NASHVILLE – The list of Tennessee Titans newcomers who made great first impressions last Sunday is a short one.
In fairness, there were few Titans of any tenure that made great impressions in the one-sided loss to Arizona.
But there’s always a heightened sense of anticipation for players pulling on the jersey for the first time, whether they’re big-name free agents, trade acquisitions or drafted rookies.
So, who’s on that short list of great first impressions, the kind that might forecast continued excellence down the line? Well … wide receiver Chester Rogers? The argument could be made that Rogers is not even a newcomer, since he spent last season on the Titans’ practice squad. But we’ll let that slide, since this was his first regular-season game for the two-tone blue. He put together a nice game, leading the Titans in receiving yards (62) and tying for the team lead in catches (four).
There really wasn’t too much more to get excited about in terms of the veteran newcomers, with the possibility of cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins posting a team-high eight tackles.
What about the 2021 draft class?
Half of the eight drafted rookies – second-round pick Dillon Radunz (inactive), fourth-round pick Rashad Weaver (inactive), fourth-round pick Dez Fitzpatrick (practice squad) and sixth-round pick Brady Breeze (Reserve/COVID-19 list) – didn’t get on the field.
Among this year’s other four draft picks, only one – third-round choice Elijah Molden – saw as many as 10 snaps outside of special-teams work.
Was the lack of rookie participation in Week 1 a sign that the team has quality depth in place above them? Or is it more a case of the rookies not developing as quickly had hoped?
“I think it all depends,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “Preparation throughout the week, the competition through the week, the emphasis on special teams, there is a lot that goes into it.
“We would like to try to continue to get (the rookies) going as much as we can. I am in full agreement with that, and that is something that we will have to continue to do and emphasize that the reps they get on the (scout) team are critical for the evaluation and for their development.”
Here’s a closer look at the how the notable newcomers – both vets and rookies – fared against the Cardinals:
Caleb Farley, CB
Debut details: The first-round pick wasn’t necessarily expected to make a big splash early in his rookie season, as his progress has been delayed by rehab from two back surgeries -- and because he chose to opt out of last season. Sure enough, Farley was hardly used. He was on the field for mop-up time, Arizona’s final eight offensive plays of the game. Farley did get 10 special-teams snaps. He didn’t find his way onto the stat sheet on defense or special teams. Expect gradual improvement here, patience being required.
Monty Rice, ILB
Debut details: Much like Farley, Rice had a quiet debut, as he was on the field for just five defensive snaps – despite the fact the Titans were without David Long (hamstring injury). To his credit, Rice, a third-round selection, recorded two tackles during that time. He got just one special-teams snap, a little unusual for a reserve inside linebacker.
Elijah Molden, CB
Debut details: Because of his NFL-readiness – and also because Chris Jackson (hamstring) was inactive – The third-round nickel corner was on the field for 41 of the 69 defensive snaps. Molden was targeted three times, per Pro Football Focus, and surrendered two catches for a total of 44 yards and a touchdown. That explains why his overall defensive grade was 37.0, and his coverage grade was 32.8. Molden did make a couple of tackles. But he still needs to prove he can handle speedy receivers running vertical routes in the slot.
Racey McMath, WR
Debut details: The sixth-round pick was active on game day over vet Cam Batson, presumably because of the role he can play on special teams. McMath did get 16 special-teams snaps, the fifth-highest total on the team, as opposed to just eight on offense. He did not find his way onto the stat sheet. But McMath did post a 71.6 grade for his special-teams work, per PFF, which tied for second-highest on the Titans.
NOTABLE VETERAN NEWCOMERS
Julio Jones, WR
Debut details: Jones’ health didn’t limit him, as had been a concern during much of training camp. The seven-time Pro Bowler played 50 of the Titans’ 64 offensive snaps, just two fewer than his younger counterpart, A.J. Brown. But it was an inauspicious outing for the 32-year-old who caught three of six passes targeted for him and totaled just 29 receiving yards. One pass glanced off his fingers and turned into an interception. There was a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the first quarter, and a 39.6 run-blocking grade from PFF. It’s clear that much more will be expected of him going forward.
Denico Autry, DT
Debut details: Autry played 30 of 69 snaps on defnse, which ranked fourth among the team’s defensive linemen – behind Jeffery Simmons (53), Teair Tart (37) and Larrell Murchison (37). That seems a little out of whack, considering Autry signed a three-year, $21.5 million contract during the offseason – and considering he averaged 45 snaps per game last year in Indianapolis. There was quite a disparity in PFF’s pass-rush grade for Autry (77.0 in 21 snaps) and its run-defense grade (29.7 in nine snaps) for him. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Murchison wound up playing much more often against the run.
Bud Dupree, OLB
Debut details: Much like Jones, the good news was that Dupree – coming off ACL surgery – still saw plenty of playing time, as he was on the field for 48 of the Titans’ 69 defensive snaps, along with eight special-teams snaps. In fact, outside linebackers coach Ryan Crow said earlier this week he needed to do a better job managing Dupree’s snaps as he returns to full strength. Dupree was noticeable at times, notching a couple of pressures on Kyler Murray and recording a tackle. But the Titans will need much more of an impact as Dupree’s health improves, as he has to live up to a five-year, $82.5 million deal.
Jackrabbit Jenkins, CB
Debut details: The good news for Jenkins, as referenced in the introduction, is that he totaled a team-best eight tackles, all of them solo. The downside to that is most of the tackles came after he surrendered receptions. Jenkins allowed six catches on seven targets overall against the Cardinals, including five of six to Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins, per PFF. Hopkins turned those receptions into 66 yards and a touchdown, averaging 13.2 yards per catch against Jenkins. Jenkins certainly isn’t the first cornerback to lose a few battles to Hopkins. But until further notice, Jenkins will apparently be going up against the opponent’s top receiver, so he’ll need to win more often.