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What we learned: Titans unveil 'exotic smashmouth'

Nobody's laughing at "exotic smashmouth" now.

Mike Mularkey's vision for the 2016 season was realized in the Tennessee Titans' preseason opener when the "Thunder and Thunder" backfield of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry combined for 167 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 16 first-half carries.

Murray channeled his 2014 Offensive Player of the Year form, scampering untouched for a 71-yard touchdown on third-and-1 late in the first quarter. While he outproduced Henry, the monstrous rookie stole the show with a series of tackle-breaking, highlight-reel runs to keep the chains moving with the help of a road-grading Titans' offensive line.

Mularkey and first-year general manager Jon Robinson executed an offseason plan to build an offense capable of pushing smaller defenses around.

Time will tell how consistently the Titans' ground attack can exert its will, but Mularkey certainly got off to a promising start against a vanilla defense.

Here's what else we learned in Saturday's preseason games:

  1. Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell recently acknowledged that Christine Michael has had "an awakening," referencing a newfound maturity that goes back to his second chance with Seattle last January. Sporting a new "Michael Sr." jersey, the hyper-talented, enigmatic tailback started in place of presumed starter Thomas Rawls, who is still knocking off the rust following a December ankle fracture.

Michael Sr. showed impressive burst between the tackles and even lined up wide as a receiver a couple of times, finishing with 44 yards on seven stellar carries. Whether or not Rawls is at full speed entering Week 1, Michael is going to have a role in this backfield.

"(Michael is) an explosive and dynamic athlete," coach Pete Carroll said after the game, via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "So we're just going to keep going with him, and when Thomas gets back out there, those two guys give you a little one-two punch we're kind of excited about."

  1. Undrafted rookie Trevone Boykin averaged just 3.7 yards as the No. 2 quarterback in the second and third quarters, but returned to lead the Seahawks to a field goal and a final-second, winning touchdown. He showed composure and elusiveness while leading five drives into scoring territory. It will be interesting to see if the Seahawks reach out to Tarvaris Jackson as a veteran insurance policy once the season nears.
  1. Battling Tyler Bray for the third quarterback spot following the recent addition of Nick Foles, 2014 fifth-round pick Aaron Murray made a couple of nice throws as the fourth quarterback through the rotation. Between Murray, Bray and fifth-round rookie Kevin Hogan, the Chiefs could have two quarterbacks claimed off waivers by quarterback-needy clubs -- unless Kansas City finds a way to stash one on injured reserve.
  1. Colts backup quarterback Scott Tolzien appears to be a major downgrade from Matt Hasselbeck. The former Packers clipboard holder was severely outplayed by EJ Manuel, missing too many throws in a show of offensive ineptitude.
  1. Undrafted rookie Josh Ferguson started at tailback while Andrew Luck and Frank Gore were healthy scratches. A favorite of coach Chuck Pagano, Ferguson was stuffed for a paltry three yards on eight carries and was steamrolled by a pair of Bills blitzers on a Tolzien sack. In the event of a Gore injury, Ferguson would likely split snaps with Robert Turbin and/or Jordan Todman.
  1. By all accounts, Bills rookie quarterback Cardale Jones appeared lost in offseason practices. He fared much better in his preseason debut, showing nice touch on his passes while leading Buffalo on touchdown drive in the game's final minute that would have been good for a win, had the Bills successfully converted the two-point attempt.
  1. Chargers 2015 first-round tailback Melvin Gordon's bounce-back campaign got off to a promising start with 56 yards on four touches during the opening drive capped off by a 44-yard touchdown reception that ended with a pancake of safety Rashad Johnson at the goal line.
  1. Rookie Tajae Sharpe led the Titans' first-team offense with a 31-yard reception before exiting with a possible concussion.
  1. Cowboys rookie Dak Prescottdazzled in his preseason debut, displaying the poise, field vision and accuracy of a seasoned veteran. That ought to put to rest all chatter of a trade for premium quarterback insurance -- at least for a week.
  1. Playing in front of an announced crowd of 89,140 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Jared Goff's Rams career got off to an inauspicious beginning. A silver lining: The draft's top overall pick threw better than his numbers would suggest even if third-string quarterback Sean Mannion trumped the rookie's performance with a dramatic comeback victory.
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