NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Titans’ wide receivers likely will have a new look when they take the field for Sunday’s AFC South match-up in Jacksonville.
A new attitude might be in order as well.
Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Brown is expected to return to the lineup after he missed last week’s game due to a hamstring strain. He’d also been limited to just eight snaps in Week 3 before he suffered the injury.
It’s been a bumpy start to the season for Brown, who topped 1,000 yards in each of his first two years in the league. As he has dealt with the hamstring issue, Brown has caught just seven passes – on 19 targets – for 92 yards and a touchdown. He’ll likely have an opportunity to turn things around against the Jaguars, a team he has torched in three previous games – totaling 12 catches for 251 yards (21-yard average) and two touchdowns.
Vrabel said he expects Brown, a full participant in Thursday and Friday practices, to return Sunday.
“I do,” Vrabel said. “I think he has worked hard and has progressed. I would say based off the body of work that we saw (Friday), we are excited about that.”
The Titans will be without rookie wide receiver Racey McMath, who’s been placed on injured reserve with a quad injury. In addition, wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, who was a full practice participant on Friday, is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.
Most notably, Julio Jones will miss a second straight game with a hamstring injury.
Those circumstances may prompt the activation of receiver Marcus Johnson, who has been on injured reserve for the first four games due to an unspecified injury. Johnson, a standout during the Titans’ training camp, has practiced for the past two weeks.
“He is getting closer,” Vrabel said Friday. “I can’t say enough about Marcus and what he did in training camp to really earn the trust of us and most importantly the quarterback. We will see where he is at (Saturday) and then obviously have to make a decision.”
To date, only Westbrook-Ikhine and Chester Rogers are the only Tennessee wide receivers to catch at least one pass in every game this season.
No matter which players the Titans use at that position against the Jaguars, offensive coordinator Todd Downing wants to see more separation from defensive backs than he saw in last Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets.
“I think (separation) was just fairly inconsistent in the Jets game,” Downing said. “I think we need to make marked improvement there. I know I can search for ways to try to help that.
“That’s my job is to put them in the best situations possible to win against man coverage. We got a lot of man last Sunday. So, I’m looking forward to them taking a step in the right direction when they get the next opportunity against man.”
Downing said there are several ways the receivers can create more separation – through better route running, setting up defenders, improving schemes and playing with a greater sense of urgency.
Vrabel would like to see his pass-catchers play a more physical brand of football.
“If (defensive backs) are going to get up and get on us and grab us and play physical, then we are going to have to do that as well,” Vrabel said. “Running great routes and using some of those traffic opportunities when we can to try and get open, create some space, and win.”
Added Rogers: “One thing we stand on is we’ve got to start doing the business if business is getting dealt (to us). We’ve just got to go out there and take the fight to them because they’re going to hold. They might call one out of six, but they’re going to continue to do it if we let them. So, we have to go out there and take it to them.”
Whoever “we” are, in this case.