Titans eager for camp with new leadership, revamped roster

Published 6:00 am Thursday, July 28, 2016

Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Marcus Mariota sees a noticeable upgrade in the talent around him when he looks around the Tennessee Titans’ locker room.

“We have a lot of guys in here now that are just studs, and that’s exciting,” Mariota said. “At the same time, now the expectations are higher, the standard’s higher, and that’s what you’ve got to live by. We can’t just come out here and be satisfied with enough. We’ve got to be coming out here trying to get better.”

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Well, at an NFL-worst 5-27 the past two seasons, the Titans certainly have lots of room for improvement.

Amy Adams Strunk, who took charge as controlling owner in March 2015, fired Ken Whisenhunt after a 1-6 start and chose to keep Mike Mularkey as head coach after he went 2-7. When she also hired a new general manager in Tennessee native Jon Robinson, who got his NFL start with the Patriots, it marked the first time since 1981 this franchise changed both coach and GM in the same offseason.

Robinson started revamping the roster, bringing in a handful of free agents and trading for DeMarco Murray. He also traded away the No. 1 overall draft choice and brought in 10 draft picks for Mularkey’s “exotic smashmouth” offense designed to help out Mariota, the quarterback taken No. 2 overall in 2015.

“Last season was tough,” said Mariota, who lost only five games in his career at Oregon. “At the same time, now we have an opportunity to build from that and get better. I’m totally excited about it.”

Here are some things to watch for when the Titans report for training camp Friday:

Tennessee border

Mariota missed a combined four games as a rookie because he hurt each knee when hit in the pocket. Robinson signed center Ben Jones away from Houston and drafted Jack Conklin out of Michigan State eighth overall to bolster an offensive line that gave up an NFL-worst 54 sacks. An offseason injury to veteran Byron Bell erased the opportunity to move right guard Chance Warmack to left guard, and the Titans hope someone pushes undrafted free agent Quinton Spain, who started the last seven games in 2015 at left guard.

Improved backfield

Mularkey wants to run the ball much better to help Mariota and improve an offense that ranked 30th, averaging 311.8 yards per game. Robinson picked up Murray for the price of a revised contract and swapping 13 spots with Philadelphia in March, hoping the running back looks much more like the NFL’s 2014 Offensive Player of the Year. For insurance, Robinson also drafted Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry out of Alabama with his third selection in the second round.