On Tuesday, the Titans had their second-to-last practice in Nashville before heading down to Atlanta for Friday night’s preseason opener against Arthur Smith and the Falcons. It was what Mike Vrabel calls a “call it” practice where the offensive and defensive coordinators — Todd Downing and Shane Bowen — call unscripted plays to simulate a game situation. It’s as close to a scrimmage as you will get in training camp.
The offense started off hot, but the defense rebounded late with several forced turnovers on a hot day at Saint Thomas Sports Park. Here are my notes from today’s practice.
Roster Health Notes
NFI: IOL Aaron Brewer
IR: OL Brandon Kemp, TE Briley Moore, CB Greg Mabin, WR Cody Hollister, C Spencer Pulley
Brewer’s absence continues into the second week of camp. We don’t know what the injury is that is keeping him away, but given the state of the interior offensive line depth — more on that later — the Titans could really use him getting healthy.
Several Titans, including TE Geoff Swaim, DL Denico Autry, WR Julio Jones, WR Cameron Batson, C Ben Jones, RG Nate Davis, OLB Bud Dupree, OLB Harold Landry, and S Dane Cruikshank, were held out of practice today. Most of them spent their day on stationary bikes observing the action.
My guess is that we probably won’t see many of those nine on the field in Atlanta on Friday night.
1. Marcus Johnson
Johnson continues to stand out at Titans camp. All the guy does is get open and make catches in team periods and that was the case today as well. He’ll need to continue this momentum into preseason, but he’s making a very strong case not only for a spot on the 53-man roster, but for some legitimate playing time as well.
And let me say this about Johnson… consistency and availability have also been his issues, not talent. He’s a 6-1, 207-pound receiver who ran 4.37, broad jumped 136 inches, and turned in 22 reps at 225 on the bench at his pro day coming out of Texas. Those are eye-popping measurables — the broad jump would be among the top two percent in NFL combine history for wide receivers and the bench press number would have set the combine record — and they translate on tape too. This isn’t some try-hard practice squad guy who is scraping by athletically. He’s got a legitimate skill set and the consistency and availability issues have not been a problem since he arrived in Tennessee. If he keeps stacking days as he has for the past couple of weeks, the Titans would be wise to find a role for him in this offense.
2. Anthony Firkser
Firkser had one of the best plays of the day when he made a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch over good coverage from Amani Hooker on a great throw from Ryan Tannehill. Firkser is very active in the Titans passing game and continues to be an extremely reliable target for his quarterback.
3. Kevin Byard
Byard’s strong training camp continued as he had the best defensive play of the day. With the offense just outside the 10-yard line, Ryan Tannehill was looking for A.J. Brown scraping across the back line of the end zone, but his eyes lingered a beat too long and Byard was able to read it, peel of his underneath coverage, and make a leaping interception in front of Brown.
4. Matt Barkley
This was my first time seeing Barkley since he was signed to replace DeShone Kizer last week and I thought he looked like a clear upgrade despite having very little time to get up to speed to this point. Barkley was decisive and accurate for the most part, including a couple dimes to Mason Kinsey and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine on crossing routes. He wasn’t perfect though, as rookie safety Brady Breeze jumped a short route and tipped it to himself for a pick-6 as well, but Barkley looked far more passable as a backup option than Kizer did.
5. Mason Kinsey
Kinsey had a rough start to camp in my eyes, but he’s come on a little bit of late. I thought he showed up a few times last week when I was out there and today was the best day I’ve seen from him yet. He made a couple nice grabs over the middle and continues to factor into the punt return competition. He’s not a name that has been talked about a ton in the Titans wide receiver battle, but I don’t think he’s that far from a roster spot. Effectively, I think he’s competing with Chester Rogers and Cameron Batson for a role as the primary punt returner and backup slot receiver. Rogers leads that group for me so far, but Kinsey could still make a push as we get into preseason.
No kicker periods today.
Other Practice Notes
- Besides the Tannehill dime to Firkser, the other really impressive passing play was a dime from Logan Woodside to Tommy Hudson up the seam. It was a tight window, but the ball couldn’t have been better placed and would have gone for a big gain. Hudson continues to impress at camp as he vies for the third tight end spot behind Swaim and Firkser.
- There were three interceptions on the day. I already mentioned two — Breeze’s pick-6 off Barkley and Byard’ red zone interception of Tannehill — but the third was a ball that was tipped by Briean Boddy-Calhoun and landed in the arms of safety Matthias Farley. The throw from Woodside on the deep post was both inaccurate and into double coverage. Not a good combination.
- Nick Westbrook-Ikhine had a couple nice grabs in the team period. He’s been up and down in camp, but his battle with Racey McMath for the depth WR/special teams gunner role isn’t quite wrapped up just yet.
- Kyle Peko continues to flash. He had what likely would have been a sack on Woodside during one of the team periods.
- Chris Jackson had a nice pass breakup on a ball intended for Chester Rogers. Jackson is having a nice camp and seems likely to hold onto a roster spot at the back end of the 53 to me.
If you want more analysis of today’s practice — along with Zach Lyons and myself yelling at each other over Josh Reynolds — you can check out our broadcast from earlier today:
The Titans have one more practice on Wednesday afternoon before traveling to Atlanta on Thursday. I’ll be back at camp next Monday for the team’s last practice in Nashville before heading to Tampa for joint practice work with the defending champion Buccaneers and Mike Vrabel’s good buddy, Tom Brady.