These players may not be Pro Bowlers, but they certainly were crucial to the Tennessee Titans’ success in 2016.
Several Tennessee Titans were rewarded for their play in 2016 in the form of a Pro Bowl nod or, in Jack Conklin’s case, an All Pro selection. For a team that has generally lacked star power over the past few years, it felt good to see the Titans represented among the league’s best players. However, there are a few players who had a major impact on the Titans in 2016, despite not garnering the same level of recognition as the Pro Bowlers.
GM Jon Robinson and Head Coach Mike Mularkey made it clear that their goal for the 2016 season was to have a dominant offensive line and a bruising run game. So, imagine their concern when RG Chance Warmack, a former top 10 pick and three year starter, was lost for the year to an injured right hand . The offensive identity they had worked so hard to build was now in jeopardy. Thankfully, Jon Robinson had wisely claimed Josh Kline off waivers prior to the regular season starting. Kline had only been on the team for about three weeks, but the former Super Bowl Champion was ready. Not only was he an adequate replacement, but he was arguably an upgrade on Warmack. The offensive line was vital to the Titans’ success this year, and Kline deserves credit for salvaging it.
Tennessee had an above-average front seven this year, with Pro Football Focus rating them 13th overall. But when looking at Tennessee’s individual defensive statistics on the year, Karl Klug’s name certainly doesn’t jump out at you. He registered just 1.5 sacks, and was on the field for less than 400 snaps. But what he excels in doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. He had 12 hurries, which is just two less than Brian Orakpo, who had over 450 more snaps than Klug. Teams are aware of his pass rush ability, which means they can’t afford to double team Orakpo, Jurrell Casey, or Derrick Morgan. Klug may not get many sacks, but he allows the stars on the team to have an easier path to the QB. His run defense is also solid, and Pro Football focus ranked him as the number 22 overall interior defender going into the last game (before he tore his achilles). He is also a free agent this upcoming offseason, and the Titans should make it a priority to re-sign him.
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Return man Marc Mariani’s inclusion on this list may come as a surprise to some. He failed to score any touchdowns, and his return averages for both kick and punt returns were in the bottom half of the league. But the reason I have him on this list is due to one of Mularkey’s favorite words: consistency. This is something the Titans lacked last season at the returner position. 2015 featured a rotation of players returning kicks and punts, and it often resulted in poor field position and fumbles. Coaches and fans alike held their collective breath for every opposing team’s kick. Mariani’s stats weren’t impressive, but he displayed excellent decision making and avoided turnovers. Tennessee liked to win games with their rushing attack, so controlling time of possession and winning the field position battle was key. Mariani certainly did his part in helping the Titans achieve this goal.