NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The sting from last season's early postseason exit as the AFC's top seed still lingers for many of the Tennessee Titans. Rebounding from the disappointing ending will largely depend on a collection of players bouncing back from major injuries.
Tennessee's defense took a big step forward last season by improving the pass rush and becoming stingier in pass coverage. Opposing quarterbacks completed 67.1% of their passes against the Titans' defense in 2020. That number went down to 62.9% last season.
Most of the starters are returning from last season with the exception of cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins, who was released in March. Second-year cornerback Caleb Farley is in line to take over for Jenkins at one of the starting spots. Farley's recovery from a torn ACL in his right knee will play a big role in how the defense improves.
Farley played three games as a rookie for the Titans last year before tearing an ACL in October when he got his first NFL start against the Buffalo Bills. Despite being placed on injured reserve, Farley made an effort to remain involved in the classroom, which helped him make strides during the offseason.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel said that Farley is "light-years ahead of where he ended last season," especially from a mental perspective. General manager Jon Robinson added that Farley has gained some size as well.
"I'm mentally better than I've ever been," Farley said during minicamp. "Just being a little stronger and just having an offseason to prepare your body and get in good strength and conditioning."
Potential abounds for the 6-foot-2, 197-pounder. But, the continued development for Farley is critical after only playing cornerback for two seasons at Virginia Tech and being almost two years removed from a full season.
Farley wore the precautionary yellow jersey during periods of OTAs and minicamp, and he also had a brace on his knee.
While the defense took a step forward, the offense regressed last season -- going from 30.7 points per game in 2020 to 24.6 points. A fractured right foot cost running back Derrick Henry the final nine games last season.
Offensive coordinator Todd Downing said during minicamp that the Titans' identity and brand of football do not change, regardless of who's in the game. But it becomes a lot more physical and explosive when Henry is on the field.
Tennessee averaged 28.4 points per game in the eight games that Henry played (versus the 21.33 in the ones he didn't). The Titans will rely on Henry to bounce back this season to once again be the catalyst for the offense.
Henry showed up for minicamp with a noticeably larger physique and no signs of limitations from the injury. He said he stuck to the two-three workout per day routine that helped him prepare for the 2020 season when he rushed for 2,027 yards and was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
Despite playing only eight games, Henry finished ninth in rushing yards (937) and seventh in rushing touchdowns (10). Henry appeared to be a motivated man during minicamp. It's safe to say that will carry over to training camp this month.
"Someone could motivate me and wouldn't even know it," Henry said. "The doubters, whatever they want to be, I am definitely motivated. I'm ready to go. So we gonna see."
The passing game will also need to find a way to move forward this season after Tennessee's leading receiver, A.J. Brown, was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles on draft night. Rookie Treylon Burks was selected minutes after the deal.
Burks missed minicamp because of issues associated with asthma. Getting him on the field for the start of training camp will play a key role in Burks' ability to help offset the loss of Brown.
That role will also fall on veteran receiver Robert Woods, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Rams via trade in the offseason. Woods' continued recovery from a torn ACL in his left knee is critical for the passing game.
Woods is the only proven receiver on the Titans' roster. He finished with 90 receptions in both 2019 and 2020 and has averaged 63 receptions per season over his nine-year career. Woods had 45 receptions for 556 yards and four touchdowns in nine games last year.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson called Woods a "consummate pro" and commended him for helping the younger players. The Titans were encouraged by Woods' availability during OTAs and minicamp despite the knee injury in December.
Like Farley, Woods wore the precautionary yellow jersey at times during minicamp and had a brace on his knee. The Titans haven't set a timeline for a return, but it appears that Woods is on pace towards a successful recovery.
"I am just trying to get back to playing at a high level," Woods said during minicamp. "I'll say we're on pace and doing good to be ready. Just trying to be the best me and be ready when I can and whenever they need me on the field."