One returning player after another, the Tennessee Titans slowly are becoming whole again.
Defensive lineman Anthony Rush was the first to return from what had become a sizable Reserve-COVID 19 list, and in recent days, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, linebackers Harold Landry and Nick Dzubnar, running back Jeremy McNichols and wide receiver Racey McMath followed.
Barring complications, three more starters – center Ben Jones, guard Nate Davis and tight end Geoff Swaim – should add to the swelling roster in the coming days. The Titans haven’t added any players to the COVID list since Aug. 30 either, a welcome turn of events considering the season opener against Arizona is now a week away.
But the healthier group of players – assuming the trend continues in the right direction -- also means more roster decisions, some of which were delayed last week when nine players were on the COVID list at the time the roster was trimmed to 53 players.
So, with 53 on the active roster as of Sunday afternoon which Titans might be in danger of getting cut? Here’s a look at seven candidates who might have to sweat this week out:
Chris Jones, CB: The Jones, 26, had a solid preseason, posting four tackles (one for loss) and two passes defended. He also has some experience, which is in short supply among the team’s cornerbacks, aside from Jackrabbit Jenkins. Jones has played in 22 NFL games with six starts – three last season. But do the Titans really need seven corners on the roster, with Jones part of a group that includes Jenkins, Kristian Fulton, Caleb Farley, Elijah Molden, Chris Jackson and Breon Borders? Jones’ case for remaining might be boosted by the fact that Jackson hasn’t practiced in a while, and because it’s uncertain just how NFL-ready Farley is at this point.
Racey McMath, WR: As mentioned, McMath only recently returned from a stint on the COVID list. That didn’t help the the sixth-round pick out of LSU’s chances. His early momentum slowed as training camp wore on. The fact that Marcus Johnson will start the season on injured reserve could boost McMath’s case for a spot as could the uncertainty surrounding Josh Reynolds’ health. But if Reynolds is game-ready, the Titans would have six healthy receivers without McMath, who appears to be a great candidate for the practice squad.
Bradley McDougald, S: McDougald brings a wealth of experience to the position. He’s played 105 games and started 82, posting 10 interceptions. The 30 year-old looked good in his first preseason game, against Tampa Bay, and not so good against Chicago. The fact that rookie Brady Breeze is now on injured reserve might work in McDougald’s favor. But there are still four other safeties on the roster – Kevin Byard, Amani Hooker, Matthias Farley and Dane Cruikshank – so it’s a question of how many Titans coach Mike Vrabel wants to keep at the position.
Dane Cruikshank, S: Are the Titans convinced Cruikshank can stay healthy enough to make an impact this season? That is the most pressing concern regarding the 2018 fifth-round pick, as he played in just two games last year – recording one defensive snap. He also missed significant time during training camp this season. When he’s healthy, Cruikshank is a significant player on special teams and a situational sub on defense. But could the Titans find that kind of contribution elsewhere, and potentially choose to keep McDougald over Cruikshank?
Nick Dzubnar, ILB: Dzubnar signed on Aug. 17 only to go on the COVID list a week later. He made a big special-teams impact last season, playing 82 percent of all the Titans’ special-teams snaps and making a team-high 13 tackles on special teams. Presumably the Titans re-signed him to play that role once again, so he would seem to be safe. But if there’s a roster squeeze, could the Titans stick with a foursome of inside linebackers – Jayon Brown, Rashaan Evans, David Long and Monty Rice?
Corey Levin, C/G: The Titans claimed Levin off waivers from the New York Jets, just days after Jones and Davis had been placed on the COVID list, and after Daniel Munyer was injured in the team’s final preseason game. He’s providing the team with much-needed depth and versatility at the moment, and also has experience with this offensive scheme. But what happens if both Jones and Davis return as expected this week? The Titans may still keep Levin, considering both starters have missed a good chunk of practice and may need time to return to full conditioning. But the Titans would also have 10 offensive linemen at that point – Jones, Davis, Taylor Lewan, Rodger Saffold, Kendall Lamm, Ty Sambrailo, Dillon Radunz, David Quessenberry, Aaron Brewer plus Levin. (Munyer is on injured reserve.)
Mekhi Sargent, RB: Had second-year running back Darrynton Evans not gone on injured reserve, Sargent almost certainly would have been the in an odd-man-out situation at running-back. That’s assuming the Titans favor McNichols and his experience over Sargent, which may or may not be the case. In any event, Sargent’s strong preseason, which included special teams production, seems like a good reason to hold on to him. Also, if he was cut, the Titans would be down to three running backs – Derrick Henry, Khari Blasingame and McNichols – and McNichols is just returning from a long stint on the COVID list.