We’ve all heard the saying that iron sharpens iron. That competition brings out the best in true competitors.
The Tennessee Titans are hoping that’s the case as they begin the process of installing Matt LaFleur’s new offense, because it will get tested daily by a legitimate sparring partner…
Their own defense.
Remember Marcus Mariota’s first training camp in Tennessee four years ago? He was well into his second week of camp before he threw his first interception, and the feat made national news.
What was left out of that story was the fact that it came against the likes of Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Coty Sensabaugh, Tommie Campbell, and Marqueston Huff.
Not exactly the Fearsome Foursome of NFL secondaries.
While the 2015 defense as a whole finished with respectable numbers, the offense struggled mightily…finishing 30th in the league that season.
A rookie quarterback under center with few weapons outside of Delanie Walker was the main factor, but it was obvious that the offense’s performance in training camp was a mirage as they faced much better competition when the games counted.
That shouldn’t be the case in 2018.
In fact, Mariota’s camp numbers may be skewed in the other direction this summer as he faces the most talented defense the team has fielded since his arrival.
Tennessee’s defense is now littered with Pro Bowl caliber talent at all three levels. Jurrell Casey up front, Brian Orakpo at the second level, and a retooled secondary that now includes Super Bowl champions on the outside and a young and improving All Pro safety roaming around and making plays all over the field.
As a whole the defense has a combined 9 Pro Bowl appearances, a Second Team All Pro selection (Malcolm Butler), a First Team All Pro selection (Kevin Byard) and 4 Super Bowl rings between Butler and Logan Ryan.
And not only is this group talented, but they are also hungry to be the best in the league this season. So I don’t see them taking many days (or even plays) off to help the offense gain its traction.
Everything will have to be earned, and that’s a blessing in disguise for Mariota and the offense.
Take the first day of this year’s camp. Mariota was not flawless, he actually threw two interceptions. And who was responsible? The championship winning duo of Butler and Ryan.
The play that Butler made spoke volumes as he literally ripped the ball away from receiver Corey Davis like a schoolyard bully….then punted the ball away as his position group stormed the field to congratulate him.
The defense was dominant and owned day one.
Surely embarrassed, Davis returned to the field the next day with a hunger and competitive spirit we’ve yet to see and made several highlight reel catches in practice. Some over Butler.
Iron sharpening iron.
Tennessee’s new running back tandem (Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis ) will find the treading no easier in camp as the Titans return the core of a defense that finished 4th against the run last year…giving up less than 89 yards per game on the ground.
There could be some long days ahead for the offense this summer as they install a new offense against superior talent, but as they find their footing they can be confident to know that if they can move the ball consistently against this defense then they can do it against anyone.
Because not many opponents will have talent and cohesiveness of their own sparring partners.