Entering Year 4 of the Mike Vrabel Experience, it’s certainly not uncommon to see days of rest for players in training camp. Among the five head coaches that have stalked the sidelines in Tennessee, he’s by far the most conscientous about conditioning and monitoring the health of his football team as they prepare for the grind of the regular season.
That being said… today was pretty unusual. The Titans had a skeleton crew on the field for what was a pretty light day of work in general. Among the significant names missing from all or most of today’s practice:
- Derrick Henry
- Julio Jones
- A.J. Brown
- Josh Reynolds
- Geoff Swaim
- Taylor Lewan
- Rodger Saffold
- Ben Jones
- Denico Autry
- Jeffery Simmons
- Harold Landry
- Kevin Byard
- Jackrabbit Jenkins
That’s 13 of 22 starters on offense and defense.
With mostly backups working, the Titans shortened practice a bit and had a lot more individual work. It felt like a day to really focus on development of some of the young guys on the roster.
Roster Health Notes
PUP: OLB Bud Dupree, OT Ty Sambrailo, RB Jeremy McNichols
NFI: CB Caleb Farley, IOL Aaron Brewer
I should also mention that yesterday we learned that OLB Bud Dupree was added to the COVID list. He was already on PUP as he works his way back from an ACL injury suffered late last season. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that only two of the ten players who were added to the COVID list yesterday were positive tests. The rest were high-risk close contacts. Considering the fact that the Cardinals put six on the list by themselves, that leaves a one-in-four chance that Dupree was a positive test.
Dupree joins defensive back Chris Jones as Titans on the list, so it’s certainly possible that contact tracing with Jones turned up Dupree as a close contact. It’s unlikely that the trip to the COVID list will cost the Titans high-profile free agent pass rusher additional practice time, but it’s still less than ideal to have him in the COVID protocols while he tries to work his way onto the practice field.
There were no new apparent injuries during today’s session.
- Amani Hooker — Hooker made my top five from Wednesday’s practice and he’s at the top spot for me today after another nice interception of Ryan Tannehill in team period. The play itself looked like it might have been a miscommunication between the quarterback and Cameron Batson, but nevertheless, Hooker was in the right spot and picked it off. He’s consistently showing up around the ball in camp and looks like a player primed to breakout in his first year as a full-time starter.
- Marcus Johnson — The Titans wide receiver depth chart is going to be very interesting to watch over the next month. There are at least 8 or 9 NFL caliber receivers on this team right now and Johnson is one of them. Today, he had back-to-back grabs over the middle from Logan Woodside during a team period that would have gone for big gains. He’s got great speed and his initial burst off the line of scrimmage is notable. Good work from him the last few days.
- Breon Borders — Borders showed up again today in a positive way. He continues to be among the most physical of the corners on this roster and he has produced several pass breakups already in camp. Borders isn’t quite a lock to make the roster yet given the glut of unknowns at the cornerback position, but he’s getting closer with each strong performance.
- Kyle Peko — An unfamiliar name to many Titans fans, Peko was signed just days before the start of camp and has quickly made an impression. Both days that I’ve been in attendance, Peko has made plays. This is the 28 year old defensive lineman’s fourth NFL team, but I think he’s going to have a chance to sneak into the fifth spot on the Titans defensive line behind Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, Teair Tart, and Larrell Murchison.
- Larrell Murchison — Speaking of the DL, the Titans 2020 fifth round pick showed up again today with some impressive plays. Murchison was tough to block for the offensive linemen in a one-on-one blocking drill and then made at least one really nice play in team periods to blow up a Darrynton Evans run.
- Nate Davis — I’m throwing an extra name in here because they’re really all deserving. The offensive line largely struggled during the one-on-one period against the defensive line that I mentioned above, but the one very notable exception to that was Davis, who looked like the established high-quality starter that he became last season.
No kicker news today as there was no placekicking period in this practice, but we did get kicker coaching news as Mike Vrabel told the media that the team had hired former Tennessee Vols kicker James Wilhoit as a kicker coach working directly with Tucker McCann and Blake Haubeil.
Less than a year ago Wilhoit had been critical of the Titans on Twitter for not employing a dedicated kicker coach as they continued to struggle through what was a nightmarish situation at that position in 2019 and 2020.
Now he’s charged with proving that he was right about the cause of some of the Titans kicking woes.
The option to call Stephen Gostkowski and bring him back for another year is still there, but the Titans would obviously prefer for either McCann or Haubeil to work out. Gostkowski made $2.75-million last year. My guess is that it would take something near that mark to bring him back for the 2021 season. Compare that to McCann and Haubeil, who are both playing for minimum contracts of around $660,000, and you have a pretty good financial incentive to see if you can make it work with one of the young guys. You also get the added benefit of stability and cost control beyond this season with either McCann or Haubeil instead of ending up right back in this spot a year from now.
Other Practice Notes
This will be relatively brief due to the smaller group of players and the shorter, lighter practice schedule today, but here are a few other things that stood out from practice:
- Racey McMath continues to show up, though he was less consistent overall today. He had a nice grab over the middle in a team period from Logan Woodside.
- Overall, it was a rough day for the wide receivers. There were far too many drops during the individual periods. Mason Kinsey had two in a row at one point, drawing the ire of receivers coach Rob Moore. However, there were no bad drops during team periods, so they got better as the day went on.
- The punt return group continues to include Chester Rogers, Cameron Batson, and Mason Kinsey. One of those three is probably making the roster, which will complicate the path to spots on the 53-man roster for guys like Marcus Johnson, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, and Racey McMath.
- Ryan Tannehill was one of the very few veteran starters on offense that participated in the full practice. He looked sharp for the most part, though another mishandled snap (appeared to be on Daniel Munyer) and another interception at the hands of Amani Hooker (could have been a miscommunication with Batson) marred an otherwise crisp performance. Tannehill had a really nice bullet into Anthony Firkser in a tight window during a team period.
- Dez Fitzpatrick made a nice sliding catch over the middle in team periods.
- We saw some of Darrynton Evans split out wide in some of the 7-on-7 periods and he looked natural as a pass catcher in those situations.
- DeShone Kizer was up and down again today. He badly missed McMath on an out route during a team period, but then came back with a strike up the seam to Mason Kinsey later on.
The Titans have another practice tomorrow morning before an off day on Sunday. I am planning to be back out there early next week to — hopefully — get a look at some of the first padded practices of the season.