The road to success in the NFL begins each year with the hard work and wide-open possibilities of training camp. As teams around the league gear up for the 2015 campaign, NFL Media reporters will be checking in from all 32 camps around the league. For our next stop, Ian Rapoport visits the Tennessee Titans.
Where is NFL Media?
The Titans stay home, hosting training camp at Saint Thomas Sports Park in Nashville. But this one had a markedly different feel to it, thanks to the inclusion of No. 8. There were no parking spaces left at the facility. Fans slammed the fence along the field, fighting to see. Times are changing in Tennessee.
1) Let's start with the man everyone came to see. Rookie Marcus Mariota still hasn't thrown an interception in training camp, though the team has joked (or not) about having him throw one just to get it over with and have all of us stop talking about it. Make no mistake: Mariota is for real, already years ahead of where they thought he would be. Rookies aren't supposed to come in and adapt and be the leader before a game is played. But thanks to his magnetic ways, players have been drawn to him. It's already his team. Maybe the Oregon offense was more complicated than we thought, because Mariota has picked up Tennessee's offense in no time. There is no fast-forward button, but the Titans have hit the NFL's closest thing.
2) We have all focused so much on the quarterback, it's easy to forget Mariota has some targets to throw to. Actually, he has a wide array of them. Justin Hunter has the skills, and perhaps this is when he puts it all together, provided he doesn't end up facing discipline stemming from his arrest in Julyon an assaultcharge. The nifty Kendall Wright has had a strong camp, while Hakeem Nicks has flashed newfound burst and tight end Delanie Walker is always dangerous. The wild card is rookie Dorial Green-Beckham, who is ... huge. Just massive. Couldn't believe how big he is. Consistency has been his issue, and he has yet to put two practices together. But when he's on -- like he was Thursday -- it's something to watch.
3) Coach Ken Whisenhunt performed a tricky maneuver this offseason, one that could've caused ripples on his staff. He hired Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau to run his defense over current coordinator Ray Horton. It seems like it would be a recipe for jealousy, replacing the man running the defense but keeping him on staff. Yet, it hasn't been like that at all in Tennessee. Horton signed off on the move, welcoming his old mentor, who was responsible for drafting him with the Bengals back in 1983. The base look will remain the same, but the Titans have blended the ideas of the two men to build a more cohesive unit. With so much young talent, LeBeau's wisdom will help.
Brian Orakpo, LB: Orakpo battled injuries during his time in Washington, landing on injured reserve with a torn pectoral after seven games last season, and he needed to leave to secure the big-time contract he desired. If he can stay healthy, he can be the elite pass-rusher the Titans need up front. Tennessee took it easy on Orakpo (chest) in OTAs and minicamp, but he's been full-go in camp. What they want is for him to return to the form that saw him collect 10 sacks in 2013.
Hakeem Nicks, WR: Cast aside by the Giants and Colts, Nicks is still out to show he's a top receiver deserving a big payday. With a so-far flawless rookie in Mariota, maybe this is Nicks' chance. Word is, he can run as he hasn't in a few years, and Tennessee doesn't really care what he did before he got here. If he can emerge, the Titans will have stolen a playmaker.
"I mean, who is ever going to complain about that?"
-- Ken Whisenhunt, discussing Mariota's interception-less streak through seven practices. It's actually not the team's favorite topic ... but a much worse topic would be a rookie who can't stop throwing picks.
» It seemed like an odd pick a year ago, but the Titans' scouts may have known what they were doing with left tackle Taylor Lewan, who the team selected 11th overall in 2014. No one is talking about him, but he could be a Pro Bowler this year. That's how good he is. Could Tennessee have secured a franchise quarterback and a franchise left tackle in back-to-back drafts?
» Taking a fullback in the draft is something teams simply don't do. But Tennessee did it with Alabama's Jalston Fowler in the fourth round, securing a bodyguard for their backs. He could turn into a short-yardage back, as well, making him an important selection for the team and running backs coach Sylvester Croom.