On Saturday afternoon, the Tennessee Titans participated in their first practice of 2017 Training Camp. Here are four things that stood out:
1. Murray and Henry split reps.
To the delight of all Tennessee Titans fans, Marcus Mariota is fully healthy and leading the first team reps as Training Camp begins. Joining him in those reps were two different running backs. DeMarco Murray began the day running pre-snap drills with the first team offense, but as the day went on, Derrick Henry was sprinkled in with the first team for a significant number of reps.
This could potentially be absolutely meaningless. There is a chance, however, that this is a sign of things to come. As I wrote on Friday, head coach Mike Mularkey has repeatedly praised Henry for the shape he’s in and the speed he’s shown during offseason workouts. It seems highly unlikely that Henry will repeatedly be given the ball instead of Murray, and thus his volume of carries probably won’t see a drastic increase in 2017.
It is fair to wonder, though, whether or not Henry will have a more defined role in the offense and be more than just a spell back in that regard. If that is the case, giving him reps behind the offensive line he’ll actually be running behind is a very good idea.
2. Adoree’ Jackson is a backup.
When the Titans’ defensive starters came onto the field to participate in drills, rookie cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, the eighteenth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, was not among them. Even in nickel formations, Jackson remained on the sideline.
The top three cornerbacks for the Titans on the first day of Training Camp were Logan Ryan (LCB), LeShaun Sims (RCB), and Brice McCain (NCB). When Mularkey was asked after practice about the situation, he commented that Jackson will need to show more consistency if he wants to earn a starting job (as reported by Titans Radio).
One of the knocks on Jackson as a prospect during the pre-draft process was the fact that he’s somewhat raw. He overcomes his lack of size with world class athleticism, but his technical ability isn’t always up to snuff. As he improves in that regard, he’ll move up the depth chart. Don’t expect that to take very long.
3. The Titans have three backup offensive linemen that they like.
After years of ineptitude, the Titans’ offensive line was one of the team’s biggest strengths in 2016. With all five members of the unit returning, it figures to be just as good in 2017, if not better. Adding to their fortune, if any of the starting five linemen suffer an injury, the Titans have three decent backups they can rely on.
During second team drills on Saturday, the right side of the offensive line featured rookie Corey Levin (center), Tim Lelito (right guard) and Dennis Kelly (right tackle), who was just signed to a contract extension. All three of those players figure to not only make the roster, but serve as quality insurance options for Taylor Lewan, Quinton Spain, Ben Jones, Josh Kline and Jack Conklin.
Levin is a strong interior player that moves really well in space, Lelito is a utility lineman who was signed in free agency to replace Brian Schwenke, and Kelly has proven himself to be a fit in the Titans’ offense, twice filling in at left tackle for Taylor Lewan in 2016. Now that the Dallas Cowboys have lost Doug Free and Ronald Leary, it can be safely claimed that the Titans have the deepest and most complete offensive line core in the NFL.
4. Eric Decker is still in his prime.
Eric Decker has been a very successful wide receiver in the NFL for the last five years, but his age-29 season with the New York Jets in 2016 was defined by injuries and shortcomings. When he was cut by the Jets as a part of their effort to rebuild the roster and get younger, some wondered if he had any quality football left in him.
On his first day of practice with the Titans, with whom he signed a one year contract worth up to $4 million, he showed everyone in attendance that he has plenty of gas left in the tank. He looked less like the version of himself that disappointed in 2016, and more like the version of himself that greatly helped the 2013 Denver Broncos earn a Super Bowl berth.
In addition to showing soft hands, nimble feet, and fantastic strength off the line of scrimmage during various drills, Decker wowed the fans in attendance with an acrobatic catch on a pass that was slightly overthrown by Marcus Mariota. If those two can continue to develop their chemistry, and Decker can stay healthy, Titans fans will have yet another reason to expect big things from the offense in 2017.