Predicting where the Titans offense is headed
The tight end is a major part of the Titans offense. Delanie Walker played on 66 percent of the snaps last season. Anthony Fasano played on 50 percent of the snaps. Phillip Supernaw was in on 28 percent and Dennis Kelly was in on 13 percent of the snaps. The Titans offense has been dissimilar to the other 31 teams in the NFL.
Some have said the Titans want to have New England’s two tight end offense. That’s not a bad goal. If this happens, then I suppose they would be dissimilar to the other 30 teams rather than 31. It’s not a point to quibble, just to understand they are unique. They are not sending out a three wide receiver set every down or reminding people of the run n’ shoot days of Warren Moon.
The evolution of football offense is not something I want to go into in depth here. We have had some pretty offenses like the West Coast offense. We have had revolutionaries like Tom Landry. Then there are guys like Chuck Knoll and John Madden. Not to insinuate that they were not as clever or creative, but their offenses were about brute strength, power, and domination. Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs, and Bill Belichick would all credit Chuck Knoll as someone they studied and admired years ago. They each developed their own style and were not Chuck Knoll 2.0, but …bear with me please, I have a point.
cover32 Exclusive: A one-on-one exclusive interview with new Dolphins’ P, Matthew Haack
What’s Trending: Fact or fiction; debunking the Madden Curse
2017 Free Agency: Examing the top three remaining WR’s still available in free agency
This Week in NFL History: Looking back at the NFL’s most impactful moments from May 14 – May 20
One of my favorite quotes comes from Bill Parcells many years ago. He said he wanted to line up his offense, have the defense know exactly what play was coming, and execute the play well anyway. This fired Bill up. “His boys” were dominating. They were winning every battle at the line of scrimmage and performing their tasks perfectly.
Gibbs would win a Superbowl with Timmy Smith running the same play many times and being virtually unstoppable behind his “hogs” offensive line.
Coach Mike Mularkey would like nothing more than to call one play for an entire season and walk away with the Lombardi Trophy. That level of overpowering domination is (pardon the expression) the cloth Mularkey is cut from. Mularkey’s offenses have had creativity as did Gibbs and Parcells and Knoll and… but it’s this base offense, this base mentality that is ever present. You can almost hear Tim Allen’s old Home Improvement grunts when Mularkey discusses his offensive line and tight ends.
When Mularkey took over as coach, he hired a “hog.” Hall of famer Russ Grimm was on the linemen that led the way for Smith. He teaches the Titans line and their improvement last year was outstanding.
Mularkey took over a team with arguably the best blocking tight end of the last ten years in Craig Stevens. Anthony Fasano was both an outstanding blocker and a good receiver. Delanie Walker was one of the best receiving tight ends in the game and a more than capable blocker. These were more cogs for his domination. The Titans had the offensive line and these guys, lined up alongside them, were more pieces that could push the other team around.
The Titans have underwent an enormous change since this time last year. Stevens retired and Fasano left via free agency. They added Dennis Kelly by trade, Tim Lelito via free agency, and Jonnu Smith in the draft. This is not the same unit at all.
Phillip Supernaw is “next in line” to replace Fasano. I am not of the opinion that he will perform as well. I think he is “fine” but not special. We shall see. He will get “first crack at it.” If he can step up his game, the Titans offense can remain as is.
Jerome Cunningham is a very good blocker but questionable receiver. Jace Amaro is a wonderful receiver and poor blocker. Can either of them fix their deficiencies and replace Fasano?
Dennis Kelly and Tim Lelito are offensive linemen “dressed up as tight ends.”
Rookie Jonnu Smith will have his own growing pains to overcome. He has extremely favorable reviews for both blocking and receiving. Very few tight ends put up gaudy stats as rookies. It is highly likely that it takes Smith some time to develop and adjust to the NFL game.
How will the Titans handle this massive turnover?
When Gibbs was faced with this scenario, he switched from lining a tight end on the line of scrimmage and added an h-back instead. An h-back is usually some sort of hybrid between a fullback and a tight end. In this time of the infamous 4-6 defense of the Bears and Lawrence Taylor, Gibbs needed an offensive player to counteract the blitzing force. The H-back is usually lined up “caddy-corner” to the tight end. This created a gap between the h-back and the defender allowing him a step to react rather than dealing with LT at the line of scrimmage. When the player wasn’t blocking, he was a capable receiver that the defense must account for. He was a dual threat. When Gibbs returned to football he implemented his philosophy right away. His tight end was Chris Cooley and his h-back was Mike Sellers.
Gibbs is an “Air Coryell disciple” and one of the original NFL coaches to employ a three wide receiver offense. The Titans drafted two wide receivers after adding two last season. I don’t foresee a wholesale change in their offense. I can see this Gibbs style developing over time; over several years, the Titans offense would eventually mirror Gibbs’ offense. (For trivia folks-Along with Grimm playing for Gibbs, Antwaan Randel El played for both Gibbs and Mularkey)
For 2017, I simply think the Titans offense will evolve to adding an h-back as Gibbs did. Fullback Jalston Fowler is a beast of a mobile man. Smith is well suited to be an h-back. The extra gap between the H-back and the defender might be just what Amaro needs to become a top notch blocker. Any of these three playing h-back would allow the Titans to continue to dominate the line of scrimmage.
Mularkey likes to throw out trickery every now and then. Each of the three players (and Delanie Walker) can line up in the backfield as a traditional fullback or in the slot. In fact, they have all lined up in both spots before and have experience doing so. This lends to an unpredictable part of the offense. They can send out the same people into the huddle and yet the defense will not know where this player is going to line up.
The Titans divisional foes added defensive players this offseason and return some injured ones. If the h-back worked just fine against Taylor and the 4-6 defense, it can work against JJ Watt and Jadaveon Clowney. The h-back would counteract the defenses in the division nicely.
Tim Lelito and/or Dennis Kelly can still be the third tight end when the Titans want to line up a million players on the line of scrimmage for a key fourth and one opportunity.
Would Delanie Walker still be a major part of the offense? Chris Cooley was a pro bowl tight end under Gibbs.
Marcus Mariota was injured last season and keeping him upright is a major concern for the 2017 season. An h-back would provide him with both an additional blocker and a “dump off guy.”
In every way, this suits the Titans. I’m not saying Mularkey will totally imitate Gibbs. I’m hopeful this will come about and Mularkey will put his own spin on a Gibbs style offense.