Mularkey: Titans taking “next step” means lot of work ahead
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans won more games inside the AFC South, won the franchise’s first playoff game in 14 years and reached the divisional round for the first time since 2008.
Being embarrassed by the Patriots 35-14 has only reminded the Titans of how big a gap remains.
“We have a lot of work to do if we want to take the next step,” coach Mike Mularkey said Sunday.
Mularkey took a team that finished 3-13 for the No. 1 pick in the draft just two seasons ago to back-to-back 9-7 seasons and a 22-21 wild-card win in Kansas City before the ugly loss in New England on Saturday night.
Yet a statement from the team’s controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk a week ago has not ended speculation over Mularkey’s job security.
The coach said Sunday he has spoken with Strunk about the season and the future. He would not discuss if they talked about an extension with 2018 the last year on his contract, but he anticipates no changes on his coaching staff.
“We’re moving forward full speed ahead,” Mularkey said.
Mularkey also defended his offensive coordinator, saying Terry Robiskie did a “very good job.” Mularkey also says he’s happy with the development of his quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Mularkey says inconsistency was his offense’s biggest issue, and he believes Mariota will benefit from an offseason focused on football and not recovering from an injury.
Mariota finished the season on the field for the first time in his three seasons in the NFL, but he was limited after straining a quadriceps muscle early against the Patriots. He threw four touchdown passes with only one interception in the playoffs after throwing more interceptions (15) than TDs (13) in the regular season.
Here are some things to watch from the Titans this offseason:
WHITHER DICK LEBEAU
The defensive coordinator turned 80 in September and has been on a year-to-year basis with the Titans. Mularkey hasn’t talked to LeBeau yet. If he returns for the 2018 season, it would be LeBeau’s 60th season in the NFL as a player and coach overall.
The Titans led the AFC and ranked fourth in the league in rushing defense and fifth with 43 sacks in the regular season.
But the Titans finished 17th in points allowed per game and 25th against the pass after adding two new starters to the secondary in cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Johnathan Cyprien.
DeMarco Murray, the three-time Pro Bowl running back, finished with the worst season of his career with 659 rushing yards. He missed the final three games with an injured right knee.
Murray, who turns 30 on Feb. 12, still has two years left on the deal the Titans reworked when trading for the running back in March 2016. But Murray is due $6.25 million in 2018.
Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, struggled running in two of his three starts without Murray.
But he ran for a career-high 156 yards in the Titans’ comeback win in Kansas City , and Henry still has two years left on his rookie contract.
The Titans invested heavily in the draft trying to give Mariota help. But Corey Davis, the fifth pick overall out of Western Michigan, didn’t catch his first TD pass until the playoff loss to the Patriots after injuries cost him significant practice time.
Mularkey says he wants to see Davis and fellow rookie receiver Taywan Taylor benefit from an offseason in the weight room and on the field. Davis finished with 34 catches for 374 yards, while Taylor had just 16 for 231.
BOLSTER OFFENSIVE LINE
The Titans slipped from a year ago when they blocked for the AFC’s top rushing offense and tied for seventh in the league for fewest sacks allowed. The Titans ranked 15th in rushing and gave up more sacks (35) than a year ago.
Right guard Josh Kline will be a free agent, and left guard Quinton Spain dealt with injuries that kept him out of two games this season. They’ll likely start training camp with right tackle Jack Conklin on the physically unable to perform list after he tore his left ACL in New England .
The Titans have fewer holes, but not pressuring Tom Brady makes clear they need someone on defense who can make a difference. They will have the 25th pick in the first round in the draft.
They also have plenty of salary cap space with only a handful of pending free agents in defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, linebacker Avery Williamson, kicker Ryan Succop, receiver Eric Decker and linebacker Erik Walden.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker