Closer look at Titans halfway through preseason
As with virtually every NFL team so far, there are reasons to be excited about what the Titans have done in the preseason and there are reasons for concern.
Here is a mid-preseason report:
He has been nothing but happy here. With the Titans banged up on the defensive line he has made the most of his opportunities, posting four tackles and a sack and generally flying around. He’s getting off the ball, pressuring the passer and enjoying d-line coach Jim Washburn’s system that has the players along the line rotating frequently to stay fresh.
Best rookie: CB Alterraun Verner. I said during a June minicamp that Verner had a chance to start by midseason. Now Verner has worked his way into the mix possibly to start from day one. The UCLA product has six tackles and an interception through two preseason games, and by the media’s count has way more interceptions in camp practices than anyone else. He also has gotten a ton of reps in the last two weeks with Cortland Finnegan sidelined by injuries.
I’m not saying he will start from day one, but Jason McCourty is definitely feeling the heat.
Biggest surprise: TE Craig Stevens. Everyone knows he is a mauler of a blocker. FB Ahmard Hall told me Wednesday that not only is Stevens the team’s best blocking tight end but he might be its best blocker. But what everyone is taking notice of now is that he’s making plays catching the ball. He had a 30-yard reception against the Cardinals on Monday night.
Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger loves two tight-end sets. If Stevens remains a threat in the passing game while providing excellent blocking, he’s going to see the field quite a bit.
Steadiest performer: FB Ahmard Hall. He has four receptions for 57 yards so far. He’s blocking well, and he’s even tackling well. Hall plays on the punt team and had the biggest hit of the night in punt coverage on Monday against the Cardinals. A No. 1 fullback playing special teams? “I used to be a linebacker at Texas before I got moved to fullback,” Hall said. “If I get a chance to hit you, I’m gonna hit you. Whatever I can do to help this team and stick around in the league, I’m gonna do.”
Biggest disappointment: DE Derrick Morgan. The team’s first-round pick has been unable to participate in a full practice since the start of training camp with a calf injury. Penciled in as a starter, his development will be thrown back several games into the regular season at this point. It’s a good thing Jim Washburn’s system calls for so much rotation because other players have stepped up while the rookie has been absent.
Thing I’m tired of hearing: “This is the best group of skill players we’ve put around Vince Young.” Jeff Fisher has found myriad ways to fire off that sound bite throughout training camp. Here’s my retort: Aren’t they the same skill players who were around VY last season? Yes, they are. So I’m left to believe the coach is counting on marked improvement from Nate Washington, Justin Gage, Kenny Britt and LaVelle Hawkins, the top four receivers on the depth chart.
Forgive me, but I don’t think there’s a guy among that four who strikes fear in the heart of Nnamdi Asomugha, the Raiders’ stellar corner against whom the Titans will line up in Week One of the regular season.
Biggest reason for concern: Injuries. Jeff Fisher says the team is reasonably healthy, and maybe he’s just being cautious with certain players. But DT Tony Brown still hasn’t participated in camp after offseason knee surgery, and he’s a key cog. CB Cortland Finnegan’s groin injury has lingered and now has kept him out for two-plus weeks. I already mentioned Derrick Morgan, and DE William Hayes, another excellent prospect on the d-line, is out with a sprained MCL that could force him to miss time into the regular season.