NASHVILLE – Coach Mike Vrabel said the decisions on which players would play and how much coaches wanted to see them play were made days ahead before the Tennessee Titans’ 23-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday.
Obviously, injuries and game situations changed some things along the way, but there are conclusions to be drawn based on an analysis of playing time.
Here are four things that seem apparent one week into the preseason.
The draft class is going to be a huge part of special teams this season.
Inside linebacker Chance Campbell played more special teams snaps (19) than any other Titans player against the Ravens. That makes sense because backup linebackers often fill those roles, and the sixth-round selection out of Ole Miss looks to be well on his way.
Six others logged at least 12 snaps on special teams. That group included tight end and fourth-round pick Chig Okonkwo (15), safety Theo Jackson (14), also a sixth-round choice, and running back Hassan Haskins (12), another fourth-round pick. Additionally, wide receiver Kyle Philips, a fifth-round pick, started the game as punt returner.
“I think there were some really positive things as far as our kickoff, our special teams units, that we can build off,” Vrabel said Friday. “There were some young guys that we said that they needed to be productive and show up. (Okonkwo) played with great effort. (Haskins) played well on special teams. They showed up and just improved on some of these young guys that maybe that wasn't their primary job in college.”
This year’s draft class is likely to make more of an immediate impact than the last two, but that will not exempt them from special teams duties.
Aaron Brewer is not only the starter at left guard, he’s also the primary backup at center.
The undersized offensive lineman has created a lot of buzz with his toughness and competitiveness. Still, he was one of two projected starters who made the trip and played seven snaps, which actually constituted the first three offensive possessions. Except that Brewer played at center while Jamarco Jones was at left guard during those series.
“I thought (Brewer’s) leadership with Ben (Jones) not there … was probably the best thing he did (Thursday) night,” Vrabel said. “… (Jones) is such a strong leader up front for those guys.
Not having Taylor (Lewan) or Nate (Davis) there allowed Brew to help lead those guys and help get them prepared. I noticed that.”
Jones turned 33 last month and battled numerous injuries last season. He has missed just one game in his career, but there is reason that the injury bug could bite him this year. If that happens, it likely will impact two positions because Brewer is likely to slide into his spot and Jones – or someone else – would have to step in for Brewer.
Among the quarterbacks, Logan Woodside did more with less.
It was not a perfect night for the incumbent backup to Ryan Tannehill. Woodside was intercepted twice, and he failed to put any points on the board in his time on the field.
Woodside and starter Malik Willis played virtually one half each (Willis got the first half and the first two snaps of the second before he was pulled). Woodside, though, got four more snaps (52 to Willis’ 48) in three fewer possessions. That’s because all four drives on which he played included at least one first down, and three of the four included multiple first downs. Willis led seven possessions, and three of those were three-and-outs while another ended with a lost fumble on the first play.
“One of the strengths that (Woodside) has had, has been his command of the offense and his decisions,” Woodside said. “I would anticipate that is going to improve from what it was (Thursday) night.”
Willis was the more dynamic of the two with his feet (38 rushing yards) and his arm (his 9.7 yards/attempt average was more than twice Woodside’s 4.2). But Woodside’s knowledge of the offense and understanding of NFL defenses helped keep things moving.
Practice time and playbook knowledge are overrated.
Offensive lineman Willie Wright was added to the roster eight days before the preseason opener, and safety Adrian Colbert was added earlier this week. Yet each was among the busiest players on his respective side of the ball.
Wright played 34 snaps on offense along with four other linemen, Hayden Howerton, Jalen McKenzie and Carson Green. Only wide receiver Mason Kinsey (46 snaps) saw more action on offense.
Colbert played 38 snaps on defense, most among any of the Titans safeties and sixth overall on defense. He was credited with three tackles.