It’s no secret that the Tennessee Titans worked tirelessly this offseason to upgrade the talent on a roster that won just five games the last two years combined, evidenced by 22 new faces on this year’s opening day roster.
But one could argue that the new winning culture that we see today can be attributed to the faces that are no longer around.
The culture change started last November, when controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk pulled the plug on the Ken Whisenhunt experiment halfway through the 2015 season.
In the days and weeks following his departure, word out of Titans headquarters confirmed that the former head coach fostered an atmosphere of fear and intimidation among players and coaches.
That’s fine when you’re winning, which of course, the Titans were not.
Mike Mularkey, who had the interim tag removed this offseason, has taken the complete opposite approach with this team as the full-time head coach.
This year’s version of the Titans appears to be a close unit, an important component to changing a losing culture.
On the field, several malcontent and unproductive players are no longer around. Names like Justin Hunter, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Bishop Sankey, all second round picks under the previous general manager, never made it out of training camp under the new regime.
Does anyone miss them today? I’ll wait…..
Even when the subtracting was not intentional, as in the case of veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson’s abrupt retirement early in the season, it still worked out for Tennessee.Embed from Getty Images
Johnson’s departure paved the way for free agent wide receiver Rishard Matthews, who blossomed into one of the most productive scoring threats in the AFC shortly after.
Keep in mind, Matthews was nothing more than an afterthought the first month of the season when Johnson was getting a good number of game day snaps.
In the case of cornerback Perrish Cox, however, the subtraction was absolutely intentional.
Although Cox had struggled mightily for several straight games, it still came as surprise when Tennessee announced his release a few weeks ago, especially with the lack of depth an experience in the Titans’ secondary.
Cox’s departure paved the way for rookie fifth round cornerback Leshaun Sims…who has played lights out in his absence.Embed from Getty Images
Sims’ interception in the end zone last week jump started Tennessee’s improbable comeback in Kansas City. The Titans were down 17-7 at the time and were in serious danger of falling too far behind.
Two weeks ago former first round pick Kendall Wright was deactivated for Tennessee’s critical home game against the Broncos, after the receiver missed team meetings the day before.
The Titans activated seldom used wide receiver Tre McBride, last year’s seventh round pick, for the game. McBride rewarded coach Mularkey with a game changing special teams play late in the game.
With Denver needing a field goal to tie the game on their final offensive possession, McBride downed the punt inside the five yard line with an acrobatic play to stay out of the end zone and avoid a touchback.
By the way…who was the first player to hug Mularkey after Ryan Succop’s game-winning field goal last week?
Nope…Wright…who was reactivated the following week.
Talk about a close unit…
Unproductive and malcontent players seemed to have nine lives in Tennessee the last several years, but the new regime has made it abundantly clear that those days are over.
As a result, there is a new culture in the locker room…and a new product on the field.