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Jurrell Casey: Mariota 'definition of a true leader'

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While the AFC South is on the rise, the Tennessee Titans are generally viewed as an afterthought, at least a year away from joining the frisky trio of the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars as legitimate challengers for the division title.

After watching new general manager Jon Robinson add impact players on both sides of the ball this offseason, though, Pro Bowl defensive end Jurrell Casey believes the smashmouth Titans have a chance to vault into the playoffs after finishing just 3-13 in 2015.

It all starts with promising face of the franchise Marcus Mariota.

"He's got those (knee) braces off, and he's flying around," Casey said on Friday's edition of NFL Network's NFL HQ. "I think he's learned the playbook a lot better, and he's going to come out there and lead ... hopefully we make it to the playoffs this season."

Stressing that Mariota is the "definition of a true leader," Casey is the latest in a long line of Titans expressing the utmost confidence in the precocious quarterback's ability to lead the organization out of the dark ages.

New offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie has raved about Mariota as a "special talent, a special guy, a special player."

Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker marveled in December, "I always knew he was going to be a great player."

Veteran pass rusher Brian Orakpo is already convinced that Mariota is "for sure a franchise guy," adding that the front office "did good with that (draft pick)."

Whereas Mariota was hindered by a league-worst supporting cast last season, his surrounding talent has a strong case as this year's most improved.

New power backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry have looked "great" in offseason practices, Casey said.

"When (Henry) first walked in, I thought he was a D-end," Casey quipped. "But he's a straight running back, and he's got the speed of a running back."

The aerial attack should get a boost from talented second-year wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, of whom Mariota recently proclaimed, "that dude is a stud."

On the other side of the ball, the Titans have bolstered Dick LeBeau's defense with early-round gems such as Austin Johnson, Kevin Dodd and Kevin Byard.

Casey expects to finish with a top-five defense this year after ranking 12th in yards allowed in LeBeau's Nashville debut.

All 32 teams are optimistic in June. The Titans are counting on a host of young players to realize their potential, but the talent is certainly there to mount a serious charge at the division title in a wide-open AFC South.

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