What the cancellation of the 2020 NFL preseason means for the Titans

The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to cancel the entire slate of 2020 preseason games as the two sides work towards an agreement on the terms of playing the upcoming season amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

The NFLPA and the NFL are in agreement — no preseason games for 2020. And rosters are likely going to 80 players. What it all means ??????

Originally tweeted by Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) on July 22, 2020.

Rapoport also adds that rosters are expected to be limited to 80 players, instead of the usual 90-man limit, for training camp. With most teams currently well over 80 players on the roster — including the Titans, who have 87 as of this writing — that means that hundreds of current players will soon be released before even setting foot on a practice field.

While that news is obviously going to be disappointing for the players who see their NFL dreams cut short, it’s not likely to have a huge impact on the Titans from a regular season standpoint. Sure, theoretically one of those seven players who will likely be released this week could have turned out to be a Malcolm Butler or Wesley Woodyard type UDFA, but the odds of that are pretty low.

With COVID testing and re-testing soaking up almost a week at the start of camp, followed by a strength and conditioning period, and then some light OTA-style practices, teams are not truly going to get into the padded traditional training camp work until mid-August, roughly three weeks before the scheduled start of the regular season. That’s already not enough reps to go around for 80 players, much less 90, so this move makes a lot of sense to me.

From a Titans perspective, the players most in danger of being included in the seven set to be cut — assuming this reduction in roster spots does, in fact, happen — are the 14 members of the team’s 2020 UDFA class listed below:

  • RB Cameron Scarlett, Stanford
  • WR Mason Kinsey, Berry College
  • WR Kristian Wilkerson, SEMO
  • WR Kyle Williams, Arizona State
  • WR Nick Westbrook, Indiana
  • TE Tommy Hudson, Arizona State
  • OT Brandon Kemp, Valdosta State
  • OT Anthony McKinney, TCU
  • IOL Aaron Brewer, Texas State
  • DL Kobe Smith, South Carolina
  • DL Teair Tart, FIU
  • ILB Cale Garrett, Missouri
  • ILB Khaylan Kearse-Thomas, Arizona State
  • K Tucker McCann, Missouri

You’d certainly think that they could probably do without at one or two of the four wide receivers in this group, but it will be interesting to see who makes it to Nashville and who gets the call telling them to stay home.

The removal of preseason in it’s entirety is another issue entirely. As laid out above, it would have been hard for teams to really be ready for preseason action given the compressed training camp schedule and the risk for injuries would have certainly been higher than normal given the lack of live reps that would have been available before being thrust into a game situation. So I do think this is the right move, but it is going to have its own ripple effects.

For one, the UDFAs and bottom of the roster guys who do survive the cut from 90 to 80 will have nothing to put on tape for their team — or just as crucially — other teams evaluate around the league. Practice reps will be all they have to prove their worth to the coaching staff and front office.

It also means that we are likely going to see some relatively sloppy football early in the season. Sure, preseason action has been devalued in recent seasons with teams like the Rams choosing to sit out all of their key players in an effort to maintain health heading into the regular season, but zero live reps against anybody but your own teammates between now and Week 1 kickoff seems like a recipe for some early struggles.

Obviously, this entire run up to the 2020 season all points to some pretty significant advantages for teams who have the benefit of continuity. Squads breaking in new schemes will have precious little time to actually rep those new plays and displaced players, especially quarterbacks, will be forced to build chemistry with new teammates in a matter of weeks.

From a Titans standpoint, this looks to be a major advantage early in the season. On offense, Tennessee returns 10 of 11 starters, and the one starter that isn’t back — right tackle Jack Conklin — has a replacement who has been on the roster for four years and has started 16 games over that time period in Dennis Kelly. They also return the entire offensive coaching staff intact. Out of the 25 or so offensive players that you would expect to wind up making the 53-man roster, less than five will be new to the team.

The defense has seen more turnover, but is still in pretty good shape overall. Of the 11 expected starters on defense, only two will be new to the team — edge rusher Vic Beasley and whoever takes over Logan Ryan’s slot corner spot. And one of the candidates to take that spot, Johnathan Joseph, would bring a tremendous amount of experience in Mike Vrabel’s defensive system to the table.

Few teams have seen less roster turnover from 2019 to 2020 than the Titans and that should help them in this COVID-compressed training camp that officially begins tomorrow with quarterbacks, rookies, and players with injuries reporting for work.

For fans, I think the preseason will actually be missed more than you might think. Despite my long-standing issues with the length of the preseason, I always did enjoy getting that first hit of dopamine that came with seeing NFL players on the field for the first time in six months without the stress of regular season expectations and pressure.

Titans fans falling head over heels for a scrappy UDFA wide receiver from a small school is another of my favorite beats of an NFL season that is going to simply disappear this year thanks to COVID.

However, the biggest tragedy of all is the fact that we aren’t going to get to see “the Hawaiian Heater” Cole McDonald sling 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in the second half of the most thrilling preseason game of all time.

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