Quarterback Marcus Mariota and receiver Corey Davis of the Tennessee Titans have developed a strong connection on the field.

Just a few months ago, however, during the dog days of Training Camp, it seemed like that may never be the case. The two players struggled, often looking as if they had no chemistry whatsoever.

Throughout the preseason and early parts of the regular season, Mariota and Davis were seemingly never on the same page. If Mariota threw one way, Davis ran the other. If Davis went low, Mariota went high.

As the 2018 season has progressed for the Titans, though, that relationship has become a very prominent one. The on-field chemistry between Mariota and Davis has become the defining element of the Titans’ passing game.

Slow Start

Part of the reason that the connection got such a slow start in its development was Davis’ continual absence during his rookie campaign in 2017. He missed five games due to injury and, as a result, struggled to develop consistency and get into a rhythm.

“Last year was frustrating for me, never really getting into a rhythm,” Davis said. “It was tough, mentally and physically. This year’s a lot different; I get to go out there and prepare, catch a rhythm, and play fast.”

In 2018, Davis has played in and started every single game for the Titans. Davis’ presence on the field has allowed his quarterback to develop a sense of trust with the young receiver.

“It’s a young group, and for them, they’re all kind of learning and growing in this system,” Mariota said of the Titans receivers. “You can see even out here on the practice field, how much more comfortable they are getting in and out of their routes, trusting where I’m seeing things, and where to expect them. They’ve done a great job with that.”

Mariota added that the key to improving his connection with Davis and other Titans receivers has been a mutual understanding of defenses. “I think it’s just being able to communicate by telling them what I’m seeing and what they’re seeing and being on the same page…When it comes down to it, it’s being able to communicate and understand what we’re both seeing and from there, just being able to execute.”

Power of Preparation

With two games left in the regular season, Davis stands a legitimate chance to eclipse the 1,000 receiving yardage mark. He also has 5 carries for 54 yards on the ground so far this season.

“It’s the preparation,” Davis said when asked what has allowed he and Mariota’s on-field chemistry to grow. “Going out there in practice and putting in the extra time when we need it. Just to make sure we’ve got that chemistry down and the timing down.”

A moment in the Titans’ win over the New York Giants that showcased the strength of Mariota and Davis’ on-field relationship came with just under 6 minutes left in the first quarter. On 3rd and 12, Mariota escaped the pocket, waited, and fired an off-script pass to Davis down the middle.

Davis had gone off-script himself, moving to along with his scrambling quarterback to an open spot in the Giants’ zone defense. He caught the pass for 17 yards and a first down.

“Marcus is really good at keeping plays alive,” Davis said. “We’ve got to do our part and try to help him out. Try to find some green grass and get open.”

“It’s everything.”

Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who played quarterback at Saginaw Valley State, spoke to the importance of chemistry between a quarterback and his receivers. “It’s everything, and it really comes down to trust. The only way you earn that trust is by going out and doing it and doing it in practice first and foremost. Then hopefully that can translate to the game.”

The exciting part about Mariota and Davis’ relationship for Titans fans should be that there is still plenty of room for the two to grow. They have great chemistry at the moment, but there is potential for improvement moving forward once the two players have had more time together under the Titans’ new offensive system.

“At the end of the day,” head coach Mike Vrabel said, “you have to be in a position where the quarterback knows where you’re going to be and that you’re a good target, that you don’t stop and force him to throw back. You have to have a relationship.

“When you study, let’s say, [Texans WR DeAndre] Hopkins and [QB Deshaun] Watson, I think once Deshaun starts breaking things down, he knows where Hopkins is. Hopefully, as we work more together, Corey can do the same things that they’re doing.”

If the Titans are able to successfully complete their push toward a playoff berth, their quarterback and #1 receiver will certainly have a lot to do with it.

Cover image: USA Today/Jim Brown