Jim Wyatt, SENIOR WRITER/EDITOR
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Arthur Smith paid his dues with the Titans organization.
Now, the Titans are hoping his promotion to offensive coordinator will pay off for everyone moving forward, starting with the 2019 season.
On Tuesday, Smith spoke publicly for the first time since head coach Mike Vrabel promoted him from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator. Smith replaced Matt LaFleur, who was named head coach of the Green Bay Packers.
Smith gave some hints on what things might look like under his controls, but knows a lot of factors aren’t yet decided. The NFL Draft and free agency are on the horizon, and the season is still over six months away.
Not to mention he needs time in his laboratory.
“I like this system a lot,” Smith said. “This offense, there’s a lot of different variations, but at its core I’m a big fan of it. … The first offense I ever coached in was similar to this. I’m a big fan of this offense, and it’s kind of the third time I’ve been in it.”
Smith said the language will remain the same, something Vrabel said from the Senior Bowl last month. But Smith said there will be some changes made along the way.
Asked the key to maximizing quarterback Marcus Mariota, Smith said it will depend on everyone. Smith said Mariota should benefit from the familiarity, and carry-over from last season. Smith said the Titans will work on ways to help Mariota, including his health and his effectiveness. Running the ball and effective play-calling should help him.
“What will help him is the whole offense improving,” Smith said of Mariota. “When he comes in here, he’ll know exactly how we are reading plays, he’ll know exactly how we are calling plays, and that just allows him to take another step. … As the whole offense improves in Year 2, it will help the quarterback.”
Smith said he’s a big fan of running back Derrick Henry, who finished with 1,059 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018.
“Derrick is going to be a big part of our offense,” Smith said. “Derrick has a rare skill set – he’s a home run hitter. And we’re taking another step hopefully with him. What he did the last five weeks will open up a lot of things. … Derrick will be a big part of our offense.”
Smith said he wants a balanced attack on offense, but emphasized running the football will be a big part of what they do.
The Titans finished 25th in total offense in 2018 – 7th rushing, 29th passing. The Titans finished 27th in the NFL in scoring last season.
“If you can look aesthetically pleasing, people like that in the short term,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we have to win games, and it will always come down to that. You can lead the league in points, and certainly we’re going to try and score as many points as we can, but at the end of the day we are going to try and win as a team in all three phases. Coach Vrabel does an excellent job of mapping that out, and we’ll take advantage of that. Certainly we want to improve in the red zone, which will help. Just to be aesthetically pleasing, that is not the end goal. The end goal is to be the best offense we can be, and to win that game.
“… We are certainly going to try and get explosive, and I think that is always your goal, to get explosive plays.”
Smith just wrapped up his eighth season on the Titans coaching staff, and his third full season in charge of tight ends after taking over the group for the final nine games of the 2015 season.
During his time in Tennessee, Smith has worked under four different head coaches. Smith began under head coach Mike Munchak, and he was also hired by Ken Whisenhunt before Mike Mularkey promoted him when he took over. When stepping in last January, Vrabel kept Smith, and he thought enough of him to promote him.
Smith said the Titans want to be physical, and knock defenders back on offense.
He wants the physical play to be evident in the run game, and the passing game.
Smith said he’ll lean on others as he prepares to call games for the first time in 2019.
He made it clear he’s not nervous.
“I don’t’ consider it daunting,” Smith said. “Any time you take a new job, there is the unknown. So I haven’t called a play in the National Football League yet, so I have to get those reps in. Coach Vrabel did a great job with Matt last year – Matt hadn’t called a play until he got here. The way we go through practices in the spring (we’ll) put myself in situations to call it, with the play clock, and the four preseason games certainly help.”
But Smith is excited.
“You go back, and you have goals for yourself when you get in this profession,” Smith said. “You hope to have a chance to do this, in a place you want to be, with the players you’ve been around and you really want to coach.
“So it is an unbelievable opportunity. But I understand that this thing is not like an earned right, or whatever. These things can be fleeting and you just hope to do a good enough job so you can continue to have success, and to be a very good coordinator. I am ecstatic about the opportunity.”