After a couple of feisty and competitive joint practices, the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will likely be set for a battle of the backups come Saturday night 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 storylines throughout this game.
With all that said, let’s take a deeper dive into the five most intriguing storylines for Tennessee’s Preseason matchup with the Buccaneers.
Storyline No. 1: Can Rashad Weaver continue dominant play?
Following an impressive Preseason debut from the Titans’ rookie pass-rusher, this is the storyline I’m arguably most intrigued by going into this game against Tampa Bay.
Tennessee needs to find a third EDGE defender who can consistently rotate with Bud Dupree and Harold Landry without becoming a liability for the defense. As of late, Weaver has shown flashes in practice, and more importantly, he dominated in his first game action against Atlanta.
The Pittsburgh product was a nuisance against both the rushing and passing attacks of the Falcons. Weaver often set a violent edge that forced the opposition into the arms of himself or another Titans defender.
Weaver also received the highest pass-rush win rate out of any rookie defender in their preseason debut with 26 percent, per Pro Football Focus (PFF).
Many were surprised by the performance when in reality this is right on par with what he’s been doing over the last couple of years. Weaver’s pass-rushing skill set seems to be translating well from his days as a former consensus All-American. In his final season at Pittsburgh, Weaver led the entire ACC with the highest grade out of any pass rusher, per PFF (90.0 percent).
Weaver finished last week’s game with an impressive stat line: tallying three total tackles, two tackles for loss, one pass defense, 1.5 sacks, and two quarterback hits.
These numbers are almost identical to the numbers he consistently produced at the collegiate level. On average, Weaver was good for a half-sack and one tackle for a loss per game during his time in the ACC. In total, Weaver produced 17 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss in 35 collegiate games.
The question now becomes whether or not Weaver will be able to put a dominant outing on tape for the second week in a row.
On Saturday evening, the Pittsburgh product will have another opportunity to show that last week — along with the majority of his collegiate career — was not a fluke.
Storyline No. 2: Is Caleb Farley ready for game action?
Ever since Titans’ first-round pick Caleb Farley, was activated to the roster, fans have been itching to see him take that next step from the practice field to the stadiums. Before last week’s game against the Falcons, Titans’ head coach Mike Vrabel suggested that Farley simply “wasn’t ready yet”.
Vrabel failed to elaborate on whether he felt his rookie cornerback wasn’t physically or mentally ready for live game action. Nevertheless, these joint practices that Tennessee is having with the Buccaneers may have just taken a giant step towards shifting that belief. According to multiple reports, Farley had an impressive first day in Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
In one on one’s against Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, Farley more than held his own while showing off the size, speed, and ball skills that made him such an intriguing prospect.
Later on in the practice, Farley made up for an earlier play given up to Rob Gronkowski in one on one’s by getting his hands on another Tom Brady throw. This time reeling it in for an interception towards the right sideline.
Unfortunately, Farley got brought down to earth on Thursday as Mike Evans, and company seemingly got the best of the rookie throughout the day.
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 the next level. There has been a mixture of good and bad but there have been enough good flashes that it may be time for Farley to get his first real glimpse of what playing on Sundays is going to be like.
At some point, the training wheels have to come off for Farley and this Saturday against the defending world champions is the perfect opportunity for the rookie to showcase his talents in a less stressful environment.
The last thing you want is for his first live reps to be against the Arizona Cardinals’ potent receiver duo of Deandre Hopkins and A.J. Green. There will undoubtedly be ups and downs for Tennessee’s rookie cornerback but you’d rather his initial trial by error happen in these next two weeks rather than when it matters on September 12th.
According to Vrabel, Farley’s status for Saturday is still up in the air so it will be something to monitor as the game gets closer.
Storyline No. 3: Battle for sixth receiver spot
With the consistent emergence of Marcus Johnson and Chester Rogers throughout camp, it is likely a safe bet that the top-five wide receivers are all a lock to be on the opening day roster in some capacity.
The real question is trying to figure out who is going to round out that wide receiver room as the sixth and possibly seventh receiver. The team has two rookie receivers that they drafted in Dez Fitzpatrick and Racey McMath. Both have had up-and-down reviews with it seemingly being more bad than good —especially in Fitzpatrick’s case.
Tennessee’s likeliest options at this point are seemingly two undrafted free agents they signed last season in Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Mason Kinsey.
You would think the Titans would give at least one of the receivers they invested actual draft capital for the benefit of the doubt. However, both may be destined for a practice squad spot at this point (if that) solely due to the room being so crowded.
Special teams will likely be the tiebreaker in this instance so be on the lookout for how Fitzpatrick, McMath, Westbrook-Ikhine, and Kinsey contribute in both phases of the game on Saturday night.
Storyline No. 4: Backup quarterback competition is heating up
The battle for QB2 continues after an impressive preseason debut by both backup quarterbacks, Logan Woodside and Matt Barkley.
Woodside and Barkley both took advantage of the opportunity in front of them and showed enough promise to keep this somewhat of a legitimate competition going forward.
Barkley faces an uphill battle though as the Toledo product is the clear front runner due to his familiarity with the scheme and personnel. Woodside has shown a ton of promise anytime he has stepped on the field for Tennessee.
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 eye-opening 99.6 percent. 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 percent.
Unfortunately, 2020 didn’t allow preseason to happen therefore many just forgot about how impressive Woodside was. He instantly reminded this fanbase of his talents against the Falcons last week, completing 10-of-15 passes for 84 yards and one beautiful back-shoulder touchdown throw. He ended the night after one half of play with a passer rating of 103.2 percent.
Nonetheless, Barkley could make this decision harder than it has to be if he continues to perform the way he did last week.
The USC product finished with a passer rating of 121.9 after completing 5-of-8 balls for 54 yards and one touchdown. An impressive stat line when you consider the fact that he just arrived in Tennessee two weeks ago.
Saturday evening will be another opportunity for one of these two quarterbacks to separate themselves in this backup quarterback competition.
Storyline No. 5: Bounceback performance for the offensive line?
To say that last week’s offensive line performance was abysmal would be a massive understatement. The Titans rested their top seven offensive linemen and their depth was exposed from the get-go.
Backup center Daniel Munyer seemed completely lost out there more often than not, and his backfield suffered severe consequences because of it.
Once Falcons’ defensive coordinator Dean Pees realized Munyer’s incompetence, he kept overwhelming him with his signature A-Gap blitzes, something Munyer clearly had no answer for.
Titans’ 2020 second-round pick, Dillon Radunz, had an extremely shaky start while playing at right guard early on and was responsible for multiple pressures early on. The good news is Radunz eventually calmed down as the game went along and seemed like one of the few bright spots on the day. The rookie received an extended look at both right guard and tackle.
Much like last year, David Quessenberry was responsible for early pressure on his quarterback despite making the move to the right side for 2021.
Tennessee must get better play from the entire group if the team hopes to be able to adequately evaluate Woodside and Barkley going forward, and feel comfortable should a starter go down with an injury during the season. The unit as a whole finished with four sacks and seven QB hits allowed in their preseason debut.
Look for them to try and get that cleaned up this weekend against a Buccaneers group that is deep and extremely talented all along the front seven.