Downing trying to tune up Titans’ offense, not replace Smith

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Todd Downing has no plans to fill Arthur Smith’s shoes as Tennessee’s new offensive coordinator. His real challenge is keeping the Titans’ offense clicking as well as possible.

“I look at this job more as what coach (Mike) Vrabel and (GM) Jon Robinson asked me to do to fill it this year, not to be the Arthur Smith or to be anybody else for that matter,” Downing said Wednesday in his first availability with reporters since being promoted from tight ends coach in January.

Downing has a couple of big advantages taking over as Tennessee’s new offensive coordinator. Unlike Smith, now head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Downing has been a coordinator in the NFL previously.

He also was closely involved in the Titans’ offense last season coaching tight ends, an offense that was one of the NFL’s best. Tennessee tied for second with Buffalo averaging 396.4 yards per game and ranked fourth in scoring 30.7 points a game.

Tennessee also was second in rushing thanks to AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year Derrick Henry. The All-Pro not only led the NFL in rushing for a second straight season, Henry became the eighth man to top 2,000 yards with 2,027 yards. Henry averaged 126.6 yards per game.

“It’s certainly an easier job having Derrick Henry back there than not having him back there,” Downing said.

Downing said they all know Henry is one of the Titans’ playmakers and the offensive line works hard to open holes for him. But they’re always looking for ways to be more efficient and get the ball to their playmakers.

“It’s no secret that that’s part of the identity of this offense. So I’m looking forward to finding ways to make sure that Derrick’s utilized,” Downing said.

Downing does have some challenges.

Wide receiver Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith, who combined for 106 catches, 1,432 yards and 13 touchdowns, now are with other teams.

The Titans signed wide receiver Josh Reynolds to a one-year deal and drafted Dez Fitzpatrick in the fourth round. Tight end Anthony Firkser is back on a one-year deal.

Wide receiver A.J. Brown has been very vocal on social media lobbying for the Titans to trade for Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones, a push endorsed by Henry and several of Browns’ teammates. Downing said he’s excited about the competition the Titans currently have at different spots on offense.

“I think that you’re going to see some growth from some of these guys,” Downing said. “Excited to see where they finish up by the time we get to the real ball.”

Vrabel promoted Downing after he coached tight ends the past two seasons working with both the passing and run games. Smith had never called a single play as coordinator at any level before Vrabel tapped him before the 2019 season.

Downing was the offensive coordinator for the Raiders in 2017 after two seasons as quarterbacks coach working with Derek Carr. The Raiders had almost all of the key players back from a 12-4 season but fell to 16th in scoring. The entire staff was fired after that season.

Downing worked with quarterbacks before being promoted with the Raiders, and he coached Matthew Stafford while in Detroit. He coached tight ends in 2018 in Minnesota and also has worked at Buffalo and St. Louis during 20 years coaching in the NFL.

“Each stop along the way has given me some new insight, and I can certainly rely on some of those experiences to maybe see around some corners or predict things a little bit better,” Downing said.

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