One thing for certain is that the Tennessee Titans do not want Ryan Tannehill to get hurt.
Since Tannehill became the starting quarterback six games into the 2019 season, Tennessee has gone 18-8 and has had one of the NFL’s best offenses, one that ranked among the top five last season in yards per game (396.4, tied for second) and points per game (30.7, fourth). He has directed an NFL-best nine game-winning drives and has the league’s third-best passer rating over that span at 111.3.
With the start of training camp a little more than a week away, what’s not clear is what happens if Tannehill is sidelined by an injury for the first time since his days with the Miami Dolphins.
There are two other quarterbacks on the roster, Logan Woodside and DeShone Kizer. Neither is new to the Titans. However, the coming weeks will be their first opportunity to see exactly how they stack up against one another and where they should fall on the depth chart behind Tannehill.
“It’s a healthy competition right now,” quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara said last month during the team’s mandatory minicamp. “Those two guys are both working hard. The key for them is preparing every day, and they both have come prepared every day throughout our offseason program and [have] shown some leadership.”
Woodside was the backup in 2020 but has no real game experience of which to speak. In three seasons as a professional, he has appeared in six NFL games and has attempted three passes. His only completion came on a fake punt.
A seventh-round pick by Cincinnati in 2018, he spent a brief period early that year and all of 2019 on Tennessee’s practice squad. He was elevated to No. 2 on the depth chart effectively by default, given that there was no preseason last year and no one else other than him and Tannehill in workouts and the meeting room throughout the regular season.
“I think the thing about Logan is work level, his work ethic,” O’Hara said. “He doesn’t really allow anyone to outwork him. The guy works really hard. He’s had to earn everything he’s gotten to do.”
Kizer joined the Titans last November. Officially, he was on the practice squad, but the reality is that he was a “quarantine quarterback,” completely separated from the rest of the team to ensure that he was available if COVID-19 and/or contact tracing meant Tannehill and Woodside were unavailable at the same time. He was picked for that job when Trevor Siemian, who did the same thing for the majority of the season, was signed by New Orleans to its active roster.
Kizer was a second-round pick by Cleveland in 2017 and went 0-15 as a rookie. He has not started a game since and has not appeared in a regular season contest since 2018.
“Last year was hard [for Kizer],” O’Hara said. “I credit him being a ‘quarantine quarterback’ and really just dealing with me for a lot of hours on Zoom. And then he would come out here when everyone was done and then we’d go out and throw and go through the gameplan. He handled that really well.”
How well each performs in the preseason will be of particular interest, and there is reason to believe that each will get plenty of opportunities to show what he can do.
Under coach Mike Vrabel, Marcus Mariota was the established starter going into the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and his work in the preseason was limited to just 38 passes total in those two years. By comparison, Woodside threw 29 times in one game and 76 overall during the 2019 preseason, when he was No. 3 behind Mariota and Tannehill, and in 2018 Blaine Gabbert and Luke Falk each attempted more than 50 throws.
The preseason has been reduced to three games this year, which is three more than anyone played in 2020. Thus, it still should provide plenty of playing time for Woodside and Kizer. Enough, in fact, for one of them to claim the role of Tannehill’s backup.
“Two really hard workers,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “Two guys that fall under that old adage of ‘gym rat’ – they’re two guys that love getting in here and watching film and going through plays. They’re very self-critical. It’s been fun to work with those guys, and I’m excited to watch that competition unfold.”