“Counterparts to be counted on” is a 32-part series where we the “Front Office” of couchpotatogm.com analyze one offensive player and one defensive player on each team that MUST have a particularly strong individual season in 2015 for their respective teams to have a successful 2015 campaign. The ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl but a successful season doesn’t always result in hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. No matter what “you” consider to be a success these counterparts are essential to achieving that goal.
Tennessee Titans “Counterparts to be counted on” 2015
Marcus Mariota – The Tennessee Titans were in a very unique position heading into the 2015 NFL Draft. With a number of teams interested in moving up to the second overall spot the Titans could have traded the pick for numerous proven commodities and a slew of draft selections. There were even rumors that the San Diego Chargers’ quarterback Phillip Rivers may have been in play as part of a deal for the highly coveted draft pick. However, the Titans “stayed” at #2 and took Oregon’s 2014 Heisman Trophy Winner Marcus Mariota making him the team’s face of the franchise despite head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s endorsement of Zach Mettenberger. I, we, at CPGM have expressed concerns regarding Mariota’s ability to translate from a zone read/spread option system to a traditional pro-style offense. The learning curve will be a steep one as Mariota had not even huddled since his high school playing days, but the Titans’ brass called for Mariota regardless. Despite a woeful offense in 2014, the cupboard isn’t exactly bare in Tennessee. Delanie Walker is a better tight end than he is typically given credit for. Kendall Wright has playmaking ability. Free agent acquisition Harry Douglas is a solid wide receiver and rookies Dorial Green-Beckham and David Cobb have the talent to make an immediate impact. The offensive line on paper looks good but has under-achieved in recent years. Still, the Titans could do worse in terms of surrounding their rookie QB with talent.
What Mariota brings to the table immediately is the ability to process information quickly and accuracy (with a quick release). Two attributes absolutely vital to the success of any quarterback at the NFL level. His collegiate career completion mark of 66.8% is indicative of that accuracy albeit in uncommonly large passing windows by NFL standards. Considering the ball-handling responsibilities that accompany any quarterback that plays in Oregon’s system his 105:14 touchdown-to-interception ratio is pristine. Ball security is paramount at any level of the game and his turnover averse play doesn’t mean that he is incapable of pushing the football down the field. Additionally, Mariota is a terrific athlete never rushing for less than 700 yards in a season during his three-year stint in Eugene, Oregon. The ability to extend plays and drives with his legs will mitigate some of his short comings in terms of deciphering coverages, blitzes and working through his progressions but could serve as a detriment if he uses them as a crutch.
I tend to shy away from quarterbacks who don’t play in pro-style offenses in college. However, with so many college teams utilizing spread offenses you have to read between the lines to evaluate many of the quarterback prospects these days. If, and that’s a substantial “IF” Mariota can solidify his footwork considering that he didn’t take snaps from under center in college and continue to demonstrate accuracy into smaller NFL windows he has a chance to be successful. Technique and mechanics are important and weren’t necessarily focal points in terms of his development in college so it remains to be seen whether or not he can repeat those learned mechanics when the bullets start flying in games that count. My expectations for any young quarterback is progress from Week 1 to Week 17. He must be a better quarterback in January than he is now in August. If Mariota takes the NFL by storm, a la, Robert Griffin III, it doesn’t guarantee that he will be a success long term. However, if he consistently make plays from the pocket, steps up into the pocket rather than trying to bail and rely too heavily on his athleticism the Titans could find themselves pushing for a playoff berth as soon as the 2017 season. Again….IF.
Brian Orakpo – Speaking of if… If only Brian Orakpo could stay healthy. The Tennessee Titans signed the free agent outside linebacker to a 4-year $32 million deal during the offseason and also re-signed OLB Derrick Morgan to a 4-year $30 million deal. The bookends to Dick Lebeau’s 34 defense could provide long days and nights for the opposition in 2015. We know that the oft-injured Orakpo can rush the passer. In the four seasons Orakpo has played at least 15 games he’s averaged over 9.5 sacks. That being said you can never have enough pass rushers and the Titans did well to add him at a fairly reasonable annual price of $8 million. Keep in mind that the Titans’ 39 sacks last season wasn’t awful though. In fact, their pass defense was middle of the pack statistically. It was a 31st ranked rushing defense (and an inept offense) that really hurt the Titans in 2014.
The Titans’ defense (and offense) lacked edge, grit and physicality in 2014. Standout Jurrell Casey and Morgan appeared to be two of the few Titans’ defenders that were interested in shedding blockers and filling running lanes. Hopefully the arrival of Lebeau and Orakpo will lead to a more physical and aggressive defense. The aforementioned Marcus Mariota and rookie running back David Cobb should improve a non-existent running game from 2014, posses the ball more and keep the Titans’ defense off the field and fresh. Perhaps a well rested defense will do a better job against the run in 2015. If (there’s that word again) Brian Orakpo can stay healthy and set a physical edge against the run the Titans will force the opposition to play into their strength, their pass defense. Second and long, third and long and Orakpo and Co. can pin their ears back and stop the run on the way to hunting the quarterback.