On Wednesday night, the Tennessee Titans hosted over 5,000 season ticket members for an event at the Music City Center in Nashville called “Titans & Tuxedos.” It served as a chance for fans to mingle, eat some finger food, and recap the exciting 2016 season.
The event also featured an hour-long program in which various awards were presented to recognize outstanding performances from the 2016 season. Several Titans’ alumni served as presenters for the awards, including Frank Wycheck, Blaine Bishop, Lorenzo Neal, Brad Hopkins, Keith Bulluck, and Kevin Dyson.
Each of the award winners answered a few questions from Mike Keith, the Voice of the Titans. However, instead of dwelling on the excitement that last season provided each and every week, Titans players were more concerned with what the team was not able to accomplish.
RB DeMarco Murray, who shared the “Titans Offensive Player of the Year” award with TE Delanie Walker, shared that “We weren’t anywhere close to finishing where we wanted to last year, but we believe in ourselves and our ability as a team to improve next year.”
Walker added that while the team undoubtedly improved in 2016, 2017 will be all about “taking the next step.”
Aside from problems in the secondary, the Titans’ defense was very stout in 2016, due in large part to their front seven. Two members of that group, OLB Brian Orakpo and Jurrell Casey, shared the award for “Titans Defensive Player of the Year.”
Casey was very quick to acknowledge the success of the defense last season, noting that they were a top 10 team in both sacks and run defense. But, as with Murray and Walker, he chose to spend more time dwelling on their shortcomings.
“Last year we were only a couple sacks from being number one. Only a couple stops. We gotta make sure that next year, we do that.”
Orakpo also looked ahead to next season, talking specifically about teamwork. “Everybody’s gotta have the heart, not desire, to make a play. Next year expect big things, because we expect big things from ourselves.”
After winning just five total games in the previous two seasons combined, no one really expected much from the Titans last year. Even after a blockbuster offseason full of trades, elite draft picks, and quality free agent signings, people still questioned whether the Titans would be able to win more than six or seven games.
But, as Mike Mularkey repeatedly said throughout the season, the Titans like the underdog mentality. They used it as fuel to produce the franchise’s first winning season in five years. But, as Delanie Walker declared, it’s time to take the next step.
The Titans may have been underdogs last year, but they are far from holding that title heading into 2017. With one of the best offensive lines in football, an outstanding franchise quarterback, five Pro Bowlers, and two first round draft picks, the Titans should be favorites to win the AFC South next season.
For the first time since 2009, the Titans have high expectations. Last year, they succeeded with the underdog mentality. In 2017, they’ll have to take the next step with a great deal of pressure.