NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The bye week came at an opportune time for the Tennessee Titans, who are looking for ways to end a three-game losing streak. Although the team has been struggling, wideout Tajae Sharpe is emerging as a reliable target for quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Sharpe was targeted a team-high nine times in Tennessee's 20-19 loss in Week 7 to the Los Angeles Chargers. He finished with seven receptions for 101 yards -- his first 100-yard receiving game in the NFL. He was on the field for 27 of the team's 34 pass plays and has out-snapped fellow wideout Taywan Taylor in four straight games.
The third-year receiver is doing most of his damage in the middle of the field by running precise routes that make him a preferred target for Mariota. Sharpe, who isn't the biggest or fastest player, relies on his craftiness to get open. It's something he's worked on for a long time.
"It's natural ability and feel, something that I have worked on since I started playing the game," he said. "I'd see how other guys ran their routes and watched their games and put my little twist on it. It probably started in high school. I watched guys in the NFL, and me aspiring to get to this level, I wanted to figure out ways to take my game to the next level."
Sharpe mentioned players such as Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, and Antonio Brown as wideouts he's watched over the years. Former Bengals wideout Chad Johnson was his favorite route-runner because of the way he got open by setting up defensive backs. Johnson was a master at getting in and out of breaks and making sure he was in the spot his route required. Sharpe has incorporated that part of Johnson's game into his own.
"He's got great body language in and out of his routes," Mariota said of Sharpe. "When you have a guy that can do that, and create separation, it makes it easy for you on third down to look to him, and find ways for him to get the ball."
This season, Sharpe has been credited with just one drop, and all 16 of his receptions have produced first downs. Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur appreciates Sharpe's consistent routes and reliability, and envisions a more significant role for him soon.
"You see a consistent level," LaFleur said. "Marcus knows that Tajae is going to be in the right spot at the right time. He's a good route runner and has good hands. [Mariota] has a comfort level with him. That goes back to a couple of years ago as well, when he caught a lot of balls as a rookie (41 receptions in 2016). I expect even more out of Tajae moving forward."
Some of Sharpe's success can be attributed to Titans receivers coach Rob Moore. He pushes the receivers to focus on the details so they can be on the same page as their quarterback.
Sharpe was 3 years old when Moore posted an NFL high 1,584 receiving yards on 97 receptions with eight touchdowns with the Arizona Cardinals in 1997. Although he wasn't old enough to watch Moore when he played, Sharpe values Moore's playing experience and feels it makes him a better coach.
"That's always a positive when you have a guy who's been there and done what you're doing," Sharpe said. "He's been there to go through it. ... The coaches have done a great job of implementing things to keep us focused on ball security. Whenever you have the ball in your possession, you're holding it for the whole organization."