After offseason of pass-rush concern, youth infusion has Titans' feeling better

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Throughout the offseason, the pass rush was fairly rated as the No. 1 concern for the Titans.

Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are quality outside linebackers. But there was nothing reliable behind them. Waves of great pass rushers keyed the Eagles’ Super-Bowl run last season. Orakpo talked about how much he’d like to play 25 snaps a game, a fresh player on the edge aiming for the quarterback.

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But there was no real reason to expect it.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans have been mum on injury specifics, but Marcus Mariota went against the grain with a pretty candid report about his right elbow and hand issue after a partial practice Wednesday.

His rehab entails trying to build the strength back in the hand as well as rest.

"They way they explained it to me, it’s like when you strum a guitar string,” he said. “When that string settles down, that’s kind of similar to how my never is. My nerve has kind of been strummed and it’s going to take it’s time to settle down.”

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A few other things:

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Scout's take: A closer look at how the Titans made things go right

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Scouting notes on the Titans and Texans out of Tennessee's 20-17 win Sunday at Nissan Stadium;

The win within the win was in energy and intensity from the Titans

Two things happened on the final play of the game: Deshaun Watson was over the line of scrimmage when he threw the ball and it appeared, based on the three views I had, that Deandre Hopkins was never touched down by a Titans defender but gave himself up after the clock ran out. MatthewsTexans

The Titans special teams gunner Dane Cruikshank was their leading receiver in yards.

The Titans came out pulling out all the stops. This created a fight and energy for the team. 

A great call on the fake punt, but for some reason, no one covered the gunner. And it made for a quick and easy touchdown. Bad coaching on the Texans special teams, it was an easy alert for the personal protector Kevin Byard to make.

Matt LaFleur did a great job of managing Blaine Gabbert. He managed his throws, asking him for more high-percentage passes rather than asking Gabbert to drive the ball downfield. Quick throws, predetermined reads, get the ball out of his hands quickly. 

The Wildcat formation with Derrick Henry confused the defense. The offensive line and tight ends did a good job of wham blocking and trapping on those inside runs by Henry.  That allowed Henry to run downhill and punish the defense. 

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Ugly win over Houston contrasts with Titans-Browns in 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Beat your head against a wall, or find a way over or around it.

Last year in Cleveland, the Titans found a path to a 12-9 overtime win in Cleveland. Mike Mularkey and most of his players hit the “any win is a good win” theme, but it was a game that exposed Mularkey and his staff.

They stubbornly did what they regularly did, making no notable adjustments and then expressing satisfaction that what they did worked as if they’d really proven something. The terrible Browns were down two key members of the secondary in that game, and Tennessee did nothing out of the ordinary to attack backups on a weak team.OrakpoTexans

Contrast that with Mike Vrabel’s first win as an NFL head coach. With mounting injury issues, they worked well beyond the typical NFL work week, searching and finding extra stuff that would work. There was no Wildcat in the

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The Titans' game plan got it done: 'Everything Mike Vrabel said was on point'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Unexpected wrinkles, a giant trick play, a risky fourth-down conversion and a super fourth quarter propelled the Titans to a highly improbable victory in their home opener.

"Who is this team?” a friend texted me. “And what have they done with my Titans?

Mike Vrabel was presented the game ball by Ben Jones, but would have you believe he didn’t deserve it.

“Calling it is easy,” he said, pointing us to the locker room for passing out any credit.

Sorry, Vrabel is getting a bunch.

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Jon Robinson picked Vrabel because he thought a young coach was a leader of men who, with a well-crafted staff, would prove far more adaptable than his predecessor.

And the Titans, minus Delanie Walker and understanding they’d likely be without Marcus Mariota and down to their fourth and fifth tackles, were still creating new stuff for the game plan on Friday. Typically, the plan is pretty much locked in by then.

When did the Titans learn of the Derrick Henry quarterbacked Wildcat plays?

“It was not long ago,” Jones said.

Did the Titans previously have Wildcat plays in their playbook?

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Gritty win should help define 2018 Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Make the case that the Titans showed us more of who they are with a dud of an opener in a seven-hour loss in Miami to open the season.

I'll take the other side: Sunday's 20-17 victory at Nissan Stadium over the Texans was more telling.

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Down their starting quarterback and a trio of tackles including one who's been All-Pro and one who's been to the last two Pro Bowls, they found a way to win. It was a lot more gritty than pretty.

They will be healthy at some point and we will see better-looking games, But they'll have this one in the bank, a deposit they'll be able to draw on in any circumstances. It's hard to imagine those will be worse than this.

My video report from the field.

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More bad health news for Titans: Dennis Kelly is in the hospital

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dennis Kelly, who’s been starting at right tackle in the absence of Jack Conklin, was in the hospital for at least one night and remains there, sources tell me.

He’s fighting a virus that has not necessarily been pinned down.

A Saturday hospital stay seems highly unlikely to turn into a Sunday game appearance.

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The Titans are already without left tackle Taylor Lewan, out with a concussion suffered against Miami, and Conklin, who’s not yet back from rehabilitating a torn ACL suffered in the playoff loss at New England in January.

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Pickers notebook: The Mike Vrabel-Bill O'Brien game within a game

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In a busy week, I didn’t get to touch on several topics. In lieu of a mailbag, I offer these nuggets.

Mike Vrabel: His knowledge of the Texans from his four years with the team will certainly be of great value. He knows what they do and how they do it. He also knows the views of Bill O’Brien and his staff of all the Titans players – what they fear, what they don’t, what they are likely to try to attack, etc.TexansTitans

But knowing all that doesn’t mean Vrabel can plan to prevent it. It comes down to players. Vrabel’s got Dennis Kelly and Kevin Pamphile as his offensive tackles. Any coach with his third and fourth guys trying to stop J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney can only expect so much.

Also, O’Brien knows what Vrabel knows. There could be a lot of this in play:

DeAndre Hopkins: The Texans’ receiver had s a tremendous skill set. He’s often able to gain some separation with a light “shove” that he has mastered getting away with. But his best quality, in my

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