NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans opened 2021 NFL training camp Tuesday at St. Thomas Sports Park. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:
The outlook for the Titans' passing game was uncertain before they acquired superstar wide receiver, Julio Jones. Losing Davis and Smith took a total of 106 receptions, 1,432 yards, and 13 touchdowns from the offense. On the surface, those numbers seem like an insurmountable obstacle to overcome. But adding Jones to the mix provides an impact player who can really make opposing defenses pay if they decide to focus on stopping budding star receiver A.J. Brown.
Like Brown, Jones is capable of breaking tackles to gain yards after the catch (Jones had 127 yards after first contact in 2019 in 15 games, tied for 18th in the NFL). That brings physicality to the passing game. Tennessee also added 6-foot-3 Josh Reynolds, giving them three big receivers who can easily play on the inside or outside depending on what matchups new offensive coordinator Todd Downing wants to create. Don't forget about Anthony Firkser who is set to be the lead tight end. He'll get his share of targets in high-pressure situations such as third downs and in the red zone.
What will the offense be like under Downing?
Downing's offense is expected to be similar to what former coordinator Arthur Smith's balanced attack looked like last season when Derrick Henry finished with 2,025 rushing yards while Brown and Davis posted 1,075 and 984 receiving yards, respectively. Jones and Brown will command plenty of targets in the passing game while Henry is the classic volume running back. Will there be enough footballs to go around to make everyone happy? Downing thinks so.
"Each week is going to require something different to play winning football," Downing said. "The addition of Julio [Jones] and the weapons we have on the outside and in the backfield and at the line of scrimmage are ways to help us stay balanced and attack in different ways."
The Titans have been committed to a physical, ball-control style of offense under coach Mike Vrabel. Although Arthur Smith moved on to become the head coach of the Falcons and Jones was added to the roster, expect the offense to be similar to what the Titans have established over the last two seasons. But there will likely be more shots down the field from quarterback Ryan Tannehill to Jones, Brown and Josh Reynolds.
Does Henry have to carry the ball over 300 times for the third consecutive season?
Yes! The Titans have expressed their desire to curtail Henry's workload before last season. Yet Henry still managed to carry the football 378 times during the regular season last year. Henry is the catalyst for the offense. Tennessee turns to the 6-foot-3, 247-pound back whenever they need to take control of the game or put it away. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Henry's 570 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime last season were the most by a player in a season over the last 2o years. Only Henry and former running back Tiki Barber (533) have gone over 500 yards in that span.
Henry was already likely to carry the ball over 300 times. Increasing the schedule to 17 games only makes that more likely. However, second-year back Darrynton Evans is healthy and should be able to carve out his own role, especially on third downs. Keep an eye on former Falcons back Brian Hill, who was signed in May and could get his share of carries as well.
Will new additions bolster last year’s abysmal defense?
In 2020, the Titans ranked 28th in yards allowed per game (398.3). Linebacker Bud Dupree, defensive lineman Denico Autry, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins were all signed in free agency to add an aggressive approach to the defense. Dupree and Autry combined for 15.5 sacks last season, which isn't far off from the Titans' team total of 19 in 2020. Jenkins plays with an edge and willingness to challenge receivers, which could rub off on the other defensive backs.
"He's going to be a leader on the field," Titans DB coach Anthony Midget said. "He just has that mentality that you want as a DB. He's had to scratch and claw and fight for everything that he's gotten in his life and he still has that mentality. I think it's going to bring a lot to our group and hopefully, he can mentor these younger guys as well."
The Titans also selected cornerbacks Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden, and linebacker Rashad Weaver in the draft. Farley and Molden should compete with second-year DB Kristian Fulton for reps at right corner and the nickel spot. Weaver adds much-needed depth to the outside linebacker group.