We have arrived at preseason game #3 which is easily the most enjoyable of the exhibition games — although last week was pretty darn fun. Mariota and company are expected to see close to a full half of action this week. Could be more, could be less depending on game flow, but we should see them get significant amounts of work in a semi-gameplanned setting for the first time in 2017 which is exciting.
I am excited to see how the Titans will fare against a Bears team that is good up front on both sides of the ball, but has huge question marks at QB, WR, and the defensive backfield. The first team offensive line will be challenged for the 3rd straight week by Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Leonard Floyd, Willie Young, and Pernell McPhee. The Bears front 7 is underrated nationally because of how poor the team was overall last year, but this is a tough group.
On the other side of the ball, the Bears boast possibly the strongest interior line in the NFL with Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, and Kyle Long from left guard to right guard. Those guys helped clear the path for the 2nd leading rusher in the NFL last year, Jordan Howard. This will be a clear strength on strength matchup with the Titans stout run defense. We will also get a first look at rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky operating with their first team unit as coach John Fox said that Mike Glennon will start, but Trubisky will come back out with the 1s to start the 2nd half. Trubisky has been impressive so far in the preseason so it will be interested to see if he can keep it up.
The Titans are going to be without the services of Corey Davis and Eric Decker again this week, but they get Tajae Sharpe back. Harry Douglas will be sitting out with a minor knee injury, so I would expect to see a lot of Matthews, Taylor, and McBride in addition to a limited number of snaps for Sharpe. Mekale McKay also will not play, meaning we only have one more week for him to take up the mantle as Michael Preston 2.0. Mike Mularkey has been pretty cagey regarding DeMarco Murray’s availability this week. On Wednesday he said that Murray would play and then on Friday he said he would make the decision after he watched the practice tape. Even if Murray does go, you can safely assume that he won’t get as much work as the rest of the 1s. The defense is largely healthy with just Curtis Riley and Nate Palmer question marks heading in to the game.
Here are my 3 players to watch for Titans-Bears:
Tajae Sharpe #19
This one is pretty obvious, but it doesn’t make it less true. This week has been Tajae Sharpe Week here at MCM and it will be interesting to see how he looks getting his first live action of 2017. I am hoping to see him looking healthy and showing off the crisp route running that made him a preseason sensation last summer.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see him line up as the starting X for the game with Matthews at the Z, and Taylor getting the first looks in the slot. That will look eerily similar to 2016 with the exception of #13 not slipping every time he changes directions.
Austin Johnson #94
Austin Johnson earned some pretty major praise from Mike Mularkey after Friday’s practice.
I noticed him rotating in with the 1st team defense at DaQuan Jones’ spot way back in the 3rd practice of camp so it is clear that his profile on this team is on the rise and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him surpass Jones at some point during the year — and I really like DaQuan Jones.
Keep an eye on #94 during this game and see how he responds to the challenge of facing one of the best interior offensive lines in the NFL.
Aaron Wallace #52
Wallace has been one of the unexpected standouts of Titans camp. He has picked up 1.5 sacks over the first two games — including the big strip sack that set up the game winning touchdown against the Panthers — and the coaching staff thinks he could have had more per Jim Wyatt:
“We can play Aaron at a number of positions,’’ Mularkey said. “He's a powerful man, very powerful. He's facing some much bigger tackles when he's rushing. And he's been very productive. He's had the ability to have more sacks than he's had. We think he should've had four in his first two preseason games. He's been very productive.
He has been hard to miss so far, but I will be watching two things with him in this game — can he keep it up and will we see him higher up in the OLB rotation?
- Kalan Reed gets in the game with the 1s on defense at some point in the first half.
- Derrick Henry busts a 40+ yard run. Henry is due to break a long one.
- Adoree Jackson commits some rookie-on-rookie crime when he picks Trubisky off.