NASHVILLE – Losing a guy changed almost everything for the tight ends of the Tennessee Titans.
If the first 15 games of the 2021 season have proven anything, it’s that replacing Jonnu Smith wasn’t as easy as writing a different name on the top row of the depth chart. Anthony Firkser, Geoff Swaim, and MyCole Pruitt have all done their part to minimize the impact of Smith’s free agent departure, but neither have effectively taken on Smith’s responsibilities.
“I think at the start we asked everyone to increase their role, whether it was in the running game or in the pass protection, and everyone had to take on more and produce at a higher level. to make up for this loss, ”he said. ends coach Luke Steckel. “Obviously Jonnu was a great player for us and had a lot of production, and we knew it would be a group effort to try to replace him. This is what we have tried to do.
Individually, two of the three have never looked so good. Collectively, however, their performance fell short.
Swaim caught three assists in last Thursday’s win over the San Francisco 49ers, which gave him a career-high 27 for the season, one more than his previous record with Dallas in 2018. He also received two touchdowns, as many as he had. in 53 career games before this season.
Likewise, MyCole Pruitt set career highs with 14 receptions, 145 yards and three touchdowns. He posted the best numbers in a game of his career when he caught three passes for 43 yards in Week 2 against Seattle.
“I want to build this confidence more and more with [quarterback] Ryan [Tannehill] is one of the main things that had to happen this year, ”said Pruitt. “And I feel like we keep building it every week.”
Firkser was the one who thought to take much of Smith’s workload, especially in the passing game. However, a knee injury sidelined him for two games and slowed him down early in the season. He has just 27 catches for 211 yards and no touchdowns, a drop from his performance in 2020 (39-387, 1 TD) and a far cry from what Smith did in 2020 (41-448, 8 TD).
“Our ends tight, their number one job here will be to block,” said coach Mike Vrabel. “That’s the first thing. Make sure we do it a little better, then grab the ones we throw at you.”
Overall, Tennessee got 71 tight ends receptions (Tommy Hudson helped the other three), which ranks 17th in the NFL, just ahead of division rivals Jacksonville and Houston. At this rate in this 17-game season, this group will end with 80 catches.
The 8.25 yard-per-reception average on tight ends ranks last in the NFL and represents a decrease of more than two yards from 2020. Only seven teams have fewer receiving yards from that position than the 586 of the Titans.
A year ago, Tennessee ranked sixth among all NFL teams with 94 receptions from tight ends and ninth for 967 receiving yards. Only two teams – the Green Bay Packers and the Las Vegas Raiders – had more touchdowns from this position group than the Titans’ 13.
Then again, the Titans ultimately didn’t even try to recreate Smith’s role in the offense.
“I think versatility is a key factor in the tight end position, being able to multitask so that you don’t get blocked by groups of staff,” said Steckel. “These guys really embodied that this year.
“The last couple of years with Jonnu he kind of had things he was really good at and good at. So you want to make sure he was in those kind of rooms. … I think (the current tight ends) have taken advantage of some opportunities in the passing game. But still plenty of room for growth.