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With Delanie Walker out the Titans young pass catchers must grow up in a hurry

First www.tennesseetitansteamonline.com ,
I want to wish Delanie Walker a speedy recovery. Not only has he been the Titans
best pass catcher for the last three seasons, but he’s also an incredible leader
and tone setter for this team and the Nashville community at large. Seeing him
go down trying to fight for extra yards at the end of Sunday’s game was the last
thing anyone wanted to witness. It should also be said that Walker is
irreplaceable. He’s one of the top two or three all-around tight ends in the NFL
right now. He runs great routes, has sure hands, makes plays after the catch,
and blocks his tail off every snap. Those types of guys don’t grow on trees and
they certainly don’t grow on the picked over tree that is NFL free agency in
September. The Titans have Jerome Cunningham on the practice squad if they’d
like to call him up to get a fourth tight end back on the roster quickly. They
could also give old familiar names like Anthony Fasano, Phillip Supernaw, or
Jace Amaro a call. Maybe even reach out to a guy like Coby Fleener if he has a
clean bill of health after being released by the Saints earlier this year with a
head injury that he was still dealing with from the previous season. All those
guys would be depth moves though. None of them — besides Cunningham and Supernaw
— would know the offense and frankly these guys just aren’t that good. There
isn’t an instant fix on the market like there was at safety. Walker’s
contributions, instead, will have to be replaced from within to the extent that
they can be. The bulk of this burden will suddenly fall on second year tight end
Jonnu Smith. The Titans drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft to be
Walker’s long term successor as the team’s leading tight end, but that time
frame will be sped up now. In his rookie season, Smith caught 18 passes for 157
yards and 2 touchdowns while being on the field for 54.3% of the Titans
offensive snaps. The Florida International product looked natural as a pass
catcher. At 6’-3” and 248 pounds, Smith is similar physically to Walker and even
offers many of the same explosive athletic traits.What Smith doesn’t have as a
pass catcher is the nuanced route running and trust with quarterback Marcus
Mariota that Walker had developed over three seasons working as a prime target
for the Titans quarterback. Unfortunately — or fortunately depending on your
viewpoint — that can only get better with time and reps. Smith will be getting
plenty of reps in practice moving forward and will need to take advantage of
them. What often gets undersold with Delanie Walker is his prowess as a blocker
in the run game. Phantom holding calls aside, Walker is rarely unable to get the
job done in the running game. That’s critical for a good tight end as it allows
your offense to truly be multiple within the same personnel packages. This is a
part of the game that Smith still struggles with. He is a willing blocker, but
not a very skilled one at this point in his career. The good news is that
blocking is something that can develop over time in the NFL, the bad news is
that the Titans don’t have any more time. They need Smith to play well right
away.Luke Stocker will certainly see more reps now and can help lighten the
blocking load foisted on Smith, but he’s not much of a pass catcher despite his
2 catches for 37 yardsstat line against the Dolphins. Stocker now becomes
absolutely critical to the Titans running game. The surprise decision to keep
camp standout Anthony Firkser as a 4th tight end now looks pretty good. Firkser,
like Smith, is far more receiver than blocker Tennessee Titans
, but he could give the Titans a chance to put some
multiple tight end sets on the field that can present a threat in the passing
game. His best quality is simply his feel for the game. He has a knack for
finding soft spots in the defense and the quickness to beat linebackers. It will
be interesting to see how much he is used next week. Of course, Walker was more
than “just” a tight end, so it will take more than tight ends to replace him. He
was Mariota’s go-to target on third downs, someone that the Titans young
quarterback looked for when things broke down. Rishard Matthews seems like the
natural fill-in here, but he was virtually invisible in Miami despite being on
the field for over 50% of the offensive snaps. That likely has a lot to do with
Matthews still being on the mend from a surgery to repair a torn meniscus, but
the Titans now need him to be back to his reliable self in a hurry.The go-to
receiver for the Titans in Week 1 was clearly Corey Davis who led all Titans
with a whopping 13 targets, resulting in 6 catches for 62 yards. I thought Davis
played well. Of the 7 targets that landed incomplete, 1 was a desperation throw
in the back of the endzone on 3rd down that never gave him a chance, 4 were
straight misses from the quarterback (2 for Mariota, 2 for Blaine Gabbert), and
2 appeared to be miscommunications (both with Gabbert, including one where it
appeared that Gabbert missed an adjustment that Davis was trying to signal to
him pre-snap). I’ll go deeper in to this when the All-22 comes out.If Davis
wasn’t already going to be the focal point of the passing game, he certainly
will be now. He is the most important non-quarterback on the Titans roster at
this point so he needs to stay healthy and be productive. He did a few good
things on Sunday, but Tennessee will need a lot more from him moving forward.
One other guy that I think factors in to replacing Walker’s production is Dion
Lewis. He had an outstanding debut — one of the few bright spots on a gloomy
Sunday — and showed his value as a pass catcher out of the backfield. That
ability will be extremely important moving forward. It will be interesting to
see if the Titans feature more 11-personnel or even go with more 2-back sets in
an attempt to get their best 11 on the field together.Walker was targeted at
team-high 111 times in 2017 — 24 more than the next closest Titan — so that
leaves a ton of opportunity for guys like Davis, Matthews, Smith, and Lewis.
Davis was supposed to be ready to take the next step this year anyway, but now
that step is more important than ever. Smith Tennessee Titans
, on the other hand, wasn’t supposed to be ready this year,
but he has to be now. You never know how a guy will respond when he’s tossed in
to the fire. You hope that Smith will step up to the challenge, but we will find
out starting next week against Houston. He’s not going to be Walker by any
means, but if the Titans can get a passable performance from him and some of his
other teammates to rise to the occasion, they may still be OK without their best
player on offense.Get well soon Delanie.Titans, Marcus Mariota Return to Heinz
Field November 16, 2017 marks the date of arguably the worst game of QB Marcus
Mariota’s professional career. Last season the Titans entered that Thursday
Night game with sights set on completing the sweep of the AFC North. The three
previous weeks included an overtime win against the winless Browns, and two
dogfights against the Ravens and the Bengals. The Titans earned wins in each
game, but by no more than seven points combined. It took a game winning drive
orchestrated by Mariota to squeak by Cincinnati, a drive that left the Titans QB
a little banged up. The key play took place with a little over one minute left
in regulation. On 2nd and 2, Mariota scrambled for a five yard gain and landed
directly on his face. Initially, he appeared concussed and the Titans called a
timeout following the play. After the game it was reported it was his
non-throwing shoulder that was hurt. I still am of the belief his bell was rung
- and it lingered into Pittsburgh.Prime Time SpotlightDefeating the Bengals had
put the Titans on the map, as it was their best start in nearly a decade. In
order to gain national respect, a win in Pittsburgh against one of the AFC
powerhouses would help the Titans case.Instead, a nightmare performance ensued.
It was the debut of the new “SkyCam” view as the primary angle. Through that
view, Titans fans were left scratching their heads on errant Mariota throws and
stuttering runs in open space by former RB DeMarco Murray. Charles LeClaire-USA
TODAY SportsIn Mariota’s showdown against “Big” Ben Roethlisberger, he was on
the wrong side of the stat sheet. Mariota threw four interceptions to
Roethlisberger’s four touchdowns.Although the Titans defense was able to bottle
up RB Le’Veon Bell on the ground Tennessee Titans
, he still did some damage as a receiver by adding 57 yards
to his 103 total yards from scrimmage. The Steelers capitalized on the Titans
turnovers, adding nine points following each interception. A quick score on the
first play of the second half pulled the Titans within two points - which goes
unnoticed when the final score makes the game look like more of a blowout than
it truly was.Three consecutive Steelers touchdowns put the game out of reach and
didn’t help the Titans build any respect as a contender in the AFC.The Steelers’
playmaking receiver - and current Madden cover guy - WR Antonio Brown carved up
the Titans secondary , generating highlight reel catches with ease.Yes, Mariota
doesn’t play defense, so how is he to blame for Brown’s monstrous night? The
turnovers and inability to move the offense downfield or generate touchdowns is
how.Mariota must demonstrate his decision making has improved.New Year, New
OffenseMariota - in typical Mariota fashion - took all of the blame for the loss
and cited making “bad decisions”. The third preseason game is holds the most
weight in terms of importance. Not in terms of points, but in terms of reps. The
starters typically see the most action in the third week of the
preseason.Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY SportsMariota has played a total of
three series. He marched the team down the field on the opening possession
against Green Bay. It took him 12 plays against Tampa Bay to put points on the
board. Overall, Mariota has looked like a quarterback who is finding comfort in
the execution of a new offense, but still has room for improvement. Some of his
passes have sailed and there may has been some miscommunication with his
receivers, but overall I’d say his progress is natural.As Dan Orlovsky has
already pointed out the process will take time, but once everything begins to
click for Mariota, a “meteoric takeoff” should take place. This week, Mariota
hopes to make some plays and more positive memories at Heinz Field. HC Mike
Vrabel has indicated we may see more from the running game this week, but expect
Mariota to have his share of opportunities to make plays through the air.
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