Titans Training Camp Day 3: Positives and Negatives
The Tennessee Titans concluded their third training camp practice on Monday, with this one being the first one in pads. The first day of pads brought some jitters, and the offense was not entirely prepared and looked “unacceptable” early on, as head coach Mike Mularkey put it. There were several penalties on the offensive line, namely right guard Chance Warmack and left tackle Taylor Lewan, for false starts, which led to the whole offense doing push-ups. On the other side of the field, the front seven was ready to unleash and begin hitting some guys, and that is exactly what they did. There was a lot of good and bad to be seen, so I’ll break it down into three positives and three negatives for today.
1. Front Seven
The Titans’ front seven appears to be a strength for the team for the second year in a row, particularly in run defense, however. The starting lineup of DaQuan Jones, Al Woods Jurrell Casey on the line and Derrick Morgan, Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard and Brian Orakpo at linebacker, will likely return together in 2016, and they will likely be a very solid unit once again. Orakpo was able to dominate Lewan to blow up a DeMarco Murray draw play. That was just one play among a very solid outing for the unit.
Morgan said that the front seven won’t be a top unit overnight, but it has the potential to be so. “The potential is all up to us,” he said. “I think we can be whatever we want to be. We have the talent and the guys to do it, so, it’s just about putting the work in now. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Dick LeBeau, who was an assistant to defensive coordinator and understudy Ray Horton and coach Ken Whisenhunt last season, is now the full-time defensive coordinator in 2016, and his influence really helps the team. “Anytime he talks, [he’s] very knowledgeable, you learn a lot. You know what he’s talking about,” Jones said. “When he talks, you listen.”
Marcus Mariota rolls out to avoid defenders DaQuan Jones and Derrick Morgan. (Photo: Miranda Frye Photography)
I really did not expect the Titans’ receivers to be a bright spot, but they very well might be this season. The reason that the receivers might be a bright spot, however, is simply the fact that these are not the Titans’ receivers. They went out and drafted Tajae Sharpe and signed veterans Rishard Matthews and future Hall of Famer Andre Johnson. Sharpe and Matthews caught just about everything that went their ways, and Johnson looked very solid, with the exception of a dropped pass on a curl route in that was a little high. With the addition of these outsiders, competition is occurring. The best of the Titans’ 2015 receivers is coming out. Kendall Wright looked stellar for the third day in a row, appearing to be the team’s best receiver, catching everything thrown his way (by my count). Veteran Harry Douglas was actually impressive today; Coach Mularkey was impressed by him as well. Dorial Green-Beckham had a bounce-back day, looking very solid. The worst play for a receiver today was probably where Tre McBride was running a curl route and allowed the pass to hit him in the facemask. If the Titans’ receivers continue to play like they did today, it will be difficult for the team to decide who to keep, given that Wright, Matthews, Sharpe and Green-Beckham are the only locks, leaving at most two spots open for the best of Johnson, Douglas, McBride and Justin Hunter. Of course, the tight ends look as good as usual.
Delanie Walker had a nice leaping touchdown grab on what should have a been Mariota sack, but the play was called back due to a penalty against the offense. Craig Stevens and Anthony Fasano both had some good grabs as well.
Receivers Kendall Wright and Tre McBride shake hands after McBride ran a drill. (Photo: Miranda Frye Photography)
3. Running Backs
The running backs ran well for their first game with pads. Murray fumbled early on, but he managed the bounce back well, which was also noted by Mularkey. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, rookie Derrick Henry, ran the ball pretty well. He had one run where he made some really good cuts and jukes, but that play would probably have been cut short if the defenders had been allowed to actually tackle. Nevertheless, they did look pretty good. Bishop Sankey and David Cobb both had some good runs of their own, but all of the attention was on Murray and Henry today to see how they would respond to the defense hitting. Regardless, all of the backs do need more help from their offensive line.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota hands it off to rookie running back Derrick Henry. (Photo: Miranda Frye Photography)
Bonus Positive: Quarterbacks
The quarterbacks did nothing too special, but they did manage to go the whole game without throwing an interception. Marcus Mariota compensated for his offensive line that struggled with good movement in and out of the pocket and solid passes. Alex Tanney had a very nice option run for a touchdown. Mariota had a nice designed run as well.
Marcus Mariota throws a pass in Monday's' practice. (Photo: Miranda Frye Photography)
1. Offensive Line
With the front seven being a strength today, the offensive line was a weakness. There were too many penalties to have a good performance, and they struggled in pass protection. Their run blocking was better, but they were susceptible to being blown up by the front seven in the 9-on-7 running drill. That begs the question of whether the line will fail to block well in obvious running situations. This could be a matter of adjusting to pads again for the linemen and having to deal with antsy defenders that have been itching to hit someone since January. Either way, they have to improve if they don’t want to be a liability.
“We can’t have mental errors,” Lewan, who did earn a flag, said. “As a whole, I don’t think the offense had a great day at all. I’ll have to look at the film. But as far as myself goes, I know I had an offsides, and I got worked pretty good on a draw play. So, aside from that, it was a pretty consistent day. But you gotta do better. That’s really what it is. And I’m tired of us making excuses as a team, cause that’s just frustrating, and then we win five games in two years, so something’s gotta change.”
Despite not having a great game, the line did manage to block for some good touchdowns later in the practice period. There is plenty of potential for this to be a solid unit, but they will need to realize that potential, as Lewan alluded to.
The starting offensive line is punished with push-ups following a penalty. (Photo: Miranda Frye Photography)
2. Defensive Backs
The defensive backs were not a major weakness, but they did fail to make many big plays. The lack of a turnover is concerning for the group automatically. They were largely beat in the 1-on-1 drills. The fact that receivers like Douglas did look really good suggests that the defensive backs are not that good. "Mr. Irrelevant" Kalan Reed had a rough game, getting roasted by Wright and later drawing a penalty of his own. The Titans really need their defensive backs to step up.
It was not all negative for the defensive back, however. In 1-on-1 drills, McBride had a great cut that left cornerback Perrish Cox in his dust, but Cox managed to recover and obstruct McBride’s vision on a high pass, forcing an incompletion. Cody Riggs and BW Webb had some nice pass breakups.
Receiver Rishard Matthews beats Perrish Cox for a touchdown. (Photo: Miranda Frye Photography)
Kicker Ryan Succop had a rough outing in his time to shine. A few minutes before kicking drills began, punter Brett Kern appeared to go down with a cramp in his right leg. According to The Tennessean, Kern was instructed by Coach Mularkey to fake it, and Mularkey was the only one that knew. That meant that Succop had to kick his field goal attempt with backup quarterback Matt Cassel as the place holder, and Mularkey wanted to test Succop’s nerves and abilities to be prepared for sudden changes like this with the team crowded around him making tons of noise. Kickers are creatures of habit, and Succop “failed the test,” according to The Tennessean and Mularkey. From about 43 yards out, Succop hit the left upright on the first attempt and then missed wide left on the next. After the two misses, Kern came in to reclaim his spot, and of course, Succop nailed it. Succop needs to expect the unexpected and not be so susceptible to letting incidents like that mess up his game.
For more Tennessee Titans and NFL content, follow Kenneth Goit on Twitter at @KennethGoit. You can also follow photographer and blogger Miranda Frye at @mirandajfrye.