NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Despite being one of six teams that have yet to hire an offensive coordinator, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel feels good about where his team is at in the interview process and has a plan in place for multiple scenarios almost a month into the offseason.
Since then, though, the Titans filled their open role at general manager when they hired Ran Carthon in mid January, and the plan is for him to work with Vrabel on putting the team together.
Before that, Vrabel outlined what he wants the offense to look like when he spoke during the season-ending press conference.
"I want it to be smart, tough, fast, and physical," Vrabel said. "Be fundamentally sound, and play with technique, but we have got to get faster. We have to be a faster football team. Rarely are we the fastest team out there."
The Titans have always placed an emphasis on being tough and physical. But Vrabel's mention of speed is a newly desired attribute that he is preaching.
In addition to the offensive coordinator, Tennessee is looking for a new offensive line coach and defensive backs coach, and whoever takes over as the Titans' playcaller will have quite a few challenges ahead of them.
The offensive line could have three new starters taking the field in 2023.
Eleven-year veteran center Ben Jones suffered two concussions last season, one of which landed him on injured reserve. Jones will be 34 in July and could retire.
Starting right guard Nate Davis is a pending free agent and should command a hefty deal if he hits the open market. Additionally, left tackle is a mystery given the likelihood that Tennessee releases Taylor Lewan to save $14.8 million in cap space. ACL injuries limited Lewan to 20 games over the last three seasons.
Titans quarterbacks were sacked 49 times, tying them for the fifth most last season. It's not all on the offensive line, but there were more than enough times where protection was an issue.
"You have got to protect your quarterback in the National Football League," Vrabel said. "We need to find guys that can protect the quarterback."
Tennessee holds the No. 11 overall pick in the draft. If they decide to select an offensive lineman, Ohio State tackle Parrish Johnson Jr. and Georgia tackle Broderick Jones rank second and third on ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid's offensive tackle position rankings.
No clear decision has been made on which quarterback the offensive line will be protecting next season either.
Ryan Tannehill is the incumbent starter, but Carthon said he has to further evaluate the position before making a decision at quarterback. Tannehill is set to account for $36.6 million against the cap.
The Titans could save around $18 million in cap space if they release him. But are there really better options available?
Two possible options took a hit when Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady retired Wednesday, and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy suffered a torn UCL in the NFC Championship Game last Sunday. A healthy Purdy may have aided interest in a trade opportunity for Trey Lance -- who opened the season as the 49ers' starter last September before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.
In all likelihood, the Titans will go with Tannehill and an offense that is built around running back Derrick Henry. The offense has always focused on the rushing attack under Vrabel, especially once Henry's career took off with a 625-yard outburst over a five-game stretch in December of 2018.
"We have built the offense around Derrick," Vrabel said. "We have had a lot of success in that regard."
Carthon, a former running back for the Indianapolis Colts, shares Vrabel's fondness for Henry.
"I have been watching Derrick since he was at Yulee High School," Carthon said. "If you look at Derrick’s history, he got yards in high school, he got them in college and he has them at this level. I can't wait to stand next to him and size him up to see how big he really is in person."
At 29 years old, Henry showed he can still be a force by rushing for 1,538 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. The next offensive coordinator has to find ways to keep the offense revolving around him and still get other playmakers, such as second-year players Treylon Burks and Chigoziem Okonkwo, involved.
Okonkwo's three receptions of 40 yards or more were the most among tight ends last season. Burks' big-play ability flashed in a two-game stretch against the Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals where he had three receptions of at least 40 yards, including two 50-yard bursts off of play-action plays.
There are multiple names that have been tied to the Titans' offensive coordinator position. In-house candidates include pass game coordinator Tim Kelly, who interviewed last month. It should also be noted that Titans tight ends coach Luke Steckel interviewed for the Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator vacancy before former Dallas Cowboys play caller Kellen Moore got the position.
Tennessee submitted a request to interview Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Justin Otten for a role on their staff. Otten has ties to the Titans via his time with the Green Bay Packers coaching the tight ends under coach Matt LaFleur. LaFleur was Vrabel's offensive coordinator when he became Tennessee's coach in 2018.
The Titans requested an interview with Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London, who works under former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. London served as the Houston Texans’ running back coach while Vrabel was in Houston from 2014 to 2017.
Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and quarterbacks coach Matt Nagy have also been in the mix of candidates. Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck has an idea of who he thinks will get the job.
"I think it's Matt Nagy," Hasselbeck said on 102.5 The Game. "I think the only reason it's not already Matt Nagy is because the Chiefs are still playing. I'm not reporting that, it's just what I feel."
Time is of the essence as the NFL continues to churn through the new year. With the combine and free agency on the horizon, the Titans need to complete their coaching staff soon.