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Titans Training Camp Day 5 Notes

Defense dominates “scrimmage” style practice.

NFL: Tennessee Titans-Training Camp Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans had a scrimmage style practice today so the vast majority of the day was full team offense versus defense. Reps were hard to come by for some of the players that are lower in the rotation for their specific position group. Here are my notes along with the three stars of practice:

3rd Star: Kevin Byard

Byard showed up several times today. Something we have come to expect from the First-Team All-Pro safety. He sacked Mariota on a well-timed safety blitz, recovered a Mariota fumble, and nearly had an interception on a ball over the middle.

2nd Star: Jayon Brown

I could put Jayon Brown near the top of this list almost every day. He is constantly around the ball in practice and provides outstanding coverage on tight ends. We also saw him today making some plays against the run. He had an excellent run blitz at one point that forced the back right in to the path of Gimel President for what would have been a tackle for loss. Brown’s play has really stood out to me.

1st Star: Taywan Taylor

On a day where Corey Davis was mostly held in check by the excellent Titans corners, Taylor stepped up and made some of the biggest plays of the day. He had a great over-the-shoulder grab for about 30 yards which set up a 2-minute drill field goal at one point, and also made a fantastic contested catch on a deep comeback on the sideline for a 15-yard gain against good coverage from Logan Ryan. Taylor’s play has been strong during camp and it’s clear the team is looking for him to be an important part of the passing game in 2018.

Injury Updates

  • Malcolm Butler: Butler came out today during a team period and received some attention on the sideline for what looked to be a sprained ankle. He got some additional tape and was back up, but never returned to the field. He was moving around pretty well on the sidelines so I would suspect this was the team not taking any chances with their star corner with a day off looming tomorrow.
  • Rishard Matthews: We found out today that Matthews is on the PUP. Paul Kuharsky has reported that Matthews has actually been on PUP this entire time, but it simply wasn’t reported until now. That is better news than him being added to it today would have been as that would have suggested a setback or more pessimistic projected timeline for him, but either way I wouldn’t expect 18 to be back out there in the next few days.
  • Brian Orakpo: Rak was out again today with a shoulder injury, but Vrabel has said a few times that he doesn’t expect him to be out for long. Hopefully we see him back on the field later this week.
  • Jonnu Smith: Smith was held out today after leaving Sunday’s practice early with a sore back. It doesn’t sound like a serious injury and it may simply be a case of the team being extra cautious with Tuesday being a day off.
  • Rashaan Evans: Evans left Saturday’s practice early and Vrabel suggested that it may have been “heat related”, but after missing the next two practices it seems that he may have something more than cramps. No news is typically good news when it comes to camp injuries so chances are it’s a minor issue and we will see Evans back out there soon.
  • Luke Stocker: Stocker was held out of practice today. No word as to why.
  • Nico Falah: Same for backup center Falah.
  • Jack Conklin: Conklin is still out there walking around in shorts taking mental reps behind the offense during practice. No word yet on when to expect him to begin practicing though. Conklin is on the PUP.
  • Phillip Supernaw: Also on the PUP, Supernaw’s injury is a mystery as well.

Offense Notes

  • Overall, the offense had a rough go of it today. Marcus Mariota wasn’t particularly sharp in my opinion. He made some nice throws, but also missed some easy ones and once had the ball just slip out of his hands for a fumble while turning up field on a bootleg. The good news is that his ball placement on deep throws continues to be excellent. His 30-yard strike to Taywan Taylor in the 2-minute drill couldn’t have been thrown better.
  • Tight end Anthony Firkser got the chance to work with the 1’s quite a bit today with Jonnu Smtih and Luke Stocker held out. He looked smooth as a pass catcher, hauling in a couple grabs on short throws from Mariota and turning up field for nice gains. He probably isn’t cracking the top 3 at tight end, but Supernaw could have some competition for the 4th spot when he returns from injury. He’s had a very good camp so far.
  • Tim Semisch also got some work with the 1’s as he appears to be Luke Stocker’s primary replacement as the traditional in-line blocking tight end. At 6’-8” and 275 pounds, its easy to pick Semisch out, though he’s not as effective as Stocker when it comes to blocking.
  • Another young guy getting some work with the first team was UDFA receiver Deontay Burnett. Burnett has had a good camp as well and was rewarded with some snaps in the slot with the first team group late in practice today. He took advantage of the extra work with a couple catches as well. Michael Campanaro continues to work as the top slot option for now, but Burnett appears to have passed Nick Williams and is putting some pressure on Campanaro for the top spot. All three of these guys seem to be lumped together as slot receiver/returners and it’s likely that just one of them makes the roster.
  • If there were 4 stars to give out, the 4th would have gone to Delanie Walker who continues to be amazing. He made several difficult catches in key spots during drives.
  • Derrick Henry has had a nice camp as he gets used to working with a different set of run calls under Matt LaFleur. He had a really nice read on a windback run that would have gone for about 10-15 yards on the first play of the team period. The issue of constantly trying to bounce runs outside has not popped up to this point.
  • The Titans had several play calls that featured backs motioning out of the backfield to wide spots on the field, essentially giving Mariota a 5-wide look. The running backs are not just decoys out there either. Mariota hit Henry on a nice slant route during team periods today. Henry had a pretty good day catching the ball out of the backfield.
  • My favorite play call of the day was a nice play action boot off an outside zone read that ended up being a throwback screen to Dion Lewis. Lewis caught the ball with three blockers ahead of him and no defender within 10 yards for what would have been a pretty big play. These kind of easy access throws will help Mariota this year.

Defense Notes

  • As I mentioned up top, this was a scrimmage style practice. While the coaches manipulated a few scenarios to get reps of certain things they wanted to see, they largely let the game play out as it would in live action. The defense shut the offense out of the end zone for the entirety of practice today thanks to a suffocating pass defense that didn’t let the offense get many opportunities to strike down the field. The defensive line and other blitzers also got good pressure consistently and generally had Mariota and Gabbert off balance most of the day. It was a clear win for the defense.
  • Another guy moving up in rotations is defensive end Julius Warmsley. Warmsley has been around the NFL since 2014, spending time with the Texans, Seahawks, and Dolphins before coming to Tennessee. Vrabel praised him during Sunday’s press conference for playing with good pad level and then he backed up that praise with some first team reps on Monday when Jurrell Casey came out for a breather. Warmsley is certainly working himself in to the 53-man roster conversation.
  • Another defensive end that caught my eye today was David King, who quickly beat Cody Wichmann to get pressure on Blaine Gabbert and force a throw away.
  • Austin Johnson was the first man in at nose tackle today during the team period, flanked by Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones at the end positions. Johnson and Bennie Logan appear to be battling for the starting spot at nose tackle.
  • Harold Landry has had the misfortune of facing off against Taylor Lewan for most of the last few days since stepping in for the injured Orakpo in the first team defense. Lewan has largely shut out the rookie, but working against a player of Lewan’s caliber in practice every day will only help the young pass rusher develop. When Landry did get some snaps on the right side against Dennis Kelly, he saw much better results, including one nice pressure on Mariota as he used a nicely timed hesitation dip move to beat the right tackle around the corner.
  • As I mentioned above when talking about Jayon Brown, Gimel President had a nice tackle for loss and Sharif Finch added a sack during team period as the battle for a roster spot at outside linebacker continues to heat up. Both Finch and President have shown more than Josh Carraway in my eyes.
  • Higher up the edge rusher depth chart, Aaron Wallace continues to have a nice camp. He looks thicker than he was a year ago and he used that extra mass to set a nice hard edge on an outside zone run to his side today.
  • Linebackers Daren Bates and Nate Palmer combined on a nicely timed double A gap blitz to get what would have been a sack for a safety on Blaine Gabbert when the offense was backed up on their own goal line.
  • Adoree Jackson and Logan Ryan were both outstanding today in coverage, constantly forcing Mariota off his first read, resulting in a bunch of checkdowns. Butler was excellent as well before leaving with the ankle injury. Sims stepped in for him and did solid work as well. The corners have really been something to see in practice.
  • Further down the depth chart at corner, one guy that has seemed to make a move is Rico Gafford. I mentioned him and his ridiculous 4.23 40 time the other day, and once again he was making plays today. He was working up with the second team defense on a day where not every corner was getting reps and he had a really nice pass breakup on a slant route against Tajae Sharpe. Gafford is going to be really hard pressed to sneak in to the 53-man roster for this team, but #40 is a player to watch in preseason. He’s got some ability.

Odds and Ends

  • The Titans hosted six wounded veterans who are making a 1,200 mile walk across America to help raise money and awareness for wounded war veterans at practice today. That was really cool to see.
  • The team is also going to have local hero James Shaw Jr. — the man who bravely fought off the shooter at a Nashville Waffle House earlier this year — speak to the team during their team meeting tonight. You won’t find too many stories more inspiring than Shaw’s. I’m glad to see the team embracing him.
  • The Titans are off tomorrow (Tuesday) and then back with normal practices on Wednesday and Thursday morning at Saint Thomas Sports Park. On Friday they will travel down to Williamson County to practice at Centennial High School for their second annual “Friday Night Lights” practice. Then Saturday, they’ll host an open practice at Nissan Stadium from 3:30-6:00. Lots of good opportunities to come out and get a glimpse of the team.