The 2020 offseason has been quiet. COVID-19 has left us without mini-camps, rookie orientation, and the excitement that comes with the breadcrumbs we are given at this time. The 2020 offseason has been quiet, but Ryan Tannehill has not. As we head into the middle part of June, fans have little to cling to. They don’t know much about the team they are sure to embrace in the coming season, but they’re learning about their quarterback. And they’re learning about him much faster than his predecessors.
Since taking over for Marcus Mariota last season in Denver, it was clear that Ryan Tannehill was a different breed than Mariota. He showed more emotion, he was more vocal louder, and his command of a room was entirely different. That difference is not exclusive to Mariota, though. Throughout the team’s history in Tennessee, they’ve lacked a dynamic leadership style from the most important position on the field. Of course, there is no certain type of leadership better than another. There are only better and worse leaders. The way a person chooses to lead is not as important as simply leading. However, the stark contrast between Tannehill and former quarterbacks of the franchise is at least interesting and I think it deserves to be noted.
The first and most beloved quarterback of the franchise, Steve McNair, was by all accounts a quiet guy. He rarely spoke in meetings, he didn’t give “rah-rah” speeches on the field, and he was always mild-mannered with the media. He did plenty of good for the Nashville community, but he was not outspoken. McNair was mild-mannered and known to take naps in the locker before every game. This article from 2003 is fascinating read on the former Titans star. It was easier for McNair to remain quiet in the early 2000s. He was a pre-social media quarterback. He spoke to the traditional media when required and answered their questions, but he didn’t offer up more than was asked. He spoke when spoken to.
In between McNair and Mariota is a long list of quarterbacks who didn’t have nearly the influence on the field that McNair had. The two most notable, because of draft position, were Jake Locker and Vince Young. Young had plenty of emotion, and he wasn’t afraid to show it, but that emotion eventually boiled over towards the end of his Titans career. He was an emotional leader, but he ultimately lacked the poise needed to succeed in the league. Not the poise of being in the huddle on a game-winning drive or the poise needed to play the quarterback position on the field (by all accounts he was very poised in the huddle), but the emotional poise that is required to build a team and channel those emotions into the right areas on and off the field.
Both Jake Locker and Mariota were extremely private in their time with the Titans, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that their leadership styles were the same. Mariota was quiet. He refused to get in guys faces. He was sheepish with his wants and desires for the offense, but his work ethic and genuine care for his teammates seemed to rally most of them behind him. Most of the time he quite literally led by example. Most teammates thought Mariota was a great leader, and who am I to argue with them? He certainly had a big hand in turning the franchise around from the depths of football hell.
Locker had a bit more fire and emotion to him. He’d celebrate with such joy after a touchdown and look like he’d just seen a ghost after throwing and interception. His emotions ran higher than Mariota’s, but like 8, his care for his teammates seemed to do the job. Nate Washington goes to bat for Jake Locker like a brother. Locker reached out to Washington to get his perspective on social issues years after they played together. I always loved that story. Unfortunately, Locker’s health was worse than Mariota’s and his leadership was never fully realized.
— Nate Washington (@nwash85) May 26, 2020
That brings us to the newest Titans quarterback who has been in the news recently for standing up against racial injustice. Ryan Tannehill has been one of the most outspoken quarterbacks in the league on the issue. He’s gone out of his way to let the public know where he stands. This is something that we haven’t seen from a Titans quarterback… Ever. From McNair to Mariota, they didn’t want to be found in the offseason. Tannehill, heading into the first year of his new deal, is front and center.
He’s been speaking out on this issue that is important to him, and it came out last week that he rounded the guys up to go play paintball. He’s working hard to build camaraderie with his teammates. He has all of the emotion that Locker and Young had, but he also has the poise of Mariota and McNair. He’s not afraid to take command of a huddle, a room, or get into it with his coaching staff, but he also wants to listen. He wants to listen to his teammates on important social issues. He wants to listen to his teammates on what they see on the field. Then he wants to echo it. That’s what a leader should be right? A leader should listen to his teammates, and be the voice that speaks on it.
Ryan Tannehill’s legacy as a Titan is obviously to be determined, but Titans fans are getting something they’ve never seen at the quarterback position before, and it’ll be fun to watch.