The Titans 2017 OTAs are in the books! We will move on quickly to mini camp next week and then training camp in July, but lets take a moment to look at whose stock is up and whose is down coming out of the first team activities of the offseason.
Derrick Henry: Winner
Yes, Henry was the only Titan who failed to report on day 1 of OTAs due to his classes at Alabama. And yes, he probably should have given Coach Mularkey and the coaching staff a heads up that he wouldn’t be there. He said as much this week. But by all accounts, Henry showed up in fantastic shape and having added more muscle (is that possible?) while working out with Alabama trainers this spring along with focusing on improving pass blocking and catching the football. Titans running back coach Sylvester Croom had some high praise for his 2nd year back.
“Derrick did what I expected him to do, and more. I was really surprised and impressed with his ability to catch the football, and run routes. He was very good on protections, and I think from his rookie minicamp to his entire season I don’t think Derrick dropped two balls, in practices or in games, and that is phenomenal for a guy who didn’t catch the football a whole lot in college. And, of course, his running spoke for itself.”
Henry has also gotten a shot at some first team reps with DeMarco Murray undergoing surgery on his finger this week and earned high marks as the lead back as well. Murray will be back by training camp according to Mularkey, and lets squash this now, he will return to the top of the depth chart, but Henry getting some extra reps and excelling with them is encouraging. I expect to see the Murray/Henry split tighten a bit this season.
Tajae Sharpe: Loser
The alleged incident at Tin Roof is still hanging out there, yet to be resolved. We still have not seen criminal charges filed, but there has been no resolution to the civil suit either. Add to that a surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot and you have yourself a bad run of Tajae Sharpe news over the past month. Sharpe’s foot is the category of injury that still has Kevin Dodd sidelined, although it is considered to be far less severe. Sharpe is expected to be healthy in time for training camp, but foot injuries can be tricky.
He also has to deal with the additional competition in the receiver room in the form of Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor, both of whom have received great reviews so far for their work on the practice field. His absence in mini camp will crack the door for more reps for the rookies. Sharpe’s play on the field has received compliments from the coaches at least, but he really needs the breaks to start going his way if he wants to hold off Davis and Taylor to remain a starter this fall.
Alex Tanney: Winner
Coming in to OTAs I thought Matt Cassel was pretty much a lock to earn the QB2 spot behind Marcus Mariota after the Titans gave him a new 2 year deal this offseason. I still think Cassel is the favorite, but his finger injury combined with Mariota still being slightly limited in practice while recovering from his ankle surgery has given Tanney an opportunity for expanded reps and he has done well with those reps according to Jim Wyatt:
“Quarterback Alex Tanney has taken advantage of the extra time. Practices have been crisp on offense because Tanney has been accurate, he's made quick decisions and he hasn't made many mistakes. He's earned some props from those around him, including Mariota.”
Cassel should be back by training camp, but in the meantime Tanney will continue to get a golden opportunity to make a real run at the backup QB job.
Kevin Dodd: Loser
Dodd was one of just 3 Titans to sit out all of OTAs due to injury along with defensive linemen Sylvester Williams (ankle surgery) and Karl Klug (torn achilles). It was revealed that a second surgery to his injured foot was performed in January which is what kept him out. The team is likely just being extra cautious with Dodd given his struggle with the same foot last season, and they should be, but it would be really reassuring to at least see him out there doing something.
Dodd’s ability to stay healthy this season will be key for the Titans defense. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan will again be the primary edge rushers, but there is very little depth behind them if Dodd can’t get his foot right. Aaron Wallace was pretty good in spots down the stretch and the team drafted Josh Carraway to compete at the outside linebacker spot, but I don’t think anyone wants those guys being an injury away from a full time position. Beyond offering good depth, there have also been hints of pass rush packages featuring Orakpo, Morgan, and Dodd all on the field at the same time. I would love to see what a four man pass rush featuring Jurrell Casey and those three could do.
The good news is that Mularkey has consistently said he expects Dodd to be a full participant once training camp opens. Hopefully we will start to see the potential that made him the 33rd overall pick last year.
Jon Robinson: Winner
How can a GM win OTAs? Having your rookie class earn gushing complements from the coaching staff across the board is a good start. The buzz around Titans camp for Corey Davis, Adoree Jackson, Taywan Taylor, Jonnu Smith, and Jayon Brown has all been overwhelmingly positive. Even 7th round running back Khalfani Muhammad has had coaches and reporters talking about his speed.
Yes, as I have mentioned before, this time of year is full of positive reports, but its clear the coaching staff really likes the new toys Jon Robinson delivered in April. The two who generated the most buzz were the two guys who Robinson traded up to get: Taylor and Brown. We will know more once the pads come on in July, but so far it looks like the Titans talent evaluators hit another home run.
One other thing that I’ll mention here, even though this shouldn’t all be credited to Robinson, is the team chemistry. This team seems to genuinely enjoy being around each other. From the defensive line getting together for paint ball games over the summer to Ben Jones organizing a grill out for the veterans in the parking lot adjacent to the practice fields while rookie mini camp was going on, this team knows how to have fun together. That fact has gotten national attention lately with Mariota and the offensive line making highly entertaining appearances at Predators playoff games. Mularkey and Robinson set a good example for their players. The head coach and GM are often found hanging out together outside of Saint Thomas Sports Park. All this points to a healthy culture that Amy Adams-Strunk, Robinson, and Mularkey have all helped develop in the last year and a half. The vibe around the Titans is so positive that its almost hard to remember they were coming off 5 wins in 2 years just 18 months ago.