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Tannehill Targets Whoever is Available

In 11 games, the Tennessee Titans quarterback already has thrown passes to more receivers than in all of the 2020 NFL season.

NASHVILLE – Ryan Tannehill has a proven track record of not playing favorites with his receivers.

This season, the Tennessee Titans quarterback’s ability to spread the ball around to various pass-catchers is getting tested like never before.

In 11 games, Tannehill has already targeted 19 Titans with passes, three more than all of last season. That list isn’t made up of a bunch of one-target wonders either. Tannehill has thrown to five players at least 30 times this season, to eight players at least 20 times, and to 12 players at least 10 times.

Saturday, Cody Hollister was elevated from the practice squad for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots, which could add to Tannehill’s 2021 target list. Plus, Golden Tate, signed to the practice squad early in the week, waits in the wings and likely will get his chance in the coming weeks.

Nametags have not yet been made mandatory for the Titans’ offensive huddle, but it might be a good idea. At the end of last week’s game against Houston, for instance, Tannehill’s only three options at wide receiver included Chester Rogers, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Dez Fitzpatrick. Missing from the game were Julio Jones, Cam Batson and Racey McMath (all on injured reserve); A.J. Brown and Marcus Johnson (both injured during the game); and Josh Reynolds (released earlier in the month).

One challenge for Tannehill has been trying to develop quick chemistry with new receivers, players he hasn’t necessarily spent as much time with in practice this season.

“It’s hard no doubt about it,” Tannehill said. “We have to communicate really, really well. Be on the same page in the film room and the installs and make sure we are communicating everything clearly. Communicating exactly what I am expecting. If we do get some full speed reps, taking advantage of every rep we get.”

On at least one – and perhaps two – of Tannehill’s four interceptions against Houston last week, it looked as if he and Fitzpatrick were not on the same page. That’s understandable to a degree, as Fitzpatrick had only been elevated to the team’s 53-man roster on Nov. 13. He’d been on the practice squad prior to that, meaning the majority of his practice snaps were spent on the “show team” (scout team) – as opposed to catching passes from Tannehill.

Westbrook-Ikhine can relate, as a player who saw his snaps – and targets -- increase dramatically this season after catching just three passes in 2020.

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“I’m sure there’s some difficulty there,” Westbrook-Ikhine said. “But I feel like it’s a great learning opportunity for (Fitzpatrick).

“You can’t really create that kind of situation, to be in a game and play some meaningful snaps, to have a chance to go win the game. So, it’s kind of like baptism by fire, and I feel like he’s going to grow a lot going into this week. I can’t wait to see how he responds.”

The good news for those stepping into increased roles is that Tannehill has shown he can help a lot of players produce good numbers over the years.

This season alone, the Titans are tied with Buffalo for the most 100-yard performances by receivers (four), with Brown, Jones, Johnson and Westbrook-Ikhine each topping that mark.

Going back even further, Tannehill has helped a combined 15 receivers – in Miami and Tennessee -- to 100-yard games since his rookie season of 2012. Only five other quarterbacks can top that total: Tom Brady (18), Philip Rivers (17), Ben Roethlisberger (17), Matt Stafford (16) and Drew Brees (16).

Who knows whether Tate, Hollister – or perhaps another new name – will be the next name Tannehill can add to that list?

It’s just a matter of how quickly the quarterback and his ever-changing corps of receivers can figure one another out.

“We can definitely get extra work in, whatever’s needed to get that chemistry going,” Westbrook-Ikhine said. “I feel like Ryan does a good getting those game-like reps (in practice), or making sure even if we did miss a rep or something happened, talking about it on the sideline and getting on the same page after the fact.

“That carries over to the games. I’ve been in situations in a game where I’m like, `Oh, this is like exactly what Ryan said in practice.’ So, it’s just having conversations like that to stay on the same page.”