AFC South: Zach Mettenberger

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.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ken Whisenhunt and Charlie Whitehurst aren’t ready to declare the Tennessee Titans' No. 2 quarterback out for Saturday’s game at Atlanta.

But Whitehurst has not practiced since injuring the pinkie on his throwing hand on Friday night against the Saints in New Orleans.

He was vague about what’s wrong with it in a way his coach will surely appreciate.

“It’s just sore right now, it is pretty sore,” he said. “It’s not broken. There is some stuff going on, but hopefully it’ll be quick.”

As for his status for Atlanta, he said: “I can’t really say either way, but I think you guys can figure that out.”

Without Whitehurst the Titans will go straight from Jake Locker to rookie Zach Mettenberger.

It's a pinkie on a backup quarterback and he said it won't be a regular-season issue. In the meantime, more Mettenberger, which is a good thing.

Titans Camp Report: Day 19

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
7:46
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:

  • Receiver Justin Hunter continued to make things difficult on cornerbacks on jump balls. He went up and got one over Coty Sensabaugh from Jake Locker. He jumped over rookie Marqueston Huff for another. He skied to the crossbar in the back of the end zone to pluck another with Sensabaugh nearby.
  • Charlie Whitehurst had to call “ball” on one throw up the right side for Michael Preston, who turned but wasn’t ready and watched it sail through his hands, though he had some room on Micah Pellerin.
  • Locker threw a duck that found the ground quickly when it looked like he was aiming for Nate Washington with Blidi Wreh-Wilson in coverage. Locker seemed to be trying to stop himself from throwing it, but the motion was well underway and it came out of his hand. Wound up harmless.
  • Other red-zone TD catches besides Hunter’s: Marc Mariani from Whitehurst and Chase Coffman stretching at the back line from Zach Mettenberger.
  • Linebacker Zaviar Gooden didn’t get his head around on a Whitehurst throw for Taylor Thompson, but Gooden got his arm up to hit the ball for a breakup.
  • While the Titans have been very reserved with their kickers, Brett Kern punted for the second day in a row.
  • Whitehurst was "sacked" when the he dashed left and ended up swallowing the ball. It looked like the play was supposed to be a handoff to Bishop Sankey but was unclear who made the mistake. Sankey made some nifty moves on a couple of carries.
  • Whitehurst threw an interception to Huff in a ball intended for Isaiah Williams.
  • DaQuan Jones is working as the second nose tackle, and Al Woods is also in the loop there behind starter Sammie Hill. Antonio Johnson has been out for a while in recovering from a knee scope. Jones and Woods can play inside or out, while Johnson doesn’t bring the same versatility. He’s likely in trouble.
  • Travis Coons hit field goals of 38 and 44 yards at the conclusion of two-minute drill work by the offense. Whisenhunt said Maikon Bonani's groin was bothering him a little bit. Coons hit both field goals on a better trajectory with room to spare. He told me he was hitting the ball a bit lower than usual as he worked with snapper Beau Brinkley and holder Kern to speed up the snap, hold, kick process. Now that they’ve made progress on that he’s getting his natural swing back and getting more height on his kicks.
  • Whisenhunt said he will allow players to go home after they return from their trip to New Orleans for Friday night’s game. That ends camp in one way. But Whisenhunt said while the Titans will structure next week like a normal practice week, that they will still work ones against ones and rotate people in competitions. For him, camp really ends when the first round of cuts come and as the team focuses on planning for an opponent.
  • That likely means the practice rules change next week and you won’t be seeing any more of these practice reports. Hope you enjoyed them and they gave you some insight.

Titans Camp Report: Day 18

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
7:16
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:

  • The offense played a lot better than it did on Monday, with Jake Locker throwing three red-zone TD passes a day after he was shut out. There was still some sloppiness. Jackie Battle dropped two passes, and Taylor Thompson dropped one. Shonn Greene had a fumble, though he didn’t run the customary punishment lap which may have been because it was ruled to happen after the whistle (though there isn’t really a whistle).
  • In seven-on-seven work Charlie Whitehurst connected with Michael Preston on a deep ball over cornerback Ri'Shard Anderson. I’ve noted before that Whitehurst has put a lot of air under a lot of his deep stuff. This one was more of a line drive.
  • Kendall Wright continues to look amazing. It looks as if his confidence is as high as possible, and anything thrown near him is practically a sure thing. I hit him several times on Instagram.
  • Justin Hunter also had several good catches, beating Jason McCourty on a go route and going up easily over Tommie Campbell in the back right corner of the end zone in red zone 1-on-1s.
  • Bishop Sankey ran more authoritatively than he did a day earlier, when he fumbled a couple times. He had two live goal-line chances from the 2-yard line. The first was debatable -- I wasn’t sure he got in, he said he’s biased but admitted it needed a tape review. He was stuffed pretty quickly on a second snap.
  • Both sides were feisty. Bernard Pollard and Nate Washington had an extened back-and-forth hollering at each other, as did Daimion Stafford and Leon Washintgon. Washington told Stafford, “You can’t hit me” to which Stafford replied “You’re too little.” That exchange was repeated several times. Linebacker David Gilbert, back after a stretch out with a shoulder injury, flung tight end Chase Coffman to the ground to start a fight that spilled over. The Gilbert-Coffman dustup wasn’t anything beyond ordinary but leaked into a couple different shoving matches.
  • Right after that scrap, Anderson picked off Zach Mettenberger in the back right corner of the end zone. Anderson's been making some plays, but also gets beat. He seems like an all-or-nothing type at this point.
  • Derek Hagan caught a mid-range pass near the numbers on the right side in between a lot of defenders. I feel like he’s consistently good at finding that space on that play or ones similar to it.

Titans Camp Report: Day 17

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
7:21
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:
  • It was a horrific day for the offense, which came out flat and had mistakes in every area you can think of. There were multiple drops, fumbles, interceptions and bad snaps. Ken Whisenhunt downplayed it as one bad day, and of course it was, but the degree of badness was alarming. Said receiver Derek Hagan, who dropped a pass near the end of practice “It was bad, we didn’t get anything going at all. It was a crazy day. Nobody was catching the ball, bad blocking, missed assignments. Just an overall bad day.”
  • Shonn Greene had a fumble that Zach Brown recovered. Bishop Sankey fumbled twice, the first recovered by Brandon Copeland and the second bounced back to Sankey.
  • Kendall Wright streaked across the middle to collect a Locker pass, beating Jason McCourty. Michael Preston made a nice catch over Coty Sensabaugh up the left side from Charlie Whitehurst. Taylor Thompson had a couple more nice plays.
  • Jake Locker made a bad throw for Nate Washington in the right side of the end zone in red zone work. Tommie Campbell may have pushed off, but he easily collected the bad throw.
  • Whitehurst threw a terrible pick as he looked for Marc Mariani to his right. The line drive throw was easily caught by Blidi Wreh-Wilson who was practically halfway between quarterback and his target. Perhaps the worst play of all on a terrible day.
  • Daimion Stafford had a nice breakup of a throw for Mariani, whose helmet popped off in the process. Ri'Shard Anderson broke up a Zach Mettenberger dart for Hagan. Wreh-Wilson had a too-easy breakup of a Locker pass for Dexter McCluster. The defense made some plays, for sure. But more of the offensive failures were self-inflicted.
  • Justin Hunter wore a jersey that said “J A G” across the back instead of “Hunter.” He said Whisenhunt and receivers coach Shawn Jefferson talked to him after he forgot to convert a route Saturday night. Hunter didn’t know they’d follow through with the jersey, but they did. He said he’ll continue to work to be more than “just a guy.”
  • Hunter made a nice play in the middle of the field, winning a contested ball from Locker by taking it away from safety Michael Griffin.
  • Among the targets with drops: Delanie Walker, Preston, Washington (who had a chance to recollect the ball on the sideline but bobbled it until his feet were out), Thompson, Hagan.
  • Guard Andy Levitre said he played one game at center for the Bills against Miami and was bad at it. Whisenhunt reminded a questioner that he’d said in the past he intended to work Levitre a little at center to prepare a contingency. Now with Chris Spencer (ankle) out, it was the right time. Levitre said he lost focus and snapped as if the quarterback was under center a couple times when he wound up rolling balls past Zach Mettenberger. Ultimately, they put starting center Brian Schwenke in with the third team to settle things down.
  • Kickoffs: Maikon Bonani put one 9 yards deep and another 4 yards deep into the end zone. With less hang time, Travis Coons put one kickoff 4 yards deep. Coons also punted some.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Every team in every training camp talks optimistically. Every team with a new coaching staff talks about how things are different for the better.

The Tennessee Titans are lowly regarded by plenty of fans and media nationally. But they have a lot going on that they feel those people have not paid attention to.

With Ken Whisenhunt and his staff at the helm, new schemes on both sides of the ball, a schedule that doesn’t include some of the powers they faced a year ago and a division with two other rebuilding franchises, they might have a chance to surprise.

."You say each and every year, 'Feels different, feels different, feels different,'" safety Michael Griffin said. "Just, you can see every day, people out there talking, we always have guys picking people up. Each and every day there is competition. There are little side bets here and there -- who’s going to win this period and things of that nature. The whole time we’re all trying to get each other better.

"Again, it just feels so much different in this locker room, and everybody has the same goals in mind, and that’s a positive around here."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsNew coach Ken Whisenhunt brings a solid résumé and a strong coaching staff to the Titans.
1. Whisenhunt isn’t Vince Lombardi or Don Shula, but the Titans' new coach is a significant upgrade from Mike Munchak, who was unsteady in his first three years as an NFL head coach. Whisenhunt had success in the role during his six seasons in Arizona, and he is a well-regarded offensive mind who will do more with what the Titans have than his predecessors.

Whisenhunt had the connections and the interviewing skills to hire a staff that appears to be filled with strong teachers, including a few quality holdovers. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is turning the Titans into a less predictable 3-4 and comfortably works his way into different sections of practice when position work is unfolding. I've watched these coaches teach and I've seen them connect with players.

Whisenhunt may field a complex offense that's hard to defend, but he's good at keeping things simple. I don't see any changes in how the Titans function that aren't for the better at this point.

2. The Titans don’t have players the fans are going to pick to captain their fantasy squads, but Tennessee should have a good array of quality weapons on offense. Kendall Wright topped 1,000 yards in his second season, and now the team’s best receiver will be sent on a wider variety of routes, not just inside slot stuff. He's been excellent so far in camp. Justin Hunter is doing better getting his legs under him and is catching the ball more comfortably. He got behind Atlanta's defense a few times in the recent joint practice and should be a constant deep threat. Nate Washington is showing he remains a versatile, productive guy.

Beyond the receivers, tight end Delanie Walker and running backs Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey will be good pass-catching options. When the Falcons gave the Titans a lot of room underneath, Jake Locker hit McCluster with a pass over the middle, and he had a ton of space to take. The Titans have invested a great deal in their offensive line over the past two seasons. They have one more tackle than they need after signing Michael Oher and drafting Taylor Lewan. There should be better protection for the quarterback and better holes for the running backs.

3. The 4-3 defense in recent years lacked a star pass-rusher on the edge who an offense had to fear every snap. The Titans still don’t seem to have that guy. They have to find him, but even if he doesn’t emerge from this group, the overall production out of the pass rush should be better. Who is rushing and who is dropping into coverage? In the 4-3, opponents pretty much knew. In this 3-4, it won’t be nearly as clear on a regular basis. Jurrell Casey, who notched 10.5 sacks as a tackle last season, will work as an end now. He's worked on speed rushes off the edge as well as his bread-and-butter quick power stuff in camp.

Sure, some good quarterbacks can diagnose who is rushing and who isn’t, no matter the front. But outside of Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck (twice), the Titans don’t face any A-list quarterbacks coming off big 2013 seasons this time around. They don’t see Seattle and San Francisco this season either.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Locker is a really likable guy who works hard, says the right things and desperately wants to prove he is the long-term answer for the Titans at quarterback. But in two seasons as the starter, he's missed 14 games while dealing with shoulder, hip, knee and foot injuries. He's practiced pretty well, but there are plays splashed in that can be killers on a Sunday afternoon.

Getting 16 games out of him is hardly a certainty for the Titans. Even if they do and he fits well with what Whisenhunt is asking him to do, he has not been accurate or poised enough when he has played. He sometimes tries to do too much and isn’t poised under pressure. Though he moves well and is very fast, putting him on the move puts him at more risk of another injury. Behind him are more question marks. Charlie Whitehurst has had no real success in just 13 games in eight seasons and often fails to step into his throws. Rookie Zach Mettenberger has a great arm but slipped to the sixth round for several reasons and is rotating with Tyler Wilson as the third-team QB. (Update: Wilson was released Wednesday.)

2. The offensive weaponry looks good, but for those five pass-catchers to give the Titans the nice smorgasbord of options, they need to stay healthy. Also, guys like Hunter (second year), Sankey (a rookie) and McCluster (first year with the Titans and Whisenhunt) need to show that their potential and practice play translate into NFL Sundays in a Tennessee uniform. Wright was the best player on offense last season and should grow more. Can the others become known quantities?

Who is the star of the defense? DT-turned-DE Casey is a strong, quick rusher who was healthy and productive in 2013. He is going to land a big-money contract -- either soon from Tennessee or on the market next spring. There are some nice pieces around him, but the Titans need veterans to have their best seasons and youngsters to emerge, all simultaneously. In Georgia, no defender stood out and regularly gave the Falcons more than they could handle.

3. Forty-seven percent of the current 90-man roster has been in the league for two years or less. Youth is generally good, but it needs to be quality youth and it needs to be surrounded by quality veterans. The Titans lack experience in a lot of spots. There aren't kids in camp who weren't high picks but have forced their way up the depth chart to this point.

Maybe it’s a great mix of players and a good share of the inexperienced people can blossom together. But with new coaches and new schemes, it could be asking a lot for all that to happen in the first season.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] EnlargeJake Locker
    Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsJake Locker needs a healthy season if he hopes to become the long-term answer at QB for the Titans.

  • Locker said he feels more comfortable speaking up and being vocal, and he has shown himself to be more confident in how he carries himself. After one throw that looked to be too long for an undrafted rookie, Locker pointed to tell Julian Horton where he should have gone. He still has bad moments in practice, but the preseason has not started, and he is progressing.
  • The Titans have moved running back Jackie Battle to fullback, where he can offer some needed versatility. He appears to have a sizable lead on incumbent Collin Mooney, who has had, at most, a handful of first-team snaps.
  • Among long-shot late additions, veteran receiver Derek Hagan has been consistently good and Brian Robiskie is also gaining notice. He's competing for the fourth and fifth wide receiver spots with Marc Mariani and Michael Preston. Maybe they'll keep six.
  • Sankey is learning quickly how to be a pro, and he has shown a bit of everything the Titans said they expected when they made him the first running back selected in the draft. His first day in pads he looked like an experienced NFL-caliber pass protector. He has good vision and makes good decisions on when to go and when to cut. He also catches the ball well, can run inside and outside.
  • Weakside outside linebacker Shaun Phillips has not worked at all with the first team when Kamerion Wimbley has been practicing.
  • Tommie Campbell was politely mentioned with Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson as a contender for the starting right cornerback spot that opened when Alterraun Verner signed with Tampa Bay. But it’s a two-man competition, and Campbell has struggled horribly.

Titans Camp Report: Day 10

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
7:17
PM ET
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:
  • The Titans got no one injured Monday in a joint practice with the Falcons at their facility, always the best development to come out of a preseason practice. Defensive linemen Antonio Johnson and Mike Martin and tight end Dorin Dickerson came in with injuries and didn’t practice.
  • The first fight turned out to be the only big fight. It came as the Titans and Falcons worked on punt returns and Coty Sensabaugh swiped a helmet off Robert McClain and a lot of players from both teams came onto the scene to get involved. It may have settled itself down, but Tommie Campbell came flying in to shove two Falcons, Bernard Pollard got involved and Ri’Shard Anderson came in with helmet in hand and swung it into Atlanta’s Ricardo Allen “We got it over and out of the way and moved on,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We thought it might come, it came early and we settled down.” Whisenhunt doesn’t fine players for practice fights, but Anderson should be fined for a foolhardy and dangerous move.
  • Later, Falcons center Joe Hawley got tossed by officials for his role in a smaller scrap with Michael Griffin.
  • Whisenhunt was audibly upset when Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora hit Jake Locker’s arm on a pass. “He grabbed his arm, he hit his hand,” Whisenhunt said. “Osi apologized. He knows he can’t do that.”
  • Marqueston Huff looked like he’s got the potential to be a quality gunner on punt returns. I saw him quickly burst between Kimario McFadden and Jordan Mabin to get en route in a hurry.
  • On a very early snap in one-on-ones matching Titans defensive backs against Falcons receivers, Jason McCourty was right with Roddy White on a quick throw from Matt Ryan, got an arm in and watched the ball pop loose. Another pass for White with McCourty on him was overthrown. McCourty was very solid in that period. The rest of the defensive backs were not as good. Griffin drew two flags for contact. (Khalid Wooten made a nice play and had a near pick of a Jeff Matthews pass for Tramaine Thompson. I think Wooten is steadily improving though he's not playing against the high-caliber guys.)
  • In one-on-ones, the Titans' offense connected on a big play early as Justin Hunter ran away from corner Robert McClain, collecting a throw from Charlie Whitehurst. Hunter caught another deep one from Zach Mettenberger.
  • Locker didn’t throw deep much, as the Falcons seemed to be offering open stuff underneath far more often. Some plays worked great against it. Locker hit Kendall Wright out of the slot and Wright ran away from Josh Wilson for what would have been a touchdown. On another play, Dexter McCluster worked into open space in the short middle and had a ton of space from there. Whitehurst found room for some shots. One of them connected up the right side with Derek Hagan over corner Javier Arenas and safety Sean Baker.
  • In many practices Locker still seems to have one moment that could be deadly. He held the ball and shuffled left as the pocket began to collapse and threw for Delanie Walker. But Desmond Trufant got to it and dropped what should have been a pick. “For any quarterback, there is always at least one you wish you could have back,” he said when I asked him about that specific play.
  • Both of the Titans' kickers attempted field goals against the Falcons field goal defense from 33, 36, 39, 42 and 46 yards. Travis Coons made them all, Maikon Bonani missed his attempt from 46 wide right.
  • Andy Levitre took three snaps in each team period before rookie Taylor Lewan replaced him. Levitre had his appendix removed on July 24. He still didn’t participate in the high contact one-on-one pass-rush drills.
  • In one team period, the offense worked exclusively in “penny,” its three-cornerback, one-safety package.
  • Falcons receiver Harry Douglas made a catch over Sensabaugh after the Falcons had the Titans jumping around before the snap. Derrick Morgan started with his hand down at left end, stood up and backed out, then returned to his initial position while multiple defenders shouted out multiple signals and waved each other around in what appeared to be confusion.
  • Akeem Ayers made a couple plays, including batting down a pass from Sean Renfree. In one-on-ones he made a great spin move against tackle Lamar Holmes that got him to the quarterback. But in a seven-on-seven period, T.J. Yates threw to running back Devonta Freeman and Ayers had no chance against him in space.
  • Avery Williamson impressively ran step for step with running back Josh Vaughan on a deep route and the pass glanced on the rookie linebacker’s helmet.
  • Moise Fokou worked as high in the linebacker rotation as I can remember, pairing with Zaviar Gooden as the inside tandem with the second team at least some.
  • On a snap where DaQuan Jones and Al Woods were the two defensive linemen, neither put a hand on the ground. The Titans played that one with everyone starting off standing up.
  • On one snap of nickel where nose tackle Sammie Hill came off the field, the standing up, off-the-line outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley actually lined up inside of right end Jurrell Casey.
  • There were a bunch of penalty flags on both sides. The most popular offense was illegal contact by defensive backs. The second biggest was offside. More to come on that
  • It’s always amazing to see how many guys know each other when two rosters of 90 and their coaching staffs combine. Titans linebacker Zach Brown saw Yates and exclaimed, “T.J, what’s up buddy?” Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter chatted with Hagan. Falcons owner Arthur Blank got off his cart to hug Titans tight ends coach Mike Mularkey, who used to be Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. A lot of it was pre-practice, a lot was during the kicking period when non-special teamers had time to chat. I watched Chris Spencer and Griffin talk with Devin Hester as Pollard shouted to the Titans, “Y'all be careful with making friends right now.”
  • Find pictures at pkuharsky on Instagram.
  • The Titans are off Tuesday, then have an open practice at 9:20 a.m. CT Wednesday.

Titans Camp Report: Day 2

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
8:02
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:
  • In one-on-ones with receivers against defensive backs, undrafted rookie wideout Julian Horton matched up against undrafted rookie corner Ri'Shard Anderson. Jake Locker's pass sailed further downfield than where Horton had broken to the sideline. As Anderson looked back after the ball went incomplete, Locker pointed to where he should have been. That’s not vocal, but it did illustrate the sort of ownership and willingness to be heard that Locker said he’s been more reluctant to show in the past.
  • There was a stiff wind that had a bearing on a lot of passes. Charlie Whitehurst looked most affected by it to me, particularly on some deep balls in one-on-ones where he chose to put a lot of air under passes. Even Zach Mettenberger, the strongest-armed quarterback on the team, threw some wobblers. Ken Whisenhunt said he was happy with the wind, because the Titans were sure to get something like it on a game day at some point. Long-time assistant equipment man Matt Thompson has always shown a big arm. He made one of the day’s best throws when Leon Washington needed a ball in the end zone to bring out as the team worked on return positioning. It was over 40 yards in the air, a rope with a nice arc and plenty of zip.
  • Whisenhunt said more cover-2 was as big a reason for the reduction in deep completions from Day 1 to Day 2 as the wind. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton said no deep balls have been a theme since he joined the team and he was glad the offense hit them on the first day so he could say “this is what we’re talking about” to the defense.
  • There were some big mismatches where the matchups got out of sync. I guess the lesser player in Justin Hunter vs. Anderson and Rico Richardson vs. Coty Sensabaugh has a lot to learn from such a snap. But I liked when Tommie Campbell stepped on the field, replacing Khalid Wooten, for a snap against Justin Hunter. Campbell struggled against Marc Mariani on Saturday and had a tough time again, particularly in some snaps against Hunter.
  • Blidi Wreh-Wilson got the second day work as the second starting cornerback, after Sensabaugh had it on Saturday. Wreh-Wilson stuck with Hunter on a deep route early in seven-on-seven and Locker looked to want to go there, but ended up checking down.
  • Taylor Lewan got the bulk of the work as the starting left guard with Andy Levitre (appendix) out and Byron Stingily heading inside to deal with sickness.
  • Michael Preston worked higher in the receiver pecking order on Day 2, and Mariani was lower.
  • Whisenhunt said at the start that competitive positions wouldn’t see the same guy at the front of the line for multiple days. That bodes well for the status of Jackie Battle, who was the front-liner at fullback ahead of Collin Mooney again on Sunday.
  • Locker was running comfortably and without any hesitation. In one team period, he pulled it down after seeing nothing to his liking and ran up the middle, threw a completion along the right sideline to Nate Washington after rolling right and also rolled left and took off that direction. There was nothing to suggest his surgically repaired foot was any sort of issue.
  • Nate Washington returned to the receiver group jawing hard at cornerback Micah Pellerin, telling him not to do that and “if you’re beat, you’re beat.” Pellerin dropped a pick of Whitehurst on a throw Whitehurst didn’t seem to step into as strongly as he could have.
  • Second team defense: LE Al Woods, NT Antonio Johnson, RE Mike Martin, LOLB Shaun Phillips, ILB Zaviar Gooden, ILB Colin McCarthy, ROLB Akeem Ayers, LCB Tommie Campbell, S George Wilson, S Daimion Stafford, RCB Sensabaugh.
  • Washington, Dexter McCluster, Bishop Sankey and Mariani didn’t field balls, but each brought balls out of the end zone in a kickoff return period.
  • Kendall Wright made a nice sliding catch in traffic in front of Sensabaugh.
  • Stafford picked off a Tyler Wilson pass for tight end Jason Schepler.
  • Bernard Pollard was busting on Zach Mettenberger from the sideline as Mettenberger led the offense, shouting "Roll Tide." That's what someone said to Metenberger recently before sucker punching the former LSU player at a Nashville bar.

Camp preview: Tennessee Titans

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
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NFL Nation's Paul Kuharsky examines the three biggest issues facing the Tennessee Titans heading into training camp.

Jake Locker: It’s now or never for the Titans’ quarterback, at least in Tennessee. The fourth-year quarterback started last season well, then he got hurt, didn’t shine when he came back and ultimately suffered another season-ending injury. Now he’s got his third offensive coordinator in Jason Michael and a new playcaller and head coach in Ken Whisenhunt.

The Titans would love to see him blossom into the player they thought he could be when they tabbed him eighth overall in 2011. But they began to line up a contingency plan for beyond 2014 when they drafted LSU's Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round.

The team declined to execute Locker’s option for 2015, and he’ll be a free agent after this season. He needs to prove himself worthy of a new contract or the Titans will be prepared to go a different direction next season -- or maybe even sooner.

Things are set up for him to succeed with an upgraded coaching staff, a running game that should be better with a committee instead of Chris Johnson’s deteriorating vision, a reshaped defense and what should be a far easier schedule. But plenty of league insiders and outside critics have little faith Locker can be an effective long-term starter on a winning team.

The new 3-4 defense: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will bring people from different spots and has some rushers who can play as deeper outside linebackers or line up in a three-point stance as if they are defensive ends. We don’t know if they added enough, but out of Kamerion Wimbley, Shaun Phillips, converted end Derrick Morgan and Akeem Ayers, there could be ample edge rush.

The team’s best defensive player, DT Jurrell Casey, will now be playing a lot on a three-man line. But the Titans promise his duties will not change much and say he actually will get more one-on-ones -- because offenses won’t be able to help on him before getting to a linebacker who will be at the line of scrimmage a lot sooner.

Horton quickly won the respect of the team based on his fine résumé and calm but purposeful no-nonsense demeanor. He said small guys who can hit and big guys who can run will have a major say in whether the Titans are successful.

Houston and Indianapolis made the playoffs in their first seasons following recent transitions to a 3-4. The Titans know the scheme change doesn’t buy them patience.

Whisenhunt’s weapons: The Titans signed pint-size Dexter McCluster to be a weapon in Whisenhunt’s offense. McCluster played receiver and running back in Kansas City, but the Titans will look to him as part of the backfield committee, where he figures to catch a lot of passes coming out of the backfield.

Bishop Sankey was the first running back taken in the draft and should be a more direct, decisive back than Johnson, though he certainly doesn’t bring CJ’s speed. Shonn Greene will have short-yardage chances. Are those three enough to take heat off the passing game?

The Titans are counting on a big jump from blazing outside receiver Justin Hunter. Kendall Wright was the best player on offense. And while Nate Washington is aging, he has been dependable and productive. Along with tight end Delanie Walker there are options for Whisenhunt to be inventive with, but we don’t know what will work.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Coach Ken Whisenhunt rated it at least a two-club wind at the Tennessee Titans' practice fields on Friday.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Mark Humphrey/AP PhotoQB Zach Mettenberger warms up prior to throwing drills during the Titans' rookie minicamp on Friday.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, the Titans' sixth-round pick, still lacks strength in his surgically repaired knee and will throw better when's he's all the way back. Still, his throws cut easily through the crosswind in the first of three days of rookie minicamp practices.

We knew Mettenberger would enter the NFL as a big pocket passer with a big arm. But this was the first time we got to see him with a Titans logo on his helmet slinging it in Nashville.

"I did a lot of good things," he said. "I'm still not moving as fluidly as I have in the past, but I am working every day to get back there."

Among the good things: A first-play completion of a bomb.

He said he doesn't have any limitations, but that the training staff is working to modify his workload to prevent any further issues with his knee.

Whisenhunt spoke of Mettenberger needing to continue to rebuild strength.

Said Mettenberger: "It's not (all the way) there. Being in a brace for two months, trying to learn how to walk, you lose a lot of muscle down in the thigh. ...You throw with your feet first and foremost, if you're under good balance and can (transfer) weight and do that efficiently, it makes the ball come out a lot better. I did OK today throwing, but as my leg gets better I fully expect to throw better."

As for the steady wind, he said it was nothing like the wind in Kansas, "but it was pretty bad today."

Whisenhunt complimented Mettenberger's command of the huddle and said things were not too big for the rookie.

First-round pick Taylor Lewan, a left tackle who also got a bit of work on the right, is fired up to be working with Mettenberger.

"He's an absolute stud," Lewan said.
Cam Cameron has 14 years of NFL coaching experience, so he knows first hand what an NFL quarterback looks like.

Mettenberger
Tuesday on The Midday 180 in Nashville, LSU's offensive coordinator said he has no doubts Zach Mettenberger's game will translate to the next level.

Cameron said Mettenberger rates as phenomenal on third down and in the red zone with pinpoint accuracy where NFL quarterbacks can't afford to be off target.

"He's like a lot of tall guys that kind of get overextended in their stride length, and really sometimes that's not an issue in college because there is a lot of room in the pocket," Cameron said. "I just felt like his balls were a little less accurate than they should be. The critical thing was to make sure that he was NFL-ready and he bought into the fact that you've got to be able to play in limited space. That's the thing we always felt that separate guys, the guys that can be laser and pinpoint accurate with minimal space. Norv Turner taught me that 20-some years ago.

"The guys that can throw with minimal space separate themselves. He's done that. He doesn't need any space to throw the ball from sideline to sideline or vertically."

We'll see Mettenberger on the field with the rookie class on Friday and begin to get a sense of the start of his move to the pros.

Hear the whole interview here.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some day-after draft thoughts on the Titans' newest quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, and newest running back, Bishop Sankey.

Mettenberger
Don’t overestimate Mettenberger at the start: The Titans clearly wanted to add a big, pocket passer to their stable of unproven quarterbacks. But sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger doesn’t roll into Nashville as a fix-it-now quarterback. Coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasized that the starting job remains Jake Locker’s. Mettenberger arrives with questions about a knee just four months removed from reconstructive ACL surgery as well as with reports of a back issue and a failed drug test at the combine.

If Locker is healthy, I expect he will start and veteran Charlie Whitehurst will be the game-day backup. The guy who would come off the bench for an injured Locker needs to have enough experience to play without having practiced, and that will be Whitehurst, not Mettenberger. If Locker is out for an extended time and Mettenberger has progressed, then it’s possible the Titans would install the rookie with a week to plan a game for him and get him ready for it.

Sankey can shine: Most Titans fans aren’t particularly well versed on the Pac-12, and geographically that’s understandable. They saw plenty of Tre Mason with Auburn and at least some of Carlos Hyde with Ohio State while they saw far less of Bishop Sankey in Washington. Mason was a great college back, but Auburn ran all kinds of misdirection stuff that got him into space, the sort of space it’s hard to create by scheme in the NFL. Hyde is a power guy, and the Titans view Shonn Greene as their power guy.

Tennessee wanted a well-rounded back who can do everything required of a three-down player. Sankey compares to Giovani Bernard of the Bengals, and he looked like a really good player in Cincinnati as a rookie. Greene and Dexter McCluster are going to get work for the Titans. But I’ll predict that out of the committee it’ll be Sankey who qualifies as the lead back and winds up with the most touches.
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A wrap-up of the Tennessee Titans' draft. Click here for a full list of Titans draftees.

[+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesRunning back Bishop Sankey figures to have a lead role in the Titans' backfield.
Best move: It’s a new day for the Titans' offensive backfield, and second-round pick Bishop Sankey will likely be the lead character in a committee of three. Shonn Greene will get some short-yardage work and Dexter McCluster will catch passes, and Tennessee might plan to feature them more on some Sundays. But Sankey is a versatile back who can run inside, run outside, break away, catch passes and pass protect. There were a lot of good backs in this draft, and the position has been devalued. But I've got no qualms with taking the first back off the board at No. 54, and if he pans out, it will rank as a perfectly fine value.

Riskiest move: Fourth-round defensive tackle DaQuan Jones might be of influence in the pass rush. But the Titans failed to add a young outside linebacker or defensive end who can contribute to the edge rush. The Titans are counting, then, on the new scheme, position changes for Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan, and the addition of Shaun Phillips to produce far more outside pressure on quarterbacks than they got last season. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey accounted for 10.5 of the team’s 36 sacks last season. Edge pass-rusher could be the team’s top need come free agency and the draft in 2015, considering Morgan and Akeem Ayers aren’t under contract, and Wimbley and Phillips are over 30.

Most surprising move: We knew offensive tackle was a first-round possibility. Taylor Lewan received strong reviews as the No. 11 pick from two general managers of other teams. Plenty of fans are horrified that the Titans didn’t address something that ranked as a more immediate need. But the aging Michael Roos has slipped as a run blocker and is a year away from free agency, and this move ensures an easy transition no matter when it occurs. Lewan joins the team facing three misdemeanor charges resulting from a campus fight and was alleged to have threatened to rape a classmate. He passed all the Titans' checks, however, and the odds are high they have hit on a quality player at a key position.

File it away: The addition of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round seems like a low-risk, high-reward move. His arrival doesn’t open the starting quarterback job for competition, and something unexpected would have to happen for Jake Locker to lose his spot as the starting quarterback, coach Ken Whisenhunt said. Mettenberger is the big, strong-armed pocket-passer in Whisenhunt’s preferred style. The influence of former NFL coach Cam Cameron as LSU’s offensive coordinator was significant in Mettenberger’s final season. Can he position himself as an alternative to Locker if Locker fails or gets hurt again? Can he be in line to be the team’s quarterback in 2015 if Locker’s chance comes to an end? Those are the biggest questions awaiting him in his rookie season.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In a conference call just after he was drafted in the sixth round Saturday by the Tennessee Titans, quarterback Zach Mettenberger said if rookie camp started in 20 minutes he'd be ready.

While he fared well in pre-draft workouts, he's still just over four months removed from ACL reconstruction surgery.

He's feeling good and is confident he can get into the mix immediately. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Mettenberger looks close but will need to be assessed by the Titans' medical staff when he arrives Monday in Nashville.

ESPN.com's resident physical therapist Stephania Bell said the player could well be advised by the team to slow things down.

"Given that surgery was in January, Mettenberger's knee is still healing," she said. "While he certainly performed well at pro day and may feel like he's 100 percent, it's important to remember there is still biological healing of that new ligament taking place inside the knee. For the long-term health of his knee, it's in his best interest to follow the rehab progression the Titans set forth from here."

The Titans have rookie minicamp Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

If Mettenberger passes a physical after he gets here, there won't be a chance to put him on the physically unable to perform list if he's not ready for the more rigorous training camp that starts in late July.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A new quarterback to go with Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst and Tyler Wilson for the Tennessee Titans didn’t arrive until the 178th pick in the draft.

LSU signal-caller Zach Mettenberger looks to be a value in the sixth round. Tennessee dealt picks 186 and 228 in the seventh round to Washington for the pick with which they grabbed Mettenberger, the draft’s 10th quarterback.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt quickly said Locker still rates as the Titans' guy and only unexpected circumstances would change the team's starting quarterback.

Mettenberger
Mettenberger fits what is regarded as the Whisenhunt mold: He's a big, strong-armed pocket guy. But he’s not super accurate and he’s not mobile.

He also has an off-field history, pleading guilty in 2010 to two counts of sexual battery for grabbing a woman's private parts at a bar. Per ESPN's scouting report, “He agreed to, and completed, a strict and detailed 24-month probation as part of his punishment.”

That ended his career at Georgia and he moved on to LSU.

Now he’s coming off a torn ACL and provided a diluted urine sample for a scouting combine drug test, which is typically regarded as a failed test.

Former NFL head coach and coordinator Cam Cameron was his offensive coordinator at LSU last season, and Mettenberger made solid strides in his game.

While late-round quarterbacks very rarely pan out, at this point in the draft, Mettenberger is definitely worth a shot.

Locker is no sure thing, and Charlie Whitehurst is very much a backup. If Locker holds him off, Mettenberger can still position himself to have a chance to start in 2015.

And even if Locker is clearly the starter at the start of the season -- as I expect he will be -- he has a big injury history and odds are the Titans will need to play a second quarterback at some point.

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