Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey has gone on record. He wants this year’s team to play “exotic smash mouth” football on offense.
But what exactly does that mean?
The term was not started by Mularkey, but it was the name used to describe the Pittsburgh Steelers when he was their offensive coordinator from 2001-2003.
Pittsburgh’s smash mouth element under Mularkey can be summed up in two words…
The 5’11, 250 pound wrecking ball of a running back punished defenders throughout his Hall of Fame career. Opposing teams knew they were in for a long day of physicality when the “Bus” was lined up in the Steelers’ backfield.
The Titans now have a pair of physical downhill running backs of their own after acquiring DeMarco Murray and rookie second round pick Derrick Henry this offseason.
How the carries will be split between the two now knows as “Thunder and Thunder” will remain a point of discussion throughout training camp, and perhaps throughout the season.
One thing that is not debatable, though, is the fact that neither will shy away from contact. Whoever is toting the rock for Tennessee this year will undoubtedly bring that smash mouth element along with them.
Which brings us to the question…who brings the “exotic” element?
In Pittsburgh it was Kordell “Slash” Stewart (qb, wr), Hines Ward ( wr) and Antwaan Randel El (wr, qb).
Stewart was an athletically gifted mobile qb that also spent time in Pittsburgh playing wide receiver. Ward was a physical receiver with qb experience and kick return instincts in the open field, and Randle El was a former qb that did a little bit of everything for the Steelers.
All three were prolific in the realm of gadget plays.
The Titans also have a trio of players that can bring that exotic element to the offense this season.
Marcus Mariota – QB
Like Stewart, Marcus Mariota is also an athletically gifted mobile quarterback that can beat you any number of ways. He is the only player in the entire league to record a passing, rushing, and receiving touchdown of at least 40 yards last season.
He was also prolific as the lead guy in Oregon’s high-flying, hand is quicker than the eye attack in college.
While Mariota was discouraged from using his legs under Ken Whisenhunt, the new regime definitely will.
As long as the Titans are smart about it, then Mariota (and his legs) could definitely give opposing defenses problems this season.
Dexter McCluster – RB
Like Randle El in Pittsburgh, Dexter McCluster plays the role of Swiss Army Knife for Tennessee. His shifty, scat-back style of running is in direct contrast to Murray and Henry, giving the Titans the flexibility to switch up their look in the run game.
And like Hines Ward, McCluster has great kick return instincts, making him a threat in open space. The type of player that can have a maximum impact on minimal touches if put in a position to succeed.
McCluster’s skill set is tailor-made for exotic gadget play packages.
Kendall Wright – WR
Wide receiver Kendall Wright is another player that can give the Titans’ offense some exotic flexibility.
Wright also played and thrived in a spread-option attack in college (Baylor), and should be the most comfortable of all the Titans’ receivers in excelling in those packages.
Also most dangerous in the open field, Wright has done the most damage when he gets the ball quickly with room to maneuver.
And like Hines Ward, Wright can be an effective option running the ball. In 2014, his last healthy season, Wright averaged just under 14 yards per rushing attempt.
Of course, none of this matters if Murray, Henry, and the offensive line do not master the smash mouth part.
But if they do, then the Titans have some versatile weapons at their disposal to execute the exotic part.
By the way, the Steelers finished as a top ten offense two of the three years that Mularkey oversaw that side of the ball. The exotic smash mouth approach apparently worked.
If the Titans can come close to that level of production this season, then they will be well on their way back to league respectability.