5 Titans takeaways from NFL combine: Marcus Mariota improving, Kenny Vaccaro a ‘primary target’

Erik Bacharach
The Tennessean

INDIANAPOLIS — In the den of an opponent that trounced the Titans twice this past season, the sentiment echoed loudly:

"We've got to get out of the middle," coach Mike Vrabel said.

That was a strong part of what Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson pushed Wednesday at the Indiana Convention Center, just down the street from Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the 2019 NFL combine and home of the Colts.

The Titans' string-pullers spoke at the podium for 15 minutes, delving into several topics that concern the Titans’ attempt to break away from the middle of the pack.

Here are five takeaways:

Marcus Mariota improving

The last time reporters spoke with Mariota on Dec. 31, he was explaining the thought process behind the decision for him to sit out the final game of the season – a winner-takes-all showdown against the Colts at Nissan Stadium that the Titans lost – because of a nerve injury. It was a collective decision, Mariota said, one that he, doctors and team officials agreed was the most prudent course of action. 

The remedy for the nerve injury in his throwing arm? Rest.

Nearly two months later, Vrabel said Mariota is doing well and on pace to be ready for the team's offseason program in April.


“I know that he’s ready to get back at it,” Vrabel said. “Just having the conversations, and the text messages that we’ve had, and checking in with him. And he checks in on us, so it’s been good.

“I think he’s been seen by some doctors, and I would anticipate him being ready to go when we get back here in April.”

Mariota is on the cusp of the fifth and final season of his rookie contract, meaning this time next year, Titans brass will have a decision to make regarding their quarterback and his future with the team. He started 13 games last season (and played in 14), and threw for 2,528 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He set the franchise record with a completion percentage of 68.9 percent.

Kenny Vaccaro a 'primary target'


After safety Johnathan Cyprien went down with an ACL tear last training camp, Kenny Vaccaro bailed the Titans out. Signed to play in Nashville on a one-year contract, the safety was a crucial cog in the middle of the Titans' secondary. 

With Cyprien improving health-wise and Kevin Byard a fixture in the secondary, the Titans have a decision to make. Let Cyprien walk? Sign Vaccaro? Find a way to keep both?

"We’re kind of working through several things now with (Vaccaro) and with that position group as a whole," Robinson said. "There’s some guys that in free agency, Kenny being a primary target, and guys in the draft and we’ll just kind of have to see how that manufactures itself and how that plays out down here at the end."

Would Antonio Brown work in Nashville?

The Titans are in the market for a veteran wide receiver, and it doesn't get any bigger than Antonio Brown, who has reached an impasse with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But his elite talent is accompanied by plenty of off-field distractions. Vrabel was asked about bringing in a personality as loud and potentially disruptive as Brown's.

"I think the one thing that is a clear message to our team that I try to tell them is that we’re going to treat you the same way you treat the team," Vrabel said. "And it’s an easy way to say that we treat everybody fairly, but we treat them differently. There’s a lot of things that you can put up with as a coach and a team, and there’s some things that you can’t. I think that it’s important that any time you bring in somebody from outside the organization, whether that it be in free agency or you trade for a player, you just have to make sure that you know and are comfortable with what you’re getting. That’s the tough part.


"We spend a lot more time in the draft and the post-draft process than we do in free agency because really we just don’t know. You’re only watching the tape. Yeah, you can have them in for a visit, but sometimes these deals are done well before there’s some visit or some dinner or some handshake."

Said Robinson: "You've got to have a mixture of veteran guys and youth at really every position group. And I'd say that position group (wide receiver) is one of our younger position groups. We'll kind of go through free agency and see how the market goes, and if there's a veteran out there that we think can help us, certainly not averse to adding one of those guys." 


Titans mulling over Jack Conklin extension

A year after being an All-Pro and ending the 2017 season by tearing his ACL in the playoffs, Conklin's 2018 season wasn't consistent. He missed a total of six games because of knee issues and sat out an additional game with a concussion.

Still, the Titans seem poised to picked up the 24-year-old's fifth-year option.

"We’re still working through all that right now," Robinson said. "That’s not due until May. I don’t even have the official number yet. There’s a lot things that factor into that, the final cap number and all that. Working through all that, I don’t think we’re going to make any decision here in the end of February."

Will Titans trade up?


The 2019 NFL draft is coming to Nashville, and the Titans have the No. 19 overall pick. Might they look to trade up to give the hometown fans an extra reason to cheer?

"Too early. I don’t know," Robinson said. "You take every situation and you examine it and you try to do what’s best for the team. There’s time where last year we moved up a couple of times and got a couple of guys, and there’s times where we moved back, too. It’s really what’s the cost from a picks standpoint; what’s that going to cost you to move up or back in the draft; but also being mindful of the pool of players you’re trying to add."

Reach Erik Bacharach at ebacharach@tennessean.com and on Twitter @ErikBacharach.

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