Titans plan to feed Derrick Henry, are not afraid to win ugly

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Arthur Smith on Tuesday spoke to the media for the first time as the Tennessee Titans' offensive coordinator. He made it clear he plans to maintain the continuity Tennessee established late in the 2018 season on offense and keep developing the unit's physical mindset.

When it comes to running the ball, Smith has seen his share of gap schemes, power running schemes and, most recently, zone schemes. Maintaining a lot of the zone concepts from last season's offense will be one key to maintaining that desired continuity.

Expect to see a physical attack from Smith that will strive for balance, but rely heavily on running back Derrick Henry. The 6-foot-3, 247-pound bruiser gained 1,059 yards on the ground -- his first 1,000-yard rushing season -- with more than half his yards coming in the final four weeks.

"Derrick will be a big part of the offense," Smith said. "He has a rare skill set. Derrick's a home-run hitter. We are taking another step hopefully with him. What he did over the last five weeks will open up a lot of things.

"Zone is a great starting point for us, but there are a lot of schemes that fit Derrick and fit Dion [Lewis], or whoever else will be on our roster that we will hand the ball [to]. Gaps, pin and pulls, zone reads, but there's a certain mentality that we want to play with coming off the football. We want to be physical and knock people back."

Smith wouldn't share what he envisions the run-pass ratio to be, but he promised to run the football consistently. That's a good sign for the running backs, considering last season the offense got away from the run game because the Titans allowed opposing defenses to dictate the flow of the game.

This fall, the offense plans to be the unit doing the dictating, but that doesn't mean Smith will recklessly call run plays against defensive fronts loaded up to stop the ground attack.

"Physical isn't just in the run game," Smith said. "You can be physical in protection, how you catch the football and finish that. Are you going to go down the field and finish."

Henry's emergence helped other parts of the offense to open up, particularly the play-action passing game. Establishing the run will, in turn, help quarterback Marcus Mariota and the passing game. Mariota is heading into his fifth NFL season and will be playing for his fifth offensive coordinator. However, a lot of the same principles from 2018 will be carried over under Smith.

Smith, who was an offensive lineman at North Carolina, has worked mostly with the tight ends since joining the Titans eight years ago. He plans to use a lot of 12 personnel packages (one running back, two tight ends) as well as 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends) to give defenses multiple looks. Having tight ends Delanie Walker and Jonnu Smith gives the Titans matchup advantages in the passing game.

Smith is taking the reins from Matt LaFleur, who left to become the Green Bay Packers' head coach, but last season wasn't Smith's first exposure to the scheme. His first job as a graduate assistant allowed him to work in the scheme under Tar Heels offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr., and Smith likes concepts of the West Coast offense.

"I am a big fan of it," Smith said. "For the players, it's an easier transition to keep the language the same. There isn't a whole new playbook and a lot of new things to memorize. We plan to hit the ground running on what we want to accomplish and how we want to improve."

Today's NFL has a lot of offenses that score at a video game-like pace. A lot of fans want to see the high-scoring games that amount to fast-break basketball on grass. Yet Super Bowl LIII was a defensive struggle, as the Patriots beat the Rams 13-3.

Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees called the Super Bowl a gorgeous game and mentioned how one of the Tennessee coaches pointed out that none of the top seven offenses in the league won the title. Smith wants to score as much as possible, but it's not a beauty pageant; ugly victories count the same in the wins column.

"If you can look aesthetically pleasing, people are going to like that in the short term. At the end of the day, we have to win games," Smith said. "You can lead the league in points -- and we will try to score as many points as we can -- but we are just going to try and win as a team in all three phases. Just to be aesthetically pleasing is not the goal. We want to be the best offense we can be and win games."