AFC South: Fernado Velasco

What to watch: Titans-Bengals

August, 17, 2013
8/17/13
10:33
AM ET
Three things I’ll be paying special attention to Saturday evening when the Tennessee Titans play the Bengals in Cincinnati:

1. Jake Locker. The Titans checked down like crazy last week against Washington, and a ridiculously high percentage of his passing yards came after the catch. It’s a preseason game, and they hardly need to be wide open, but it would be nice for the Titans to establish that they can challenge with mid-range and deep passes, and it would be healthy for the offense to have some success in all facets. Locker needs better protection than he got in preseason Week 1.

2. Get off blocks. The first-team defense stayed blocked too long and too often in the preseason opener against Washington. Defenders need to get loose in order to make plays, particularly against the run. The Redskins (No. 1) were a far better running team than the Bengals (18th) in 2012. Whether it’s veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis or rookie Giovani Bernard taking the handoffs, let’s see forward progress from the Titans' run defense.

3. Maintain the run effort. The Titans got big touchdown runs from Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene in the preseason opener. Overall, they ran the ball well, and that’s Item 1 on the list for forming their identity. Fernando Velasco will get the start at center, and while that position is still to be decided, the other four starters will be in place. Right tackle David Stewart didn’t play in the opener, but should play a dozen or 15 plays against the Bengals before he’s the first lineman to yield to a sub.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The defense won practice for the second OTA session in a row Wednesday, and seems determined to finish the week strong before the Titans enjoy some down time.

Nickelback Vincent Fuller said after the offense had a big day last Friday, the defense was driven to return with a vengeance for the final three practices this week. The first two they've swarmed, cut things off, grabbed interceptions and scooped up fumbles.

Fullback Ahmard Hall conceded the defense has gotten the better of the practices, but also provided a bit of context and perspective.

"They turned it up and were pretty much giving it to us," Hall said. "Yesterday and today we had a lot of young guys that are trying to learn the offense and they're questioning themselves, [Mike Heimerdinger] is putting pressure on them. We all know what the situation is, we only have a few practices before we're out there in prime time so he's giving the load to them and seeing how they're going to respond. But the defense is definitely playing well right now."

Some practice highlights and observations:

In red zone seven-on-seven: Rookie running back Rodney Ferguson II owes Vince Young one. He flubbed a short pass near the goal line, it popped in the air and Nick Harper grabbed it for what would have been a 100-yard TD return.

In team: Cortland Finnegan picked off a bad pass from Kerry Collins intended for Justin Gage. Finnegan sliced in front of Gage in a blur.

Interior offensive lineman Fernando Velasco and defensive tackle Derrick Jones had a slugfest of a fight, but quickly settled down. One picked up the other's helmet to return and they slapped hands.

In more red zone seven-on-seven: Collins flicked a ball to Chris Johnson on his left in the backfield and Johnson dropped it but recovered it in time to get to the sideline with a short gain. A play or two later Johnson fumbled after a good gain. He told Keith Bulluck later that it didn't count because the play was over, but everyone knows the play is never over at practice and a ball on the ground is never OK.

Finnegan had a second pick of Collins on a ball up the left side intended for Nate Washington.

Bulluck jawed at an SEC official who was helping monitor practice over the lack of holding a call on a Johnson TD run to the left corner.

White started right, and reversed course, cutting up the middle and getting to the end zone. It was a nice play that seemed to combine White's whole potential package: his vision and good feet benefiting from him carrying less weight.

In team red zone: A large section of the period was devoted to plays that put Vince Young on the move. A smothering defense didn't allow him to do much even on the run. Fuller got up close and personal to bat down one pass attempt.

More seven-on-seven: White caught a short pass on the right side from Collins and wasn't very careful about the boundary, stepping on the line and he turned to run up the sideline.

In seven-on-seven 2-minute drill: Young ran the first team, which was given 55 seconds, one timeout and told it needed a field goal. They moved well into range thanks to the best ball I saw Young throw in two practices: up the right side, it fit nicely between defenders Chris Hope and Nick Harper to Washington for a gain of about 35 yards.

In the locker room: White held court and further discussed Chris Johnson's declaration that Smash and Dash were getting divorced. Johnson's nicknamed himself Every Coach's Dream. White pointed out that dreams are not real.

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