Tennessee Titans Training Camp: Observations from Day Four

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 13: Harry Douglas
NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 13: Harry Douglas /

Pads were back on at Saint Thomas Sports Park Tuesday morning as the Tennessee Titans practiced for the fourth time in 2017 Training Camp. Here are four things that stood out.

1. A decent WR will be cut.

Yesterday, I discussed how the Titans have an excess of depth on the defensive line, a situation that could force them to release a good football player. When it comes to the receiver position, a good player getting cut isn’t just possibility, it is definitely going to happen.

The top four receivers on the roster are set. Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, and Taywan Taylor are guarantees to make the 53-man roster, and each of them will have a big role in the offense this season. As for the others, namely Harry Douglas, Tre McBride, Eric Weems and Tajaé Sharpe, roster spots seem to be fair game.

Douglas was at one point in his career a more-than-viable option as a slot receiver. Now, he’s an aging and mostly ineffective option, though he does have plenty of veteran prowess. McBride, a seventh round pick by the Titans in 2014, has never made the 53-man roster, but his athleticism makes him a quality special teams player.

Weems was signed to help out with special teams, but his ability on offense is very limited. And, though Tajaé Sharpe was not too long ago seen as one of the best receivers on the team, acquisitions of other players and his offseason legal troubles have snowballed to push him down the depth chart.

None of these four receivers have done anything in camp so far to separate themselves from the pack. If they hope to make it past final cuts, they’ll need to stand out.

2. Mariota is on the move.

When quarterback Marcus Mariota suffered a season ending broken leg against the Jaguars in December, there was plenty of discussion as to whether or not the injury would forever plague his mobility. In the first four practices of Training Camp, especially Tuesday, the Heisman Trophy winner has extinguished those fears.

Over and over again on Tuesday, Mariota escaped the pocket to both make throws on the run and take off on his own. At one point, the defense was forced to do push-ups because they failed to keep him contained. The punishment didn’t increase their luck against their quarterback.

In addition to the plays where Mariota ad-libbed his way out of the pocket, offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie called plenty of plays that included designed runs or rollouts. The most successful of these plays was a run-pass option where Mariota faked a handoff to DeMarco Murray, rolled to his left with the ball tucked away, and pulled the ball out at the last second to complete a pass in the flat to Delanie Walker, who then ran down the sideline for a big gain.

No one doubted that Mariota’s pristine accuracy and sharp arm strength would be ruined by his injury, but the concern about his mobility were very real and legitimate. Titans fans can now breathe easily, as those concerns are no longer warranted.

3. The offensive line is still dominant.

In 2016, the Titans had one of the best offensive lines in football, leading to an incredibly productive running game, though run blocking wasn’t their only strength. Their pass protection was pristine as well, keeping Marcus Mariota mostly upright all season long. Heading into 2017, the unit certainly hasn’t lost a step, and may have even taken one forward.

During Tuesday’s practice, the offensive line shined in every single drill they participated in. They kept Mariota free from pressure in 7-on-7 drills, they gave Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray big holes in 11-on-11 drills, and they decimated the defensive linemen (minus Jurrell Casey) during 1-on-1 pass protection drills.

Left tackle Taylor Lewan found himself among the NFL’s elite last year, earning his first Pro Bowl appearance. Right tackle Jack Conklin was also an award winner, earning prestigious First Team AP All-Pro honors as a rookie. Both of those guys are still very young, so it’s safe to say that we still haven’t seen the Titans’ bookends hit their full potential. The rest of the line should improve too, and that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the AFC.

4. This is a very physical football team.

It wasn’t just the dominant offensive line that had a physical presence for the Titans on Tuesday. The entire practice has a feel of toughness and physicality, two words that head coach Mike Mularkey has preached ever since he took over last year.

For the first time during Training Camp, there was pushing and shoving. There were skirmishes. Punches were thrown. Players, at times, were fuming. Though Mularkey was always the first coach to step in and break everything up, he undoubtedly liked what he was seeing. Because, when you have a team knit as tightly together as the Titans are, channeling emotions into tough and physical play in practice, both before and after the whistle, is a very good thing.

There also was plenty of physicality from defensive backs, seen in multiple big-time hits over the middle. The most notable hit came late in the day, when receiver Jonathan Krause was running after the catch toward the end zone. Cornerback Tye Smith, who had an all around good day at practice, lowered his shoulder and knocked Krause flat on his back with a bang.

The Titans spent years as a mediocre and uninteresting franchise before the Mularkey/Robinson regime began. These days, they’re as interesting as ever. Their attitude of leaving everything on the field and not settling for anything but greatness has been a big part of the transition.