The Tennessee Titans offense has had a solid foundation coming into this season. Marcus Mariota continued to progress as a quarterback in his second season, throwing seven more touchdown passes while throwing one less interception (26 touchdowns and nine interceptions in the 2016 season) while playing three more games. The running back position, well there is no worries there either. DeMarco Murray had one of his best seasons in his NFL career, amassing 1,287 yards and 12 total touchdowns and behind him, they have a beast of a running back in second-year running back Derrick Henry, who is capable of doing some things himself. Those positions along with the offensive line were not big worries of the Titans this offseason, but the upgrading of the pass-catchers for Mariota was a concern.
The Titans made some plays in through the air, but the Titans just seemed to be missing something with their wide receivers and tight ends. Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker were solid at the wide receiver and tight end positions respectively, but when those two were shut down, there was not many other dependable weapons. So in the offseason, the Titans drafted and brought in players that would be able to, potentially, be that new playmaker they needed. Well, Corey Davis, whom the Titans drafted fifth overall in this past draft, is one guy that many expect to be a playmaker for the Titans with his speed and size, standing at 6’3″. Another guy people think will be a playmaker for the Titans is veteran Eric Decker at wide receiver. Those guys could be the playmakers the Titans need, but there is one player that many may be overlooking that could be the exact fit in the Exotic Smashmouth offense the Titans run.
Coming out of Florida International, many were not thinking as much about Jonnu Smith. He was oft-injured during his last two seasons in college and that kept some scouts down on him. Even though there were not many high on him, the Titans saw something in him and took him in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Once he was selected, there had to be some people that were wondering why he was even here. The Titans had Delanie Walker, who is the entrenched as the Titans starting tight end. After that, the Titans have a couple guys that they liked at that position. While it seemed the position was set and the Titans were drafting a guy that they did not need, the opposite actually seems to be the case.
Although it has only been two preseason games, the Titans may have found something in Smith. The 6’3″, 248 pound tight end did not seem like something special when he was drafted to many Titans fans, but he definitely could be. The thing that you notice right away about him is his ability to move in regards to his routes. The young tight end has burst out of his routes that no other tight end besides Walker has for the Titans. Also, one thing that he has done is show that he can catch the ball with his hands. One of the knocks against him when he was in college was that he caught the ball with his body and that would ultimately doom him in the professional ranks. Well, so far he has not only shown he can catch the ball clean with his hands, but he has also shown that he has a little wiggle with the football, making people miss when in the open field in a one-on-one situation with an opponent.
“He did a lot of good things in the game,” said Titans head coach Mike Mularkey after the Titans preseason win versus the Carolina Panthers on Saturday. “Again, there’s plenty for him to get better at because of all the things we’re asking him to do, but he is really playing well for us. He made some good plays.”
Smith may not be the ideal weapon that people would think of, but looking at the Titans offense, he fits perfectly into what they need. If you notice the Titans offense from last season, they often deployed two tight ends on the field. Being that they are primarily a running team, the Titans would use that physical lineup to impose their will on opponents with Murray and that offensive line. They often would use that lineup for big plays in the passing game. Those huge chunk plays allowed the Titans to light up the scoreboard at points during the season. That scoring was good for the Titans, but the backup tight end was not a weapon many had to worry about. With Smith, the Titans now have a guy that has the opportunity to line up as an in-line tight end while showing he has the ability to work the middle of the field like Walker. Of course at first, the Titans will probably not use him as much when he first makes his appearances on the field. As time goes on, there will be no way that he can be ignored on the field, as he is truly a weapon.
“When he has the ball in his hand and he’s running around I think he’s very dynamic,” said Mariota. “Again, that’s another young guy. Part of that group that we’re going to need those types of plays from them throughout the year.”
The talented rookie tight end may not be on the radar for many out there, but he definitely has an opportunity to make some things happen with Tennessee. Fans of the Titans got a chance to see a glimpse of what he could do when lining up against the Panthers this past Saturday with his nimble feet and good hands. The thing that factors even better for him is that he will only get better as time goes on. He is not the greatest in-line blocker and for a running team, that has to get better. But for a team in the Titans that needs more weapons in the passing game, this Walker clone will truly become a guy that Marcus Mariota will enjoy throwing the football to.
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