Tennessee Titans: 5 Players with a Lot to Prove This Preseason
Though preseason football is often overrated by the casual fan that pays little attention to training camp, there are always a few positions and players that need to transfer a solid month on the practice field into live game action.
While some players are simply locked in as starters and have little to worry about during their limited playing time in the upcoming four games for the Tennessee Titans, others are fighting to either earn a roster spot or extra playing time once the games start to count in September.
The following five players have the most to gain by a great preseason and also have the best chance to make a positive impact on the team as a whole once the New England Patriots come to town in Week 1.
1. Jake Locker
Though one could make a case that Matt Hasselbeck should appear on this list, I think Locker has more of an opportunity to win the starting quarterback job in the preseason than Hasselbeck has to lose it.
If Locker is able to take the quality decision making that he has shown throughout the team drills in training camp thus far, it's going to be hard for Hasselbeck to keep up. He simply doesn't have a big arm or the explosive mobility that Locker brings to the table at this point in his career.
Should Locker falter during his time with the No. 1 offense, the coaching staff may turn to the veteran Hasselbeck, who they believe can still win them football games while not providing the semi-inconsistent accuracy that Locker still brings to the table at this point.
2. Jared Cook
While Cook may not be fighting for his job at this point, it is important to show that he can continue to build off of a strong close to the 2011 season and a good training camp by bringing his immense physical attributes on to the field.
Though Stevens will still get his reps as the main blocking tight end, Cook has put in effort to improve that aspect of his game. If he shows that he is not quite the liability as a blocker as he has been in the past, he can get himself on the field on traditional running downs and give the team another weapon to pick up first downs.
As Cook enters the final season of his rookie contract, Cook needs to continue to demonstrate that he is willing to take on a leadership role in the locker room and that he can be the kind of weapon in the new offensive system that he was in the final three games of last year. If he can develop a chemistry with Jake Locker, Cook can secure himself a place on this team for a long time to come.
3. Derrick Morgan
Now more than a full year removed from major knee surgery, Morgan needs to prove that he was worth the first-round pick the Titans spent on him in 2010.
On a team that lacked a true pass-rusher in 2011, Morgan has failed to establish himself as that top option in camp, splitting first-team reps with Pannel Egboh over the first two weeks of August. Morgan will need to prove in real-game situations that he has the first step and pass-rushing moves to beat the tackle and get to the quarterback after recording just 2.5 sacks in just 15 games.
If Morgan is unable to take the next step in his game, the Titans may be forced to re-evaluate the defensive end position, starting with Morgan's spot on the roster. While he has the physical ability to be successful, his rise to becoming a capable starting defensive end needs to start in the coming weeks.
4. Robert Johnson
Coming off a practice in which Robert Johnson earned first-team reps again at the starting strong safety spot, Johnson needs to show that ability to get to the ball and cover half the field in the preseason that has allowed him to stick out throughout training camp.
While returning starter Jordan Babineaux likely still has the edge at the safety spot next to Michael Griffin, his lack of an impact throughout the past two weeks has made him vulnerable to an emerging Robert Johnson.
After being a fifth-round pick in 2010, Johnson has spent most of his first two seasons on the practice squad before appearing in three games on special teams in 2011. Though he initially struggled to catch up to the speed of the game, Johnson has shown the playmaking ability that made him stand out at Utah, and still just 25 years old, he will be given the chance to earn playing time throughout the preseason.
5. Fernando Velasco
After Eugene Amano went down with a season-ending triceps injury, Velasco moved from battling Leroy Harris for the starting right guard spot to competing with Kevin Matthews at center.
As camp has moved forward, it has become apparent that Velasco has a sizable edge in the competition, and barring a meltdown from Velasco, he will be starting against the Patriots.
The preseason will be Velasco's first chance to have consistent playing time with the starting offense in his five-year NFL career, and he will have to hit the ground running, making line calls, working with the quarterbacks and trying to provide space for Chris Johnson up the middle.
If Velasco shows that he is capable of commanding the offensive line and shows the power and ability he has flashed in his limited playing time and throughout the first two weeks of training camp, he will be able to fully secure the starting job and restore confidence in a group that really struggled with run blocking last season.
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