AFC South: Tennessee Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When the Tennessee Titans hit the field next week to install a game plan for the season opener in Kansas City, they should be at full strength.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Friday he doesn’t anticipate anybody missing practice next week.

That means backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (pinkie), defensive end Ropati Pitoitua (broken hand) and fullback/running back Jackie Battle (neck/shoulder) will be OK. Defensive linemen Mike Martin (hamstring) and Antonio Johnson (knee) should practice as well, presuming they are both on the roster.

I expect they will be.

The Titans avoided new injuries to significant players Thursday night in their loss to Minnesota, largely because their most significant players sat out.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have poor cornerback depth.

Campbell
Campbell
To their credit, that didn't prompt them to keep Tommie Campbell. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reports Campbell has been cut.

Campbell had a disastrous, three-penalty night Thursday, exchanged words with both safety Bernard Pollard and coach Ken Whisenhunt and gave up a bunch of plays. (One of those three penalties was declined, because the pass was completed for a touchdown.)

Campbell is an exceptional athlete.

I thought that would convince a new coaching staff to continue to give him time to develop. But his mental game has never caught up to his physical tools, and even his ability to force fair catches on punts was not enough to save him.

The Titans have Jason McCourty, Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson as their top three cornerbacks. Fourth-round pick Marqueston Huff will also be on the team.

Khalid Wooten has been used as a safety this summer, but started as a cornerback and is regarded as versatile and able to do both. But I have heard he is unlikely to stick. Undrafted rookie Winston Wright has not yet been cut. I don't know if they like him enough for him to make it.

With or without Wooten and/or Wright, the Titans will be scanning the waiver wire and looking to add to their pool of cornerbacks.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Marc Mariani was a likable underdog, and understandably so.

Mariani
He went to the Pro Bowl as a seventh-round rookie out of Montana as a returner, suffered a gruesome broken leg in the preseason two years ago, and landed on IR again before last season.

Now, as first reported by Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, Mariani has been cut.

He knew last night it was a possibility and left LP Field knowing it might be for the last time.

"It’ll suck to say goodbye, but it’s part of the gig," he said. "It’s been an amazing opportunity and I’ve loved my time here."

See him here in his final postgame chat.

I think he should be able to find work with a team that needs a return man. The Titans will lean on Leon Washington in that department.
Examining the Tennessee Titans' roster.

QUARTERBACKS (3)

Same at it's always been.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

Not a lot of mystery.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)

The first three are locks, and after that it is wide open. I think Preston sticks and that Hagan makes it for now but gets replaced. I expect Marc Mariani and Brian Robiskie are out. The Titans will scan the market for a fifth who is better than Hagan.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

I can't see them keeping four. But they would love to have Chase Coffman if someone got hurt.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

A starting-caliber tackle is on the bench (at this point, Lewan). Stingily is still one of the best 53 and can play some guard.

DEFENSIVE LINE (8)

Martin and Johnson have been out for a long time with injuries. I think Martin is still a certainty. Johnson still rates as a guy who can help and is worthy, in their eyes, of a spot.

LINEBACKERS (9)

Bailey gets the last spot over Moise Fokou. But it's a spot where the Titans might look for a better 3-4 fit who can be a key special teamer.

CORNERBACK (5)

Depth here is insufficient after the top three, and I think the Titans should be looking for outside help this weekend. Campbell can force fair catches, and likely still outranks the inconsistent rookie Huff, who also looks to be a good special teamer and is a roster lock as a fourth-round rookie. They could go with four receivers, eight offensive linemen and an additional defensive back when they find him.

SAFETY (4)
PUNTER (1)
KICKER (1)

The better leg who has now had two preseasons wins out over Travis Coons, the lesser leg who has had just one. The question is how long Bonani is the guy. The Titans looked at three veterans this week.

LONG-SNAPPER (1)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A couple postgame, post-locker room thoughts after the Tennessee Titans finished the preseason with a 19-3 loss to Minnesota.


  • Ken Whisenhunt asked if it rains every game at LP Field. It’s actually rarely rained during a game in Nashville, and never the way it rained for the team’s two preseason home games this summer. At least this time it eventually stopped.
  • The Titans' second-team defense mimicked the first-team defense and played a mistake-filled first series that ended with a touchdown -- a 3-yard pass from Teddy Bridgewater to Adam Thielen over Tommie Campbell. “We had opportunities for three sacks, we had a couple penalties on third down,” Whisenhunt said. “Make any one of those plays, you get off the field. That can probably be said for all the opening drives in these games. This was a different group, but maybe we’ve got all that behind us now and that won’t be the case going forward. Just like you know we’re gong to get a bunch of turnovers, because what did we get, a big goose egg in the preseason? We’re due to get a bunch.”
  • Whisenhunt said giving Maikon Bonani the second field goal and second kickoff chances was because the heavy rain was a factor on the first go-round. Travis Coons wound up with no work as there was no third chance at a field goal or a kickoff.
  • Receiver Marc Mariani said he was thrilled to walk off the field after his last two preseasons ended with him hurt. He caught one pass for 13 yards. He returned two kickoffs for an average of 24.5 with a long of 28. The fan favorite said he didn’t want to speculate on his fate. If he doesn’t make it, “It’ll suck to say goodbye, but it’s part of the gig,” he said. “It’s been an amazing opportunity and I’ve loved my time here.” (See him talking at LP Field for possibly the last time here.)
  • Whisenhunt said he thought Justin Hunter made his second catch of the game on a bounce, and the Titans raced to the next snap quickly to avoid a challenge. Hunter said he caught it.
  • The Titans will have meetings tonight and in the morning and will be able to make some cuts pretty quickly, Whisenhunt said. Other moves will take a bit longer as an evaluation of this game will factor in.

Observation Deck: Tennessee Titans

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
10:43
PM ET
video 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Since their move to Tennessee, the Tennessee Titans never went with a wholesale sit-down in the preseason finale.

Count that among the changes under Ken Whisenhunt.

Only a handful of players who will have real roles on offense or defense played Thursday night at LP Field where the Titans lost 19-3 to the Minnesota Vikings, who also sat a bunch of significant players.

The Titans’ second-team defense did a good imitation of the first-team defense this preseason, missing tackles, committing penalties and giving up a touchdown on their opponent’s first drive.

Guys we saw play in this game who will play in the regular season even if the Titans are completely healthy: Receiver Justin Hunter, running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Taylor Thompson on offense. On defense: safety George Wilson and defensive linemen DaQuan Jones, Al Woods and Karl Klug (who I expect to be on the team and get some snaps in the rotation).

Here are some other thoughts on the Titans’ fourth preseason game:
  • Rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger continued his impressive play, making assertive, well-timed throws. His primary issue is that he can hold the ball too long and not feel the pocket collapsing around him, which is what happened in the second quarter when defensive end Corey Wootton took the ball out of his throwing hand as Mettenberger cocked his arm, recording a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery.
  • First-round draft pick Taylor Lewan had a World Cup-caliber dive in the second quarter, flopping after mild contact with Vikings defensive end Justin Trattou.
  • The Titans brought fourth-string quarterback Dominique Davis in this week, knowing they wouldn’t play Jake Locker and allowing Charlie Whitehurst to rest his injured pinkie. They gave Davis the keys to the offense with a few minutes left in the third quarter, and he threw an interception deep down the middle on his first play. He finished with two completions in five attempts for 13 yards, the pick and a passer rating of 8.3.
  • The Titans have alternated Maikon Bonani and Travis Coons throughout the first three preseason games in a kicking competition. In this game, it was all Bonani. He put two kickoffs to the back of the end zone for touchbacks, missed wide left on a 32-yard attempt when the snap was bad but the hold was fast and good, and hit from 29 yards. The way the kickers were deployed suggests Bonani has won.
  • Outside linebacker Akeem Ayers played all the way through. I don’t think he gets cut because there is no better alternative on the roster. But it sure feels like he’s a backup rather than a guy in the 3-4 rotation for a team looking for pressure off the edge.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With a new staff in place, plenty of Tennessee Titans have to show what they can do in order to earn a chance to be around long-term.

But before he’s played a regular-season down for the new staff, defensive lineman Jurrell Casey ’s earned a four-year contract extension that his agent says is worth $36 million, with $20.5 million guaranteed.

Casey
That comes on top of the final year of Casey’s rookie deal, which calls for a $1.431 million base salary. He was a third-round pick out of USC in 2011.

Casey was a tackle in the team’s 4-3 in his first three seasons and is now an end in the base 3-4, shifting inside on nickel downs.

He brings a great combination of strength and quickness and expects to build on the 10.5 sacks he made a year ago.

The extension shows the Titans are ready and willing to invest in foundational pieces. Casey is a very good player, the best on a defense that seems, though three preseason games, to be lacking firepower.

No other player from the 2011 draft class is a candidate for an extension at this point.

The Titans declined to execute an expensive 2015 option for quarterback Jake Locker, who is playing to prove he’s the guy for beyond this season.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Barring an injury to a starting tackle or guard in the next 10 days, Tennessee Titans first-round pick Taylor Lewan is primed to be playing on special teams and a spectator when the offense is on the field when the team opens the season in Kansas City on Sept. 7.

“It’s not over 'til it’s over, so I’ll keep competing,” he said on Tuesday.

Lewan
But if that is the way it plays out?

“Yeah, I’m not going to be excited about it,” Lewan said. “But it’s a unique situation. Most teams don’t have the opportunity to draft a tackle in the first round and also have two outstanding offensive linemen. I’ve been competing in camp and working on it and we’ll see."

Left tackle Michael Roos is in the final year of his contract, his 10th with the franchise. Right tackle Michael Oher was signed to a four-year deal as a free agent from Baltimore, well before the draft, when the Titans were surprised to get Lewan at No. 11 in the first round.

Lewan hasn't really had a chance to challenge for a starting job, and the bulk of his first-team work came at left guard for the stretch of camp at the start when Andy Levitre was recovering from an appendectomy.

It's clear Lewan would be the lineman of choice to replace not only Roos and Oher, but Levitre and starting right guard Chance Warmack if any of them became unavailable.

But as long as all of them are healthy, Lewan will be limited to a role as a special-teams player and perhaps a sixth lineman in a jumbo package for short-yardage blocking.

“Any situation I can possibly be on the field, I’ll be on the field,” he said. “Psychologically, I’m going to overcome it. When I get my opportunity, I’m going to do whatever I can to be successful and thrive.”
Most significant move: There really isn’t one. Linebacker Jonathan “Tig” Willard pulled people out of a burning car on his way to camp a year ago. Cornerback Micah Pellerin was a waiver claim from Dallas last year. But no one on the list of the first cuts was expected to make this roster.

IR, waived-injured and an addition: Veteran linebacker Colin McCarthy (shoulder) was placed on IR. Undrafted rookie center Gabe Ikard (torn ACL) was waived-injured and will revert to the team's IR list if he goes unclaimed. The Titans added quarterback Dominique Davis as insurance for the preseason finale Thursday night against Minnesota. The cut to 53 needs to happen by Saturday at 3 p.m. CT.

What’s next: Six undrafted rookies are still on the roster, and they all could be among the 22 remaining cuts. The best chance to stick, at least for a while, is kicker Travis Coons. Another two qualify as first-year players and appear unlikely to stick. Even if they are all gone, another 14 will be called to visit Ken Whisenhunt in his office on Friday or Saturday and asked to hand in their iPad playbook.

Titans' cuts: LB Kendrick Adams, CB Marc Anthony, DL Lanier Coleman, OL Kevin Danser, LB David Hinds, OL Tyler Horn, WR Julian Horton, RB Waymon James, CB Micah Pellerin, WR Jaz Reynolds, S Hakeem Smith, WR Derel Walker, LB Jonathan Willard and WR Isaiah Williams.
ESPN.com Insider Mike Sando asked a broad range of NFL people -- eight current general managers, four former GMs, four personnel directors, four executives, six coordinators and four position coaches -- to provide a 1-5 rating for every head coach in the league.

Those votes landed coaches in one of five tiers.

Whisenhunt
Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt landed in the third tier, tied for 20th with San Diego’s Mike McCoy.

All of the coaches behind Whisenhunt have less experience as a head coach than he does. None of them has more than three years leading a team while he has six.

Sando writes that Bruce Arians producing a 10-win season as Whisenhunt’s replacement with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013 didn’t help perception.

One survey participant thinks Whisenhunt’s offensive experitise shows up better when he is a coordinator, not a head coach.

"The head coaches have to have a specialty, but as a head coach, I do not know that his genius comes out as much as it did when he was an offensive coordinator, whether in Pittsburgh or in San Diego. ... If they play lights-out above and beyond in Tennessee, I would gladly change my grade on him. I see him as damn good offensive coordinator."

That second act in Tennessee will do a lot to define Whisenhunt as a head coach.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- From early on in his first offseason working with Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff, Jake Locker said he felt empowered.

There were, and still are, questions about the Titans' quarterback.

Locker
But rather than breathing life into those doubts, Whisenhunt wasted little time showing confidence in the quarterback. It seems to me that has been a key in Locker's progress. And while we tend to make too much of preseason developments, Locker's been good.

He's got more freedom and more responsibility than ever, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

"I feel really comfortable and I really feel like I understand what we're doing offensively and I have ownership of it," Locker said. "So I thank (this coaching staff) for challenging me early. At this point, I really feel like I understand what's going on in this offense better than I have in the past."

Where, precisely, can we see an example of that?

Left tackle Michael Roos provided Glennon with an excellent one. Locker's actually allowed a blitzer a lane knowing he would find a beneficial throw out of it.

"There are times at practice when he's made himself the hot guy on purpose because he knows a receiver on that side is going to break off his route and it will be a good play," Roos said. "So there's that kind of stuff. It might not look right to us, but if he wants to do it and he knows what he's doing, then obviously it's going to work out."

That example is a solid development for Locker, and the Titans.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Derek Hagan has seven credited NFL seasons and Brian Robiskie has five.

Robiskie
Hagan
The two veteran receivers have fared better than I expected when the Titans brought them in over the summer, but indications are that the Titans could wind up looking for outside help to supply receiver depth after they cut to 53 by Saturday.

While Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and Justin Hunter are locked in as the top three receivers, it gets complicated after that and there is significant drop off.

Michael Preston is big and has a nice catching radius, but he may be the slowest is of the Titans seven veterans. Marc Mariani was a seventh-rounder in 2010 and is a fan favorite who can be an effective returner, but he missed the last two years with camp injuries, probably isn't the same player he was before them and lacks explosiveness.

Hagan and Robiskie are journeymen. Hagan was a third-round pick by Miami who's also played for the Giants, Buffalo and Oakland. Robiskie was a second-rounder for Cleveland, and has also been with Jacksonville, Detroit and Atlanta.

The team's top seven receivers all had a chuckle as I polled them on who would win a race between Hagan (who ran a 4.45 way back at his scouting combine) and Robiskie (4.46).

Of course each player said he would win.

Wright, Hunter and Washington all said they'd take Hagan.

Mariani and Preston said Robiskie.

One defensive coach I talked to about Hagan and Robiskie called them "perennial bubble guys” and said "neither has real speed.”

We'll soon find out if the Titans see any role for either.

Receivers coach Shawn Jefferson told me last week they are all still in grind mode, putting together their résumé.

"We're in a tunnel marching, there's no light,” he said of the way the group is working. "... One days we'll see the train coming.”

The Titans could carry as few as four and as many as six.

Also still around are two long-shot kids: Isaiah Williams and Rico Richardson.

The disappointment from a depth perspective is that, before spending a first-rounder on Wright in 2012 and a second-rounder (after a trade up) on Hunter in 2013, the Titans had little success finding anyone of substance at the position in the draft.

Damian Williams was better than any of the four under consideration in my eyes, and he moved to Miami as a free agent after 2013. Kenny Britt, the first-rounder from 2009, was a huge headache for the team and flamed out in his final year. Sixth rounder Dominique Edison from Britt's class did nothing. Lavelle Hawkins, a fourth-rounder from 2008 has bounced around.

If they'd developed one of those guys and kept him, they'd be four deep and have a little wiggle room in case of an injury.

Instead it's a big concern on an offense that has the potential to be pretty good.
Examining the Tennessee Titans' roster.

QUARTERBACKS (3)

If all are healthy, Locker starts and Whitehurst is the backup on game days with Mettenberger not dressed, at least at the beginning.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

Battle beats Collin Mooney because he can carry the ball and is a good special teams player.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)

The first three are locks, and after that it's wide open. I don't think they feel real good about Preston, Hagan, Brian Robiskie or Marc Mariani right now and think they will scour the waiver wire to see if they can do better.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Walker has said he expects to play on the line more and Stevens is a blocker. Thompson now ranks as a lock. Chase Coffman would be fourth, but I'm not ready to give them four.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

A starting caliber tackle is on the bench (at this point, Lewan). That means Stingily is less needed than backups for the interior such as Spencer (who's hurt) and Olsen. But Stingily gets my last spot right now as he's a better player than Robiskie, Mariani or Moise Fokou.

DEFENSIVE LINE (7)
Lavar Edwards doesn't make it, and Antonio Johnson's time lost to a knee injury has allowed the Titans to see they are fine at nose with Hill as the starter and Jones and Woods able to play there as well. Klug isn't a great fit for the system, but he's one of the Titans' best 53 players. Martin has missed a good deal of time with a bad hamstring, which is allowing others more time to show what they can do.

LINEBACKERS (9)
Colin McCarthy recently had shoulder surgery and will land on IR. Fokou doesn't seem a system fit. Neither does Bailey, but he's getting the final spot now because of his special-teams capabilities.

CORNERBACK (5)

Campbell has settled down some. Depth here is insufficient after the top three, and I think the Titans should be looking for outside help at cut time. For now Campbell stays because he can force fair catches, and he outranks the inconsistent rookie Huff, who also looks to be a good special teamer and is a roster lock as a fourth-round rookie.

SAFETY (4)

Stafford now appears to be a lock as Pollard's backup. I've actually liked Khalid Wooten's practice work at corner and he could be a swing defensive back.

PUNTER (1)

A solid guy who had a bit of an off year in 2013.

KICKER (1)
Maikon Bonani's big leg makes him intriguing. He was good in Atlanta. Overall, Coons has less leg but is more accurate. And his trajectory issue appears to be getting better. They could well turn to an outsider before the season starts.

LONG-SNAPPER (1)

There has not been much chatter about a position player snapping, but it still surprises me a team would dedicate 1/53rd of the roster to the position.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Zach Mettenberger has played a very solid three games in the preseason so far.

He’s hit on 68.6 percent of his passes at 9.88 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and two interceptions, four sacks and 97.2 passer rating.

The Titans are pleased.

But their quarterback depth chart has not changed.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Mark Humphrey/AP PhotoBarring an injury situation, the Titans pecking order at quarterback will be: Jake Locker folllowed by Charlie Whitehurst followed by Zach Mettenberger, above.
Backup Charlie Whitehurst didn’t play Saturday in Atlanta because of an injured pinkie on his throwing hand. But his limited preseason work has also been good -- 68.9 percent, 9.02 yards per attempt, a touchdown, no interceptions and two sacks for a passer rating of 105.6.

“Zach is (getting) more comfortable," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I still think at times he struggles with some things. Which is not uncommon for a young player. It’s been invaluable, the amount of reps that we’ve gotten him and how he’s performed. I think it’s been fantastic.

“He’s done a good job, he’s really made some plays for us. I think some things that really stand out about Zach is he’s got a good pocket presence, he’s made some accurate throws. It was nice to see him throw balls only to our team last night. He’s taking advantage of his opportunities to improve. That’s good to see.”

But with all of that, Whitehurst remains the guy the Titans will turn to if Locker goes down.

I asked if it’s in the realm of possibility that Mettenberger would be the backup on Sept. 7 in Kansas City.

“Unless it was an injury situation, no,” Whisenhunt said. “Charlie’s had a very good preseason, too, and a very good camp. And I’ve said Charlie was the two coming in. I don’t think that’s going to change. I think we’re very lucky that we’ve got a group of quarterbacks that we feel comfortable with.”

A good percentage of fans won’t like that.

I know it’s hard not to get caught up in a shiny new thing. And watching Mettenberger throw is fun. He's got a tremendous arm and has anticipated pretty well. But Whitehurst has been better than I expected and it makes sense, if you’ve got to insert a cold backup without much practice work, for it to be a guy who’s got more experience in, and understanding of, the team’s offensive system.

If the Titans need a long-term sub then Mettenberger should be considered, and I expect he will be, particularly if that need comes later rather than sooner.

For a game-day insert, Whitehurst is the right choice at this point.

Things can evolve to be different, but not based on Mettenberger’s work against mostly third-teamers in August.

Whisenhunt’s been intentionally -- and I would argue, unreasonably -- vague about playing time plans in advance of preseason games. He left open the possibility Mettenberger will start the preseason finale against Minnesota at LP Field Thursday night.

I can’t see it.

While Jake Locker is in a good spot, he talked after the game in Atlanta about how the offense still needed to communicate better. The offense isn’t at a point where it would not benefit from the starting quarterback and offense getting a bit more work together.

We don’t know if Whitehurst’s finger will allow his return or be best served by another game off.

Either way, Mettenberger will play a lot on Thursday.

And then he and Whitehurst won’t play for a good while if things break the way the Titans are hoping they will.
The Tennessee Titans wrap up their preseason schedule Thursday night at LP Field against the Minnesota Vikings.

A crisper effort by the first team would do a lot to help the Titans be ready for Sept. 7 against the Chiefs in Kansas City.

Sankey
One concern I see for the offense at this point is the lack of first-team reps for Bishop Sankey in a game setting. He put his recent fumbling issues behind him in Atlanta, with 16 carries for 44 yards coming without incident.

But all those carries came from handoffs from Zach Mettenberger.

And none of his carries on a regular-season Sunday should come from Mettenberger.

Sure, he gets work with Locker in practices. But the running back-by-committee approach is going to be working for the Titans this season. To ensure Sankey is as ready as possible, he needs to feel what it’s like to work against a front-line defense behind what should be a top offensive line.

The Titans have a chance to give him that against the Vikings, along with some work with Locker in a live setting.

Locker said the offense still needs to work on communication and focus.

I think it would also benefit from Sankey getting a little work with the starters before they are pulled.

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