The aptly titled “exotic smashmouth” football turned things around a bit for the Tennessee Titans in 2016, but if Music City’s favorite football team wants to compete on a more consistent basis in the modern NFL, the passing game has to take the next step.
Despite being virtually devoid of dynamic weapons on the outside last season, Marcus Mariota forged ahead nicely in his steep transition from a one-read, spread college quarterback to well-rounded NFL signal caller who can process information and go through his route progressions.
And the Titans finished 9-7, their first winning campaign since 2011.
For that trend to keep moving in a positive direction with Tennessee knocking on the door in the improved AFC South, the Titans needed to add talent around Mariota, the former No. 2 overall pick in 2015, something that started in the draft with a pair of receivers in the first three rounds — the fifth overall pick, Corey Davis out of Western Michigan, and third-rounder Taywan Taylor of Western Kentucky.
Receiver was a position that needed carpet-bombing, however, and that continued late in the process on Sunday when general manager Jon Robinson agreed to terms with recently deposed New York Jets receiver Eric Decker on a one-year deal.
At 6-foot-3, Decker is a lengthy three-time 1,000-yard receiver coming off an injury-plagued season in which he was limited to three games due to a shoulder injury.
The Minnesota native just turned 30 in March and has also had issues with his hip, so it’s not like the Titans can count on significant production, but it’s a worthwhile gamble for a team whose top returning options are Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe and Harry Douglas.
In fact, if coach Mile Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie have their druthers, the hope for the offense would be Davis hitting the ground running and Decker taking over as a No. 2 option that he once was in Denver and with the Jets. From there, it’s likely there is enough between Matthews, Sharpe and Taylor to put together capable third and fourth options for Mariota.
The fact that Decker is married to country singer Jessie James Decker likely gave the Titans a leg up in signing the receiver. Nashville remains the capital of country music, and Jessie began making trips to the city as a teenager in an effort to get her big break.
She has reached as high as fifth on the country charts for two of her recent EPs, including 2014’s “Comin’ Home” and a February release entitled “Gold.”
We are home 😍
— Jessie James Decker (@JessieJDecker) June 18, 2017
Whether Mr. Decker is gold for Mariota and the Titans remains to be seen. Offseason work is already done in the NFL and Mariota was limited anyway as he continued to recover from the broken right fibula he suffered in December.
So the chemistry aspect to this equation will need to develop quickly in training camp, something aided by the fact that the Titans have said Mariota will be a full go by then.
“We’ve harped on the preparation that it starts all over, nothing from last year, nothing from the year before,” Mularkey said. “You can’t base anything on the year before. There are new faces in the locker room. ”
Decker being the latest and perhaps among the most important.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen.
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