OTHER CAMP BATTLES TO WATCH
Titans’ training camp opens on Saturday, July 29th, and the three positions described above will be the ones to keep the closest eye on.
But there are a few others to pay attention to that don’t quite deserve the kind of detailed write-ups given to the top three.
Justin: For me, the other camp competitions I’ll be most interested in watching are for back-up quarterback, at tight end, and on the defensive line.
For backup quarterback, I feel like Alex Tanney’s time to make an impact is coming to an end. I can’t see the team keeping more than two QBs given the increased competition at virtually every other position, so if Tanney wants to stick with the Titans (remember he turned down a chance to be on the Browns’ 53-man roster to stay on the Titans’ practice squad), he’ll likely have to unseat Matt Cassel during training camp. In the end, I expect Cassel will be the team’s back-up quarterback. Tanney has already spent three seasons on NFL practice squad’s, so while I’m not 100% sure how practice squads work, I believe Tanney’s eligibility has run out.
Delanie Walker’s position as the starting tight end is in no danger of being challenged, but behind him, it’s open season. Phillip Supernaw, Jace Amaro, and Jonnu Smith will likely battle for two roster positions. There’s an outside chance the team keeps four tight ends, but I expect Smith to eventually win the #2 tight end job with Supernaw making the team because of his special teams contributions. Jace Amaro will have a shot to show that he’s improved as a blocker, and he may be able to unseat Supernaw given the team’s focus on adding quality special teams players via free agency (so Supernaw might not be as valuable as he was last year), but I think the former second-round pick of the Jets will likely find himself with a new team by the time the 2017 season begins.
On the defensive line, it will be interesting to see who makes the roster and who ends up starting alongside Jurrell Casey and Sylvester Williams. Will Austin Johnson unseat DaQuan Jones? Will Karl Klug return fully healthy from his torn achilles? Will nose tackles Antwaun Woods and DeAngelo Brown be able to stand out enough to win a roster spot?
My guess for the final defensive line group would include five obvious locks: Jurrell Casey, Sylvester Williams, DaQuan Jones, Austin Johnson, and Karl Klug. Last season, the Titans kept only six defensive linemen (the four mentioned above plus Al Woods - now with the Indianapolis Colts - and Angelo Blackson).
If the team only keeps six again, that would mean Blackson, (Antwaun) Woods, Brown, and Mehdi Abdesmad are competing for essentially one spot. It’s a complete toss-up as to who would win that position. The Titans initial 53-man roster last year (before waiver claims) included 7 d-lineman, with Abdesmad as that 7th. When Karl Klug got hurt last year, Abdesmad was called up from the practice squad to replace him.
For those reasons, I would guess Blackson and Abdesmad have the upper hand in the competition for likely the final roster spot. I would expect the Antwaun Woods to return to the practice squad, with DeAngelo Brown joining him for a year of development before both of them return in 2018 to compete for the starting nose tackle job.
Mike: This does feel like the “backup or bust” offseason for Tanney. Cassel’s surgery on the thumb on his throwing hand gave Tanney a few extra reps in mini camp and he reportedly handled them well. I agree that the Titans will be better off using that roster spot on something other than a 3rd QB so this becomes a “loser leaves town” camp battle. I’d love to see Tanney take the job because he offers some long term stability at the backup quarterback spot, but my gut tells me we will see Cassel hold him off once again.
Jace Amaro is still intriguing to me for some reason. I hope he spent the entire offseason pushing a blocking sled around everywhere he went. That competition between him, Supernaw, and Smith will be interesting. Rookie tight ends are notoriously slow starters so I’d expect to see Smith get a set package of plays early to build from while Supernaw handles most of the heavy lifting in the run game when we go to two tight end sets. Amaro is the wildcard.
One other battle that I will be keeping an eye on is the kick and punt returner roles. Adoree Jackson, Eric Weems, Tre McBride, and Khalfani Muhammad are all likely to at least get a look at those spots. McBride failed to take hold of the job last year when it was clearly wide open so I think you scratch him off leaving the two rookies and Weems as the likely contenders and I think there is a real chance that you see a mix of all three during the season. I would expect Weems to be the early favorite at punt returner given his experience with the more explosive Jackson getting some select opportunities in high leverage game situations where you need a big return. Muhammad probably fits more as a kick returner and I could see him taking that role right away.
This last item is not really a position battle, but it will definitely be a story to track during camp. Does Adoree Jackson get a package on offense? And if they do give him some plays over there, do they show that package in practice sessions open to fans and/or the media, or do they try to keep it quiet so they can spring it on some unsuspecting team once the season begins?
Jon Robinson has said repeatedly since taking over as the Titans’ General Manager that his goal is to build the most competitive 90-man roster that he can. Given the amount of competition we expect to see at nearly every position during this upcoming training camp, I would say that Robinson has succeeded.
What position battles are you most looking forward to?