One Step Closer

With preseason football and the debut of HBO’s Hard Knocks just around the corner, lets take a look back at what the Titans have been up to since last we corresponded. Let me start off by apologizing for the delay in writing this article, I have been very pressed for time ever since a rather small, extremely loud, and somewhat chubby human entered my household about 5 months ago. Whenever I think I have a spare moment to write, he somehow senses that and wakes up immediately. It makes things much more…interesting. Anyway, with the excuses out of the way, we press on.

OTA’s finished up June 6th, with mandatory mini-camp taking place from June 11th-13th, and one thing that stands out immediately is that there are no holdouts from camp. I know this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what happened at OTA’s or mini-camp, but it is refreshing to see a team where all the players are acting like professionals and not flooding the news outlets with stories of how someone is trying to strongarm their team into getting a better deal or vying for a trade. It speaks to the character of many of the older players that they are attending camp like they’re supposed to, even though there are 15 individuals entering the last year of their contracts, and 8 of them are starters. Anyway, to some actual football talk.

          Adam Humphries, recently acquired WR, is an immediate stand out. Of course, he has been catching a lot of passes. You would hope so, that’s what he gets paid to do — quite handsomely I might add. However, he has impressed with how smooth his route running is and how explosive he is off his cuts, as well as his ability to get open in a hurry.  Transitioning to a new scheme is never easy for players, but he seems to be adapting well. We’ll see how he continues to improve as we draw nearer to the season.

          Rashaan Evans, second year linebacker out of Alabama, has been showing continuous improvement. Starting last season with an injured hamstring, he came back with a vengeance and showed that he can be a dominant force in Vrabel’s defense. He continued to show this tenacity in camp, getting through the line several times and making some key tackles in the backfield. He is looking even better this year and we can expect him to only improve as he returns to the same defensive scheme and gets more comfortable with his role in the defense.

          Marcus Mariota is one player that I will have my eye on during training camp and into the preseason. He is in a contract year and will be entering the season with some question marks over his head. His inaccuracy and inconsistency, which has been slowly getting better since his freshman year, needs to improve greatly if he wants to stay in Tennessee. Another big issue is his health, he has yet to play a full 16 games in a season. The Titans staff needs to get a good evaluation of what they have in Mariota before they offer up a boatload of cash to keep him in Music City. The roster is definitely built as a “win now” team and Mariota will get every opportunity to showcase his skills, but the addition of Ryan Tannehill to the roster shows that the team has some concern regarding their starting QB. We will see if he is able to keep his job at the end of the season or if we will see a changing of the guard next year.

          And now, the rookies.

          Jeffery Simmons is still dealing with his torn ACL that he suffered in February. He has been very committed to the rehab process and has spent a lot of effort learning the playbook. He wont be ready to start when the season kicks off and likely wont play this year, but when he is physically ready to go, he wants to make sure that he is already mentally set to perform.

          A.J. Brown has been one of the more impressive standouts at camp. Even though rookie receivers tend to have a bit of a learning curve, the Titans are confident that he will be a contributor right out of the gate, and he has been showcasing his skills in OTA’s and minicamp. Having come out of Ole Miss as the all-time leading receiver with almost 3,000 yards, he posted some of the most impressive numbers the school has ever seen, it will be very exciting to see him in real action when the season kicks off.

          Nate Davis has been creating some interesting headlines as of late. While he is not the most refined lineman, his footwork and stance need some work, he is very powerful and attacks the line like you hope a pro would. Rodger Saffold will start at left guard, and while Kevin Pamphile is projected to start at right guard, Davis has been giving him some stiff competition, thus making the starter at right guard not yet set in stone. Offensive line was one of the issues that the Titans needed to address from last year and with Davis, they look like they have acquired a solid player for the job. If he doesn’t get the starting gig by the time the season rolls around, he will be a solid backup and provide some much needed depth at the position.

          Amani Hooker might be one of the best draft picks for the Titans this year. He is a great all-around safety and has proven that in his one-on-one coverage and proficiency in lining up in the box against the run. Hooker has shown excellent instincts and a great level of skill at the position. He is going to contribute right off the bat and it will be fun to watch his skills improve as we get through training camp and the preseason.

          D’Andre Walker has been improving every day throughout the off-season. Since his impressive performance at the SEC championship game, he has continued to show growth in his knowledge of the position and is adapting well to the speed of the NFL. The closer we get to real football, the more we will see if he is able to keep up with the pace of the professional level — but for now he looks poised to make some key stops early.

          David Long Jr. is showing that he has the mindset to stick around the NFL for a while. He is a quiet individual who you can tell is soaking up everything the coaches are telling him. If Long can add a couple extra pounds to his frame and keep refining his skills, he will soon be a part of the active roster.

          In other Titans news, the team announced that during their first home game this season on September 15th against the Colts, they will be retiring the numbers of former Titans greats Eddie George and Steve McNair. Eddie George played 8 seasons with the team and over the course of around 135 games he totaled 10,000 yards and nearly 100 TD’s. He said it was very special for his number to be retired along with Steve McNair’s. The two were “connected at the hip” when they played together and for them to be recognized together is huge for Eddie. Steve is remembered most for his tenacity on the field. In 160 games for the club, he tallied up 30,000 passing yards and over 200 total TD’s. Steve’s widow, Mechelle, says she is proud that Steve’s number will now always be held in the highest regard in Titans history.

          The Titans will resume offseason workouts on July 22nd when rookies report for training camp. Veterans will join them on the 25th, and the first practice that will be open to the public will be on the 27th. From there we only have a few short weeks to wait before we start to see some action in the first preseason game against the Eagles on August 8th. I don’t know about you, but I am very excited for the upcoming season.

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