5 Things to Expect from the Titans Preseason
I'm not foolish enough to try to predict which preseason games the Titans will win or lose, since the preseason is pretty much controlled chaos. One thing that is predictable though, is what the Titans will be focusing on and trying to accomplish in the preseason.
Here are five things to look out for:
1. Rotating Quarterbacks
No, I don't just mean Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck.
There is apparently a training camp battle going on for the third quarterback spot on the roster between Rusty Smith and Brett Ratliff. If both are still on the roster by the preseason, expect them both to see some playing time. Whoever wins the spot could end up as the Titans backup of the future.
Now, as for Locker and Hasselbeck, I wouldn't expect Locker to play much, actually. He'll get a few snaps, don't get me wrong, but I think the Titans will only give him a very small amount of playing time.
The Titans need to acclimate Hasselbeck to the their offense and they need to figure out the third roster spot. Those are more important than answering the question "How good is Locker right now?" Because of that, Locker will only see a few snaps.
2. A Focus on the Tight Ends
Jared Cook looked to be the starting tight end in 2011 with Craig Stevens as the backup/blocking tight end. However, the Titans signed Daniel Graham in free agency, so that makes me wonder where Cook stands.
Cook was drafted for his athleticism, and 2011 is supposed to be his breakout year. I don't really think that the addition of Graham threatens Cook's spot as a starter, instead, I think that Graham was signed as an additional tight end, since the Titans may start running more two tight end sets.
There was also the addition of Louisville tight end Cameron Graham in undrafted free agency.
With the additions at tight end and Cook poised for a breakout season, expect Cook and the Grahams to be on the field catching balls often.
3. Marc Mariani Getting Time at Wide Receiver
Marc Mariani was one of five rookies to make the Pro Bowl last year. Not too bad for a seventh round draft pick (the other four were first rounders).
In the game, he set a Pro Bowl return record: nine returns for 326 yards and a touchdown.
Numbers like those are simply too good to ignore, and the Titans may have captured lightning in a bottle the same way they did with Cortland Finnegan. With Mariani's quickness and ability to make tacklers miss, he could become a big part of the offense in a Wes Welker type role.
Right now, he is buried in the Titans depth chart at wide receiver, so the preseason will be one of the few opportunities that he will get to show his stuff outside of practice. If he plays up to his potential, he could easily become Tennessee's number two option in the passing game.
4. A Battle at Cornerback
Now that Cortland Finnegan is apologizing for walking out of practice, it looks like he won't be holding out after all. This is great news for the Titans, since he's unquestionably the best cornerback the team has. Some may not like Finnegan's confrontational personality, but my high school coach always said "Football is a violent sport played by violent men," so take that as you will.
Beyond Finnegan though, there is a battle for the number two spot between Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty.
So far, Verner has outplayed McCourty, but it's been very close. McCourty's identical twin brother, Devin, is a corner for the Patriots and was both a first round pick and a Pro Bowler last year, so there's the possibility that McCourty simply hasn't seen enough playing time to prove how good he is.
For my money, Verner is the better player, but like I said, it's a close contest, and it'll be interesting to see who comes out on top by the regular season.
5. Running Backs Who Aren't Chris Johnson
I'm not sure that the Titans will have Chris Johnson's contract renegotiated by the time the preseason starts. In fact, I don't think they will. This leaves Javon Ringer as the heir apparent to the running back throne.
If Johnson is asking for more money than the Titans want to give him, I could see that affecting how the Titans play in the preseason in one of two ways.
One: the passing game becomes the focus of the offense, with runs as a secondary option. The Titans might try this to show Johnson that they can function as a team without him.
Two: the Titans coaching staff puts its faith in Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper and runs the ball anyway. I think this will be the option they choose, since it will give them a better look at who really needs who.
Even if Johnson's holdout lasts into the regular season, don't be alarmed. Half the rushing attack will still be there. Tennessee drafted Jamie Harper in the fourth round of the draft because he is big and powerful in the run.
Harper weighs in at 235 lbs and has a 40 time of 4.59 seconds. That isn't slow, especially for a running back his size. He was drafted to be Tennessee's third down back, and that won't change whether or not Johnson is there.
Whatever happens with Ringer, Harper and Johnson, Tennessee will have a good idea of what to expect from their rushers at the end of the preseason with or without CJ2K.