by Terry McCormick
Admit it. The Pro Bowl is usually boring and borderline unwatchable.
As pro sports all-star games go, it generally comes in last in terms of being competitive and entertaining – far behind baseball, and even lagging behind basketball and hockey.
But still, it’s football, and the ratings for the game are always better than you think because it is football at a time when there aren’t any other football options for that Sunday.
But for Tennessee Titans fans, this year’s Pro Bowl has a bit more weight than in most seasons. That’s because the Titans managed to get five players selected to the AFC squad for Sunday’s game in Orlando, Fla.
That is the most players the franchise has had make it to the Pro Bowl since 2008, when six Titans were selected to take part. Brian Orakpo, Jurrell Casey, Delanie Walker, DeMarco Murray and Taylor Lewan were all honored last month by being named to the squad. It is also the first time the Titans have had a player who was not an alternate be selected for the game since Alterraun Verner in 2013.
For a franchise that had fallen completely off the radar on Ken Whisenhunt’s watch, that is a remarkable turnaround in one year for the Titans, who went 9-7 after winning just five total games in 2014-15. Much of the credit goes to Coach Mike Mularkey and his staff, plus general manager Jon Robinson.
And though the Pro Bowl can be a a bit of a popularity contest, each Titans player who made the team has the deserving credentials to be a part of it. And in a game where players routinely beg off following a grueling 16-game season, all five Titans players chosen will participate in the game.
Orakpo put up 10.5 sacks this season to lead the Titans, while Casey had five sacks and was a stalwart of a defensive line that helped Tennessee rank second in the league in fewest rushing yards allowed at just 88.3 yards per game.
On the offensive side of the ball, Walker didn’t duplicate his 2015 season when he had 94 receptions, but he still tied for the team lead with 65 catches and produced seven touchdowns. The reason for his drop-off in receptions had nothing to do with his play, but had to do with a better supporting cast in the passing game in 2016, as Rishard Matthews and even Murray became factors as pass receivers.
Speaking of Murray, he led the AFC with 1,266 yards on the ground, even while battling a nagging toe injury to his plantar plate in the second half of the season. Murray had a nice bounce back season after struggling in Philadelphia last year.
Then there is Lewan, who is the only first-time Pro Bowler among the Titans’ group. Lewan, a first-round pick in 2014, blossomed in 2016 and became one of the top left tackles in the NFL. Lewan, who had had his ups and downs in his first couple of seasons, took to the tutelage of new offensive line coach Russ Grimm and took his game to another level, which makes it look now as though he and 2016 first-rounder Jack Conklin (a Pro Bowl alternate) will solidify the edges for the Titans for years to come now.