Obviously much of the conversation after the game has centered on both Derrick Henry and Demarco Murray. Both had great nights against the Chargers. But for those fighting for starting snaps or even simply roster spots, who elevated their stock after Saturday night?
Spain ended 2015 as the starter at left guard, and thus far in 2016, he’s done nothing to indicate he will lose that spot. The former UDFA was on my watch-list when he was signed by the Titans following the 2015 draft, and his stock has steadily risen since. Spain showed why on Saturday night, playing consistent football; opening running lanes and keeping Mariota’s jersey clean. There were a few notable plays where he, and Taylor Lewan to his left, completely dominated the point of attack and allowed Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry to spring free. Spain carries additional value, as the team sees him as an emergency swing tackle.
Some thought that Byard was a reach when the Titans drafted him this last offseason. But his 19 NCAA interceptions were not an aberration. Byard was consistently around the ball in his NFL debut, adding a splash when he intercepted former Titan Zach Mettenberger. Head coach Mike Mularkey praised his ability as well as his instincts. Byard has been a strong camp performer, and could provide some serious pressure behind Free Agent addition Rashad Johnson at FS. He certainly helped his case against San Diego.
Sankey got in on the running back plunder in game one. He didn’t take a snap until later on in the game, but he certainly made it count. Taking a left sided run, Sankey bounced back to the right, avoided a defender, broke through contact, and raced 41 yards to the end zone. It must have been a relief for a guy that is questionable to even make the team after being the first runner selected in 2014. The skepticism is well-founded, but Sankey showed that he still has speed, lateral agility, and vision. Perhaps he wouldn’t have even taken a meaningful snap had David Cobb played, but the running back room is increasingly crowded, and he has to make his opportunities count if he wants to be on the final 53. The results of his hard work have been fairly immediate; he ran with the 1’s in camp early this week.
Honorable Mention: Jalston Fowler and J.R. Tavai
Mike Mularkey has intimated that the team intends to carry a FB, and that is unquestionably Jalston Fowler at this point. But still he made a big impact when he played on Saturday night. It goes without saying that he is a better lead blocker than Derrick Henry, but I digress. Fowler absolutely obliterated a linebacker or two against San Diego, helping spring Henry for a couple nice runs.
Additionally, OLB J.R. Tavai showed up in a big way. The 22 year old UDFA recorded a sack and a handful of QB hurries, and generally displayed some playmaking ability. Hopefully he can continue his production and provide solid backup behind Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo, alongside second year pro Deiontrez Mount.
My love for Avery Williamson is well known, but he had a forgettable night against the Chargers. He was part of a defense that was pushed around early on, and allowed some big yardage to Melvin Gordon. Williamson at least was able to clean up some of the errors, logging a ton of tackles in his limited time on the field. However, his bad night was encapsulated by a blown coverage (Mularkey had declined to say who, but it appeared to be on Williamson) in which Gordon slipped out into the flat and took a simple screen pass 40+ yards for the score).
For the second straight week, Dorial Green-Beckham was to appear on this list, but he was traded to Philly a short while ago, so there goes that. Poutasi was oddly drafted as an OT, despite his fit at OG. The one spot he could have staked a claim to has been occupied, quite convincingly thus far, by Quinton Spain. Additionally, the DGB trade has added another body to the O-Linemen room, in Dennis Kelly. Poutasi was undoubtedly over-drafted by Ruston Webster (one of many such examples), but there is no doubt he has talent. Without making some waves in camp and in the remaining pre-season contests, it’s unlikely he’ll see the field as a starter anytime in the foreseeable future.
Jones is another guy with a ton of promise that I hate to put on the "stock down" list. He is a well-rounded up and comer who should be anchoring this Titans D line. However, against the Chargers he was among those pushed around in the run game. As I have said, it’s hard to look too much into one preseason outing, especially one where the defensive play calls are significantly more vanilla than those on offense, but you’d like to see more disruption at the line of scrimmage from someone like Jones. Like Green-Beckham, he’ll have the chance to show his worth, but come game one of the regular season, he can’t be displaced by Olinemen the way he was against the Chargers.
Some others who have garnered a lot of positive attention has been SS Daimion Stafford, who has elevated his game of late and is actively competing with Da’Norris Searcy for the starting spot. That is somewhat of a surprise, but it is good to see a young player like Stafford rise to the challenge. He has taken a portion of the starter snaps during camp. Secondly, CB Antwon Blake’s strong play has been pointed out by head coach Mike Mularkey, and he is competing with Perrish Cox at that CB2 spot. The Titans secondary as a whole certainly has improved its depth immensely.