HEADLINE

Vrabel makes Titans coaching debut at Miami

The Sports Xchange

September 05, 2018 at 9:04 pm.

Mike Vrabel makes his head coaching debut with Tennessee, taking the Titans to Miami to face the Dolphins for a 1 p.m. game on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Titans made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 last season and are looking for a big season from quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is playing in a new system.

Tennessee was able to keep the changes pretty much under wraps during the preseason, but the offense is supposed to be something like what the Los Angeles Rams used last season with success under second-year quarterback Jared Goff.

Mariota’s favorite target is tight end Delanie Walker, who has 356 receptions in 76 games with the Titans over the last seven seasons after catching 123 in 99 games with the San Francisco 49ers as a backup.

Derrick Henry, who rushed for 744 yards and five touchdowns last season, has become the Titans’ No. 1 running back, but Tennessee also brought in Dion Lewis from the Patriots to give Mariota a viable threat out of the backfield.

The Dolphins have won two of the last three games against the Titans and lead the all-time series, 20-16-1, but Mariota passed for three touchdowns and ran for another in a victory over Miami two years ago.

Mariota missed last season’s 16-10 loss because of a hamstring injury.

The Titans will be missing rookie linebacker Harold Landry, who showed strong pass-rushing skills during the preseason before sustaining a high-ankle sprain in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tennessee traded up to get Landry in the second round and they hope he will miss only one or two games.

Without Landry, the Titans must pressure Tannehill with defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who had six sacks last season and has three in the last two games against the Dolphins, and linebacker Brian Orakpo, who has three sacks in the last three meetings with Miami.

Coach Adam Gase and the Dolphins are coming off a disappointing 6-10 season after going 10-6 the previous year. Miami needs quarterback Ryan Tannehill to play back to his form in 2016, when he passed for 2,995 yards and 19 touchdowns, with a 93.5 quarterback rating.

Tannehill will have a new target, wide receiver Danny Amendola, who had 61 catches for 659 yards and two touchdowns as one of Tom Brady’s favorite weapons in New England.

However, even with a solid season, he probably won’t make up for the loss of three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who scored nine touchdowns last season and led the NFL with 112 receptions.

Tannehill will have to be aware of where safety Kevin Byard is at all times after he made eight interceptions last season on his way to the Pro Bowl. The Titans also have former New England Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler at cornerback.

The Dolphins brought in running back Frank Gore, who had 1,206 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns last season with Indianapolis, his NFL-record 12th consecutive season with 1,200-plus scrimmage yards. Gore ranks fifth in NFL history with 14,026 rushing yards in his career.

The question is, which Miami team will show up — the one that went 9-2 down the stretch two years ago, or the won that had a 0-5 slump last year, starting with a humiliating 40-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

The Dolphins will have to make up for the loss of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who signed with the Los Angeles Rams.

However, Miami does have defensive ends Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn. Wake led the Dolphins with 10.5 sacks last season, his fifth season with 10-plus sacks. He has 92 sacks in his career, third-most among active players. Quinn had 8.5 sacks with Rams last year.

Wake, who made his fifth trip to the Pro Bowl last season, might be licking his lips in anticipation of going against Titans backup right tackle Dennis Kelly, who is playing instead of Jack Conklin, recently activated from physically unable to perform list.

Conklin tore an ACL at the end of last season in a playoff loss to the New England Patriots, and even though he is back, he is not ready to play again.

The Dolphins also are strong in the kicking game. Punter Brett Kern led the NFL with both his 49.7-yard gross and 44.6 net totals last season, while Ryan Succup made 31 of 33 extra points and 35 of his 42 field goal attempts.