With three preseason games and one training camp in the books, and the Tennessee Titans have some difficult decisions pending as the NFL deadline to set 53-man rosters nears.
The problem the Titans face this year is having too many good players. For example, the club has plenty of solid options at receiver, cornerback and linebacker.
Saturday’s 27-24 preseason loss to the Chicago Bears was not only Tennessee’s final tune-up before the regular season, but it was the last chance for players such as Mekhi Sargent, Cam Batson and Breon Borders, among others, to impress Titans coaches.
Below are four things that stood out from Saturday’s preseason finale:
Logan Woodside should be the backup QB
Neither Matt Barkley nor Logan Woodside did much to separate themselves in the backup quarterback battle on Saturday. Both threw interceptions against the Bears, but Barkley’s was the more egregious of the two.
“Credit those guys for bouncing back and making so many tight-area throws, not being gun shy,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “I thought they both did some nice things in the second half. We obviously have got to protect the ball better than we did tonight and that will give us a chance to win.”
If General Manager Jon Robinson is making this decision truly based on what he’s seen on the practice field and in the preseason, and only that, then one would think things favor Woodside. For the three games, both QBs totaled three touchdowns and an interception, while being 50 passing yards of one another.
But Woodside completed 72.5 percent of his passes to Barkley's 61.5 percent. Woodside also seemed to have better command of the offense and make smarter decisions under duress: He was 4 of 6 for 42 yards and Barkley was 1 of 5 for 12 yards under pressure on Saturday.
Woodside is just 26 and appears to have a higher ceiling as a No. 2 than Barkley, who’s 30. Barkley has had ample opportunity to stick somewhere but hasn’t. Woodside, on the other hand, has outlasted three other signal callers and could be well on his way to holding off a fourth.
“Both of them turned it over and those are things that we can’t do,” Vrabel said. “Those guys are competing. I thought they both settled down well and allowed us to give ourselves an opportunity to win the game…I think they both kind of settled down and got into a flow of the game as we were asking them to do.”
A few talented WRs will be cut
It’s believed the Titans will keep only six receivers. We know who the first two are. Josh Reynolds is thought to be the No. 3 man followed by Chester Rogers and Marcus Johnson, leaving one spot for Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Cameron Batson, Dez Fitzpatrick, Racey McMath, Mason Kinsey, and Fred Brown.
“It’s a talented group; I embrace the competition,” Batson said. “I feel like…I have been prepared for this since high school. A lot of my friends, we competed every day in college… You know it’s going to be a competition each and every year, there is going to be a guy coming in and trying to take your spot. You just have to go out there and solidify yourself.”
Kinsey was the preseason darling, recording 14 receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown in three games. Batson was the next most impressive, totaling six receptions, 66 yards and a touchdown. It would make sense if Tennessee’s decision came down to them, and frankly, the job should be Batson’s. He was solid in moments last season and he seized his opportunities this year.
“I certainly have never written Cam off,” Downing said. “I think he's made of the right stuff. He's got that competitive spirit and that grit, that toughness. We have a talented receiver group and there's some depth there, and obviously powers above me have some tough decisions to make, but Cam's going to give you everything he has every time he lines up and we appreciate that.”
The Titans paid a decent price to trade up and grab Fitzpatrick, and it’s hard to see them just giving up on him this early. McMath also hasn’t been much of factor in the preseason, but with his combination of speed and special teams ability could make him worth taking a flier on. Regardless of who gets cut, it’s likely they won’t be on the open market for long.
The Titans need to find room for Mekhi Sargent
The Titans’ running back situation behind Derrick Henry is a mess. Darrynton Evans seems to always be injured. Brian Hill, who ran for 120 yards on 34 carries, was placed on injured reserve on Sunday. Jeremy McNichols is currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Things seem to be boiling down to Mekhi Sargent and Javian Hawkins. In three games, Sargent totaled 187 yards and a touchdown on 49 carries, and also added three receptions. He’s a violent runner, can break free from tackles and can pick up the tough yards when needed. The final spot should be his.
“He runs extremely hard,” fullback Khari Blasingame said of Sargent. “…Mekhi has done great with special teams and running the ball. He has been a great asset and showing himself really well.”
There are plenty of options at OLB
Heading into Saturday’s game, John Simon looked to stand a decent chance at making the final roster. However, his release on Sunday showed the Titans coaches are stronger believers in Ola Adeniyi and Derick Roberson behind Bud Dupree, Harold Landry and Rashad Weaver.
Roberson has shown glimpses of potential over the last two years but hasn’t been healthy enough to stay on the field. However, he’s maturing and developing at a rate that Defensive Coordinator Shane Bowen seems pleased with.
“I think he's had a good camp; I do,” Bowen said. “He's grown up. I think he's become more of a pro this year than he has been in the past. Part of that is maturity…it carries over in his day-to-day, how he practices, and then obviously that carries over to gameday.”
Adeniyi, who hasn’t traditionally been viewed as a pass rush option, has 1.5 sacks in the preseason and could be a viable fourth option in a pass rush rotation. With Weaver, Adeniyi and Roberson, Tennessee has the makings of a solid, young nucleus of OLBs 25 or younger.
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