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As the Tennessee Titans head into their six-week break before the opening of training camp, head coach Ken Whisenhunt believes the team is on the right track, although it certainly has a long way to go.
The proof, Whisenhunt said, will be when training camp starts.
"We haven't done anything in pads," he said. "That's a big thing. You could probably go to a lot of different places on our team and have questions about it. I'm not saying I don't have confidence that we're gonna be a better football team. I'm just saying until we do it, it's hard for me to sit up here and say we're gonna be better."
Whisenhunt said execution must be better overall and that that has to carry over through training camp and into the season.
"We really emphasized execution as one of our messages this offseason, and I really think that has got to carry over to training camp," he said. "Last year, I said a number of times that I didn't have any complaints with the way our players worked. Nobody quit, they worked hard, and I think the real message to our team was, we've got to make plays.
"We've had a lot of opportunities to make plays and we didn't make those plays. A lot of that is execution, and we definitely have to focus on doing better in situational type football, making the catch, making the tackle, making the play."
The key building block in that is rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, who seems to show the aptitude needed to play the position and seems to have already earned a level of respect among even his veteran teammates with his professional, even-keeled approach and his ability to quickly pick things up.
Mariota still has plenty to learn, but Whisenhunt likes where he is headed and where he believes the rookie will eventually take the Titans.
"I think he progressed every day. It's a credit to him and the way he works. Coach (Mark) Helfrich at Oregon really did a nice job in preparing him," Whisenhunt said. "A lot of it goes to Marcus and his family. He's really well grounded. So I thought he did a great job from where he started. I think he's more comfortable and when he's comfortable, he plays a little faster. The protection part of it was a big challenge. We're not there, but we've made a lot of progress with that. ... He's probably further along at this point that I thought he would be."
Mariota, of course, isn't the only young player who must continue to improve through camp and the preseason. The Titans are basically starting over after a 2-14 season, and really won't know until preseason games begin exactly how many of their problems have been solved and how many still need addressing.