AFC South: Tommie Campbell

Ryan Fitzpatrick and Richard ShermanUSA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesBackup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to face a stifling Seattle secondary and the league's best corner in Richard Sherman.
Sunday's game between the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks is a matchup between two winning teams coming off losses, and both are missing key players on offense.

Quarterback Jake Locker is out for the Titans. Both starting tackles -- Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini -- are out for Seattle. Tight end Zach Miller could also sit.

The Seahawks have a 10-game home winning streak on the line, hoping to rebound after their first defeat of the season, 34-28 to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Titans hope to get a stagnant running game going and find some consistency with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Paul, it looked like Fitzpatrick had a rough first outing for the Titans subbing for an injured Locker. Do you think Fitzpatrick will improve, and how difficult will it be for Tennessee to have success on offense while Locker is out?

Kuharsky: Fitzpatrick is certainly capable of playing better than he did in the loss to Kansas City, when he had three very bad quarters and one good one. I'm not sure what the Titans can do to help him if they are unable to run the ball. If they can bring some balance with Chris Johnson (and maybe Shonn Greene, who's still trying to get back after knee surgery), it could be a lot less difficult. Fitzpatrick hardly has Locker's excellent speed, but he scrambled around pretty well against the Chiefs. With Locker in the first four games, the Titans didn't turn the ball over and overcame their deficiencies running the ball. Without him, they need Fitzpatrick to imitate the mistake-free youngster. But Fitzpatrick is more of a gunslinger than Locker and is streakier, and that's probably too much to ask.

Terry, the Titans pledged to be a great running team. It hasn't really panned out that way. Last time Johnson was in Seattle, he had a 2,000-yard season. What's the run defense going to be like?

Blount: It's been all but impossible to run up the middle on the Seahawks. Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is as strong a run stopper as there is the NFL, and it takes two blockers to handle 325-pound Red Bryant. If that fails, it's tough to get past middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. But Wagner probably won't play Sunday because of a high ankle sprain. Nevertheless, it's difficult to establish a running game on the Seahawks. Seattle is an aggressive outside pass-rushing team, so occasionally a back can get yardage outside, but not often.

Paul, Locker told us on the conference call Wednesday what a disappointment it is that he won't get to play this weekend in front of family, friends and University of Washington alumni who love him for all he did to help turn around the Huskies football program. He is a beloved guy here and a huge hero in this community. How is he viewed in Nashville?

Kuharsky: Nothing close to that yet. People who have given him a chance know he's an eminently likable guy, a hard worker and a well-respected leader, but plenty of fans called talk radio over the offseason talking about why Fitzpatrick would be a better choice or how it should at least be a camp competition. Even after Week 2's overtime loss in Houston, when he overthrew a wide-open Kenny Britt on a crucial third-and-1 late in the game, there were calls for change. (It's a throw he's got to make.) The game-winning drive against San Diego showed people what he can do. Locker also had a fantastic two-plus quarters against the Jets, which seems to have done a lot to win more people over. In playing style and development arc, I think he is a lot like Steve McNair so far. If that holds true, impatient fans will wind up happy.

Terry, home field is viewed as such a giant advantage for the Seahawks. Can you give us a tangible feel for just how loud and crazy the atmosphere is there?

Blount: In the San Francisco game, where the outdoor stadium decibel record was set at 131.9, it was so loud that it was difficult at times to even hear people talk in the enclosed press box. I know every team believes its stadium is one of the loudest, and I've been to most of them, but trust me, there is nothing like CenturyLink Field. It's deafening.

Paul, cornerback Alterraun Verner is off to an outstanding start this season with four interceptions and 11 passes defensed. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman is viewed by some as the best corner in the NFL, but is Verner the most underrated?

Kuharsky: He could have had another two picks last week on balls he didn't manage to haul in. Verner has been really good. The team wasn't sure what it had in him. The Titans knew they got a good football player out of UCLA three years ago. But as they revamped this offseason, with Gregg Williams joining the coaching staff and the Titans determined to get more aggressive, they figured a big increase in press-man coverage would move them away from Verner's strengths. They wanted Tommie Campbell, a faster and bigger guy to win the job. (Some wrote about how Campbell has some of what makes Sherman so good.) But Campbell didn't catch on and bombed in training camp, and Verner proved to be better. If Coty Sensabaugh hasn't recovered from his concussion for Sunday, Verner will start in base and move into the slot in nickel, with Campbell replacing him outside.

The Titans rush pretty well, and Verner is getting his hands on balls all over the field. Who has had the best success slowing Russell Wilson and how?

Blount: Even though Seattle came back and won the game, the Texans had the most success because of their talented defensive front and all-everything defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Both Houston and Indianapolis took advantage of Seattle missing starters on the offensive line and teed off on Wilson on third down. Nevertheless, Wilson is the best I've ever seen making the most of a bad situation and finding the opening the defense gives him. Anticipating when Wilson will roll out and cutting off his running lanes is the key, but it is far easier said than done.

The wait for the Twitter mailbag is over

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
11:17
AM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Mike Munchak likes to talk about guys being professionals and doing their job.

Enough of them did their job for the Tennessee Titans to beat the San Diego Chargers and get to 2-1.

But there should be some serious shakeout for all the penalties in the game. Not every call is going to be right, but 11 penalties for 116 yards by nine different players certainly does not fit under the heading of being a professionals and doing your job.

Tennessee fans were up in arms about the officiating and had a couple of legitimate complaints. Eric Weddle got away with pass interference against Justin Hunter. Kenny Britt was flagged for an illegal block above the waist that looked like a hand on the back.

Still, the Titans amassed 10 penalties for 110 yards in the first half before settling down. San Diego got four first downs from penalties while the Chargers committed five for 45 yards and gave up first downs from infractions.

“It’s frustrating because when you see them on tape I think a lot of them are touch fouls,” coach Munchak said. “I think a lot of them seem unnecessary.”

I wasn’t in the room and in talking to a few people who were, it’s unclear if he meant they were unnecessary to commit or unnecessary to call.

I sure hope he’s not making excuses.

Many of his players and his offensive coordinator and were not.

“As a team we definitely have to be smarter, because those penalties are going to come back and bite us,” cornerback Jason McCourty said.

“It’s discipline,” left guard Andy Levitre said. “That’s something we have addressed as a team and obviously it’s yet to be fixed. I don’t know how we’re going to go about it. Obviously it’s up to the coaches. But we have to do a better job with that, that’s going to cost us big-time down the road.”

“That’s unacceptable and we’ve talked about it three weeks in a row,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “We need to find a way to fix that because it’s not smart football.”

A rundown of Sunday’s offenders:

A look at the snap report from the NFL for the Titans in their win over Pittsburgh.

Offense, 67 total snaps
LT Michael Roos, 67
LG Andy Levitre, 67
C Rob Turner, 67
RG Chance Warmack, 67
RT David Stewart, 67
QB Jake Locker, 67

TE Delanie Walker, 51
TE Craig Stevens, 49
RB Chris Johnson, 43
WR Kenny Britt, 43
WR Nate Washington, 38
WR Damian Williams, 27
TE Taylor Thompson, 25
RB Jackie Battle, 19
WR Kendall Wright, 19
FB Collin Mooney, 17
RB Shonn Greene, 4

Greene got hurt early or would likely have had most of Battle’s snaps. The team said Wright’s preseason knee injury wasn’t going to be an issue, but he should get more than that if he’s fine -- especially when Britt is ineffective.

Defense, 53 total snaps
CB Jason McCourty, 53
LB Moise Fokou, 53
LB Zach Brown, 53
FS Michael Griffin, 53

CB Alterraun Verner, 52
SS Bernard Pollard. 51
DE Derrick Morgan, 49
DT Jurrell Casey, 45
CB Coty Sensabaugh, 36
LB-DE Akeem Ayers, 29
DE Kamerion Wimbley, 27
DL Karl Klug, 23
DE Ropati Pitoitua, 19
DT Mike Martin, 17
DT Sammie Hill, 17
S George Wilson, 3
DT Antonio Johnson, 3

The Titans are supposed to be reducing Morgan’s snaps, but Ayers is coming off an ankle injury and they were clearly measuring his work. He wasn’t very effective. Pitoitua showed well. Hill was a big free-agent addition. He had an elbow injury in the preseason and I would expect more action from him.

Four Titans played 18 special-teams snaps: Patrick Bailey, Tommie Campbell, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Daimion Stafford.

Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was the only active player who didn't take the field.

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:14
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rather than tell you this is what’s going to happen, I’ll tell you this is what would happen if I had influence in the Tennessee Titans meeting room when final cuts will be decided.

Some cuts are already trickling out from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, so check his Twitter feed.

Quarterbacks: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick

There just is no room for Rusty Smith and there isn’t a need for a third quarterback unless things go incredibly wrong. The difference between a random third guy and Smith isn’t giant.

Running backs: Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Quinn Johnson (FB)

Battle has to contribute on special teams, but he was better than Jalen Parmele through the preseason. Wyatt says Parmele is already gone. Johnson’s been hurt and could lose out to Collin Mooney.

Wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Justin Hunter, Michael Preston, Marc Mariani (return specialist)

Preston is one of the best 53 players on the team. Even though he won’t be active on Sundays if everyone’s healthy, you keep extra quality depth at one spot if it’s better than weaker depth at another spot. Once he’s healthy, Mariani isn’t as explosive as a punt returner as Darius Reynaud, but will more regularly get 10 yards.

Tight ends: Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson

No need for a fourth on the 53. Sign Jack Doyle to the practice squad

Offensive linemen: Tackles Michael Roos, David Stewart, Mike Otto, Byron Stingily. Interior: Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack, Rob Turner, Brian Schwenke, Fernando Velasco

Velasco is guaranteed $2.02 million under his tender contract out of restricted free agency. I’m not sure he should stick over Scott Solomon at linebacker or Stefan Charles at defensive tackle. But the big push for revamping the line and the desire for depth after last year’s slew of injuries makes me feel like they will stay loaded.

Defensive ends: Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley, Lavar Edwards, Keyunta Dawson.

Dawson is a good guy to have. I can see him staying and the Titans going five ends as opposed to six tackles. But linebacker Akeem Ayers is a nickel end so he factors in here as well.

Defensive tackles: Jurrell Casey, Sammie Hill, Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson, Karl Klug (swing)

I’ve got Stefan Charles over DaJohn Harris but neither making it. If one of them sticks, it’s the last defensive line spot probably over Dawson. I see Charles on the practice squad.

Linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Moise Fokou, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy, Patrick Bailey

Scott Solomon is one of my last two cuts. I want to keep seven 'backers. The seventh guy would be a trade-off for Velasco, I think. Solomon is versatile, seems to be catching on to the position change and can still play end if needed. He’s not practice squad eligible. I just can’t fit him here. I might keep him over Bailey but I don’t think they rank him that way.

Safeties: Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, George Wilson, Daimion Stafford

The fourth spot isn’t strong and Stafford could probably go to the practice squad. But if they choose a veteran -- Al Afalava or Corey Lynch -- as the fourth I could see them trying to upgrade it with an outsider.

Cornerbacks: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

I’d expect Khalid Wooten on the practice squad.

Kicker: Rob Bironas

Punter: Brett Kern

Long-snapper: Beau Brinkley

Observation deck: Titans-Vikings

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
11:51
PM ET
Observations and thoughts on the Tennessee Titans' 24-23 loss Thursday to the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field:
  • Running backs Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene didn’t play, which allowed for Jackie Battle to carry the load with the first-team offense. He was prominent in a game-opening drive that covered 70 yards and 18 plays, eating up 8:59 of the clock. Battle had 10 carries for 38 yards on the march, including a fourth-and-1 conversion where left guard Andy Levitre pulled and opened a hole on the right side of the line. Tennessee got only a field goal out of it all, but it did well to keep building the offensive-line-centered identity. That was it for the first-teamers on offense.
  • A couple other key players beside CJ did not play: receiver Nate Washington, cornerback Jason McCourty and defensive end Derrick Morgan. Nine others with at least minor injuries didn’t play, either, including receivers Kendall Wright and Kenny Britt, running back Greene, linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown, defensive tackles Jurrell Casey and Sammie Hill, and safety Bernard Pollard.
  • Tommie Campbell's missed tackle on a third-down play inside the 5-yard line was a 4-point play, as running back Joe Banyard turned a screen pass into an 11-yard touchdown. Campbell also gave up a red zone catch to Rodney Smith and was flagged for defensive holding, which was declined. Nothing there gave Campbell any better claim to the starting job he has spent camp and the preseason trying to take away from Alterraun Verner.
  • Tight end John Carlson made a nice, 19-yard catch on the Vikings’ first touchdown drive on the kind of play that gives the Titans trouble. Linebackers sucked up on a play-action fake, and Carlson found room between middle linebacker Moise Fokou and free safety Michael Griffin.
  • The second-team offensive line was, left to right, Byron Stingily, Fernando Velasco, Brian Schwenke, Chris Spencer and Mike Otto. At least one of those guys will be cut by Saturday evening. It’s not going to be Schwenke or Otto, and it’s probably not going to be Velasco.
  • Blidi Wreh-Wilson's had a pretty quiet preseason, but the third-round rookie cornerback showed something on the 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Minnesota’s Marcus Sherels. Wilson did well in late pursuit, and his dive for Sherels’ feet just missed.
  • Jack Doyle had a bad third-down drop two weeks ago and was more sure-handed in this game in terms of being certain he had the ball before he even thought about running. He caught a sliding 2-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone from Ryan Fitzpatrick. But he also got nailed early in the second half as he ran with a pass and coughed up a fumble. He’s a promising guy, but the Titans are going to be stretched with players they’d like to keep at receiver, on the offensive line and by their desire to keep a third quarterback. Doyle seems more like a practice-squad guy to me.
  • We’ve thought for a good while that if Darius Reynaud makes the team it will be as a returner, not as a running back/returner. His 11 carries for 56 yards look better than they were. It all came in the second half, against guys at the very back of Minnesota’s depth chart. Battle and Jalen Parmele are looking better ahead of him, as they have throughout the preseason.
  • The Titans have depth issues after their top three safeties. Seventh-round safety Daimion Stafford collected two turnovers in the third quarter. He intercepted a really bad pass from McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Later, as two defenders jarred the ball free from tight end Chase Ford, Stafford scooped it up and ran with it for 39 yards.

Three things: Titans-Vikings

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
3:52
PM ET
Three things to look for in the Titans' preseason finale at Minnesota tonight:

Healthcare: The single biggest concern for the Titans, and for every team in the league, is making it through the game healthy. If there is any kind of injury that would be a factor 10 days from now, harsh as it may be, they need it to be to a guy who’s getting cut (or settled with) on Saturday or to a third-stringer. Anything that impacts the depth chart for the Sept. 8 game in Pittsburgh would make preseason game No. 4 a failure.

Vanilla: The Titans showed very little scheme-wise in their first two games and while they planned more for the Week 3 dress rehearsal against Atlanta, it wasn’t close to everything. So for the brief time we see the frontliners, the question will be about how they fare in one-on-one matchups. Can linemen win? Can a receiver beat a corner? Can a linebacker handle a tight end? Beyond simple, straightforward man-versus-man matchups, there isn’t going to be a lot to take away.

Tommie Campbell: Alterraun Verner will start, but he’s not expected to play much. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said Campbell will play the rest of the game, though he may have been exaggerating. Gray left open the possibility that both players could wind up with starts opposite Jason McCourty at cornerback this year depending on the matchups the Titans have coming. It’d be better if they like one enough to decide he’s the guy barring a major change.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said Tuesday that even when the team decides between Alterraun Verner and Tommie Campbell for a starting cornerback role, it won’t necessarily be a season-long assignment.

The team could choose the starter opposite Jason McCourty on a week-to-week basis.

“Come Pittsburgh week, we know we have to make a decision,” Gray said. “But we’re going to look at Pittsburgh’s roster and see which guy fits that week, and we may end up using both guys during the course of the season because one guy is stronger in one area, and the other guy is stronger in the other.”

(Here's Jim Wyatt's story on it from The Tennessean.)

Verner’s overall body of work is better than Campbell’s, but Campbell is better suited to play the press, man-to-man style the Titans prefer for their evolving defense.

He drew a somewhat disturbing comparison when talking about the potential platoon, pointing to Dainon Sidney (a better man corner) and Michael Booker (a better zone corner) in 2000, when the Titans were the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

But the two weren’t working as the team’s No. 2 cornerback. Samari Rolle and Denard Walker were the starters. With Donald Mitchell missing the season hurt, Sidney and Booker were patchwork players in the nickel package when Rolle moved inside.

And the Titans’ success came far more despite those players than because of them. The Titans didn’t have the luxury of choosing between players with different skills sets. They had the necessity of judging who was the lesser of two evils.

If Verner/Campbell is anything close to Sidney/Booker, the Titans will have serious problems.

This duo is better than the one from 13 years ago. I’m in favor of the Titans playing packages tailored to opponents and situations. But there is a point where that’s overdone. And the base defense would be better off with a guy who’s clearly the starter than with some sort of rotation.

If you have two, we know, you don’t really have one.

RTC: Debating Verner vs. Campbell

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
9:51
AM ET
Reading the coverage of the Tennessee Titans…

Do the Titans play it safe with Alterraun Verner or take more of a chance with Tommie Campbell? Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean looks at the choice and casts a vote for Campbell.

To which I say: I vote for Verner. He’s a better all-around football player, and I’d have a lot more confidence about his mental approach.

Mike Munchak wants Bernard Pollard to play smarter, but Pollard is unapologetic about his personal foul penalty, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Jake Locker is showing definite progress, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

Starters will play less in the preseason finale on Thursday in Minnesota, says Glennon.

The Wake Up Zone in Nashville chatted with Michael Preston this morning. (Audio.)

The Titans' offensive personnel groupings from Saturday night: 19 snaps of three-wide, 17 snaps of two-back and 12 snaps of two-tight, says Tom Gower

Reviewing Munchak’s news conference from Sunday, with Amie Wells and Craig Peters of the team’s web site. (Video.)

What to watch: Falcons-Titans

August, 24, 2013
8/24/13
10:44
AM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Three things I’ll be watching closely tonight as the Titans host the Atlanta Falcons in a game Tennessee treats as its dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Verner and Turner: The competitions at cornerback and center aren’t over. But unless the wheels come off for Alterraun Verner and/or Rob Turner they should hold on to their lead and be the guys to start on opening day in Pittsburgh on Sept. 18. Verner doesn’t have the physical gifts of Tommie Campbell, but he’s simply a better, more instinctive and smarter football player. Turner will add more of a nasty edge than Fernando Velasco.

Win more head to head on defense: Through two games the Titans' front-line defenders have repeatedly failed to get off blocks and attack the way this team intends to. Senior assistant/defense Gregg Williams said this week that a lot of those guys who stayed blocked are guys who don’t wind up making teams. But the guys who are certain to be around need to change the tone, be the aggressors and make more plays. There is no real scheming going on, so right now, it’s far more about what you can do against the guy trying to stop you.

Sticky fingers: The Titans' starting receivers, Kenny Britt and Nate Washington, had costly drops in last week’s loss in Cincinnati. So did undrafted rookie tight end Jack Doyle. They all messed up the rhythm, flow and pace of the offense. If quarterback Jake Locker plays as well as he did a week ago and his targets can hold on to what he throws to them, we should see some additional progress for the passing game.
Reading the coverage of the Titans ...

Saying it’s just the preseason doesn’t make David Climer of The Tennessean feel better about what he’s seen from the Titans. “There’s something troubling about the way the Titans are going about their business. This is a crossroads season, yet there seems to be no sense (of) urgency.”

To which I say: It is concerning. Part of it is the vanilla approach, but they should be better even when they are vanilla. And they aren’t good enough to simply flip a switch when the games count.

The Titans expect to activate Delanie Walker from PUP this week, says John Glennon of The Tennessean, who also offers an injury update and details of how Moise Fokou has pretty much won the starting middle linebacker job.

It’s getting harder to figure out Kamerion Wimbley's role, says Glennon.

To which I say: He was used too much last season, but it looks like a guy who got a five-year, $35 million contract may not be used enough to make him worth it this season.

A breakdown of the offense against Cincinnati from Tom Gower of Total Titans. He says Geno Atkins gave Andy Levitre fits and the Titans were in three-wide over half of the snaps.

To which I say: Atkins is going to give just about any guard fits.

The Titans running back tandem is gaining steam, says Craig Peters of the team’s web site.

An interesting point on kickers from an examination of Rob Bironas and the potential for drop-off, from Music City Miracles. “What appears likely ... is that kickers are attempting such a small number of field goals each season that 1-3 additional misses greatly drops their average."

I love this picture of Mohamed Sanu’s touchdown catch against Tommie Campbell based on the background from Paul Brown Stadium. From Music City Miracles.

Quarterback Jake Locker played a confident and efficient first-half. The run game looked good again. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey turned a triple play with a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery all in one swoop.

Those were encouraging developments.

That was about it for the front-liners, and those positives were swallowed up by a pretty lengthy list of bad stuff for the Tennessee Titans in preseason game No. 2, a 27-19 loss at Cincinnati on Saturday night.

A look at much of what went wrong:

Third-and-long failures. Tennessee allowed Cincinnati to convert third-and-longs and string together three long drives before halftime as the Bengals built a 17-3 lead. The headliner in third-down defensive gaffes was strong safety Bernard Pollard. He and nickelback Coty Sensabaugh missed chances to tackle Mohamed Sanu on a 24-yard catch and run to the 1-yard line that set up Cincinnati’s first score. A bit later, Pollard couldn’t bring down a crossing Brandon Tate, who ran away from him for another third-and-long conversion.

Injuries. Both strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers (right ankle) and wide receiver Kendall Wright (knee) rode a cart to the locker room after suffering first-half injuries. Both rank high on the list of players the Titans can least afford to be without. The Titans don’t have a quality, big linebacker backup for Ayers and Wright is probably the most unique receiver on the team. Ayers was on the sideline in the second half, not in a walking boot per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean on Twitter.

Drops. Receiver Nate Washington could have made a tough catch at the goal line. He was well covered by Adam Jones for a while, but the ball looked like it went through his hands. Receiver Kenny Britt let a good throw from Locker bounce off his hands. Undrafted tight end Jack Doyle had a terrible drop on what should have been an easy catch for a good gain.

Run defense. Bengals rookie running back Giovani Bernard looked very good (seven carries for 37 yards). He took one carry 22 yards and went the same distance for his one catch. Bernard got a lot of his work on one drive and looked to tire out the Titans' defense. On a Cedric Peerman run, the Titans missed two chances at a tackle for a loss (linebacker Patrick Bailey and defensive end Ropati Pitoitua), allowing him to escape outside.

Missing kicks: After moving ahead 3-0, the Titans missed three field goals in a row, with two of the off-target kicks coming from Rob Bironas and another from Maikon Bonani. It’s bad enough that the Titans had to settle for field goals. Bironas hooked the first miss wide-left, and the second went wide-right. The usually reliable Bironas missed time recently with a back issue and this was his first preseason action. Hopefully for Tennessee, his problems were related to rustiness.

Solid fade: The Bengals got a very nice Andy Dalton throw and Sanu catch on a 2-yard fade in the back left of the end zone. Tommie Campbell wasn’t as bad as he was in the preseason opener, and he had a good play on him here. He did get his hands on Sanu early, but Sanu just made a good play. That said, he didn’t look to seize the job in this game. Alterraun Verner made two plays in the first five minutes of the second half. Forget the physical attributes. Verner is a just better football player who understands the game better and has superior instincts.

The second half: The second and third teams fared better and produced a couple of touchdowns. One gaffe of note early in the fourth quarter, however: Right end Scott Solomon crashed to the middle of the field rather than containing on his side. Young Bengals running back Dan Herron reversed course and ran to where Solomon should have been. The result was a 39-yard touchdown scamper that wound up providing the winning margin.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The volume on the Tommie Campbell talk from the Tennessee Titans reached 11 at one point this offseason. Their passion for him was red hot.

The volume is down now, and things have cooled.

Last week the Titans started putting the word out: Don’t count Alterraun Verner out of the competition for the left cornerback job, a spot he held last season. Verner is a good football player, but he is less equipped physically to play the press style the Titans now want to go with more.

"Don’t count Verner out," roughly translated, means "Campbell isn’t turning into what we thought we could turn him into and may be blowing his opportunity."

[+] EnlargeTommie Campbell
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyTommie Campbell is the physical cornerback the Titans want in their secondary, but he's not yet taking advantage of his strength.
They’ve alternated days as the starter, and on Saturday both got some first-team work. Campbell will start next weekend in Cincinnati and said he hopes to get some snaps against the Bengals' top receiver, A.J. Green.

In the preseason opener Thursday against Washington Campbell played with the second team and appeared tentative. He hardly took advantage of his strength.

“His strong suit is as a press corner and we put him in situations, he was not aggressive at the line of scrimmage pressing guys, he was playing off,” said Steve Brown, the Titans' assistant secondary coach who played cornerback for the Houston Oilers for eight years. “It was kind of because he was going against a fast guy and he was more worried about getting beat as opposed to playing technique.

“That’s why we’re out here every day, getting him to focus in on his technique and perfect his technique so he can be proficient in the games. It’s a work in progress.”

Say this for Campbell, he maintained the sort of confidence a corner needs in playing such a bounce-back position. Saturday afternoon in practice he picked off a Jake Locker pass aimed for Kenny Britt and outran Britt for a long touchdown return.

“It’s about a comfort level,” Campbell said, reflecting on the Washington game. “Sometimes the receiver was lining up real tight [to the quarterback] and it was kind of dictating which leverage you want to play. It creates possible pick situations. … Once I got the feel of it, I was press all the time. I even pressed a third-and-17, which wasn’t smart. I did it because I got comfortable in the game. Once I got the feel of it I was fine.”

But Campbell emphasized that no one got behind him and sounded like a zone corner to me, which he’s most certainly not.

“A couple people caught balls, but the fact of the matter is we didn’t give up any touchdowns and we got people down and lived to play another snap,” he said. “People are going to catch balls, it’s all about getting it down right then and there and playing another snap.”

Playing with a focus on no one getting behind you isn't necessarily healthy or productive in this instance.

Campbell has great speed, which means he can recover and so allows him to be physical in the first 5 yards in a way where he doesn’t have to fear that a guy might beat him off the line.

Campbell’s got an incredible story, and an opening day start in Pittsburgh -- where he once worked as a janitor at the airport -- would be remarkable.

Is his chance at it slipping away?
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Look at the Tennessee Titans from any angle and the focus winds up on the same spot: starting quarterback Jake Locker.

The Titans did a lot of overhauling after a miserable 6-10 season. All of it puts the third-year quarterback in a better position to succeed.

“I think throwing with confidence makes a big difference, and that’s what I feel like I am doing this year,” Locker said.

The Titans parted with Matt Hasselbeck and brought in Ryan Fitzpatrick as the No. 2. They are confidant Fitzpatrick can step in and win games if needed, but they have no leash on Locker. The entire organization is committed to him and believes he’s the right guy to quarterback the team to a turnaround.

“He’s really taken ownership,” Fitzpatrick said. “You can see he’s a confident guy, and that’s one thing that you really need as a quarterback. He’s really worked at his game mentally. We’re progression-based now, and he’s really trying to take it to the next level in terms of his footwork and accuracy. This whole offseason I’ve definitely seen improvement.”

Locker will be running an easier, more straightforward system. He’s got a "move" tight end in Delanie Walker (not currently healthy) who adds a dynamic the Titans haven’t had since Locker was drafted with the eighth overall pick in 2011. The receivers are deep and talented. The offensive line could be a dominant group, which should mean a Chris Johnson/Shonn Greene run game will provide great balance. And the defense should get Locker the ball back more often and with better field position.

I’ve seen steady progress and more consistent play in recent practices. But he needs to carry that over into games, and he needs to address two things that might qualify as habits: a tendency to start slow, and a propensity to throw more comfortably and more accurately to his left than to his right.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeKamerion Wimbley
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceThe Titans hope to give pass-rusher Kamerion Wimbley a lighter workload this season.
1. The pass rush. The Titans generated a reasonable total of 39 sacks last season, with 6.5 from Derrick Morgan and six apiece from Kamerion Wimbley and Akeem Ayers. The Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens ran the same number of defensive plays (1,086), and they had 37 sacks.

But no single player on the Titans’ defensive front ranked as a scheme-changer that offenses had to account for before every play. And the committee work in conjunction with coverage that was far too soft, far too frequently, played a big role in allowing a league-worst 471 points.

They didn’t change a lot at end. They added size in end Ropati Pitoitua, who figures to play a lot of run downs, and depth in fifth-rounder Lavar Edwards. Ayers will be a much more regular presence as a pass-rusher, and both Morgan and Wimbley will play much less than 80 percent of the snaps, which wore them down a year ago. Does all that and a more aggressive scheme influenced by Gregg Williams turn the Titans into a more threatening pass-rushing team? I can’t say yes yet.

2. Two important coaches. Dowell Loggains took over as offensive coordinator with five games left last season, but it’s not like he could revamp everything Chris Palmer was doing. Given an offseason, he has. These Titans will be less reactive and try to dictate more, and the options routes that complicated things and counted on receivers and the quarterback to read things the same way are gone. Things are tailored to Locker now, and Loggains has more talent at his disposal than Palmer did in 2011 or 2012.

On defense, Williams returns from his year in Bountygate exile with a simple promise he expected would help him win players over: That he can make them better. He’s not the same guy he was back when he was the Titans' defensive coordinator from 1997-2000, but the season suspension certainly made him reflect and he comes back a different guy from the one who was coordinator for the Saints. I suspect he will positively impact key guys on this defense like Ayers, cornerback Tommie Campbell, safety Michael Griffin and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey.

3. The offensive line. Last season was a disaster, as the Titans had to call on more depth than any team can have. But the franchise counted on coach Mike Munchak and another offensive line Hall of Famer, line coach Bruce Matthews, to develop guys. A couple they counted on who never reached the expected level are gone now, and the Titans have much better players in place of Leroy Harris and Eugene Amano.

With a line of Michael Roos, Andy Levitre, Fernando Velasco/Robert Turner/Brian Schwenke, Chance Warmack and David Stewart, Tennessee feels like it has re-identified its identity.

“If we’re going to win, it’s going to be because our offensive line is a lot better than it was last year, and we’re physical, and we’re relentless, and we’re going to move people around on both sides of the ball,” Munchak said at the start of camp.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

They identified last season’s issues and have addressed them all in some fashion. That’s with coaching staff alterations, changes in thinking and scheme, major player additions in free agency and a draft that looks solid. This isn’t a team that sat back and assumed that given another year of seasoning, its 6-10 record could turn into 10-6. It took action. Now we have to find out if the moves and changes total up and produce a big difference in overall outcome.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker and Chandler Jones
AP Photo/Joe HowelThe Titans need QB Jake Locker to make big strides quickly if they are to survive a tough early schedule.
REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The unproven quarterback and the schedule. The Titans open at Pittsburgh and at Houston, and also play San Diego, a team Tennessee always struggles with, at Seattle and San Francisco before the Oct. 27 bye. It’s impossible to predict how the competition will be. But through the first seven games, 4-3 might qualify as pretty good but might still leave them having to chase to get into playoff contention.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Campbell has looked really good, and his physical makeup is tremendous, but is he ready to handle the mental end of the job? The team wants to play more press, physical coverage, and he’s suited to do so. They hyped him a year ago in camp then didn’t trust him enough to play him. We heard even better things about him this offseason, but recently they’ve put out the word not to count out Alterraun Verner and Campbell was tentative in the preseason opener. If they can’t get Campbell onto the field given his physical characteristics, I’ll question the effectiveness of the coaches who have raved so regularly.
  • Linebacker Colin McCarthy finally climbed back into the starting unit recently, then was sidelined the very next day with a hamstring injury. He’s a good player, but he’s always dealing with something. They are prepared to go with Moise Fokou, and I expect it’ll be very much a two-down job. The Titans are relying on all defenders getting a signal from the sideline, so the coach-to-player communication device won’t be a factor that helps keep a middle linebacker on the field.
  • Undrafted kicker Maikon Bonani has a giant leg, but he has to improve his control. Rob Bironas is recovering from back issues.
  • Weakside linebacker Zach Brown came into the league facing a charge by a prominent draft analyst that he was allergic to contact. He’s been anything but, and his growth as a rookie was a bright spot. He and rookie Zaviar Gooden are blazers at linebacker who can help the Titans deal with some of the tough coverage mismatches created against other offenses.
  • I expect offenses to target strong safety Bernard Pollard in the passing game. He’s an in-the-box safety, though he bristles at conversation about his coverage skills. The Titans plan to use George Wilson also, and he’s a more sound coverage safety. Pollard has brought needed swagger. But I wonder if Wilson won’t ultimately wind up with more snaps.
  • Two eye-catching undrafted rookies at camp have been tight end Jack Doyle and defensive tackle Stefan Charles.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The offensive line the Tennessee Titans expect to lead their revitalization worked (mostly) together for a bit over a quarter Thursday night.

The identity change is underway, but hardly complete.

The offensive line is going to be the backbone of this team, but in its work with four of five starters in place, it had mixed results against Washington in what wound up being a 22-21 loss at LP Field.

The line freed Chris Johnson for a 58-yard touchdown sprint and Shonn Greene for a 19-yard scoring run. But it also allowed for two sacks of Jake Locker, as Chance Warmack was badly beaten on Locker’s second drop back and Michael Roos later gave up a sack to Brian Orakpo, who had an easy time dipping past the blocker and getting to the quarterback.

Warmack pulled and made a nice block on a defensive back on Greene’s score -- "an RBI block,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains called it. Warmack looked good when he got to the second level. But he was frequently pushed back by Washington defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins and looked to be flat-footed and too high too often on other plays where his man didn’t necessarily wind up doing any damage.

He’s certainly allowed time to settle in. And he was playing beside tackle Mike Otto, not David Stewart, who was rested in his first chance at game action since he suffered a broken leg late last season.

“There were some things I did that I thought I could get away with in terms of technique and I learned that you’ve got to use it a little bit differently,” Warmack said, specifically mentioning one play, 22-Power, where he didn’t approach the nose tackle correctly.

Rob Turner started at center and is part of a competition with incumbent Fernando Velasco and rookie Brian Schwenke who’s out with a hamstring injury.

Tennessee’s still got a lot of room for improvement before it earns that ID.

“I think we took a step in that direction,” Roos said. “We had some big runs, we had a lot of short-yardage second downs, third downs and shorts where we’re running power or whatever we need to run and getting those first downs.

“That’s part of the identity, knowing we want to run it, they know we want to run it, and being able to do it and getting that first down. We were better running than in the pass, we’ve been working on it so much, making it back to our identity, smash mouth. First preseason game, usually the pass game is a little rusty. I think it was not great. We’ll have time to keep working at it and keep the chemistry moving in the right direction.”

Some other observations ...

Locker’s night: Locker’s decision-making was OK, but the two sacks in 25 plays didn’t help him get anything going. I don’t know that he could have done much to avoid either as they developed so quickly. His first pass, down the middle to Kenny Britt, should have been picked off by rookie cornerback David Amerson but bounced off his forearm. Kendall Wright hurt him with a drop (see more in a bit).

Seven completions in 11 passes for 58 yards and a 77.1 rating. Hopefully he picks up on the practice progress he’s been making and is able to do more in Cincinnati on Aug. 17th.

Loggains said he was pleased and that Washington’s soft zone forced the Titans underneath and Locker didn’t force things.

CJ’s home run: Johnson found open field when he cut back from right to left and then inside rookie safety Baccari Rambo, who wobbled at the move.

“I think last year [Johnson] was trying to make too many big plays, bouncing it,” Loggains said. “When he got in the open field on the rookie safety Rambo, he got vertical. He put his foot in the ground and he just outran everyone.

"That’s the CJ we know, the speed that he showed he still has. As long as he does that and continues to take coaching, he’s going to have a big year.”

Run defense: The Titans' run defense is another element of this team that is supposed to be a lot better. It wasn’t very good in this game. Defenders were pushed around at times and didn’t seem to consistently and collectively fight off blocks to get free and get to the ball carrier.

Roy Helu had a 4.4-yard average as the primary Washington running back in the first half with 13 carries.

“That’s too much,” Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan said. “ We have to do a better job of fitting up and tackling.”

Drops: Wright killed a drive with a drop in the flat when Locker delivered the ball in a spot where the receiver was going to have a lot of room to run with it on a third-and-3 from near midfield.

Loggains had given Locker and Wright advance warning that they’d use that play on an upcoming third-and-short.

“[Wright] took off running before he caught it,” Loggains said. “That’s not going to happen very often.”

Michael Preston dropped a third-down pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick that ended the first drive after halftime.

Off coverage: I look forward to seeing the increased press coverage the Titans have talked about from their corners. They didn’t use it in the first half of this game, largely lining up off.

It doesn’t mean anything more than it’s what they decided to use on this with their starters. They were tighter in second half. But Tommie Campbell was nothing special, off or on.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider