Simply put, the Tennessee Titans special teams unit must improve.
Special Teams Woes
The Tennessee Titans got down early against the Houston Texans on October 2, 2016; 17 to 3 to be exact. The Titans defense started to get some stops and the offense seemed to get into a rhythm. The game was tied at 20 with 56 seconds left in the 3rd quarter. The Texans defense stopped our offense and we had to punt. The final score of the game came when Will Fuller ran a 67 yard punt back, and the Titans lost the game. Although this was the worst of the special teams mistakes in this game, there was also another. The Titans were lining up to return a punt and were called for a 12 men on the field penalty, which gave the opportunity for the Texans to kick a field goal instead of punting the ball.
They also allowed the Miami Dolphins to return a punt for touchdown, the Cleveland Browns to recover an onside kick, and other special teams penalties and miscues throughout the entire year.
The Titans finished, according to NFL.com, 26th in punt coverage and 18th in kickoff return average yards allowed. They also finished 20th in punt return average, and 26th in kickoff return average. These numbers are not good at all, and they led to the firing of Mike Mularkey’s good friend Bobby April the day after the Houston Texans game. The Titans hired Steve Hoffman to be the new Special Teams Coordinator.
Through Free Agency
Jon Robinson decided to attack the special teams side of the ball early and often during the free agency period. The Oakland Raiders had one of the better special teams units in all of football last year, so Robinson set his eye on two of their best special teamers last year. Brynden Trawick, a safety, was one of the guys that the Titans agreed to terms with. He has only started one game in his four-year NFL career, but he is one of the best special teams players in the league. Daren Bates is the other player that the Titans signed for special teams purposes. He is a linebacker that played for the Rams and Raiders. He also returned a fumbled kickoff return for a touchdown against the Titans’ division rival, the Houston Texans. Both of these guys were signed to make the coverage teams better.
Eric Weems was a guy that was also signed to improve the special teams. Weems was a player that led the Falcons in many of the major special teams categories. According to Jim Wyatt at titansonline.com, Weems led the team in punt return average (11.4 yards), kick return average (23 yards), and had 15 special teams tackles. Adding Weems makes it hard for the previous return man, Marc Mariani, to come back to the team this year.
Through the Draft
But Jon Robinson didn’t stop there. He started to add to the special teams through the draft also. First round cornerback Adoree Jackson is a guy that can make a huge difference in the return game. He is electric with the ball in his hands. Look for him to return punts and kickoffs for most of the season. Although this hasn’t been necessarily stated by anyone in the Titans front office, Jayon Brown, Josh Carraway, and Jonnu Smith will probably see some action on punt and kickoff coverage teams this year.
Expectations on the rise
With a new coordinator, and many new players that will play on special teams, the Titans have to improve this year on this side of the football if they are going to be a top team in the AFC. Many people are projecting the Titans to win the AFC South and make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. But if the special teams isn’t “special”, then the Titans are going to have some problems. With the additions made, the Titans should be MUCH better than they were last year. Let’s hope this side of the football can have a complete turnaround.
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