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Ten Titans to keep an eye on at training camp

Titans 2018 training camp kicks off tomorrow morning at Saint Thomas Sports Park.

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NFL: Tennessee Titans-Minicamp Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been an unusually busy offseason for the Titans. If you crawled in a hole after the divisional round loss to the Patriots in January, allow me to quickly get you up to speed.

  • Mike Mularkey was offered an extension and then fired within days of each other.
  • After a quick coaching search, Jon Robinson landed on Mike Vrabel, Leader of Men, as the 18th head coach in the franchise’s history.
  • Vrabel began the work of filling out his coaching staff to mixed reviews. Reported misses on Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Ryan Day and Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher had the fan base concerned, but Vrabel managed to talk Dean Pees out of a very short retirement and coaxed Matt LaFleur away from the highest scoring offense in the NFL and all was right in Titan Nation again.
  • Avery Williamson left for a big contract from the Jets, but the team re-signed Josh Kline and DaQuan Jones to keep the majority of the 2017 core intact.
  • The Titans also added a couple big splashes in free agency, signing two more former Patriots in cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis.
  • The national media furiously hammered out “Patriots of the South” articles.
  • Deion Sanders mistook Kevin Byard for a fan on Twitter because he’s not a very good football analyst.
  • Once free agency cooled off, our attention turned to the new uniforms. The internet was lousy with rumors of red uniforms and battle-scarred helmets and wild mock ups.
  • The uniform unveiling event was a huge success on multiple levels — more on that in a minute — as over 20,000 Titans fans poured out on to Broadway on a cold April night to get a glimpse of the Titans new unis. The jerseys were widely praised, especially the change in helmet color from white to navy.
  • Jon Robinson went down to Dallas. He was looking for a linebacker to steal. He was in a bind because of Kevin Dodd. He was willing to make a deal.
  • Robinson traded up three times in the draft, ending up with two of the top prospects in the entire draft in Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans and Boston College edge rusher Harold Landry. He also grabbed Arizona safety Dane Cruikshank and Washington State quarterback Luke Falk.
  • Offseason workouts were largely without incident aside from a brief dust up between the local media and Mike Vrabel over UDFA availability and press conference seating arrangements. Yes, really.
  • The team released a 6-part behind-the-scenes video series called “Igniting the Fire” which was pretty cool and caused thousands of people to fall in love with defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs.
  • Kevin Dodd made the curious decision to skip voluntary workouts despite the fact that he needed to make a good first impression on the new staff more than just about anybody on the roster. He was recently released after failing to report to training camp on time.
  • Everyone fell in love with the idea of Matt LaFleur’s offense.
  • Taylor Lewan briefly held out of minicamp, but returned to training camp because he’s a swell guy and he loves Marcus Mariota. He’s about to be a very rich swell guy.

Other than that, not a whole lot happened.

The offseason ends today — at least in my mind — as the Titans will hold their first practice of training camp at 9:50 AM on Thursday morning at Saint Thomas Sports Park. The practice will be open to the public if you want to go. Everything you need to know about attending can be found here on the team’s site.

If you’re going to be out at camp, these are the guys that I would recommend keeping an eye on while you’re there.

Corey Davis #84

Outside of Marcus Mariota, there may be no Titan more important to the team’s 2018 success than their 2nd year wide receiver. After an up and down rookie season that was hampered significantly by injuries, it’s time for him to take the next step and live up to his billing as the 5th overall pick in the 2017 draft.

I was at camp last year before Davis injured his hamstring and his size, speed, and physicality were impressive in person. The wide receiver drills often draw the most attention at camp, so you won’t have trouble finding him. I am interested to see how he looks going full speed again and if his timing with Marcus Mariota has improved after an offseason full of reps.

Taywan Taylor #13

The other wide receiver to keep an eye on will be Taywan Taylor. Like Davis, he is a 2nd year guy who needs to step up and become a regular contributor in 2018. The team chose not to re-sign Eric Decker and didn’t add any significant receivers through free agency or the draft which reads to me as a vote of confidence in Taylor.

Taylor is the fastest of the Titans receivers and last year in camp he created big separation more frequently than any other pass catcher during one-on-one drills. His quickness in and out of breaks is something to watch.

His role in the offense is something that is a bit of a mystery at this point. It will be interesting to see where he’s lining up most frequently. Taylor is also the guy most likely to be used on gadget plays like reverses and jet sweeps.

Harold Landry #58

I’m biased because, frankly, I had a massive draft crush on Landry and then wrote approximately one billion words about him after the Titans picked him in the 2nd round, but the buzz around Landry has been overwhelmingly positive this offseason. By all accounts, he has come in with a great attitude and impressed with his speed around the edge.

It’s tough to get a great read on line play during camp — at least until the pads come on — but I would expect Landry’s speed and athleticism to really shine.

Adoree Jackson #25

Jackson may be the best athlete on the team. The former track star has unbelievable speed and it will be very apparent when receivers try to go deep on him during practice. His ability to make plays on the ball flashed during camp in 2017, but he finished the season without an interception. That’s something he will be looking to make up for this year.

Rashaan Evans #54

Another rookie making his first impression on Titans fans, Evans will be embroiled in a battle for a starting spot at inside linebacker with veterans Wesley Woodyard, Will Compton, and Jayon Brown during camp. I’m interested to see how the coaching staff uses him. Will he get some reps as a pure pass rusher?

Dion Lewis #33

Lewis was one of the Titans big offseason additions and he will represent a very different style of back compared to the ones we’ve seen here the past few seasons. His suddenness is startling on tape and I can’t wait to see it in person. It will also be lots of fun to see him and Derrick Henry standing next to each other.

Malcolm Butler #21

The other big free agent addition will also be in the spotlight. Butler was one of the very best cornerbacks in football in 2016, but took a step back last year. He is known as a feisty competitor who plays each snap “like food and rent were on the line”. His competitiveness should help push Corey Davis and the other receivers to new heights in camp.

Jonnu Smith #81

Smith is another 2nd year player who will be looked to for increased production this year. Like Davis, his 2017 season was up and down, but he has the athletic ability to turn in to Delanie Walker’s long term replacement. In fact, the most stunning thing about seeing Smith in person is exactly how much he looks and moves like Walker. Smith taking the next step could give Matt LaFleur a lot of flexibility from a formational standpoint.

Marcus Mariota #8

File this under obvious, but Mariota’s ability to pick up and excel in the new offense will be the single most important factor in the success or failure of the 2018 Titans. From what we can deduce from offseason reports and Matt LaFleur’s primary influences, it seems fair to expect to see Mariota on the move more than he has been in the last couple years. That doesn’t necessarily mean designed runs, but rather passing plays that move the pocket or put him in a bootleg. Many analysts that we’ve heard from over the course of the offseason have described this as the perfect offense for Mariota. It will be exciting to see what that looks like with him operating it.

One word of caution regarding camp reports and even observing in person. The defense is almost always ahead of the offense early in camp. Offensive players have a lot more on their plate from an installation standpoint and it often leads to more mistakes and players playing a little slower than they might once they feel comfortable with the playbook. That’s normal, especially for teams with new offensive coaches. If the Titans offense looks a bit lethargic early, there should be no reason for panic. If it still looks bad by the end of preseason, we may have some cause for concern, but don’t be the guy or gal who jumps the gun and makes wild proclamations based on the first day of training camp reports.

Sharif Finch #56

This is my off-the-radar sleeper that I want to watch. The Titans gave Finch, an undrafted outside linebacker from Temple, the largest signing bonus out of their UDFA pool. That usually means that there was a lot of competition for the player and the team really liked him quite a bit. I have checked out some of his tape from Temple and it’s pretty impressive. At 6’-4” and 251 pounds, Finch ran a 4.65 second 40-yard dash and a 7.00 second 3-cone drill at Temple’s pro day. I think he will have a chance to push for a spot at the back of the 53-man roster.

I will be heading out to camp as often as possible and will share my notes here. Last year, I called Kevin Byard’s breakout season in my notes after the 3rd practice of camp (please ignore any wrong takes in there). Check back over the next few weeks to see those here. Happy camp season!