NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mike Mularkey wants to make something very clear: He didn’t coin the phrase “exotic smashmouth,” and that doesn’t mean running the ball exclusively.
Whether that will be how everyone describes the Tennessee Titans’ play this season remains to be seen.
But one thing the Titans coach knows, Tennessee will be a physical team.
“A throw to a tight end for third-and-14 is five linemen going down and knocking the guys off the pile. A long run and receivers blocking 15-20 yards down the field. That to me, it’s physical football,” Mularkey said Wednesday. “It doesn’t have to be running the football. It’s a constant pounding regardless of what the situation is.”
No matter where the phrase originated or what its intent was, Mularkey and the Titans haven’t hidden their plans for turning around a franchise with one winning season in the past seven years. They traded for running back DeMarco Murray and drafted Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, and it’s time to turn them loose Sunday in the season opener against Minnesota.
Mularkey said Murray, the 2014 NFL offensive player of the year, will start with Henry giving Murray a chance to rest when he needs or if the coach feels a change of pace is needed.
The 6-foot-1 Murray ran for only 702 yards with Philadelphia last season, but he led the league with 1,845 yards in 2014 with Dallas. He has averaged 4.64 yards per rush over the last five seasons, which represents the second-highest average of any player with at least 1,000 carries over that stretch. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is first in that category averaging 4.98 yards per attempt.
Peterson, who led the NFL with 1,485 yards rushing last season, sees his old Oklahoma teammate running as he did in Dallas.
“Now he’s in a place where he can actually be happy and that he wants to be,” Peterson said on a conference call. “It’s a perfect fit for him, so he seems to be in a way better place.”
Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer, who interviewed for the Titans’ head coaching job in 2014 before being hired by the Vikings, agrees with Peterson on the transformation in Murray. Zimmer also likes how Tennessee’s offensive line is playing for two potent running backs.
“All of those things and then the combination of (Marcus) Mariota with the things he can do with his legs, as well, it makes it difficult,” Zimmer said.
Mularkey wants balance on offense. He credits Pittsburgh media for coming up with the exotic smashmouth description for the 2001 Steelers, who ran 140 trick plays with Mularkey as offensive coordinator. But a team must be able to run the ball, and the Titans’ average of %href_on(file: