NASHVILLE, Tennessee — The Tennessee Titans and coach Ken Whisenhunt start training camp with the promise to be better than last season's ugly 2-14 record. Seems everyone is in agreement that the miserable experience was simply unacceptable.
With a revamped roster and a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, they should be better — though nobody's offered any guarantee of what that will be.
"We've got a lot we have to find out about this football team," Whisenhunt said Thursday as the team reported for training camp. "The No. 1 thing is we've got to be a better football team. We weren't very good last year. I think everyone's aware of that."
The 2014 season was such a struggle that defensive lineman Jurrell Casey stayed home most of the year to avoid showing his face around Nashville as the Titans finished with a 10-game skid. Left tackle Taylor Lewan believes the Titans owe a better season both to the city and to themselves.
Everyone reported to camp, from quarterback Marcus Mariota, the last of the first-round draft picks to sign his contract July 21, to wide receiver Justin Hunter, who was bailed out of a Virginia jail the same day on a charge of felonious assault.
A year ago, Whisenhunt talked of hosting a playoff game as a key goal. The coach avoided setting any specific goals before Friday's first practice with a roster featuring only three players with nine years or more experience in the NFL. One of those veterans is Charlie Whitehurst whose biggest duties this year will be helping teach Mariota and Zach Mettenberger.
The Titans added nine draft picks this spring and signed 27 free agents led by linebacker Brian Orakpo, cornerback Perrish Cox, safety Da'Norris Searcy and tight end Anthony Fasano. Tennessee has enough youth and positions up for grabs that Whisenhunt said it likely would be easier for him to list the areas that he is not worried about going into training camp: defensive line, inside linebackers and tight ends.
His message to the team is they must improve — and quickly.
"We've got a lot we have to find out about this football team," Whisenhunt said.
A position that isn't up for grabs is at quarterback; the Titans addressed the QB job when they drafted Mariota out of Oregon at No. 2 overall. The Titans have made it clear since draft night that Mariota is expected to start the season opener Sept. 13 at Tampa Bay against Jameis Winston.
Asked about the pecking order at quarterback during training camp, Whisenhunt had a short answer: "You mean after Marcus?"
Tennessee's biggest challenge this preseason is managing Mariota's workload and making sure coaches don't overload the rookie quarterback. Whisenhunt said part of this camp will be determining how much both Mariota and all the other young Titans can process. That includes wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, their second-round pick out of Missouri who watched most of the offseason limited by a sore hamstring.
Deciding how much to play Mariota during the preseason starting Aug. 14 at Atlanta is another issue. Whisenhunt wants to keep Mariota on the field with teammates he's been practicing with to promote chemistry.
Mariota has been in Nashville since signing his contract and even worked out with his wide receivers at a local high school the past few days. He got some extra time in with Hakeem Nicks, signed this offseason to a one-year deal. The man whose 36 victories are more than any other quarterback in the past three seasons says he's very excited to start camp.
"Everything I've done in my lifetime and my career as a football player has built up for this moment to make the most of it, so I'm excited," Mariota said. "I can't wait to get things going, and I look forward to tomorrow."
Notes: Whisenhunt said Hunter's legal case is being handled in the legal system. The Titans have communicated with the NFL and will see how Hunter's case progresses. ... Everyone passed the conditioning test Thursday morning. Whisenhunt said DT Sammie Hill likely will start on the physically unable to perform list as he recovers from a knee injured this offseason. Whisenhunt said he's not sure how long Hill will stay on that list.
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