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Young TE Smith learning the ropes
The Tennessee Titans running game has had lots of reasons why it has not been as effective this season as a year ago.
The Titans still rank 11th in the NFL in rushing, but last season they were third overall and running back DeMarco Murray led the AFC with 1,287 yards for the season.
Part of the Titans' downturn has been a mystery, because Tennessee returns the same running backs in Murray and Derrick Henry and the same five offensive linemen from a year ago.
The one place they have made a change is at the blocking tight end position. Anthony Fasano was rated as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league a year ago, but he spurned the Titans in free agency to return to the Miami Dolphins.
That left the Titans turning the blocking tight end role primarily over to rookie Jonnu Smith, a third-round pick from Florida International. Smith did have the advantage of playing in a pro-style offense at Florida International, but that was still a far cry from playing tight end in the NFL.
"It's a lot of carryover, but also there are a lot of things that are different," Smith said. "Of course, this is an NFL system, so when I first got here, I knew there was going to be a lot of adjustments with the terminology and things. But some things were kind of similar and I was able to take advantage of it."
Titans head coach Mike Mularkey admits that Smith is a work in progress and is still growing into the role. He has a ways to go before becoming as savvy as Fasano, a 10-year veteran last season.
"It's definitely been a factor. I wouldn't say that Anthony was a dominant guy, but Anthony kind of knew the tricks of the trade," Mularkey said. "He could get by with just being smart and crafty. He's been in the league for a long time and knowing how without knocking a guy off the ball but how to get position on a guy. That's something Jonnu - he's a rookie - is kind of learning the ropes. Eventually, if he has the years that Anthony Fasano has had that'll help because he'll have seen all the things he possibly could see."
Mularkey said it is a role he expects Smith to grow into over time, even if he isn't a true old-school blocking tight end.
"You can put them in three categories - pass receiving tight ends, a blocker and guys that can do both, but maybe not one as good as the other," Mularkey said. "Jonnu I think can develop into that. (Phillip) Supernaw is kind of a tweener. Jonnu has done the best job he can being the guy that we're putting in that position for a rookie. He's having to block some defensive ends. I think he's gonna get better at it. But there are very few Craig Stevens and Mark Brueners in the league."
It is a role Smith accepts willingly.
"It's not easy, but it's going to help this team. I'm just doing my job and trying to be the best at it and just looking to improve every day," Smith said. "I actually enjoy doing it. Whatever is going to put this team in position to win, I'll take that role."
SERIES HISTORY: 46th regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 31-14. The Titans finally ended an 11-game losing streak to the Colts by winning 30-22 on Monday Night Football on Oct. 16 of this year. Now, they go to Lucas Oil Stadium where they are 0-9 all-time.