an opportunity to make plays.”

Ryan Tannehill Jersey

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins, Redskins

PHOENIX – When the Titans traded for former Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, they welcomed in a regular NFL starter and paired him with the team’s starting quarterback in Marcus Mariota.

On the day of the trade, Titans General Manager Jon Robinson made it clear to everyone – Mariota, Tannehill and media – that Tannehill was brought in to be Mariota’s back-up.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel, speaking on the subject from the NFL owners meetings for the first time since the trade, did nothing to contradict the GM’s stance.

Like Robinson, Vrabel said the move was made to make the Titans better. Vrabel believes it should make Mariota better as well.

Vrabel referenced his own playing career, during its early stages, when asked how Mariota should react to the newcomer in the team’s quarterback room.

“I’ll tell you a quick story about my career, and I try not to reference it much,” Vrabel said. “But I went to training camp one year, and … I called (my wife) Jen and said, “Man, there’s like seven guys who have started in this league in the linebacker room. And she said, ‘Well, you better practice hard and play hard. … And I was like, ‘I love you, too, baby.”

The moral of the story?

“The message (then and now) is it’s understood we’re going to put as many guys on the roster as possible that can compete and help us win,” Vrabel said. “It only makes guys better.

“Obviously if Marcus is healthy, and he’s available, he’s our starter. We just felt like, to be able to strengthen the position, to have a chance to add a player like Ryan, who could help us if Marcus isn’t available, then we were excited to do so.”

Vrabel said he anticipates Mariota, headed into his fifth NFL season, will be ready when the Titans kick off their offseason program on April 15.

Vrabel said Mariota is healing up from his injuries from 2018.

“I think I do,” Vrabel said. “After our conversations together – we text and we talk and I say: ‘How are you feeling? How’s the family? How’s everything else?’ So I think he is enjoying some time away from this thing and he is really focused on coming back healthy and he’s excited about moving forward with (offensive coordinator) Arthur Smith and the staff. We made an addition with (tight ends coach) Todd Downing.

“I know Marcus is excited to have his second year in the same offense, the same verbiage and communication. We are going to add some stuff, but I think he is excited to get going with that.”

Vrabel believes the addition of Tannehill should be a plus.

In 2018, quarterback Blaine Gabbert served as Mariota’s back-up.

Tannehill, a first-round pick (eight overall) by the Dolphins in the 2012 NFL Draft, has played in 88 career games in seven seasons in Miami. Tannehill, 30, started 11 games for the Dolphins in 2018, and he completed 176-of-274 passes for 1,979 yards and 17 touchdowns, with nine interceptions.

“We felt like he’s a proven starter, a starter in this league for a lot of years,” Vrabel said of Tannehill. “We felt like it upgraded the position. Blaine did a great job. Blaine did everything that was asked of him. Blaine was amazing in the room, after hours, helping out, trying to find ways to do things for us offensively and give us an edge. He was great with Marcus. He got thrown into a couple of tight spots and he competed and did a nice job. We just felt like an opportunity came for us to upgrade the position and we did it.”

The Titans plan to add another quarterback this offseason as well, Vrabel said.

“We are going to have to add somebody to it,” Vrabel said. “We are going to need a young guy that we can develop.”

Vrabel reiterated Mariota is champing at the bit following a season when he started 13 of the team’s 16 games in 2018, and played in 14 of 16. Mariota finished the year with 2,528 passing yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He set the franchise record with a completion percentage of 68.9 %.

At the end of the 2018 season, Vrabel said the Titans planned to identify ways to help keep Mariota healthy moving forward. In an interview with Titans Online earlier this offseason, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon suggested Mariota add some bulk to his frame.

Vrabel was asked if the Titans want Mariota to add weight this offseason to help.

Everything is up for discussion heading into 2019, Vrabel said.

“I think when you talk about durability at different positions there’s a lot of things that go into it – weight, strength, understanding when the journey is over when you’re a quarterback, knowing we can’t block them forever,” Vrabel said. “Sometimes we have to do a better job of helping him and he has to do a better job of helping himself.

“Marcus and I have a lot of conversations and he’s open and I am always honest with him. So there will be things that we’ll ask him to do, whether that be training regiment, strength, lifting. It’s always nice because he is always going to do what the coaches ask him to do and he’s going to try and do it at a high level.”

Marcus Mariota Jersey

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Marcus Mariota’s health is the topic of conversation among Titans fans as another semi-successful season comes to a close in Nashville. There are very clearly two camps on Mariota at this point. One camp firmly believes Mariota to be fragile and injury prone after failing to play a full 16 game season for the fourth straight year. The other camp believes that Mariota has had some bad injury luck, but mostly points the finger at the offensive line and/or coaching staffs for putting him in harm’s way too often.

The question of whether Marcus Mariota can be the Titans franchise quarterback remains at the forefront of any discussion about the future of this team, so let’s take a look at the quarterback’s injury history and how it stacks up to other quarterbacks around the league.

Mariota Injury History
2015

Mariota suffered a sprained MCL during his fifth game of the season as then-Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon dove low into the quarterback’s left knee as he delivered a pass. It was a clear cheap shot. Mariota tried to finish the game, but was clearly hobbled and eventually was pulled for Zach Mettenberger. He would miss the next two games before returning to the lineup.

He was healthy for six games after returning, but suffered a sprain to his right knee against the Patriots when a blown blitz pickup by Antonio Andrews resulted in a sack. The Titans chose to shut him down for the final two games of a 3-13 lost season.

Games Left: 2

Games Missed: 4

2016

Mariota’s best season as a pro — and not coincidentally his healthiest — came in his second year. He was healthy for the first 14 games of the season before Jaguars defensive tackle Sheldon Day tackled him from behind as he was escaping the pocket, landing on him awkwardly and breaking his leg. Mariota would miss the final game of the season and spend most of the following offseason rehabbing from the surgery required to repair his leg.

Games Left: 1

Games Missed: 1

2017

Mariota managed to heal and be ready in time for the Titans opener to start the 2017 season. He was OK through the first three games, but injured his hamstring diving for the goal line against the Texans in Week 4 on a designed roll out. He would miss just one game, but was clearly hampered for several more after returning.

While that was the only injury that would cost him playing time, Mariota was banged up towards the end of this season. He had a minor knee injury during the Cardinals game and appeared to be hobbled at the end of the Bengals game as well, but didn’t miss any time from those issues. Though he played through injuries throughout this season, his production was pretty clearly affected by them, turning in his worst statistical season of his career.

Games Left: 1

Games Missed: 1

2018

A healthy offseason and a new offense gave some hope that this season would see Mariota return to his 2016 form, but things went sideways immediately. Another dirty hit from a Dolphins defender left Mariota with an injured ulnar nerve in his throwing arm that caused numbness in his throwing hand and a loss of grip strength. Again, Mariota tried to play through the issue, but sailed two passes for interceptions immediately following the injury and was pulled from the game. He would miss the next start, but return off the bench in Week 3 to replace an injured Blaine Gabbert. Mariota would play that game and the next four with a specially made glove on his throwing hand to help him grip the ball.

He was mostly excellent after returning from the bye without the glove until he went down hard on a sack against the Colts. Mariota was diagnosed with a stinger and removed from the game. He returned to play the next game and, again, seemed to be effective. Finally, Mariota went down with what the team has called a stinger against the Redskins and did not return before missing the final game of the season.

Games Left: 3

Games Missed: 2