Updating Tennessee Titans' Key Position Battles in Training Camp
The first and second weeks of the preseason are always big ones. Players emerge, depth chart positions shift, and changes are made.
With the Titans, there are a lot of changes being made right now. There are several battles along the depth chart at both receiver and running back, with starter positions up for grabs at center, defensive end, defensive tackle, and quarterback.
So, with the first week of the preseason and a few more practices out of the way, the tide of a few of those battles has turned. Here's an update on six key position battles you need to know.
Backup Running Back: Darius Reynaud Now in the Mix
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Darius Reynaud came out of nowhere on Saturday and scored 14 of the Titans' 17 points against the Seahawks. You can bet that got the coaches' attention.
Now I'll be the first to tell you that he did this against Seattle's backups and one of the touchdowns was a punt return, but it was still impressive. You can bet that he's going to see a lot more of the field a lot earlier on this week against the Bucs.
Now the starting position is Chris Johnson's, and unless he starts out as slowly as he did last season, he isn't going to lose it, but the spot behind him is open.
Javon Ringer did well as the second running back last season, and Jamie Harper is the youngest of the three, so they both have a distinct advantage over Reynaud.
That said, if he can keep doing impressive things, and the coaches think he is the better option, he certainly can win the position. Right now, it's still open.
Wide Receiver: Washington Will Be No. 1, Wright May Be No. 2
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I'm assuming that Kenny Britt will be suspended for the first few weeks of the season. If he's on the field, he's the clear cut No.1. When he's not...well, that's what we're figuring out.
Nate Washington is the guy to beat, since he turned in a 1,000-yard season in 2011. He did little to change opinions of him against the Seahawks, catching three of the four balls tossed his way for 24 yards. The one he didn't catch was uncatchable anyway.
Washington is almost certainly the No. 1 guy.
Behind him on the depth chart was Damian Williams, but he showed his patented inconsistency against the Seahawks and only caught one ball out of four targets.
Kendall Wright, on the other hand, caught all three balls that were sent his way for 47 yards. If he keeps performing at a high level, he may find himself starting much sooner than people thought.
Also, keep an eye on Marc Mariani. He was only targeted twice, but managed to make a team high 52 yards out of it. He's been a kick returner most of his career, but he may have moved into the wide receiver rotation, maybe even ahead of Williams.
Center: It's Fernando Velasco's Job to Lose
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I was watching Fernando Velasco closely against the Seahawks. Since center was already Tennessee's weakest position, and now a backup is starting, it worried me.
While he didn't exactly have a Pro Bowl performance, he did alright. He wasn't manhandled the way I thought he might be.
Kevin Matthews looked like he was going to take the job from Eugene Amano, but he was sidelined with a concussion when Amano tore his tricep, which put the first-team reps in Velasco's hands.
I thought there was a chance that Matthews might take the job from him when he healed, but Matthews did play against the Seahawks, it's just that he was lining up at guard instead of center.
That tells me two things: (1) He is capable of playing, so the Titans think that, right now, Velasco should start over him, and (2) the Titans think they need a new backup guard because Velasco will be playing at center.
So unless something changes, Velasco looks like he's going to keep the starting center job for the time being.
Defensive Tackle: Marks Is Still Ahead of Martin, but Clayton Is in the Mix Too
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Sen'Derrick Marks got the start across from Jurrell Casey on Saturday, and played better than I'm used to seeing him play. He got some good penetration and a couple of tackles.
Rookie Mike Martin had a similar game. He was disruptive, but not enough so that he was noticeably better than Marks at this point.
I expected Martin to have the starting job by now, but if Marks keeps playing at a decent level, then the coaches are going to go with the veteran. I do expect Martin to eventually have a game where he outplays Marks by a mile and then takes his job, but until then, it's Marks' job.
One of my favorite picks of the 2011 draft was Zach Clayton in the seventh round. However, he didn't show much to be proud of last season. On Saturday, he finally made a statement, getting a sack and a tackle for loss, and hitting the quarterback twice.
Karl Klug is not going anywhere as the interior pass rush specialist. Casey will start, and either Marks or Martin will be across from him. Zach Clayton may very well play his way into the mix as well.
Defensive End: Pannel Egboh Is Closing in on Derrick Morgan
Last season, one of my favorite players in the preseason was undrafted free agent defensive end Pannel Egboh from Stanford. He was a constant backfield threat and disrupted a fair number of plays.
The coaches must've seen it, too, since they put Egboh on the practice squad. Now, he's been getting more and more reps with the first team over Derrick Morgan.
However, the Titans are still calling Morgan the starter, it's just that he comes in on different packages. He'll also be playing some interior line on pass rushing downs.
What that tells me is that Morgan simply isn't good enough to play every down at defensive end, and the coaches are trying to find different ways to use him so that he isn't a complete bust.
As far as I'm concerned, the guy who gets the most reps with the first team is the starter. Egboh has been getting that, and he outplayed Morgan in the one preseason game that's been played, so I expect him to be the named starter soon enough.
Quarterback: Jake Locker Looks Like the Starter
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I've been saying the whole offseason that Matt Hasselbeck would end up starting for the Titans. Now, I think I was wrong.
Jake Locker looked significantly better than Hasselbeck against the Seahawks, completing seven of 13 passes for 80 yards. By comparison, Hasselbeck completed five of nine passes for 45 yards and two interceptions.
Now, in fairness, one of Hasselbeck's interceptions wasn't his fault, but the pass was practically uncatchable. There's also the fact that Hasselbeck was playing against Seattle's starters, while Locker had slightly easier competition.
Against the Buccaneers, Locker will start, so if he outperforms Hasselbeck again (this time against the No. 1s), he'll have the job for sure.