Titans' new coordinator faces challenge of fixing 1 of NFL's worst offenses
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tim Kelly has a challenging task in his first season as the Tennessee Titans ' offensive coordinator.
His job: Fix an offense that was one of the NFL's worst in key categories like scoring and throwing the ball. More first downs would be a big improvement, along with protecting the quarterback better.
Kelly, Titans coach Mike Vrabel's fourth offensive coordinator going into his sixth season, said Tuesday he wants to communicate efficiently with his quarterback to help him be faster calling the play at the line.
Call it up-tempo or simply fast, Kelly is working to speed up the Titans.
“We want our guys to be able to go up there and and play fast, and I think all that starts through the communication portion of it,” Kelly said Tuesday before the lone offseason practice open to reporters.
Vrabel said Tuesday that everything has to be better this season. Tennessee finished last season 7-10, dropping its final seven games, and snapped a three-year playoff run with a loss to Jacksonville in the season finale.
Chig Okonkwo, the leader of the tight end room going into his second season, sees the Titans being able to operate much faster and cleaner thanks to changing the names of plays. No longer will Ryan Tannehill have to spit out a string of words to call one play.
“Like one word can tell us the entire play, and everybody knows where to line up,” Okonkwo said. "It’s harder, obviously, to learn, but when we learn it, it’ll be easier to play.”
Todd Downing was fired two days after the season ended, Vrabel's first offensive coordinator not to leave to become a head coach like Matt LaFleur with Green Bay and Arthur Smith with Atlanta. Downing's arrest for speeding and driving under the influence, coupled with the offense's poor performance, made the decision easy.
Kelly spent last season as the Titans' passing game coordinator, so he had a close look at what needs to be fixed.
Only four NFL teams scored fewer points per game than Tennessee's 17.5 despite the Titans ranking sixth in the league when getting inside an opponent's 20-yard line. The Titans ranked 30th in both total yards (296.8) and passing yards (171.4) per game. They tied for 31st in first downs.
Only four NFL teams allowed more sacks than Tennessee's 49, and the Titans ranked 29th allowing 10.75% sacks per pass attempt.
Tannehill, who missed five games last season with separate injuries to his right ankle, said Kelly's playbook is a big difference with new terminology and concepts with a “fresh line of thinking.” Tannehill, who wasn't available to reporters Tuesday, said the challenge is learning everything.
Tannehill also made clear on May 3 that he loves working with Kelly. The quarterback turns 35 in July and is in the final season of his contract.
“Fresh mind bringing in some new ideas, new concepts, different ways to attack the defense than we’ve had around here the last few years,” Tannehill said. "So definitely some excitement there.”
The Titans couldn't fix all their personnel issues in one offseason. New general manager Ran Carthon signed Andre Dillard and Daniel Brunskill before drafting Peter Skoronski to overhaul the offensive line.
The receiving corps remains another issue. Carthon signed veteran Chris Moore and drafted Colton Dowell out of UT Martin in the seventh round. That leaves the Titans with a group of returning receivers who had a combined 69 catches for 962 yards and four touchdowns.
Moore would have led Tennessee with his 548 yards receiving last season.
Kelly said he's comfortable with the receivers the Titans have because he's watched them play before ticking off some specific catches.
“It’s just our job to make sure that we can get them to do it consistently,” Kelly said.
NOTES: Two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard, who was asked to take a pay cut, did not attend Tuesday's session. Neither did three-year CB Kristian Fulton. Vrabel said he saw Byard at a golf course Sunday and expects the safety to report when it's mandatory.
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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press