Titans Confident in Unproven Backup Quarterback
The value of a viable backup quarterback is too often overlooked across the NFL.
The Tennessee Titans, however, have learned the importance of having a good No. 2 in more ways than one over the past few seasons.
In 2018, they had Blaine Gabbert behind Marcus Mariota. Gabbert started three games (he played in eight total) when injuries sidelined Mariota and threw four touchdowns with four interceptions while completing roughly 60 percent of his passes. In a win-or-go-home Week 17 game against Indianapolis, Gabbert didn't get the job done.
In 2019, Tennessee brought in Ryan Tannehill to back up Mariota. Named the starter after Week 6, he led the Titans to seven wins in 10 games en route to the AFC Championship while having a career season. Tannehill earned himself the starting job and a pay day.
This year is different. Both Gabbert and Tannehill had previous starting experience. Gabbert with a handful of teams (Jacksonville, San Francisco and Arizona), and Tannehill spent the entirety of his first six NFL seasons as the Miami Dolphins starter.
The Titans’ presumed No. 2 option this year, Logan Woodside, has not played in a regular season game.
Yet coaches and teammates have faith in the 25-year-old out of Toledo, who the Cincinnati Bengals selected in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Titans have an idea of what Woodside brings to the table already after watching him perform in the preseason last summer. As training camp opens, they take comfort in a familiar face at an important position.
“He’s got a command on the offense, and to get on the field and give you a better evaluation of templates,” second-year offensive coordinator Arthur Smith said. “So far, we’re extremely happy with what he's done, and everything we threw at him, he's handled.”
Woodside played in all four of Tennessee’s preseason contests in 2019. He completed more than 70 percent of his throws for 539 yards and two touchdowns.
His best performance came when he played from start to finish in the preseason finale against the Chicago Bears. In the 19-15 victory, Woodside completed 17 of 24 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the game with a 104.4 passer rating.
“Certainly, we like (Woodside’s) arm strength and believe in what he's done, pleased with what he did last year in the preseason,” Smith said. “Thought he did a nice job. Logan's got a good arm. He's accurate. He’s decisive.”
The Titans kept Woodside on their practice squad last season, but an arm injury landed him on the injured reserve list all of the regular season.
While the setback could have stunted his growth, Woodside found other ways to improve. Most of that was attention to the mental and visual aspects of his game.
“From a mental standpoint, just seeing a lot of tape, going through a whole year of game planning for other opponents, that was really big for me,” he said during a video press conference last week. “Going on the road, being in that environment, even though it wasn't playing, just being in that type of environment here and what was going on.”
And watching Tannehill, he said, helped him most.
“What time he gets in the building every day, how he takes care of his body, in the meetings he's also really very detailed in the routes and the plays that we have,” he said. “Just try to adapt and just kind of learn from him and that standpoint of, when to ask questions and it's OK to ask questions.”
Tannehill, who said he takes responsibility in helping young quarterbacks, noticed how much Woodside was able to gain from their relationship last season.
“He was here last year. He saw the way I prepared. We spend a lot of time together going through film study, going through how it works in practice, what we're working through, what we're working on, why we're working on things,” Tannehill said. “He's very inquisitive. Last year, asked a lot of great questions and I feel like grew a lot, even though he wasn't out there practicing with us since he was on IR. Really he wasn't on the field, but I felt like he really got a lot out of last year and so far he's carrying that into 2020.”
While Woodside is the early favorite to win the No. 2 job behind Tannehill, he will have some competition in rookie Cole McDonald, who the Titans have also been optimistic about this offseason.
Woodside, however, is no stranger to going the extra mile to obtain his goals. In high school, he said, he had to transfer schools because he couldn’t be a quarterback. At Toledo, he was benched twice and had to take a redshirt in his third year (2015) due to injury.
“I just kind of go off of the life experiences that I've had and wouldn't trade it for the world,” Woodside said. “It’s definitely helped put me in the position that I am today and just continue to work and ignore the outside noise and good things will happen.”
If history repeats itself, Woodside knows “something is going to be better on the other side.”
This time, he hopes that it’s an extended stay in the NFL with the team that appears to be giving him his biggest opportunity yet.
“The only thing I can do is control what I can control and give it everything I’ve got,” Woodside said. “This whole offseason was tough not being in the building, but in the back of my mind I knew that the Titans were counting on me, and I definitely didn't want to let them down because of the great opportunities that they've given me for sure.”