Tennessee Titans coordinator Todd Downing aims to maximize offense, not fill Arthur Smith's shoes

"There would be pressure if I looked at it as my job to fill Arthur [Smith's] shoes," new offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. George Walker IV/The Tennessean via AP, Pool

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For the second straight season, Derrick Henry led the league in both rushing attempts and rushing yards.

Rest assured, first-year Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing will continue to dial up a lot of plays for the running back.

"It's certainly an easier job having Derrick Henry back there," Downing said. "It's no secret that it's a big part of this offense. I am looking forward to finding ways that Derrick is utilized."

Finding ways to get Henry touches was former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith's calling card. Henry carried the ball a whopping 681 times for 3,567 yards over the past two seasons with Smith in control of the offense.

Henry's 2,027-yard performance last season was one of the best by a running back in NFL history. The Titans averaged 30.6 points per game, fourth most in the league. Smith parlayed the offense's success into a head-coaching job with the Atlanta Falcons.

Downing isn't looking to replace Smith.

"There would be pressure if I looked at it as my job to fill Arthur's shoes," Downing said. "Each year is its own year with its own challenges and components. I look at this job more as what coach Vrabel and [general manager] Jon Robinson asked me to do to fill it this year, not to be Arthur Smith or anybody else. It's my job to be the best version of me and coordinator for this offense that I can be."

Titans tight end Anthony Firkser spent the past two seasons with Downing as his position coach.

"I'm excited to see how he can help this offense and build on what Arthur [Smith] provided for the Titans," Firkser said. "He's a very detail-oriented guy. He did a great job teaching us and coaching us to make slight improvements on all plays and throughout the game. I know he has experience as an offensive coordinator in prior years."

Downing's prior experience as an offensive coordinator came in 2017 when he worked for Jack Del Rio with the Oakland Raiders. Dating back to 2009, Downing worked for a defensive-minded head coach every year except for 2014, when he was the Buffalo Bills quarterbacks coach under Doug Marrone.

While in Detroit from 2009 to 2013, Downing was part of a coaching staff led by current Titans senior defensive assistant Jim Schwartz. The two also spent time together in Buffalo when Schwartz was the defensive coordinator under Marrone.

As an assistant with the Vikings, Downing saw firsthand how a coordinator could lose his job if the offense wasn't aligned with the head coach's vision. After publicly criticizing the Vikings' perceived offensive imbalance, coach Mike Zimmer fired then-coordinator John DeFilippo.

The steady dose of defensive-minded head coaches Downing has worked for provided different snapshots of how important it is to have an offense that fits their desired identity.

"Each stop along the way has given me some new insight," Downing said. "I can rely on those experiences to see around some corners and predict things a little better. Each head coach that I've worked for has their own personality and style. Coach Vrabel does an outstanding job of casting his vision and laying out our plan of attack."

Added Vrabel: "I have a good relationship with Todd. We communicate well and often."

Another of Smith's most notable accomplishments was helping Ryan Tannehill develop into a Pro Bowl quarterback. Tannehill credited Smith for being willing to implement the quarterback's ideas into the offense and playcall sheet each week. It is essential for Tannehill and Downing to create a similar groupthink approach this season.

"When a quarterback and playcaller can be on the same page and see things the same way, that’s going to be a beneficial thing," Tannehill said. "We’re starting off on the right foot but still have a long way to go. Todd is not a new face for me. I’ve worked with Todd a bit over the last couple of years, talked football with him before. We’ve had a lot of conversations about the games and concepts, routes and everything like that. We’ll grow our relationship and figure out what works best for us."

Third-year wide receiver A.J. Brown produced 1,000-yard receiving seasons in each of the past two years with Smith calling the plays and Tannehill delivering him the football. Defenses are going to account for Brown's success by rolling more safeties over the top and attacking him with bracket coverage.

Downing is well aware of that and is already at work finding ways to make the adjustment. He also has a plan to help Brown take the next step.

"A.J. fits into that playmaker category. You look for ways to get him the ball," Downing said. "We'll look for ways to get him singled up, ways to help him with different coverage indicators and things like that ... see where we can move him around, expand his route tree a little bit and watch him have success as we expand it."

That's what the players want: to be challenged and coached up.

"[Downing] is a great teacher, and his knowledge of the pass game is as good as anybody I've been around," former Vikings and current New York Giants tight end Kyle Rudolph told Titans team reporter Jim Wyatt. "He works really, really hard in terms of technique in the run game, providing you with tools that can help you sustain blocks and make sure your guy is not ending near the play. He's just a really good coach."