The Tennessee Titans open 2020 NFL training camp on July 28 at St. Thomas Sports Park in Nashville, Tennessee. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:
Can quarterback Ryan Tannehill repeat his 2019 success?
The Titans are returning 10 out of 11 starters on offense from last season including tight end Jonnu Smith and second-year receiver A.J. Brown. Tannehill developed a special connection with Brown and Smith during his 10-game run as the starting quarterback. The two pass-catchers accounted for 1,098 of Tannehill's 2,742 passing yards last season. Tannehill worked extensively with Smith in South Florida during the offseason so their connection should give them an advantage on game day.
"Ryan is making me better, I’m making him better, and we’re just building that chemistry on anything you can imagine as far as what it takes to be a quarterback, a receiver, tight end," Smith said in May.
While it will be difficult to duplicate a 70.3 completion percentage and an average of 9.6 yards per completion, Tannehill can still be productive even with a slight drop-off. Most of Tannehill's damage came by way of the play-action passing game (76.5 completion percentage and an average of 13.6 yards per completion), which should still be effective with Derrick Henry once again posing the rushing threat. Tannehill still has room for improvement -- namely finding a way to better connect with wide receivers Adam Humphries and Corey Davis. But having another year together with offensive coordinator Arthur Smith should help as well.
Will Henry continue to get a heavy workload?
Without a doubt. The Titans relied heavily on Henry toward the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. Henry carried the ball a total 383 times last year (including playoffs). No other back that carried the ball at least 200 times had a better average per carry (5.1) than Henry, who will continue to get a high volume of carries because he is the rare back that actually gets better as his rushing attempts increase.
"I think Derrick trains and prepares to be able to handle that load," Vrabel said. "He’s very unique -- there are not that many running backs in the league like Derrick, because there’s not that many players in college that are like Derrick. He’s durable and he’s one of the best-conditioned players on our team. "
Derrick Henry isn't settling after leading the NFL in rushing in 2019, as he works out on a hill in preparation for the upcoming season.
A heavy workload from Henry is part of the Titans' formula for success. Since 2016, the Titans have a 20-5 record when Henry carried the ball at least 16 times. Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith knows the offense starts with the Pro Bowl running back. He alluded to the chemistry that the offensive line developed down the stretch as a key reason for the extended touches for Henry. That will continue this season with Dennis Kelly or first-rounder Isaiah Wilson taking over for Jack Conklin at right tackle. Henry will likely get more opportunities to make plays in the passing game as well.
What can be expected from Corey Davis in a contract year if A.J. Brown is WR1 for the Titans?
More consistent play. Since 2017, Davis had three or fewer receptions in 28 games. Unlike many of the other offensive players, Davis' stats didn't spike up when Tannehill took over at quarterback. The Titans are expecting 2020 to be a different case.
"I’ve been in a lot of meetings with Corey, and his growth. I think he’ll take another step for us," Arthur Smith said when asked of Davis' role this upcoming season.
There certainly isn't a lack of talent. Tannehill has already seen what Davis can do and feels it's going to show more on game day.
"I think that he’s such a talented guy and has so much to bring to the table," Tannehill said in April. "Obviously looking forward to building on what we started last year and our rapport, and looking forward to him making some big plays for us because I know he has the talent, I’ve seen him make the plays. Really excited to see him just keep growing and make those plays in 2020."
With Brown likely drawing the opposing defense's top cover corner, Davis will get better matchups which should allow him to break free more often. That should lead to more targets and better production.
Did the Titans improve their pass rush?
Not definitively. It seems the Titans are taking more of a committee approach to impacting the quarterback. They brought back Kamalei Correa and Reggie Gilbert while also adding 2016 NFL sack leader Vic Beasley. Last year's sack leader, Harold Landry, will be back in the mix along with promising second-year outside linebacker Derick Roberson. D'Andre Walker will be expected to contribute as well. But their outside linebacker unit lacks a truly dominant game-changer. Adding Jadeveon Clowney could change that.
Who will assume the leadership role left open with Casey no longer on the roster?
That responsibility falls on veteran defensive lineman DaQuan Jones. The seventh-year veteran is the longest-tenured defensive lineman for the Titans. Jones has already established himself as a leader in the weight room where younger players such as Landry and Isaiah Mack have worked with him. Unlike Casey, Jones isn't an outwardly vocal player. His leadership stems more from an "actions speak louder than words" approach.
"DaQuan is probably one of the most aggressive physical people I've ever met," Mack said. "Seeing him in practice and seeing him work out every day is so impressive. I am lucky to be around so much good football."