In the last two seasons the Titans offensive line has been one of, if not the absolute worst in all of football. For Mariota and this team to experience a major turn around this season, this unit will be where it all starts and ends.
General manager Jon Robinson inherited this unit that featured two first round draft picks, an undrafted free-agent and a conglomeration of other players when he took over in January. Since that time he has signed free-agent center Ben Jones away from the division rival Texans and added another first round pick of his own in tackle Jack Conklin.
Robinson also used a sixth round pick to select former Arkansas offensive guard Sebastian Tretola, who will compete with that undrafted free-agent Quinton Spain and last seasons third round pick Jeremiah Poutasi and Brian Schwenke for the starting spot at left guard between Jones and left tackle Taylor Lewan along with guard Chance Warmack and Conklin in what is thought to be the starting unit up front.
New offensive line coach and NFL Hall of Fame member Russ Grimm has the unenviable task of turning this group into a cohesive unit in a very short time.
There is no lack of talent among this group, as three of the five will likely be former first round picks, but learning to play as a unit is key and takes time, something that is in short supply as the Titans will report for the start of training camp in just 52 days.
Lewan has been a starter for two seasons, though both have seen him battle injuries and inconstancy as he has learned the intricacies of being an NFL left tackle.
Warmack will be a 4 year starter at right guard when the season begins, and the former first rounder has had moments of solid play but he too has been inconsistent and has not lived up to expectations of him when he was selected in the first round of the 2013 draft.
Jones, who hails from the state of Alabama, but played his college football at Georgia was brought in to be the anchor in the middle and to lead this unit in the direction the team intends to go. That direction will be straight ahead, smash mouth football where running backs DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry will be expected to batter defenses, shorten games and give the Titans a chance to win games in the fourth quarter.
This unit will also have to provide protection for Mariota or feel the wrath of Robinson and team ownership who have expressly ordered that the franchise quarterback be kept upright and safe, something that didn't happen last season as Mariota was sacked repeatedly and missed time with injuries to both knees in his rookie campaign.
If the offensive line can find cohesion and perform at an improved level, then the Titans have a chance to improve on the five combined wins they have recorded in the previous two seasons. If not then this season could be another long and trying time for fans and players alike.
Schwenke, who is splitting time at both guard and center understands what it takes to build an offensive line like the Titans are attempting to create.
"It's key to develope a cohesive unit that knows what to do and is working on the same page," said Schwenke,"That's something we've been lacking lately because of injuries and different guys in there, so it's important that we find the best five and keep them together as much as possible."
Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie also shared his thoughts on the offensive line early in the OTA process.
"The offensive line is like everybody else. They're out there trying to get a feel for it and trying to understand it and trying to learn it, you know," said Robiskie. "But as a whole we're trying to get everybody to come together and gel as one group. That's the goal, that's the thing we are pushing today to get everybody to come together and gel and be one unit."
"How long that takes, I don't know but I certainly don't believe it's something you do today in May and June," continued Robiskie. "I think that's why you go to training camp. You have all those days of training camp and preseason games and all that stuff, you know. You just keep gelling and keep stirring that pot and moving guys around and see what fits."
It's a long process and there is a lot of work to be done, and getting that done is the key for the Titans 2016 season.