Last night’s game was a rough watch, but there were a few things that we learned about where certain guys stand in the pecking order at their position and how that might impact the 53 man roster. We are still a long way from the roster cutdown date of September 2nd so lots can change between now and then, but some of these trends are worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
Antwaun Woods starts at nose tackle over Sylvester Williams
This was really the only surprise in the starting lineup last night, but it was a pretty big one. Woods was out there at nose tackle with the starting defense for the first series of the game and then Williams rotated in on the second series.
Woods has made some good plays in camp and has been a favorite of this coaching staff since last year’s training camp. I thought he had a chance to make the roster, but it seems he may have worked his way in to a battle for a starting job. Woods has your classic nose tackle build with a short, stocky frame and thick, powerful legs. He’s shown a knack for creating penetration in the limited reps that I’ve seen of him from the Texans game in Week 17 last season and in practice.
Williams was inactive for all of OTAs recovering from an ankle injury so this could also be a signal that he is not quite back at full speed yet. There is a chance that this was merely the coaching staff rewarding a guy who has been doing and saying all the right things in camp, but it certainly bears watching.
It is also pretty apparent at this point that the Titans do not view Austin Johnson as a nose tackle. I’m not sure they ever did actually. Based on my review of his film from last season he was almost exclusively used as either a 3 tech or a 5 tech in 2016 and that is where he has worked so far in camp and last night’s game as well.
David Fluellen and Akeem Judd in at running back ahead of Khalfani Muhammad
Fluellen getting in the game before Muhammad wasn’t a surprise as he’s been working ahead of Muhammad all camp. However, seeing UDFA Akeem Judd getting reps ahead of Muhammad was interesting. Judd took advantage of the opportunity breaking off a 40 yard run on the way to an impressive 5 carries for 53 yards stat line on the evening. I think most felt that Muhammad was the likely front runner for the 3rd running back spot heading in to camp but it certainly looks like Fluellen has the upper hand now.
Muhammad’s struggles catching punts in practice seem to have translated to him getting left out of the punt and kick return rotation as Jackson and Weems handled all of those opportunities against the Jets. Muhammad has a lot of ground to make up to make this roster currently and you have to wonder if he’ll even make the practice squad if the Titans decide they like Judd better — I don’t think they’ll use two practice squad spots on running backs.
Kalan Reed is the 5th corner and could be pushing higher if he keeps playing like this
Reed is having a fantastic camp. He was among the most impressive players during the first practice that I attended and has earned consistently strong reviews from other observers and the coaching staff. Saturday night just reinforced those views as Reed was probably the most impressive Titans corner on the night — albeit against lesser competition than guys like Logan Ryan and the starters faced. I think he is well on his way to making this roster and it is conceivable that he could end up in the mix to get some real playing time in this defense.
To get in to the mix for a significant number of snaps, he will have to beat out one of Ryan, Sims, Jackson, and McCain with McCain being the most likely out of that group to be dropped out of the rotation in my opinion. Reed has the physical tools to be a star corner in this league at 5’-11" tall, 195 pounds and running a 4.38 40 and jumping a 41.5" vertical at his pro day before the 2016 draft. The concerns with him were technique and a tendency to gamble too much in coverage, however those things can be coached out of a player. I’m very excited by what I’ve seen from Reed so far. I hope he keeps going.
While we are talking corner depth, I would say that Demontre Hurst and Tye Smith are probably 6th and 7th on the depth chart behind the five I mentioned above. Hurst was held out last night with an injury, but had been having a strong camp himself. Smith has strung together some good practices and flashed a couple times in the Jets game. DJ Smith, on the other hand, has been pretty quiet so far and appears to be losing ground. There is still time for him to turn it around, but right now he seems like a longshot to make the team.
Tyler Marz may be much higher on the offensive line depth chart than we originally thought
Marz got some work at right guard with the first team unit when Josh Kline slid over to center to get some snaps. It was pretty interesting to see him, not Kelly or Lelito, getting that opportunity with the starters. Marz was a UDFA out of Wisconsin in 2016 who stuck on the Titans practice squad all of last season so they are pretty familiar with him.
I noted at practice on Thursday that Marz was working with the 2nd team offensive line at left tackle, joined by Josue Matias as left guard, Corey Levin at center, Tim Lelito at right guard, and Dennis Kelly at right tackle.
I don’t know what to make of those snaps for Marz at right guard right now. I certainly would have expected Lelito or Kelly to be the first man off the bench for the offensive line. This also warrants further watching to see if Marz is making a push for the roster or if that was just an anomaly. Either way, he is at the very least ahead of guys like Brad Seaton at this point.