While some of the storylines moving forward are rather obvious, there are a few things that need to be watched that may require a second viewing to fully judge. Though this is arguably the least important of all the preseason games, with several starting jobs on the line, there are definitely going to be things to watch in the second and third quarters.
1. Quarterback Competition: Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck
There's no point pretending as though this isn't the most important thing affecting this team as we move toward the regular season. Youth vs. experience. Athleticism vs. intelligence. This battle has kept us all intrigued throughout the early part of training camp and will almost certainly keep us watching throughout the preseason.
In the first game, it will be important to take note of decision-making, pocket poise and all-around accuracy. As those were Locker's biggest perceived weaknesses entering the competition, it will be important to note whether he has taken a step forward.
The Titans coaching staff and most fans know exactly what they have in Hasselbeck: someone who will limit mistakes but likely not create many big plays. If Locker shows some explosiveness, it could go a long way in deciding who is the best option as we approach Week 1 against the Patriots.
2. Fernando Velasco Makes His Debut as the Starting Center
After Eugene Amano tore his triceps, the center competition took a rather drastic turn. With Kevin Matthews nursing concussion-like symptoms, it appears that Velasco will be given the first chance to win the starting job heading into the regular season.
Over the last two seasons, Velasco has seen significant playing time in four games, looking impressive in each one as Chris Johnson averaged 105 yards, 5.3 yards per attempt and a touchdown in those contests.
Though he has never seen the kind of consistent time that will come with starting at center, his success as a run-blocker is encouraging for a team that really struggled to provide space for Johnson in 2011.
Though it's not a lock that Matthews will play, it will be important to compare how the two look snapping the ball and how strong they are off the line.
3. Has Chris Johnson Rediscovered His Burst?
After an incredibly disappointing 2011 season, it will be important to see if Chris Johnson has found the burst that set him apart from every other running back in football.
Though he will likely only see the ball maybe five times, it will be important to get a read on where his game stands in mid-August, as it will give us a feel for where he will be when we enter the regular season. Though the Titans have made more of an effort towards building the passing game, a strong running game can prove to be the difference as they look to become an elite offense moving forward.
After struggling to finish his runs in 2011, make sure to watch to see how hard he hits the hole and avoids the big hits in the first quarter.
4. How Will the Cornerbacks Adjust Without Cortland Finnegan?
Throughout last year, Cortland Finnegan was viewed as the most important member of a defense that finished in the top ten in point allowed. Playing both on the outside and nickel and being used in coverage and coming off the edge, Finnegan established himself as a complete corner that will be difficult to replace.
Jerry Gray and Mike Munchak have already stated that they plan on using Alterraun Verner in Finnegan's role as both an outside cover corner and a nickelback hybrid, but that leaves plenty of responsibility for 2011 seventh-round draft pick Tommie Campbell.
Campbell has great athleticism and has spent much of the offseason working on his technique, but many questions surround his ability to cover upper-tier receivers one-on-one. Though Seattle's receivers aren't well-known, they will provide Campbell with his first real test on the outside.
5. The New and Possibly Improved Pass Rush
With a potentially healthier Derrick Morgan, the addition of Kamerion Wimbley and another year of experience for Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug, the Titans feel as though they will be able to pressure the quarterback much more consistently than they did in 2011, where they finished near the bottom of the league in sacks.
After bringing in former Pro Bowl defensive lineman Keith Millard to help the pass-rushers, expect to see a number of blitzes and a much more attacking defensive approach than we saw through much of last year. Regardless of the unit, any player that shows the ability to make an impact off the edge will be able to earn playing time throughout the regular season, and the first real test will start Saturday.
If there are any questions regarding the above or anything involving week one of the preseason, just hit me up in the comments section or via Twitter @QuinnCretton and I will be sure to get back to you as quick as possible.
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