2015 AFC preview: Tennessee Titans
From now until the Patriots begin training camp, Phil Perry looks at the 15 other AFC teams: The biggest question they face heading into the season, their storyline on offense, their storyline on defense, and their "threat level" to the Patriots.
Today's opponent: The Tennessee Titans.
THE BIG STORY
How will Marcus Mariota adjust to a pro-style offense?
This was well-tread ground in the lead-up to the 2015 NFL Draft, but it will be the cloud that hangs over the Titans season until Mariota proves he can run something other than the University of Oregon's shotgun, spread-'em-out system.
There has been some question as to whether or not Mariota can lead at the professional level because of his soft-spoken nature, but that shouldn't be a problem if he shows he can be productive on the field. The real concern is how Mariota will handle his job while under center, something he certainly will be asked to do under head coach Ken Wisenhunt.
Before Mariota proves he can change his game, he'll have to sign his rookie deal. At the moment, the Titans and Mariota still have not made their pact official because Tennessee brass insist upon having offset language in the deal.
OFFENSIVE STORY LINE TO WATCH
Can Dorial Green-Beckham steer clear of discipline?
The Titans offense -- at least at the skill positions -- could be driven by rookies. Mariota is expected to be the starter and will have the football in his hands on every snap. Running back David Cobb could win the starting job with Bishop Sankey chipping in on third downs. And the team's No. 1 receiver could be Dorial Green-Beckham, who was largely thought to have enough talent to be one of the first receivers taken in the draft yet fell to pick No. 40 overall.
Green-Beckham was arrested twice in college for marijuana possession and he was dismissed by the University of Missouri program in 2014 after allegedly pushing a woman down several stairs. He transferred to the University of Oklahoma but did not play last season.
If he can stay out of trouble, Green-Beckham -- who measures in at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds -- has the skill set to develop into Mariota's most dependable target. But, given that all 32 teams passed on him in the first round, that's a pretty big "if."
DEFENSIVE STORY LINE TO WATCH
What does Brian Orakpo have left?
After giving up 27.1 points per game last season, the Titans needed some help -- especially with their pass-rush -- and snagged veteran outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. The former Redskins Pro Bowler got a four-year deal, but he's only played in 24 games in the last three seasons.
If Orakpo can stay on the field, and if he can regain the form he had in 2010 when he had 10.0 sacks, he'll pair nicely with fellow edge rusher Derek Morgan and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey. If he can't, the Titans may struggle to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks for another season.
THREAT LEVEL: LOW
Until the league sees that Mariota has panned out at quarterback, this is a team that doesn't have enough at other spots to field a consistently competitive club. When the Patriots host the Titans in Week 15, there's a good chance the visitors will be playing for pride and not much else.