NASHVILLE – At the start of training camp last year, Ryan Tannehill was a back-up quarterback set to play on a one-year deal in Tennessee.
Tannehill had been traded to the Titans – from the Dolphins -- a few months earlier, and he was living in a new city with an uncertain future. Some thought his career might be headed toward a quiet ending.
Fast-forward to today.
Tannehill earned a new lucrative new contract earlier this offseason after guiding the Titans to an AFC Championship Game appearance in January, and now he's one of the leaders on a team trying to take the next step. Marcus Mariota, the quarterback he deferred to this time a year ago, is now on a new team.
Instead of fading out, Tannehill's career is taking off, and he wants to take the Titans with him.
"It is kind of wild how much things have changed in a year," Tannehill said on a video conference call on Thursday. "But I am really excited about the opportunity that we have as a team. I am really excited about the guys that we have on this team, the guys that we have in the locker room, and the opportunity that we have in front of us.
"It's a new year, but we're bringing back a lot of familiar faces. I am excited about hopefully taking the next step as a group in 2020."
Tannehill was named AP Comeback Player of the Year following last season, when he played in his first Pro Bowl.
Tannehill led the NFL with a 117.5 rating in 2019, and he guided the Titans to a pair of playoff wins – at New England and Baltimore – and into the AFC Championship Game, where the Titans lost to the Chiefs.
During the regular season, Tannehill threw for 2,742 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. He's guided the Titans to a 9-4 mark, including playoffs, since taking over as the team's starter in Week 7.
Tannehill and many of his Titans teammates are back in the building, adjusting to a different feel and lead up compared to camp practices in previous years because of COVID-19.
But the mission this season is the same, and he's optimistic with so many familiar faces returning.
Running back Derrick Henry is back on a long-term deal of his own, the team's top three receivers – Corey Davis, A.J. Brown and Adam Humphries – all return, along with tight ends Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt. Four of five starters return on the offensive line.
Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith is set to begin his second season as offensive coordinator.
"Any time you have continuity from year to year it helps a lot," Tannehill said. "The league, your team usually changes a whole lot from year to year and we do have change. But bringing back a lot of familiar faces is a good thing. We are jumping back into the same offense, with some minor adjustments, and we're able to lock into some small details that we never really got to last year. If we can do that this year and keep pushing forward, it is really going to help us. And when you have that familiarity with the guy that is beside you, the guy you are throwing to, the guy who is handing you the ball, hopefully it will help us.
"I am excited about the opportunity that we have, and the guys on this football team. I feel like we have a lot of things working for us, and it could really be a good year for us."
The goals, Tannehill said, are clear.
"Last year, we came up two wins shy of what our ultimate goal is – every year you set out to win the division, and ultimately win the Super Bowl," Tannehill said. "All the work we put in is to win. So obviously that is the ultimate goal.
"But you can't think about that. You think about the daily process of what you need to accomplish and taking the next step in the offense. Our defense will take the next step in the defense and … we just need to do a better job consistently throughout the whole year. Last year we got off to a slow start, and it took a while for us to find our stride. We need to come off to a better start this year and be able to not have to back ourselves in a corner to fight out. It would be nice to come out and play well early in the year."
A look back at QB Ryan Tannehill's 2019 Pro Bowl season that saw him complete 201-of-286 passes (70.3%) for 2,742 yards, 22 touchdowns, and an NFL-leading 117.5 passer rating. (Photos: Donald Page).