The start of OTAs for the Titans this week also brought an opportunity to hear from some of the team’s leaders for the first time since the end of the 2016 season. Mike Mularkey, Marcus Mariota, Jurrell Casey, Brian Orakpo, and DeMarco Murray all answered questions from the local press on Monday. You can watch full video of all of those here. A lot of what came out of those press conferences was washed away by #HenryGate early this week, but I wanted to circle back to them and breakdown the 10 most interesting non-Derrick Henry related topics here.
1. Mariota Health Update
Obviously, the health of MM8 is the critical piece of the offseason puzzle. Realistically, the Titans aren’t going anywhere without a healthy, productive Marcus Mariota. Mike Mularkey and the QB himself both spoke about his recovery on Monday and both indicated that he was a little bit ahead of schedule at the moment. He is already jogging, and said his next benchmark is to start running full speed and that he is hoping that he will get there in 2-3 weeks. DeMarco Murray confirmed that Mariota has been throwing passes already as well.
Also, Mariota is one tough SOB. When asked about how much pain he felt when he suffered the fractured fibula, he responded “In all honesty, I thought I rolled it, I thought I rolled my ankle...I guess at that point in time I think the adrenaline of the game, it wasn’t super painful.” Adrenaline or not, that’s a super painful injury. This explains why he was basically just sitting on the field with hardly any reaction when it happened. There was no grabbing at the leg or rolling around or panicked expressions. He just sat there, looking pissed off that he couldn’t stand up and get back to the huddle.
The Titans referring to themselves as a “family” is a theme that goes back to last year. Well, its back again this year. Mularkey, Mariota, Casey, and Orakpo all used the word “family” to describe their teammates and coaches on Monday. Its clear this is a tight knit group and I think that matters in the NFL.
3. Mariota’s Favorite Video Games
Don’t look for Mariota to be hitting the cover of Madden any time soon. When asked about what he did to pass the time while he was laid up after surgery, he said that he played a lot of video games with his brother and other friends online. He listed Call of Duty and Battlefield as his games of choice, but when asked if he played any Madden, he replied “nah I stay away from Madden man”.
Sidenote: Please don’t leave a comment saying things like “he should have been watching game tape instead of playing video games”. If we know anything about Mariota, it is that he is a tireless worker and dedicated to becoming the best QB that he can.
4. Murray Has High Praise for 2016 OTAs
DeMarco Murray had some high praise for the 2016 Titans OTAs during his time at the podium saying “this time last year was the best offseason I’ve had individually and collectively as a team as far as attendance and people competing at a high level and just getting better”. That, to me, is also a ringing endorsement of Mularkey and his ability to get buy in from the players in Year 1. This team’s culture of accountability is very apparent when listening to guys like Murray speak.
5. Jurrell Casey Organized Offseason D-Line Workouts
I love Jurrell Casey. He’s turned out to be among the most disruptive interior defensive linemen in the league. He mentioned that the defensive line spent some time together over the past few months, which is something they hadn’t really done in the past. Here they are playing a little paintball here in Nashville this past weekend.
6. Casey Working to Improve Strength
One specific thing that stood out from Casey’s question and answer section was that he has been focusing this offseason on improving his play strength. He said that he felt like he was getting knocked off the ball more often last season than he would have liked and wanted to address it. He mentioned that the Titans finished 2nd in the NFL in run defense last year, but they want to finish 1st this year. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think they might be able to achieve that goal. They should be stronger at nose tackle this year between the addition of Sly Williams and the development of Austin Johnson. The other personnel in the front 7 remains the same (pre-draft at least), plus we added the best secondary run defender in the NFL in Johnathan Cyprien and Logan Ryan is very good in run support from the corner spot as well. This should be an extremely stout group against the run in 2017.
7. The Titans Have Strong Veteran Leadership
A few years ago, we would have struggled to find four players who we felt like were really team leaders. Now, we can send four to the podium for an event like this and still feel like we are leaving some out. Mariota, Casey, Orakpo, and Murray are all veteran leaders on this team now. I would add Taylor Lewan, Ben Jones, Delanie Walker, Derrick Morgan, Rishard Matthews, and Wesley Woodyard to that tier as well. That’s ten guys that are all rowing in the same direction and have enough respect in the locker room that the young guys and the new guys will listen when they speak. That’s also at least one leader for each position group on the roster besides secondary, and I think Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien will be positive influences and will quickly become leaders for that group as they start to work in this offseason. Multiple players during the press conferences described the locker room culture as loose, but extremely hard working.
8. Continuity = Good
Fun bar trivia question: when was the last time the Titans had the same Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, and Quarterback combination start two seasons in a row? Answer: 2003-2004; Jeff Fisher, Mike Heimerdinger, Jim Schwartz, and Steve McNair. That streak ends this year (barring something really really strange happening between now and September) as Mularkey, Robiskie, LeBeau, and Mariota return for Year 2 together. Orakpo specifically mentioned the value of continuity and how nice it is to have the same playbook and same notes from last year to carry in to this year. Instead of installing the playbook during camp, they can be building on and perfecting execution. DeMarco Murray echoed that thought on the offensive end while adding that a lot of the run schemes the Titans use are very similar to what he ran with the Cowboys during his time there which he likes.
9. Dodd Update
Orakpo had some praise for Kevin Dodd as he hits the field healthy for the first time as a member of the Titans. He indicated that the team has big expectations of Dodd and even hinted at a package that gets Orakpo, Morgan, and Dodd all on the field at the same time next season. Dodd turning in to a force in the pass rush is among the best possible things that could happen for the Titans this offseason.
10. The Devil in the Details
Every player that spoke mentioned that last season just one or two small mistakes stood between them and making the playoffs. It is clear that Mularkey is preaching the idea of cleaning up the details and making sure that the little things don’t get between them and their goals this season. That’s another added benefit of continuity as I mentioned above. When you don’t have to install an entire offense/defense, you have a lot more time to refine the details and focus on doing the little things that can win and lose games for you over the course of the season. It’s not hard to look back at last season and see where some of those missed details in the close losses came back to haunt us.
Another detail that Orakpo specifically mentioned was the continued improvements to the Saint Thomas Sports Park facilities. The team is currently working on updating the weight room after finishing the beautifully done locker room improvements last year. I think this kind of stuff is a big deal. It helps Jon Robinson when he’s recruiting free agents to the team, but even more than that, working in a world class facility helps players and coaches take pride in what it means to be a Titan. We all like to think that since players are getting paid a lot of money they should automatically be giving 100% effort regardless of what the building looks like, but these guys are humans and stuff like what your place of work looks like affects us regardless of compensation. Amy Adams-Strunk, Jon Robinson, and Mike Mularkey have made a clear commitment over the past two years to making this a better place for guys to come to work every day. That matters. The Titans are building a culture and its hard not to be excited about where this is headed right now.