Players to watch in Titans’ preseason matchup with the Buccaneers

After a couple of feisty and competitive joint practices together, the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to battle it out at Raymond James Stadium.

Even though we likely won’t see many of the household names for either team, there is still plenty of intriguing players to watch throughout the game. In fact, these next two weeks will help determine starting spots and rotational roles for the 53-man roster.

Let’s take a closer look at who are some of the players I will be watching, tonight. 

Cornerback Caleb Farley

Coming off a season in which the Titans had a secondary that ranked 31st in passing touchdowns allowed and 29th in both completions and yards allowed, Tennessee made it a priority this offseason to upgrade the secondary.

Arguably their biggest addition and/or solution to last year’s defensive woes is the addition of a young cornerback with a rare blend of size and speed. 

Most cornerbacks that have Farley’s length are often less agile and lack the athleticism necessary to truly be elite. Meanwhile, corners that have similar athleticism tend to be shorter, which can limit their ability to play the ball while it’s in the air. 

Farley has both the physique and skillset to compete with any wide receiver that is lined up across from him. This was extremely evident in the small sample size over this week’s joint practice with the Buccaneers. A viral video of Farley showcasing his incredible speed and length while covering Mike Evans made the rounds on Wednesday. In this one play alone, we got to see the type of flash plays that Farley is capable of consistently making.

Evans initially beats Farley off the release but the rookie remains calm and uses his makeup speed to beat Evans to the spot. The Virginia Tech product beautifully uses his awareness to read and react to Evans’ eyes and body language. As the ball is approaching, Farley gets his head turned around to find the ball while using his massive frame to start boxing Evans out. This forces the Buccaneers’ receiver to use his length to try and go over the top of Farley.

Unfortunately for Evans, Tennessee’s rookie cornerback also has the length to counteract that strategy.

However, It wasn’t all perfect this week. Make no mistake about it, Tom Brady and company more than got their fair share of humbling moments on the rookie.

These are the types of up and down days that you’d expect your promising rookie cornerback to have in August. This is a crucial time in Farley’s development to see what he can or can’t get away with at this level.

At some point, Farley will have to be unleashed and this Saturday against the defending world champions is the perfect opportunity for the rookie to showcase his talents in a less stressful environment.

During his final season at Virginia Tech, Farley allowed a completion rate of 36 percent and held quarterbacks to a passer rating of 26.8 when targeted — the best among all “Power Five” cornerbacks. The former Hokie also forced more incompletions (10) than he allowed first downs (nine).

Tennessee inherited an extremely rare talent at the cornerback position due to some health concerns. As his physical health seemingly returns to form, it is time to start getting his instincts rolling again. Farley can take as many mental reps as the team wants, but at some point, they need to let him learn through his own trial and error.

The Titans have two more preseason games left and they would be wise to start getting their talented rookie cornerback ready for the grind that awaits him beginning in September.

Right Tackles: Kendall Lamm / Ty Sambrailo / Dillon Radunz

It’s no secret that the Titans have one of the most stacked and efficient offenses in the league. They possess Pro Bowl caliber talent all across their starting lineup and are expected to once again be a behemoth in 2021. 

There is only one true question mark in the entire starting lineup and its at their infamous right tackle position. The incumbent starter at the moment is Kendall Lamm, their free agent signing from Cleveland. Lamm has impressed throughout his career in small sample sizes. He has the most promise at the moment compared to his competition in Ty Sambrailo and rookie Dillon Radunz.

Radunz undoubtedly has the highest ceiling of the group, the Titans selected him with their second round pick, and he is expected to be the future at the position for Tennessee. However, the question at the moment is who is the present?

Lamm and Sambrailo did not play last week, therefore it would be wise to give live snaps to all three tackles over the next two weeks so the team can adequately evaluate the best possible solution for Week 1 and beyond.

Last season Lamm finished with a PFF grade of 76.8, Sambrailo finished with a grade of 65.9, while the Rookie Radunz finished his preseason debut with a solid grade of 72.4.

Kicker Sam Ficken

Ever since Sam Ficken was claimed by the Titans, the former Jets’ kicker has more than held his own. In his first game action, Ficken drilled his sole attempt from 44 yards out along with both of his extra points in the preseason opener in Atlanta

Ficken has been a consistent leg out there ever since he joined the team. He made 16-of-18 (88 percent) kicks in the two joint practices vs the Buccaneers, and he’s now 48-of-53 (90 percent) in practices since joining the team.

The job is Ficken’s to lose If the Penn State product continues to drill his kicks throughout the week and more importantly on game days. With Tucker McCann out with a foot injury, be on the lookout for Ficken to try and solidify the growing belief that he is the man for the job.

EDGE Rashad Weaver

The Pittsburgh product was a nuisance in his preseason debut against the Falcons. Weaver was violent against both the run and the pass on a day where he was arguably the best player on the field for either team. 

Weaver finished last week’s game with three total tackles, two tackles for loss, one pass defense, 1.5 sacks, and two quarterback hits.

These numbers were eye-popping to many when in reality they are almost identical to the numbers he consistently produced at Pittsburgh. On average, Weaver was good for a half-sack and one tackle for loss per game during his time in the ACC.

Tonight, Weaver will have another chance to put a dominant outing on tape as he chases the Titans’ third spot on the depth chart behind Bud Dupree and Harold Landry.

Be on the lookout for how Weaver responds to the growing expectations surrounding his hype. 

Wide Receivers: Dez Fitzpatrick / Racey McMath

Back in April, if you had asked any Titans fans which receiver they wanted to draft, Dez Fitzpatrick and Racey McMath were not at the top of that list.

Let’s be honest, they probably weren’t even on the list at all. Fortunately for the Titans and their fanbase, a blockbuster trade for Julio Jones followed by the emergence of Marcus Johnson and Chester Rogers has helped ease the panic.

Nonetheless, outside of a few flashes here and there, there has been nothing shown thus far to prove that Fitzpatrick or McMath deserves a spot on this opening day roster. Tennessee’s receiver room is suddenly extremely stacked and the rookies are being outperformed by a plethora of previously undrafted players such as Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Mason Kinsey, and Cam Batson. 

If Fitzpatrick and McMath are going to make at least the practice squad, they must take advantage of these final two preseason games.

Special teams will likely be a crucial aspect of their evaluation so be on the lookout for how Fitzpatrick and McMath contribute in both phases of the game on Saturday night.

Quarterback Logan Woodside

In four preseason games in 2019, Woodside completed 46-of-76 passes for 539 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was an impressive 99.6. Woodside played the entire finale and ended his impressive preseason by completing 17-of-29 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns — good for a passer rating of 104.4.

Unfortunately, 2020 didn’t allow preseason to happen therefore many forgot about how impressive Woodside was in 2019. He instantly reminded Titans fans of his talents, completing 10-of-15 passes for 84 yards and one beautiful back-shoulder touchdown throw. He ended his night against the Falcons after one half of play with a passer rating of 103.2.

Woodside will once again have the opportunity to establish himself as Tennessee’s backup quarterback and I’d expect him to do just that on Saturday evening. 

Honorable Mention: QB Matt Barkley, RB Darrynton Evans, DB Elijah Molden, WR Mason Kinsey, WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, WR Marcus Johnson, WR Chester Rogers, WR Cam Batson

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