Tennessee Titans: Worst to first – o’line’s remarkable transition sparks turnaround

When Marcus Mariota was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2015 he played behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.

One could even argue that the unit was one of the team’s worst since moving the franchise to Nashville and donning the two-tone blue.

The Titans were 25th in rushing offense that season, and would have been last if not for the contributions of Mariota…who tacked on yards while running for his life.

The numbers back it up, Tennessee was dead last in sacks allowed that year as well. The Titans finished 3-13, and the lack of protection caused Mariota to miss four games due to injuries sustained on sacks.

Jon Robinson took over as general manager last January and immediately set his sights on fixing that. He did, and when the o’line’s fortunes changed…so did the team’s.

One of Robinson’s first free agent signings was center Ben Jones from the Houston Texans. A tough nosed, intelligent, and durable player with playoff experience.

He also drafted right tackle Jack Conklin with the 8th overall pick of the draft, and claimed offensive lineman Josh Kline off waivers after he was released by the New England Patriots.

Taylor Lewan struggled at left tackle his first two years in the league. He was stripped of his captaincy and in danger of being labeled a bust after being selected with the 11th overall pick of the 2014 draft.

But fate intervened when Ken Whisenhunt, the coach that drafted him, was fired and replaced by Mike Mularkey halfway through the 2015 season.

Coach Whiz ran a pass-happy offense based on multiple personnel groupings, which was a completely different style than what Lewan played at Michigan.

Mularkey comes in with his smash mouth philosophy and Lewan looks like a different player.

The one that mauled defenders in Michigan’s pro style run-first offense.

Lewan, Conklin, Jones, Kline, and Quinton Spain made for a formidable band of physical players that quickly turned into brothers under the tutelage of new offensive line coach Russ Grimm…

Embed from Getty Images

But no one knew it would be this quick.

Behind the revamped offensive line, Mariota and the offense climbed to third in the league in rushing and seventh in sacks allowed in 2016.

The Titans, coincidentally, improved their record to 9-7. And they did so by keeping games close with a solid rushing attack and few negative plays in the passing game.

By season’s end the Titans’ o’line was regarded as one of the up and coming units in the league.

Pro Football Focus named them the 2016 Offensive Line of the Year. Lewan was named to his first Pro Bowl, and Conklin was the first Titans rookie to make First Team All Pro since Jevon Kearse in 1999.

With the entire starting line back in 2017, it appears that the unit’s ascent plans on picking up where it left off in 2016.

After three games the Titans have the league’s second best rushing attack, while leading the NFL in fewest sacks allowed.

And they did so against Jacksonville and Seattle, two defenses that finished in the top 6 last season.

Dare I say….coincidentally enough, the Titans are 2-1 for the first time since 2013 and widely considered a serious threat to unseat Houston as AFC South champions.

Tennessee’s turnaround in the win-loss column was remarkably quick, thanks in large part to the o’line’s remarkably quick transition from worst to first.

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