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Titans adjust for the run

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Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota ran the ball against St. Louis on Sunday.
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Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota watched from the sidelines as he sat out the second half.
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Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota called a play in the first half.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. » Being able to run the ball will be the best way for the Titans to help Marcus Mariota thrive during his rookie season, and Tennessee finally might have a combination of offensive line and backs that helps them do just that.

Now all coach Ken Whisenhunt has to do is settle on a lineup.

The Titans have worked to improve an offense that didn’t produce a single 100-yard rusher last season and ranked among the NFL’s worst rushing team. After the first team averaged just 1.9 yards per carry in the preseason opener at Atlanta, the Titans moved Byron Bell from right tackle to left guard in place of their highest-paid offensive player, Andy Levitre.

Rookie Jeremiah Poutasi, the third-round draft pick out of Utah, replaced Bell at right tackle. The revamped offensive line helped the Titans start much more physically against St. Louis on Sunday night in a 27-14 win, with Bishop Sankey showing why Tennessee made him the first running back drafted in 2014.

"We’re still looking for the best combination," Whisenhunt said Monday. "Could this be it? Sure, it could be it. But we’re going to continue to look at those guys and hopefully that trend will continue."

The Titans (1-1) now have a very short turnaround, visiting Kansas City on Friday night. Whisenhunt said he’ll likely start the same five linemen to give them a chance to build chemistry, but the coach also promised to keep rotating linemen.

But his offense looked strong as Sankey broke off runs of 18 and 19 yards on his first two drives — matching the number of carries he managed longer than 14 yards all of last season. Sankey finished with 45 yards on six carries after running for no more than 61 yards in any game as a rookie.

"I think everyone out there is playing with a chip on their shoulder," Sankey said after the game. "We all want to make an impression. We all want to play good together. And as long as we play hard, play together, and play like a family, I think we’ll be good."

Bell makes the Titans much bigger at left guard, outweighing Levitre by nearly 40 pounds, and the veteran has moved in seamlessly between left tackle Taylor Lewan and center Brian Schwenke.

"If it stays like this and we start learning, really I mean this for myself, learn how to play on the inside, I think we will be fine," Bell said. "Offensively, I feel we ran the ball real well, but we just need to build on that."

The bigger question might have been Poutasi and how quickly he could adapt to the speed of the NFL. Poutasi also adds some beef to the line at 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds himself.

Sankey said everyone wants to make an impression and play well together, especially all the linemen.

"I think all those guys did a great job," Sankey said. "They were doing a really good job early on, opening holes. Not only for me, but for our other backs, as well. … I think we played really well together as an offense in all facets, through the air and on the ground."

Mariota was hit a couple of times and came close to being sacked when Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis grabbed the quarterback just after the rookie threw the ball away. Mariota complimented the revamped linemen for getting a great push up front.

"For any offense if you are able to run the ball well, it is going to help your pass game," Mariota said.

Teresa M. Walker, Associated Press

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