Titans lean heavily on young receivers under new coaches
By TERESA M. WALKER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans seem confident that their young wide receivers will quickly make an impact this year.
Injuries limited Corey Davis in his rookie year last season and Tajae Sharpe missed his second consecutive season after re-injuring his right foot . Taywan Taylor, the third-round pick a year ago, had his production fall off after a promising start. Rishard Matthews is the lone true veteran going into his seventh NFL season.
So far, the Titans have added only a pair of veteran receivers that have a combined 59 NFL catches: Michael Campanaro and Nick Williams.
"After your rookie year, you've just got to go," first-year Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "We're counting on Corey, we're counting on Taywan, we're counting on Tajae and all of the guys."
A vote of confidence or simply expectations, Davis said it doesn't matter to the receivers.
"We're going to come out here, and we're going to do our job to the best of our ability," Davis said. "Rishard's a competitor, Tajae, Taywan, we're all going to come out here and compete day in and day out."
Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk fired coach Mike Mularkey despite the franchise winning its first playoff game in 14 years. Tennessee replaced him with Vrabel , who hired Matt LaFleur from the Los Angeles Rams as his offensive coordinator. The primary reason for the moves were to get more out of quarterback Marcus Mariota and the Titans' offense, which ranked 23rd in the NFL averaging only 224.4 yards passing per game.
Eric Decker, who led the receivers with 54 catches last season, wasn't brought back. Of the returnees, Matthews has been the team's top receiver since signing as a free agent in 2016. Sharpe has the most production of the other receivers after starting 10 of 16 games as a rookie with 41 catches for 522 yards.
"We're all starting with clean slates," Sharpe said. "The new coaching staff, they weren't with us last year, so we all just have to prove ourselves. We just want to come back out here and compete and get one percent better every day and just keep working."
The Titans' biggest hope for offensive improvement rests on Davis developing into the No. 1 receiver he was drafted to be. The 6-foot-3, 209-pound Davis struggled with injuries as a rookie with offseason ankle surgery limiting him until the final week of the team's offseason program, then he hurt a hamstring a week into training camp. That sidelined him for five games , and Davis finished with 34 catches for 375 yards starting nine of 11 games.
He showed flashes of potential but didn't catch his first touchdown pass until the postseason. That was a one-handed grab for his first TD in the Titans' divisional loss at New England, and he added his second in the fourth quarter of the rout.
"It's a lot of injuries, up and down, but this year's going to be different," Davis said. "Just got to stay healthy and go out and ball."
Fully healthy, Davis, Matthews, Sharpe and Taylor spent time working out with Mariota in March. Even while learning a new offense, Davis said he believes he's ready to take advantage of a full offseason and be Tennessee's No. 1 receiver. The game has slowed down for Davis, and now he's busy building his timing with the quarterback he calls Ocho.
Mariota said the second year for any player in the NFL is almost like a sigh of relief.
"You understand the situation, you understand what's expected of you," Mariota said. "Everything's not brand new, so I mean I can't speak for him. But I think as you get older and as you continue to build up your years, the surroundings, the organization, everything just feels a little more comfortable."
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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
Updated May 22, 2018