The Tennessee Titans rested as many starters as they could in a meaningless game against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football in the hopes of being as healthy as possible for what is essentially a playoff game this week.
When the team takes the field against the Jacksonville Jaguars, nearly all of their talented players will have had at least two weeks of rest.
That sounds nice on paper, but even a well-rested version of the Tennessee Titans is more injured than nearly everyone else in the NFL. Some of this falls on the medical staff for their apparent failure to rehab players properly leading to what Mike Vrabel calls “repeat offenders.”
The guys that fall into this category are players who are household names to Tennessee Titans fans like Zach Cunningham, Nate Davis, Kristian Fulton, Elijah Molden, Amani Hooker, Bud Dupree, Kyle Philips, and the list goes on.
Some of this falls on the strength and conditioning staff for their failure to prevent these injuries through training and/or managing workloads correctly during the week. Despite attempts to correct overuse, nearly every week a new injury would crop up during the week that would cost the Titans a starter for at least a game.
When all of it is said and done, the Tennessee Titans have 22 players on Injured Reserve and that doesn’t tell the whole story. The fact is, every team gets seven chances to bring people off of I.R. and back onto the active roster and the Titans are about to use their seventh chance.
This should be an embarrassment to the franchise and Mike Vrabel should feel gutted that he backed all of the people behind a roster that was historically injured last season and they somehow found a way to mess it all up again.
That is the bad news, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reason to be a tiny bit optimistic.
How healthy can the Tennessee Titans be?
With the players that the Tennessee Titans should have available, they should be the healthiest they have been all season. Obviously, they are missing some Pro Bowl-caliber pieces (Ryan Tannehill, Taylor Lewan, Harold Landry, etc.) but they can field a pretty good team if things go the right way.
Here are the 11 starters on each side of the ball (and a role player or two) that should be available against the Jaguars.
QB: Joshua Dobbs (backup)
RB: Derrick Henry
WR1: Treylon Burks
WR2: Robert Woods
WR3: Nick Westbrook-Ikhinie
TE1: Austin Hooper
TE2: Chig Okonkwo
LT: Dennis Daley (worst backup ever)
LG: Aaron Brewer
C: Corey Levin (good backup)
RG: Jordan Roos (backup)
RT: Nicholas Petit-Frere
In a perfect world, Taylor Lewan would be healthy. In a fair world Mike Vrabel would have finally let Dillon Radunz take over the left tackle spot after Lewan went down and the playoffs would have already been secured.
Unfortunately, both of those guys are on I.R. and they are joined by long-time leader Ben Jones and the Titans’ best young offensive lineman Nate Davis.
Corey Levin can hold his own at center and NPF has been hit or miss, but this offensive line is going to be the weak point of this team by a wide margin.
The good news is that all of the Tennessee Titans’ best skill position players are healthy and that seems to matter when Joshua Dobbs is in compared to it being irrelevant in the games with Malik Willis at QB.
EDGE: Denico Autry
DT: Jeffery Simmons
DT: Teair Tart
EDGE: DeMarcus Walker/Rashad Weaver (great backup)
LB: David Long Jr.
LB: Monty Rice/Jack Gibbens (good backups)
CB: Kristian Fulton
CB: Roger McCreary
S: Kevin Byard
S: Amani Hooker
Nickel DB: Joshua Kalu (backup)
There is a real chance that the Tennessee Titans’ defense is 90% of what it could have been this weekend. Any time you lose a Pro Bowl EDGE coming off of a season with double-digit sacks, your defense is going to be worse but DeMarcus Walker and Rashad Weaver have combined for 12.5 sacks,19 TFLs, 5 PBUs, and 2 FFs this season.
A big addition to the pass rush would be a healthy and rested Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry. Simmons has been playing at a fairly high level despite only playing on one leg and Autry has been incredible over the last two seasons. If both have gotten back to near 100% it would be game-changing for the Tennessee Titans.
It would have been nice to have Zach Cunningham, but he was a shell of himself this season and he will probably hit the free agent market just as quickly as the Titans can get that paperwork processed.
As always, one of Jon Robinson’s mid-round linebackers has been a hit and Monty Rice looks like a ball-seeking missile against the run this year. Combine him with a UDFA hit in Jack Gibbens and the defense should be able to overcome what they lost with Cunningham’s second I.R. stint. Obviously, it would be a huge help if they could get David Long back considering that he was playing at a near-Pro Bowl level.
Anytime you get your CB1 back it is a big deal so it will be nice to see Kristian Fulton on the field, but don’t sleep on the importance of Amani Hooker. Despite an incredibly disappointing season riddled with small injuries, Hooker’s versatility as a free safety and a slot corner adds another dimension to this defense.