Tennessee Titans edge rusher Rashad Weaver is no stranger to being called a preseason darling.
After all, Weaver was a standout of the 2021 preseason and was expected to be a factor in Tennessee’s revamped pass rush before breaking his fibula last September.
But in Saturday’s 13-3 preseason win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in which Weaver finished with two quarterback hits, a sack, a tackle for loss, a pass defended and a fumble recovery, the 24-year-old outside linebacker showed more of the same promise that he did this time last year.
“It was good to be back at Nissan, good to do that in front of the fans,” Weaver said. “It was my first game at Nissan since getting hurt, so it was something I was looking forward to and just going out there, playing how I play, making things happen and doing what the defense asks of me.”
Arguably Weaver’s best play came on a 2nd-and-9 play late in the first half. Exploding off the edge, he pushed Tampa right tackle Fred Johnson back a good five yards before turning the corner and bringing down QB Kyle Trask. Even more impressive was that Johnson was holding Weaver the whole time but couldn’t slow him down.
“Nothing comes easy in football, starting from college all the way to the NFL,” Weaver continued. “As an outside linebacker/defensive end, you’ve thought about making sacks and rushing the passer. Most guys don’t get that home run pass rush move where they just get a clean sack. You know, it’s about being relentless and continuing to run after the ball.”
Weaver made another heads up play in the final two minutes of the first half when he again blew past Johnson and hit Trask’s arm mid-throw. The result was a batted ball that fell right into the hands of Titans’ linebacker Joe Jones, who returned the interception 38 yards and helped set up Tennessee’s only touchdown drive of the game.
“He started working in some new moves,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said. “Some new pass rush moves and trying to do some things off of what he was doing earlier. It was good to see that it's not just the same move over and over again.”
Led by Harold Landry (12 sacks), Denico Autry (9 sacks) and Jeffery Simmons (8.5 sacks), the Titans finished tied for the ninth-best pass rush last season. The team’s 43 sacks were more than double the 19 they had in 2020.
Now, Tennessee has the added benefit of rotating in a healthy Bud Dupree, who was limited to 11 games with three sacks in 2021 while recovering from a torn ACL, and Weaver, who played just 12 defensive snaps as a rookie.
If Weaver, a 2020 consensus All-American at Pittsburgh, can match the kind of production he had in college — 109 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries in three seasons — the Titans could potentially have a top-five pass rush unit in 2022.
“It's preseason, so you always know the competition will be stiffer once you get into the regular season,” Weaver added. “But it was a good showing [Saturday], and we'll keep building off of it.”
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