The Titans were back on the practice field today in shorts and helmets as Vrabel gave the team a bit of a light practice before they get ready for another full pads scrimmage style practice at Centennial High School on Friday night.
The big story of the day was obviously the news that starting safety Johnathan Cyprien was lost for the year to a torn ACL. That’s devastating news for both the Titans and Cyprien. While his 2017 season wasn’t what fans or Cyp himself probably wanted, he was having a good camp and was clearly the team’s second best safety behind Kevin Byard. Losing him is a blow to a very good secondary, but luckily the free agent market offers a couple really good alternatives in Kenny Vaccaro and Eric Reid, both of whom the Titans are reportedly discussing.
I was really hoping for a Cyprien bounce back year. He seems like a good guy and you hate to see something like this take away what could have been a special season for him in the prime of his career. Here’s to hoping he comes back better than ever in 2019.
With that, let’s get in to notes from camp today.
3rd Star: Harold Landry
Landry makes my top 3 for the second straight day as he flashed with what would have been back to back sacks during the final team period. Like yesterday, one of the sacks came off an E-T game between Landry and Derrick Morgan who was lined up inside next to Jurrell Casey as part of a nickel pass rush package. That look has caused real problems for the Titans offensive line in camp and it’s one that we will likely see a lot of during the regular season. Landry’s quickness threatens the edge on nearly every snap. He’s going to make some big plays for this team in 2018.
2nd Star: Jonnu Smith
With Delanie Walker getting a day off, Smith stepped in to the primary pass catching tight end role and shined. He caught a deep wheel route from Marcus Mariota during a team period that would have been a long touchdown — more on that play in a second — and was able to win on some intermediate routes as well. Smith seems to be taking the next step in his development and will give the Titans a chance to cause some real matchup problems for defenses when he shares the field with Walker.
1st Star: Marcus Mariota
This was one of Mariota’s best days of camp so far. He was pinpoint accurate on most throws, including some more deep balls. He had one particularly nice throw glance off the finger tips of Tajae Sharpe when Sharpe’s feet got tangled with Malcolm Butler on a go route. Mariota was regularly in rhythm with his progressions and seemed particularly in sync with Corey Davis, who also had a very nice day.
The most promising moment of the day for me came when the Titans went back to a play they had run the day before. Here is a clip from Paul Kuharsky from Wednesday’s practice.
Mariota made a great throw to Taylor who made a tough catch in traffic for about a 15-yard gain, however if you watch you can see Delanie Walker run past on the wheel route wide open. Well today, the Titans went back to that same exact play and this time Mariota dropped a beautiful ball over the top to a wide open Jonnu Smith who was running the wheel with Walker out. It likely would have gone for a touchdown and is a great example of Mariota seeing something in the film room from one practice and then applying it to the next practice.
- Jayon Brown: I’m not sure if Brown had an injury or if he was out at the end of practice for other reasons, but he did not take his full complement of reps today. No reason to believe it’s anything serious right now, but something to monitor.
- Kendrick Lewis: Lewis left practice yesterday shortly after Cyprien went down and he was out again today, leaving the safety group even more shallow. His injury sounds to be short term though as Vrabel said after practice that “we will get Kendrick back”.
- Sharif Finch: Sharif Finch was not at practice for a second straight day. I haven’t seen any reports or indications about what could be ailing him, but it seems he’s got something going on. His absence gave Josh Carraway and Gimel President some extra reps today.
- Johnathan Cyprien: Cyp is now the second season-ending injury of camp, joining Tye Smith on the Injured Reserve list.
- Malcolm Butler: Butler returned to practice after a day off yesterday and seemed to be just fine. Nothing to worry about here.
- Rishard Matthews: Matthews did more individual work before practice today, catching passes from quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara. It feels like he is building towards a return now.
About 50 minutes before practice, Rishard Matthews (on PUP with an undisclosed injury) is out on the field running routes and catching balls. He looks good. pic.twitter.com/UMHNqn7bm3— Erik Bacharach (@ErikBacharach) August 2, 2018
- Brian Orakpo: No update on Rak as he continues to be held out with a shoulder injury.
- Rashaan Evans: Still no Evans today as the worst case of cramping in the history of football continues (I kid, we really have no clue what’s going on with Evans right now).
- Jack Conklin: Remains on the PUP.
- Phillip Supernaw: Remains on the PUP.
- The offense was very crisp today, particularly early in practice as Mariota and the first team receivers ripped through the defense during the first team period. Mariota connected with Corey Davis several times, including a nice slant route on an RPO look.
- Davis didn’t have the over the top spectacular catches like he did back on Day 2, but he may have had his best overall day today. He was able to work himself open a lot and made plays on the ball when it was thrown his way. The best of the bunch was a nice back shoulder throw from Mariota on a go route down the sideline where Davis was able to adjust and spin back to the ball to make the grab.
- After watching this team practice for a week now, it’s pretty clear that LaFleur’s offense is going to look a lot like his mentor Kyle Shanahan’s offense. That’s no surprise, but it’s fun seeing elements that I had hoped he would borrow show up in practice. One such element was a quick play action pass off an outside zone look where Mariota stretched to fake the handoff going left and then wheeled and fired a strike to Taywan Taylor running a slant on the right side of the field.
- I also saw an old play from the 2012 Washington team that featured Robert Griffin III. LaFleur was Griffin’s quarterback coach that year under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and his father, head coach Mike Shanahan. That offense featured a number of plays from the pistol formation, particularly the read option with the running back running a dive and the quarterback having the option to keep it around the end if the play side end crashes. There are two primary advantages to running this from pistol instead of shotgun. For one, you can run the play to either side without flipping the running back. For example, if a quarterback comes to the line and counts the box, he can flip the play to the more advantageous side without flipping his running back and potentially tipping off the defense. The other advantage is that you get your running back going downhill immediately rather than coming east and west in to the mesh point. For a back like Derrick Henry works better with a head of steam, this is a big advantage. That play showed up today with Mariota and Henry and it resulted in a nice run for 22.
- I feel like I write this every day, but tight end Anthony Firkser continues to make plays in this camp and he continues to get rewarded with increased opportunity. With Walker out today, there were more tight end reps to go around, but Firkser worked with the first team for several snaps and didn’t look out of place. Phillip Supernaw needs to get well soon because Firkser is coming for his spot.
- Cody Wichmann got a full team period worth of reps as the starting left guard today with Quinton Spain being bumped down to second team. This is clearly a competition right now and we’ve seen Spain, Wichmann, and Kevin Pamphile all get looks with the starters at various points.
- Wide receiver Nick Williams had a nice day working in the slot with Michael Campanaro sitting out of practice. Williams is a fun guy to watch. He’s not necessarily fast, but he’s very quick and has a nasty head fake as a route runner. He made a nice diving catch on the sidelines on a speed out today.
- Austin Johnson was the first man up in the nose tackle rotation again today, working ahead of Bennie Logan for the most part. I’m not sure it matters a ton which guy is technically the starter here though. Both guys will get work on the defensive line.
- Demontre Hurst was the starting safety opposite Kevin Byard at the start of practice today with Cyprien and Lewis both out. Hurst is a converted corner who worked at safety some during last season’s camp with the Titans. This year he has been a full time safety and seems to be earning the trust of his coaches, though I’m sure they wouldn’t be crazy about him as a starter. Hurst did have a couple nice moments today. On one play he was able to read Mariota and take away his primary target, forcing the QB to pull the ball down and run.
- Rookie Dane Cruikshank also got some run with the first team, rotating in for Hurst at times. He hasn’t really stood out to me in particular so far, but we will see if he can rise to the occasion with increased opportunity.
- Logan Ryan stood out among the corners today. He had a nice pass breakup against Nick Williams during 7 on 7’s.
- With Orakpo and Finch both out of the OLB group today, extra reps were available to go around. Gimel President took advantage with an excellent edge rush that resulted in a sack during a red zone period at the end of practice. He and Finch are both very impressive physically. I’m excited to see what those guys can do when we get to preseason games.
- With Tye Smith’s season ending due to injury, the battle for the 5th cornerback spot seems primed to heat up. By my estimation, Kalan Reed and Rico Gafford are the primary competitors here and Reed had the better day today, including a nice pass break up in team periods.
Odds and Ends
- After a rough start to practice for the defense, Wesley Woodyard tried to get the crowd to help pick them up, leading a “Defense! Defense!” chant between plays.
- The Titans worked a lot on kickoff coverage and kick returns today. Two guys that seemed to be getting special attention during this period were Harold Landry and Tajae Sharpe. It seems that the team intends to have those two guys be a part of special teams units.
- The primary competitors to return kicks this year appear to be Adoree Jackson and Dion Lewis. Though Campanaro is likely still part of the equation when he returns to practice.
- Tomorrow the Titans will travel down to Williamson County to practice at Centennial High School for their second annual “Friday Night Lights” practice. It will be a fully padded scrimmage style practice, so it will be fun to watch. Then Saturday, they’ll host an open practice at Nissan Stadium from 3:30-6:00.