There is a dimension and a role that the Tennessee Titans will have to replace after the Racey McMath loss, but fans are slightly overreacting to what he meant to this offense.
When McMath is on the field, he has the size to convince defenses that he is going to be a run-blocker, but his true value lies in his speed. Combining everything that McMath has physically, you have someone who is primed for a role as a deep threat that defenses can’t cheat by backing off of the line of scrimmage.
Unless/Until Josh Gordon is ready to play that role, the Titans have a few players who still make big plays down the field. Treylon Burks can win down the field in the same way that Corey Davis did, where the run game forces the defensive back to play flat-footed, and then the big, physical receiver can get behind the defender and win with positioning, great hands, and yards after the catch.
Robert Woods is another player who can win in the intermediate part of the field consistently enough to use a double move to get open deep when defenses start to try to take away the middle of the field.
Long story short, the Titans have players that they feel comfortable airing out the ball to down the field, so don’t worry about his role in the offense too much in the short term.
The real question is, how will they replace the snaps that they will lose from McMath? At worst, McMath was going to be the WR5 and in 2021 the WR5 played nearly 15% of the snaps. Not a huge part of the offense, but not an insignificant part either.
While the WR5 played 15% of the snaps in 2021, back in 2020 the WR5 only played 5% of the snaps. Even that number is probably higher than the coaching staff wanted because they had to replace A.J. Brown who missed half of the game.
The big reason for that change is that in 2020 the Tennessee Titans had three tight ends that served clear purposes and that could be used as matchup issues. In 2021, the tight end room wasn’t good at anything because everyone was trying to play above their skill level.
That 2020 room is what Jon Robinson focused on replicating this offseason, and the key to that is Austin Hooper who is taking over the role of the real TE1.
The domino effect of Austin Hooper in the Tennessee Titans offense
Now that the Titans have their version of Jonnu Smith, that allows Geoff Swaim to go back to his role of being the “blocking” tight end on the opposite side of the do-it-all tight end. Instead of Anthony Firkser as the receiving tight end, they now have Chig Okonkwo who was the fastest tight end at the combine and who has made a great impression this offseason.
The 2021 experiment was a failure and the Tennessee Titans took the passing game out of the hands of Todd Downing and put it in the hands of Tim Kelly. With Kelly spending nearly all of his time with the tight ends, it is fair to assume that we will see an offense that looks more like the 2020 version which heavily featured tight ends and the running game in order to set up explosive play-action passes.
That approach takes the pressure off of the offensive line and focuses more on methodical drives that force you to pay special attention to the tight ends and the running game before throwing the ball over the head of the defense for an explosive play.
It would be easier to do this with Racey McMath, but the key to the offense is the tight ends and having an OC willing to commit to this plan and the play-action pass. Fingers crossed that the Tennessee Titans have both this season.