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Observations on the Offense in First Practice with Buccaneers

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed a deepening connection with new targets like tight end Austin Hooper. Rookie wide receiver Treylon Burks got off to a good start, but his day ended early.

NASHVILLE – The first of two joint practices between the Tennessee Titans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is in the books.

I spent the day watching the Titans’ offense on Wednesday, while co-worker David Boclair observed the defense.

Here are some quick thoughts on how things looked offensively for the Titans against the Bucs:

• I thought it was a very good day for starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He had a couple passes batted down by Tampa defensive linemen early, but the good far outweighed the bad overall. Two of Tannehill’s top highlights came early, when he connected on bombs to Treylon Burks and Racey McMath. Burks got behind the Tampa defense, while McMath hauled down a contested deep pass. Those kinds of completions will be key for a Titans offense in search of big plays. Tannehill also led the Titans to two “game-winning” field goals in two-minute drills. He was intercepted once – when his arm was bumped on a throw intended for Kyle Phillips.

“Guys made the plays down the field for me,” Tannehill said. “We were able to execute in two-minute (to get) in position to win the game twice in a row there. Guys were making plays, getting open, so a lot of good things.”

• It was not as good a day for the two quarterbacks behind Tannehill – Malik Willis and Logan Woodside. Willis’ day would have been better had it not been for at least three dropped passes – one each by Reggie Roberson, Julius Chestnut and Trenton Cannon. But as we’ve seen before, there were times when Willis held onto the football too long, usually throwing incompletions at the end of those plays. In his two-minute drill, Willis completed passes to Chig Okonkwo and Cody Hollister. But he also threw a pair of incompletions to Okonkwo, and he would have been sacked on another down. Ultimately, the Titans turned the ball over on downs.

“I think I liked mostly the whole first part of practice – I think it went pretty good,” Willis said. “I think I need to work on my two-minute, going against a new defense. It was a little bit different than our defense, but that shows a good defensive coordinator, very good disguises. I just got to focus on going back and watching the film, getting better.”

In an early team drill, Woodside would have been sacked by Tampa’s Benning Potoa’e. But when the play continued, Woodside threw deep over the middle and the ball was picked off by Chris Cooper. Woodside was fortunate later in practice when his pass over the middle was deflected by Dee Delaney, but ultimately caught by Dez Fitzpatrick.

• There was evidence that the chemistry-building process between Tannehill and his many new pass-catchers is going well.

During the Titans’ first two-minute drill, for instance, Tannehill connected with tight end Austin Hooper on three straight passes – including one across the middle.

“Austin’s done a great job for us,” Tannehill said. “Austin did some really good things in that two-minute. He was winning one-on-one match-ups and making plays. So when a guy has shown consistently to do that, it builds a lot of confidence.”

During another two-minute drill, Tannehill scrambled left and made a tough throw to Robert Woods, who worked back to the quarterback and got open.

Rookie slot receiver Kyle Phillips was on the receiving end of a couple of Tannehill passes as well, as has been the case regularly through training camp.

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“We have several guys that are either new to this team or stepping up,” Tannehill said. “It’s been a fun camp for me, just building those relationships, building that chemistry, having the conversations, day to day basis on what I’m expecting, and how they’re seeing certain things. So that chemistry continues to build.”

• There was good news and bad news regarding Burks, the Titans’ first-round draft pick last April. The good news is that he made a couple of splash plays in the early going. In one-on-one drills, Burks made a nice over-the-shoulder catch against Tampa cornerback Kyler McMichael, snatching the football first with one hand before securing it with his second. Then – as mentioned earlier – Burks got behind the Tampa defense in an early team drill, hauling in a long touchdown pass from Tannehill.

The bad news? Burks left the field a short time later and headed for the locker room. I was at the other end of the field, but one person who saw Burks leave said he was shaking his leg a bit – and another person said it looked like it might have been a hamstring strain.

• There were ups and downs for the offensive line. It’s a bit difficult to gauge the play of the offensive line when defenders aren’t allowed to touch the quarterback, and when defenders aren’t tackling ball-carriers to the ground.

Holes looked hard to come by for Titans backs in the early going of team drills, but Hilliard popped a couple of runs as practice progressed. As expected, Derrick Henry participated only in individual drills before watching for the rest of the day.

“I thought we ran the ball well,” Tannehill said. “Obviously I’m carrying out fakes on a lot of it, but it seemed like we were getting some good runs, some creases, and our backs were running the ball well.”

The Bucs batted down two passes by Tannehill, bumped him once on a pass that turned into an interception, and recorded what would have been a few sacks over the course of the afternoon.

Added left tackle Taylor Lewan: “I thought the line played well. From what I could gather, it seemed like things went well on the first team. Second team, a bit of a lull. And then two-minute, from what I was told, the boys protected well.”

Specifically, Lewan said he enjoyed the challenge of going against Tampa Bay’s Shaq Barrett, who’s totaled 37.5 sacks over the past three years.

“Shaq Barrett’s been doing this for a long time and he’s a stud,” Lewan said. “So you go in cold into some of these practices, not having watched very much film, he had me on a couple of one-on-ones … So it really took me toward the end of practice before I could figure out how to block him in pass-rush situations. He’s great for me to go up against. I thought it was an outstanding opportunity to get some work in.”

Right tackle Dillon Radunz got a lot of first-team reps and – not surprisingly – looked a little stronger in the running game than the passing game. On one pass attempt, Tannehill actually wound up on the ground, and Radunz was on the ground nearby – apparently having lost a battle.

One other offensive line note: Jordan Roos got the vast majority of snaps at right guard. Starter Nate Davis left practice early, and back-up Jamarco Jones didn’t practice at all.

• Kicker Randy Bullock continues to deliver. Bullock went eight-for-nine during the field-goal portion of practice. Maybe even more importantly, Bullock was money at the end of the two-minute drills – connecting from 50 and 53 yards with the clock ticking down.