Jim Wyatt, Senior Writer/Editor, TitansOnline.com
The Titans tripled their win total in 2016, winning nine games. But no one was making any Super Bowl guarantees on the first day of the offseason program.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Brian Orakpo didn’t take the bait.
In his mind, it’s silly to make any Super Bowl guarantees in April.
“We have work to do, man,’’ the Titans linebacker replied Monday when asked about his expectations for 2017. “What do I look like, a sucker? We have work to do. Expectations are very high within ourselves. But we are not talking about all that Super Bowl stuff right now, because we have a lot of work to do.”
The Titans reported for the start of the team’s offseason program at Saint Thomas Sports Park on Monday, and the message coming from the players was easy to decipher.
Yes, the team made great strides in 2016, but that means nothing now.
“The message from this morning: Last year is last year, but obviously we are on the right track,’’ running back DeMarco Murray said. “We have a year under our belt, knowing each other, and knowing what it takes to accomplish what we want to accomplish.
“But I don’t think anybody is patting ourselves on the back from last year — nine wins and no playoffs. Last year is last year, but this year we obviously want to get better and make something happen.”
After a 2-14 finish in 2014, and a 3-13 mark in 2015, the Titans looked like a different team in 2016 under the direction of head coach Mike Mularkey.
After a 1-3 start, the Titans ended the season with wins in eight of their final 12 games. The Titans posted wins over six teams with winning records, and five teams headed to the playoffs — the Dolphins, Chiefs, Packers, Lions and Texans. They also beat the Broncos (9-7), the defending Super Bowl champs.
The Titans finished the season 5-3 at Nissan Stadium, where they ended the year with four straight wins. They finished second in the division behind the Texans, ahead of the Indianapolis Colts (8-8) and Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13).
It lit a spark.
“Everybody knows what we are capable of,’’ defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said. “And we are trying to build off what we did last year. (Last year) gives you confidence, but as we all know, you have to put it behind you because we know every year things change. Our goal right now is to take each day step by step, and keep on building these bricks. Our goal is to make sure we are taking one game at a time.”
The Titans return all five Pro Bowlers from a year ago – Orakpo, Murray, Casey, tackle Taylor Lewan and tight end Delanie Walker. Since the end of last season, the Titans have added some new faces as well, including former Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan, former Jaguars safety Johnathan Cyprien and former Broncos defensive lineman Sylvester Williams.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota will be back to run the show.
The continuity should help, along with the new additions.
Orakpo, Murray and Casey all said the Titans need to concentrate on working on the little things day in and day out during the offseason.
“The mindset is we definitely have high expectations for ourselves within our team, but we have a lot of work to do,’’ Orakpo said. “I know it sounds cliché, but we do. Last season was last season, and we definitely did a lot of great things, not only for our team, but for the city in general. The fans, everybody is excited. But it would mean absolutely nothing if we don’t come back in here and get to work and get better.
“We did a lot of great things (last year). (This year) is the start of something special we feel like if we put in the work, and I know we will. But we have work to do. I am going to keep preaching it, I am going to keep stressing it, because it means absolutely nothing if we don’t have the right mindset. We want more. Truth be told, we want more. But we have to put in the work. It means absolutely nothing to talk. We have to get better.”
Murray said the next few months could provide a big jumpstart to the 2017 season.
Murray, heading into his seventh NFL season, called last offseason the best he’s experienced as a pro from a team-building perspective.
“I think this is the most important part for an NFL team, for the next nine weeks, to try and lay the foundation,’’ Murray said. “Obviously you want to take care of your body. But this is where all the work is put in and some teams are going to go up, and some teams are going to go down in these next nine weeks. Obviously you want training camp to be great, but this is where you lay the brick.
“The expectations are to get better every day. We are not worried about the playoffs right now, but we are working toward some goals.”