Day three of Tennessee Titans Training Camp, the first practice in full pads, has come to a close. Here are the biggest headlines from the day.
1. Titans have an excess of DL depth.
When the 2017 NFL Draft ended without the Tennessee Titans selecting a single defensive lineman, it became apparent that general manager Jon Robinson is comfortable with the personnel the team already had in that department. As the Titans continue to practice defensive sets, it becomes more and more obvious just how deep the defensive line is.
Behind Jurrell Casey, one of the best interior defensive linemen in all of football, the depth chart is unclear for the most part. Names like Karl Klug, Austin Johnson, DaQuan Jones, and Sylvester Williams have rotated between the first and second teams during drills, and all of those players have yet to do anything overly impressive. The Titans also have the likes of Angelo Blackson and Antwaun Woods at their disposal.
Aside from Klug, who has always been and will continue to be used only as a third down specialist, all of those players have a real opportunity to compete for a starting spot on the defensive line alongside Casey. At this point, there really doesn’t seem to be a frontrunner.
2. We know the candidates for primary punt returner.
The narrative upon the Titans’ signing of Eric Weems was that he would be used as a punt returner. This never made any sense, as his ability in that regard isn’t any improvement over Marc Mariani, last year’s punt returner who was left unsigned after his contract expired. Following Monday’s practice of Training Camp, it can be safely said that the narrative was indeed completely wrong.
During one of the early periods of practice on Monday, Brett Kern and the rest of the special teams unit headed over to the second field to participate in punt coverage drills. Three players pitched in to return the punts, and Eric Weems was not one of them. Those three players were CB Adoree’ Jackson, RB Khalfani Muhammad, and WR Eric Decker. Considering that Decker has only returned ten punts during his seven-year career, it can be safely assumed that Muhammad and Jackson will be competing to be the Titans’ punt returner in 2017.
Though he returned 87 kickoffs, Muhammad did not return a single punt during his four years at the University of California. Jackson, on the other hand, was a star punt returner at Southern California, returning four for touchdowns during his three year collegiate career. Muhammad will likely end up returning kickoffs, and Jackson seems to be the prime candidate to return punts for the Titans.
3. Taywan Taylor will get his touches.
It was assumed when the Titans drafted WR Taywan Taylor that he would slide right in as the #3 receiver and play primarily in the slot. However, thanks to the signing of Eric Decker, Taylor will find himself in a backup role as a rookie. But if Monday’s practice was any indication, he will still get plenty of chances to touch the football.
One of the biggest strengths of Taylor’s game is his ability to make plays after the catch, despite his lack of top-end speed. When his head coach from Western Kentucky, Jeff Brohm, did an interview with me earlier in the offseason, he repeatedly praised Taylor’s incredible lower body strength, saying, “He’s a hard worker, he’s self made, he spends a lot of time developing his craft, and each year he got better and better for us.”
Three times during Monday’s practice, the Titans’ offense ran an “end-around” or reverse play in which Taylor motioned toward the quarterback who gave him the ball on a handoff. The plays weren’t all that successful, but nonetheless showed that the Titans will make an effort to get Taylor the ball with some space to work. Here’s to hoping he’s much better at those plays than Kendall Wright.
4. Delanie Walker had a big day.
As I wrote in yesterday’s Training Camp observations piece, Marcus Mariota has a terrific core of reliable weapons in the passing game. On each day of practice so far, a different one of them has stood out. Saturday was Eric Decker, Sunday was Corey Davis, and today was Delanie Walker’s day to shine.
On seemingly every play run by the first team offense, Walker was open. He ran crosses. He ran deep routes. He sat in the middle of the field. He caught a screen pass. Walker ran almost everything on the basic tight end route tree, and he ran each of them to near perfection. At times, he looked almost like a man amongst boys.
Going into his age-33 season, Walker is clearly as driven as he’s ever been. His performance in practice isn’t the only thing that’s stood out with him; his incredible effort and mentality of leaving everything out on the field have brightly glared in every single drill. If you’re among those who fear that Walker will regress this season because of his age, it’s time to calm down. He looks as good as ever, and seems set for yet another Pro Bowl caliber year.