I was out at Saint Thomas Sports Park this morning to check out the Titans first open practice of the new season. I’m going to borrow a tradition from hockey and give out three stars for the practice session and then follow up with some additional notes from practice below.
3rd Star: Brian Orakpo
Today was a day for the defense — again, as you would expect early in training camp — and among the biggest standouts was Brian Orakpo who spent an awful lot of time in the backfield during team drills. Orakpo had at least one “would be” sack and got pressure on several other occasions. This should be the case considering the Titans were without both starting tackles in team periods — more on that in a moment — leaving Rak to feast on Kevin Pamphile and Dennis Kelly, but it’s still good to see the veteran still has his fastball.
2nd Star: Adoree’ Jackson
Jackson is one of several second year guys that the team will be looking for to take the next step this year. It was a very good first day of camp for him as he primarily worked against Corey Davis in team drills. He kept the clamps on Davis and other receivers for most of the day and looked very comfortable out there.
1st Star: Malcolm Butler
Butler looked every bit worth of his big 5-year, $61M deal in his first camp practice as a Titan. He was dominant in one-on-ones and continued to be a pest for the Titans receivers in team drills. Below is a clip of one of his one-on-one wins as he jumps Corey Davis’ route and picks off the pass. This guy is the real deal.
- First, Taylor Lewan was, in fact, at practice which is a good thing. However, he did not participate in team periods. It sounds like he is unlikely to get any team work until his contract is signed, though Mike Vrabel refuted that notion when asked about it during his press conference after practice.
- Lewan was also involved in an awkward exchange with offensive line coach Keith Carter that happened right in front of me. The offensive line was doing one-on-one blocking drills, taking turns blocking and then posing as a defender for their teammates to block. Lewan was paired with Tyler Marz for this drill. Carter didn’t like Marz’s technique on the first rep, so he corrected him then asked him to do it again. The next rep was better, but since he didn’t get any movement against Lewan he asked for one more. On the final rep, Lewan intentionally flopped dramatically to the ground. Carter was less than amused and gave Lewan an earful about it as they jogged off to the next period of practice. Joe Dubin from WSMV got video of the incident.
A very odd moment at @titans practice between Taylor Lewan and the OL coach who was not happy with his effort. Language from both dictate this was NOT a playful moment, IMO. pic.twitter.com/dqHFAC0ARX— Big Joe (@BIGJOEONTHEGO) July 26, 2018
It was a very awkward moment and Lewan and Carter were reportedly spotted after practice having a long conversation. There certainly seemed to be some tension between the two. Nothing to overreact to right now, but it was not a good look from Lewan, especially when he’s about to become the highest paid player on the team. Paul Kuharsky has more details here.
- Rishard Matthews, Jack Conklin, Phillip Supernaw, and backup tackle John Theus were all held out completely from practice, though Matthews and Conklin were seen out on the field. I didn’t notice Supernaw or Theus, but then again, I wasn’t looking for them. Conklin and Supernaw are both on the PUP and probably won’t be back at practice any time soon, but Matthews and Theus will hopefully be back soon.
- Marcus Mariota looked very healthy and appeared relatively comfortable in the new offense. There wasn’t a ton of miscommunication or confusion from what I could tell, though timing certainly could have been better on some routes.
- One of the things I was most looking forward to seeing was the new offensive scheme. As expected, there were a lot of outside zone calls to pace the running game. Derrick Henry looked particularly strong when it came to getting the edge and getting up field. He looks as massive and absurdly fast as ever.
- The Derrick Henry-Dion Lewis splits were roughly 60-40 in favor of Henry. It appeared that Henry got most of the first team reps when the Titans were in heavy packages with 2 or more tight ends, while Lewis got more work in 11 personnel. I would also say that the Titans were probably in 11 personnel less than half the time today. That may be partially due to Matthews being out, but we saw a lot of Jonnu Smith and Luke Stocker today.
- There were a lot of Marcus Mariota bootlegs and roll outs and the Titans QB looked noticeably faster as compared to his speed early in camp last season when he was coming back from the ankle injury.
- Formationally, I noted some pistol sets which I’m excited to see. This was something that Kyle Shanahan did with Robert Griffin in Washington to great success while Matt LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach there. The Titans also had some interesting 2 x 2 sets with Taywan Taylor and Corey Davis lined up to one side and Delanie Walker and Jonnu Smith lined up to the other side (Walker split out wide). I really liked the look of that.
- Speaking of Jonnu Smith, he was featured a lot with the first team offense and I suspect he is going to have a larger role in the passing game this year than he did last year. He looks good.
- Other scheme related notes I had were that the running backs got a lot of work lining up as wide receivers in individual drills. I didn’t see it as much in team periods, but I suspect that will be something that we see from time to time with this offense.
- At wide receiver, I thought the group as a whole had a relatively rough day dealing with an excellent Titans secondary, but there were some good moments. I thought Taywan Taylor did a nice job hauling in a few contested catches, something that plagued him as a rookie.
- Corey Davis had an up and down day. He was mostly matched up with Adoree’ Jackson and I felt like Jackson won more than Davis did. Davis also had back to back drops at one point during team drills. However, he also turned in the best play of the day when he made a beautiful catch in the back of the endzone during a team period on a dime from Marcus Mariota. Jackson was in tight coverage, but Davis was able to get late separation and haul in the catch. It was nearly identical to his two touchdown catches against Malcolm Butler in the Titans-Patriots playoff game last year. Davis also got a few snaps lined up in the slot which is something he excelled with in college, and I have been wanting to see them try with him here.
- I think it is noteworthy that Taywan Taylor was primarily working as an outside receiver today. Michael Campanaro was typically the slot wide receiver with the 1s when they went to 11 personnel. That may change when Rishard Matthews returns, but for now it looks like Taylor might get more work outside. It was also interesting to me that Taylor was one of the few wide receivers held out of special teams work. Last season he was a big part of those units, so seeing him held back from that tells me they may have bigger plans for him in the offense.
- As far as I can tell, the wide receiver pecking order with Rishard Matthews out goes something like this: Davis, Taylor, Michael Campanaro, Tajae Sharpe, Darius Jennings, Nick Williams, Jordan Veasy, Cameron Batson, Deontay Burnett. Campanaro and Williams pretty much exclusively play in the slot though.
- Quinton Spain appears to be the clear front runner for the left guard spot. It’s tough to tell who is next behind him because Kevin Pamphile is mostly working at tackle right now, but Cody Wichmann was the 2nd team left guard. Su’a-Filo and Levin are likely behind him right now. The starting line from left to right today was Pamphile, Spain, Ben Jones, Josh Kline, Dennis Kelly.
- Deontay Burnett had a nice diving grab on the sidelines during a team period.
- Jordan Veasy is huge and physical. Makes for a nice big target on slants.
- The defense definitely won the day, and they were led by their veterans. Jurrell Casey, Brian Orakpo, Wesley Woodyard, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, and Adoree Jackson all had WOW moments.
- The starting linebackers in base defense were Woodyard and Will Compton as expected, and Jayon Brown subbed in for Compton in nickel packages. Rashaan Evans was pretty much relegated to second team work for now, but he flashed a couple times showing some really nice speed going sideline to sideline.
- Harold Landry was also running with the 2s as he and Aaron Wallace were the outside linebackers for the 2nd group behind Orakpo and Derrick Morgan. He flashed in the backfield at least once for what would have been a pressure or sack and also appeared to get a tip on an incomplete pass during another team period play. The dip move that he used so often at Boston College was seen frequently and caused problems for some of the Titans tackles.
- Logan Ryan had a great interception off of Mariota during team period when he stepped in front of Taywan Taylor to make a great play on the ball. Ryan didn’t pull in an interception in 2017, but he had 13 in his first four seasons. Getting his hands on passes is something he does very well.
- Defensive line depth is something that has been a concern for some fans. The top 4 of Casey, DaQuan Jones, Austin Johnson, and Bennie Logan are solid. David King, as expected was working with the 2nd unit, and rounding out that group was Julius Warmsley. I don’t know if the Titans will keep 5 or 6 there, but that could be a bubble spot when it comes to roster cut downs.
- Kendrick Lewis, Demontre Hurst, and Dane Cruikshank worked in a rotation among the 2nd team safeties with the latter two combining to create another interception during team periods when Hurst deflected a pass and Cruikshank was able to pull it in for a pick.
- Sharif Finch, the undrafted rookie edge rusher from Temple, showed up in the 3rd outside linebacker pairing alongside Gamil President. Both got pressure that led to an interception or incompletion during team periods and looked very athletic.
- The Titans defense ran a TON of press man coverage today. I’m not sure if that was just the look they were wanting to work on for this specific practice or if that’s a sign of things to come, but it really suits the skill set of their secondary and felt suffocating for the offense much of the day.
- The secondary as a whole was on fire today. Malcolm Butler is just as feisty as advertised and he brings another level of swagger to a group that was never lacking for confidence. This group oozes confidence and plays like it. They take it personal when a catch is made on them and their position coach Kerry Coombs isn’t afraid to let them hear about it. Their slogan is “my man catch no balls” and that is absolutely the mindset they played with today.
Odds and Ends
- Practice under Mike Vrabel is a little different than practice under Mike Mularkey. They started with some walk throughs before going to stretching and then individual drills. They then bounced back and forth between team periods, 7-on-7’s, individual work, and special teams, never sticking in one spot for too long. He also had music going the entire practice.
- At the end of practice the team ran what strength coach Tom Kanavy called “striders” from sideline to sideline with the coaches joining in. Taylor Lewan regularly finished each run at least 10 yards ahead of the rest of the offensive line/defensive line group. It’s hard to explain how great of an athlete he really is.
- Punt returners were Adoree’ Jackson, Michael Campanaro, Nick Williams, and Deontay Burnett.
- Michael Griffin was hired by the team to be a coaching intern this season. It was great to see him out there today working primarily with the DBs. Griff and Orakpo seemed happy to be reunited. They reminisced a little bit about Texas two-a-days on the sidelines towards the end of practice. While Griffin’s playing career is divisive among Titans fans, I think we all can agree that he’s always carried himself as a true pro and I think he’ll be a great mentor to some of these young defensive backs. Good to see him get the opportunity.
- Below are what I saw as the first team units for base and subpackages on offense and defense for the majority of practice.
The Titans are back at it again tomorrow. Football season is back!