NASHVILLE – Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith lifted the team's offense to great heights in his first year on the job in 2019.
Under Smith's direction, the Titans ranked first in the NFL in red zone efficiency (75.6%), third in rushing (138.9 yards per game), fourth in yards per play (6.12, which was the third best in franchise history) and 10th in points per game (402, 25.1 per game).
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill led the NFL in passer rating (117.5) and running back Derrick Henry led the league in rushing with 1,540 yards. Along the way, rookie A.J. Brown blossomed into one of the league's top young talents.
With all of them returning, Year 2 should be a breeze, huh?
Not so fast, said Smith, who is taking nothing for granted coming off a trip to the AFC Championship Game.
The former tight ends coach wants to build on last year's success and knows the offense will need to come together leading up to the season following an offseason when virtual meetings have taken the place of OTAs and minicamps to this point.
A positive: He's more comfortable heading into his second season.
"It is certainly different going into Year 2, whether we are at the facility or not, for me in this role," Smith said on a Zoom conference call on Wednesday. "Any job you take for the first time, you try to plan for what's coming, and until you have experienced something. ... Now the fear of the unknown is gone.
"But I have a long way to go, and every season you have to start over. We have to make more improvement, and certainly I am aware of that. But the unknown, after going through it for a year, you know what to expect."
In 2019, the Titans' red zone efficiency was the best in the NFL since 2013, and the third-highest percentage in the league since 1991. The team surpassed the 400-point total for a season for only the second time since 1990 (435 in 2003). Tannehill and Henry became only the fourth NFL duo (since 1973, when passer rating was established), and first in franchise history, to lead the league in rushing and passer rating in the same season.
And Brown, in his rookie season, finished the season with 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns.
"We have to evolve (as an offense)," Smith. "We don't want to get stale. We need to improve."
During the 20-minute Zoom conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Smith tackled a number of questions.
A look at some of the hot topics…
-When asked about Henry's workload moving forward coming off a 2019 season when he carried the ball 367 times, including the postseason, Smith said "we'll see how the season evolves for him and see what happens with the other running back spot. But Derrick has done a great job the last couple of years, especially down the stretch. We'll have to see how it evolves during the season." Smith said Henry emerged as more of a leader last season, and he expects him to pick up where he left off. "We feel good about the run game and we'll continue to build off of that," Smith said.
-Smith said he anticipates quarterbacks Logan Woodside and Cole McDonald battling it out for the back-up spot behind Tannehill. Smith said Woodside did a great job behind the scenes last year while on Injured Reserve, "and I'm excited to see when we get on the field how much he's grown." Smith bounced out of a question on whether the team could potentially add a veteran QB, saying he wants to see Woodside and McDonald compete in the short term.
-In addition to praising Brown, Smith also raved about receiver Corey Davis, who caught 43 passes for 601 yards and two touchdown last season. "We want to see their growth as well," Smith said. "We want to be the most explosive unit we can. … Corey is a big part of our offense. And there were some huge explosive plays (last year) that Corey was the unsung hero to. … He's a big part of this offense and I think he'll take another step. I feel very confident in Corey, A.J. and Adam (Humphries) and that group." After being asked about the competition at receiver behind Brown, Davis and Humphries, Smith named receivers Cody Hollister, Cam Batson and Rashard Davis while also complimenting Kalif Raymond for the job he did stepping up in 2019. "I think we're going to have great competition there."
-Smith complimented tight end Jonnu Smith while expressing how much he'll miss veteran Delanie Walker from a leadership standpoint. "He's come a long way," Smith said of Jonnu Smith. "That's a tough position to play … and Jonnu does a great job. He does it all and hopefully he'll take the next step."
-Smith sounded excited about the potential of running back Darrynton Evans, the team's third-round pick in the NFL Draft out of Appalachian State. "When we get out there, we have to see what he can do," Smith said of Evans. "Obviously we are excited about the potential of what Darrynton can bring. He's a very smart player and had a ton of production at App. We feel like he can (help us). … I can give you an answer after we see him practice a few weeks. We'll see what he can handle and how we bring him along. We hope he gives us another element."
-Smith said Tannehill did a great job after taking over as the starter last season. "He was decisive with the football, and he made some great plays," Smith said. "He is able to move, and he is good in the pocket. … We are excited about Ryan and where we can go with the passing offense. I feel very confident in Ryan. We see the game very similar. I am excited about the leadership Ryan brings, too."
-In a recent Zoom call, left tackle Taylor Lewan said he'd like to take on more of a leadership role moving forward. Smith said he'd welcome that while indicating he views Lewan as a leader. "Taylor is going to lead in his own way, and it may be different from how Ryan leads," Smith said. "Like all of us, hopefully I've matured and evolved as a coach and the same thing he's done as a player. … Taylor works hard and he leads by example."