With cutdown day now in the books, the Titans’ 53 man roster is now set
With the season opener under two weeks away, it’s time to analyze the roster as it stands now, and discuss some intriguing storylines within each position group.
As camp winded down, there was a real debate regarding the Titans’ backup quarterback spot.
Malik Willis had played and progressed well, but were the Titans comfortable enough with his improvement to label him as Ryan Tannehill’s official backup? Logan Woodside has experience and knows the offense, but would his lackluster camp and pre-season come back to bite him?
We got out answer, and it was Willis who was named the winner.
This was a conclusion that was gaining steam through the month of August, and it felt set in stone after Willis’ impressive pre-season outing against the Arizona Cardinals. As for the loser, Woodside was released as a part of the Titans’ final cuts on cutdown day, but it’ll be interesting to see if the Titans bring him back to the practice squad as insurance.
That looks likely to occur though, so there shouldn’t be any questions on that front.
For now, eyes will turn towards Tannehill and Willis. More specifically, Willis and how he develops behind the scenes. He should get some valuable mental reps watching Ryan Tannehill this season, which should go a long way towards his development throughout the season.
The Titans go into the season carrying five running backs — that includes full back Tory Carter — with camp and pre-season standout Julius Chestnut surprisingly making the roster despite the depth in front of him.
Derrick Henry is the obvious star and starter here. What’s unknown is who’ll handle the backup duties behind him? Will it be Dontrell Hilliard? Or will it be Hassan Haskins? Hilliard has shown that he can handle a third down role behind Henry before. But Haskins has showcased some pretty good hands during the pre-season, so could he steal the role?
It’ll be interesting to see how it works out, since both have the potential to have success in the role they’re fighting for.
With news emerging from Terry McCormick that Racey McMath is expected to land on injured reserve, attention now turns towards the Titans and how they fill the fifth wide receiver spot.
It’ll be interesting add, since there was talk surrounding McMath and his ability to provide services as a deep threat, something the Titans — as of now — don’t have on their roster. As for the other spots, there shouldn’t be any concern.
Robert Woods and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine will start as the two receivers in the Titans’ expected base personnel, with Treylon Burks and Kyle Phillips providing necessary fill in production whenever they get on the field.
Austin Hooper and Chig Okonkwo are the main names at the tight end spot. But I’m interested in seeing if the Titans roll out Geoff Swaim ahead of Okonkwo when they run 12 personnel. Okonkwo is still developing as a blocker, and the Titans showed a willingness to stick with Swaim last season despite his shortcomings as an athlete, pass catcher, and blocker.
The starting five looks to be set, with the only surprise being rookie Nicholas Petit-Frere.
As for the depth, questions are still heavy in number and without answers. Dillon Radunz looked lost as a tackle in the pre-season, but found his footing as a guard. How will the Titans deploy him if they need him on the field? The same can be said for newcomer Dennis Daley, whose versatility is the main detail within his own game.
This group will be fluid all year long, since question marks remain at right tackle and at left guard, with Aaron Brewer having some questions of his own due to his lack of size.
The defensive line looks set for another impressive year up front. Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, Teair Tart, and Naquan Jones all return and should give the Titans another shot of intensity defensively.
DeMarcus Walker and Da’Shawn Hand are two veterans that should give the Titans some much needed depth in case of injury or any other inconvenience that causes any regular contributor to miss time. Kevin Strong made the initial 53 man roster, but it remains to be seen if his spot is secure, or if it’s a matter of coincidence.
Either way, this group looks strong once again, and should be the forefront of the Titans’ success defensively this season.
The two starting inside linebackers in the Titans’ 4-2-5 “base” defense were already locked in before camp began, as David Long Jr. and Zach Cunningham both returned after a successful stint as a duo last season.
But like other spots defensively, questions remained surrounding the depth. Monty Rice was set to be the Titans’ ILB3 coming into camp and next weekend’s season opener, but injuries have hampered the second year pro, and have landed him on the PUP — or physically unable to particpate — list.
That left the Titans desperate for depth throughout camp and the foreseeable future. They’ve done their best at securing that depth, mostly by relying on incumbents Joe Jones and Jack Gibbens, as well as rookie Chance Campbell, and special teams regular Dylan Cole — when he’s been healthy.
But with Jones and Gibbens now out of the picture, the outlook for the depth at inside linebacker appears cloudy. Campbell has impressed throughout camp and the pre-season, but how ready is he for an uptick in defensive snaps if one of Long or Cunningham goes down with an injury?
The same can be said for Cole, who isn’t a rookie by any means, but can you be confident in his ability to fill in if he needs to?
The Titans don’t want to have to find out any time soon. But injuries happen, and as we saw last season with the Titans, they can force you to make some uncomfortable decisions rather quickly.
With Harold Landry, Bud Dupree, Rashad Weaver, and Ola Adeniyi all back and healthy for the 2022 season, this group looked set before camp began.
There was one notable addition pushing for a spot behind those four though. David Anenih was the mystery man, and he had an impressive camp and pre-season. But he was cut on cutdown day, so the original four outside linebackers from last year, remain the same heading into the season opener next weekend.
The only concern now regarding this group if health. Dupree struggled with injuries last season, which in part hampered his own production and effectiveness. Weaver went down with a season ending injury just three weeks into his rookie year last season, but he looks healthy and ready to go this year.
If this group can stay healthy, we should see a better and more productive overall output from them this year. As all four can come on and generate production in their own right.
There wasn’t a lot of speculation regarding the top roles at corner for the Titans. Kristian Fulton, Caleb Farley, Roger McCreary, and Elijah Molden were solidified roster locks entering camp and nothing has changed on that front since.
The real questions resided in the very back of the group, or more specifically spots five through potentially six.
As of now, the only true back depth spot is occupied by Tre Avery, one of the few surprises from cutdown day. So what’s the plan for additional depth? That’ll likely come in form of the safety group, which possesses a a couple of guys that can slide from safety to corner if need be.
The only remaining question with this group is who gets the starting spot opposite Kristian Fulton? It appeared Farley would get the nod initially, but McCreary has been battling for the spot as well.
That’s a question that’ll be solved by the time Week one kicks off. For now though, speculation continues to run rampant.
The big question coming into cutdown day was the depth behind Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker. Previous depth behind the duo was now barren, and the Titans needed some fresh blood to round out the numnbers.
So they brought in more than a few fresh faces, but only a couple or more would be given the reward of making the initial 53 man roster. Those names includes the likes of A.J. Moore, Lonnie Johnson Jr. — a late off-season addition — Ugo Amadi — another late off-season addition — and Joshua Kalu.
Will the Titans keep six total safeties as we creep closer to the season opener? That remains to be seen, but it’s easy to see why the Titans have kept six, since Johnson, Amadi, and Moore all have the versatility to play multiple roles in the secondary and contribute on special teams.
That isn’t to say all three of them will find consistent playing time defensively. But to say they’re key depth pieces the Titans are more than happy to keep.
That especially rings true for Moore, Kalu, and Amadi, since they’re the likeliest of the depth guys to fall short of defensive snaps. Those royalties should fall into the hands of Johnson, who could be used in a rotational safety role yet to be determined.
Barring some unexpected meltdown, there was no reason to believe Randy Bullock wouldn’t “win” the Titans’ starting placekicking job.
He held down the job last season, and kicked pretty well during a season in which the Titans leaned on him a lot due to dysfunction offensively. During the off-season, the Titans brought in rookie Caleb Shudak to stand as an extra body during camp.
Was it a sign that the Titans were trying to push Bullock? Probably not, but Bullock played well despite the additional kicker being brought onto the roster, and secured another year as the Titans’ starting placekicker.
There wasn’t any doubt he’d do so, but kicking situations can fluctuate year to year, so it was still worth monitoring.
With Brett Kern now off the roster, the punting job now belongs to training camp standout Ryan Stonehouse.
Stonehouse won the job fair and square after a heated training camp/pre-season battle with Kern. His strong leg and improving directional punting skills gave him the edge over Kern on the surface, but it’s fair to say his cheaper price tag and very limited injury concerns gave him a leg up as well.
Stonehouse will be monitored closely throughout his time as a starter though, since his directional punting skills still need some work, which isn’t totally ideal considering just how much the Titans’ staff loves winning the field position battle.
For now though, this is Stonehouse’s job and his job to lose barring his future performance.