The Carolina Panthers came in to Nashville today for a joint practice with the Titans at Saint Thomas Sports Park. I was out there to check it out in person and came away with a bunch of notes. The practice was set up with the Titans offense against the Carolina defense right in front of me, but the Titans defense and the Carolina offense were on the opposite field so my personal notes are on the offensive side of the ball only, but I will add some notes for the defense based on practice reports from a few others who were out there.
I’ll stick with the same format I used the last time with my 3 stars and then assorted notes afterwards. Obviously my 3 stars will all be on offense since that is what I watched today.
3rd Star: Taylor Lewan
Big guys need love too. Its often hard to isolate on linemen during practices since it is easy to get distracted by the wide receivers (more on that later), but both sides of the trenches are still the most important position units in the NFL outside of quarterback in my opinion. So I spent some time focusing on just the offensive line facing the Panthers defensive line in today’s practice.
The guy who stood out the most to me isn’t a surprise, but it was incredibly impressive work nonetheless. Lewan was responsible for opening a massive running lane for DeMarco Murray on the very first play of team drills and didn’t slow down all day. He got a lot of his work against Panthers defensive end Mario Addison and handily won that matchup in both team periods and one-on-ones. Lewan’s feet are the best I have ever seen for an offensive lineman in person. There is no lumbering or lurching with 77, every movement is smooth, quick, and powerful.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a Pro Bowl left tackle looked great, but there are still somehow Titans fans that don’t appreciate this guy for how good he really is and I won’t stop writing about him until everyone is a believer.
2nd Star: Eric Decker
Decker didn’t even make it through all of practice — he twisted his ankle, but it was called “not serious” by Mike Mularkey and he didn’t head in early for treatment — but he still makes this list because the reps that he did get were spectacular.
His ability to create late separation is impressive and he has the “my ball” mentality that Terry Robiskie and Frisman Jackson want in their wide receivers. Decker was dominating the Panthers corners up until a play where he slipped on the wet grass while trying to fight through a jam during a drill. I believe that was where he twisted his ankle, but again, it sounds like nothing serious and he didn’t stay down or head to the locker room for treatment. I can’t wait to see the offense with Davis, Matthews, Decker, and Taylor all available.
1st Star: Taywan Taylor
Once again, Taywan Taylor stood out in a practice to me. He just moves differently than most of the other receivers, and while Decker creates late separation with subtle movements and adjustments, Taylor creates massive separation with his quickness and sharp routes. He’s the guy that hits his break, comes out and suddenly is 5 yards away from the corner.
Taylor’s ability to create separation out of breaks and his deep speed make him the most electric player to watch during any given Titans practice. He blew by a Panthers corner on a go route today, but the pass was under thrown and made him work back to the ball. He still almost came up with a great catch over the corner, but wasn’t able to hang on through the contact.
On another deep corner route, he did a great job of creating late separation with an extremely subtle shove to the hip of the corner and then made a nice leaping catch for what would have been a big gain. Taylor is already pretty advanced in the art of getting open in the NFL. While he had a terrific practice overall, the only negative I saw from him on the day was a few double catches where the ball hit his hands and he had to re-grip to secure the catch. That may sound like a non-issue, but that re-grip is often the difference between making a contested catch and having a pass broken up. I haven’t seen it often enough to call it a concern by any means, but it is something you would like to see him improve upon.
Below are a few loose notes about the offense’s performance from what I saw during practice:
- DeMarco Murray looked healthy today. He didn’t get a full compliment of reps as the coaches ease him back in, but the reps he did get looked crisp and there was no signs of a lingering concern with the hamstring.
- The list of banged up wide receivers is getting long. Corey Davis, Tajae Sharpe, and Mekale McKay all sat out again today and Decker didn’t finish the practice due to the twisted ankle I mentioned above. That meant lots of work for guys like Matthews, Taylor, Douglas, and McBride.
- KeVonn Mabon stood out to me today among the reserve receivers. He has a big, thick frame and looks very natural catching the football.
- The battle between McBride and Douglas is going to be tight. I think one of those two makes the roster, but probably not both. Both looked very good today. I don’t know how I became the Harry Douglas defender among Titans fans, but here I am. He’s still a pretty darn good wide receiver. He just has a knack for getting open and he has among the surest hands on the team. He’s not going down without a fight.
- Khalfani Muhammad had his best practice that I’ve seen so far. He popped a nice long run during a team period that included an open field juke on the safety. It likely would have gone for a touchdown in a game setting. Mularkey also praised his work in pass protection after practice. It is good to see him bouncing back after a rough first couple weeks of camp. He still appears to be behind Fluellen and Judd, but we still have a long way to go before the season starts.
- Jack Conklin had a nice practice as well. He was lined up against Julius Peppers for much of practice and really showed out. Conklin is the real deal.
- Jonnu Smith is a guy that I watched more of today and I really liked what I saw. Its almost eerie how similar he looks to Delanie Walker when it comes to how those guys move and run.
- Rishard Matthews got deep and caught a dime from Mariota during one-on-ones and it reminded me how good those two were at that combination last season. It is easy to get distracted from Matthews with all the shiny new toys at receiver in camp, but this was a good reminder of how good he can be.
- During team periods, the Panthers first team defense largely controlled the Titans first team offense. DeMarco Murray had a few good runs and there was a pass to Delanie Walker that went for about a 20 yard gain, but the Panthers run D had several stops for no gain or a loss and largely clamped down on the receivers outside. Mariota tried to force one ball to Delanie Walker that ended up getting tipped and nearly intercepted. Later a pass intended for Derrick Henry was deflected and then taken back for a pick 6 by Shaq Thompson. It wasn’t as bad as the performance against the Jets, but it wasn’t the high octane offense that we are hoping to see when the regular season kicks off. To be fair, the offense was without two of its top three receivers during team periods and Murray got very limited reps.
- I did get to see the linebackers working in individual drills before they left to go to the field on the far side of the facility. Its hard to take much from individual drills, but I can say this... when Kevin Dodd hits the sled he makes it look like an inflatable pool toy. That guy has a heck of a punch. He is pretty clearly the most powerful guy in that group. Dodd also picked up a sack during a team period today.
- The Jayon Brown Hype Machine continues to careen out of control among Titans coaches, reporters, and fans. Brown picked off a Joe Webb pass during team drills today and generally drew more rave reviews. He is constantly around the football.
- Several Titans safeties and linebackers struggled to cover Panthers rookie Christian McCaffrey today. McCaffrey is going to be a really good player.
- Other standouts on defense from reading the coverage include Johnathan Cyprien and Kevin Byard.