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Titans Training Camp: Notes from Titans-Patriots Practice #2

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What I learned from watching the Titans defense work against Tom Brady.

Titans-Patriots practice number two saw a couple minor skirmishes intermingled with some good competitive action from both sides. I spent my day watching the Titans defense after focusing on the offense yesterday, but the teams did a good amount of work towards the end with everyone on the same field so I got to see a little of the Titans offense as well. Let’s start, as usual, with a round up of the players currently dealing with injury issues.

Injury Updates

Not much new to report here. Cameron Wake and Rodger Saffold did not practice today as part of their regularly scheduled camp maintenance, but Delanie Walker returned to action as those older veterans continue their individual maintenance plans. Here are some updates on the guys with current injury issues.

Cameron Batson and D’Andre Walker: Batson and Walker were placed on IR and will not play in the 2019 season.

Jonnu Smith, Ryan Succop, and Jeffery Simmons: All three remain on PUP.

Derrick Henry: Henry did more work on the side again today and seems to be progressing nicely towards a return. He won’t play Saturday night, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start getting eased back in next week.

Nate Davis: Davis was absent again as his injury — whatever it is — lingers into a second week.

David Fluellen: Fluellen continues to miss time. I still don’t think he’s in risk of losing his roster spot unless the injury starts to drag into the regular season though.

Adam Humphries: Humphries returned to practice today sporting a sleeve on his left leg after leaving with a trainer yesterday, but did not participate in individual drills or team periods and went in pretty early on. The fact that we saw him at all a day after leaving is a good sign.

James Folston: Folston was back in action after leaving early with a trainer yesterday as well.

Video Clips

I was able to get a couple good videos from practice today, but unfortunately my camera operating skills failed me during the best “filmable” period of the day (I got off sequence with the start/stop function, resulting in me posting a video that I thought was of Adoree’ Jackson, but was actually just a video of the grass as Saint Thomas Sports Park).

Dion Lewis continues to work as the Titans top back with Derrick Henry out. Here he is running the gauntlet and then finishing with a spin move off running backs coach Tony Dews.

The Titans defensive backs and Patriots wide receivers went head to head in some one on one red zone looks during an early part of practice. This is the part where my phone operating skills failed me, but I was at least able to grab a video of this rep from Malcolm Butler against Patriots receiver Ryan Davis. Butler continues to be at his best in press man coverage where he is capable of completely erasing receivers at the line of scrimmage.

Luckily Paul Kuharsky was better with his phone than I was and was able to capture some more reps from this good, competitive period. The Patriots made catches on the first few reps, but the Titans DBs responded with a string of PBUs later on.

Our friends at AtoZ Sports were able to get a couple good shots of A.J. Brown as he did more work today than he did yesterday. Here he is warming up with some individual period work.

And here he goes up and shows off those contested catch skills against Pats corner J.C. Jackson. It should be noted, however, that Brown needs to continue to work on his releases at the line of scrimmage as this rep shows. That’s something that he didn’t have to do a ton of at Ole Miss since the majority of his snaps came in the slot where press coverage is very rare. Brown has some exciting skills though.

Takeaways

I watched all of the defensive reps during practice and got to see about half of the Titans offensive snaps as well. We’ll start with the defense and then add in a few notes about the offense below.

Defense

  • During the one on one period referenced in the video section above, Adoree’ Jackson, Kevin Byard, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Kareem Orr all had nice PBUs. It was a good competitive period and coverage from the Titans DBs was mostly very tight. Orr continues to impress me with his work. He’s a big, physical presence and does a nice job pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage. He’s a guy to keep an eye on in preseason game number two.
  • Amani Bledsoe — the undrafted rookie defensive lineman from Oklahoma — got some reps with the first team defense during two different periods today and made at least one nice run stop. The Titans are rotating the top group a good bit so don’t take this as “he’s a total lock to make the roster”, but he’s another guy that I would keep an eye on during preseason action.
  • Tye Smith had one of the better plays of the day when he leaped to tip away a deep shot from Tom Brady after some flea flicker action in the backfield. Smith has had a nice camp and figures to remain the frontrunner to take the fifth cornerback spot on the roster.
  • Sharif Finch got a lot of work with the ones today as Cameron Wake rested. He was regularly around the ball and did a great job setting the edge in the run game. Finch would later draw a holding penalty against a New England offensive lineman as he beat him with a pass rush in team period. He continues to be a bright spot for the outside linebacker group.
  • Speaking of outside linebackers, Harold Landry’s added bulk and strength was on full display today. He showed off some powerful bull rushes and long arm stabs to collapse the pocket back towards Brady’s feet. I’m expecting a big year from the 2018 second round pick.
  • Derick Roberson didn’t have the greatest preseason opener last Thursday, but he continues to see work with the second team group at outside linebacker. No player benefited more from D’Andre Walker’s injury than him. He has a real shot to make the roster.
  • Inside linebacker David Long is a lot of fun to watch. He flies around the field and plays with overflowing energy. Buck Reising compared him to a young Jayon Brown and I can see the resemblance, though I don’t know that Long is the cover man that Brown was early on. He knifed in to make a stop on a run play at the line of scrimmage and let out a loud yell afterwards. He brings some juice to the Titans second unit.
  • Speaking of Brown, he showed off what I consider to be his superpower as a player during a red zone seven on seven period. The Patriots motioned receiving back James White out of the back field and split him out wide to get a one on one matchup with Brown in man coverage. Brady tried to attack what he perceived to be a disadvantage, but Jayon was up for the challenge. He stuck in White’s pocket all the way on the fade and left no room for the ball to float in on the back corner fade. Brown’s ability to matchup with guys like White — who is a mismatch for nearly every other linebacker in the league — is what makes him special and nearly impossible to take off the field.
  • Brent Urban impressed me again today. He was able to get his massive paws up to bat down a couple Tom Brady passes during team work. His 6’-7” frame makes him a problem for throwing lanes and tipping balls at the line of scrimmage is a great recipe for creating turnovers. Urban was also involved in a very brief dust up with Patriots tackle Isaiah Wynn. He brings a lot of energy to the defense as well as his great length.
  • The Patriots got their shots in against the Titans defense as well though. During a red zone seven on seven period, there were a couple plays where the Titans defenders seemed confused on who they were supposed to take. Logan Ryan and Kevin Byard got their signals crossed on one crossing route and it resulted in a wide open touchdown toss from Brady to Dontrelle Inman.
  • The very next play, Adoree’ Jackson got caught with two men in his zone and no help, leaving Braxton Berrios underneath for an easy touchdown.
  • Wrapping up that red zone seven on seven period, Brady floated a high pass in the back of the end zone towards Ben Watson. The veteran tight end tried to go up and grab it with one hand, but couldn’t haul it in. Mike Vrabel made sure to let Brady know that he would have caught it if he was still playing.
  • Watching Brady operate in practice is truly mesmerizing. There is seemingly nothing that he doesn’t see. Whether its mistakes from his teammates or hints from the defense about what might be coming, Brady is noticing and calling it out. He can constantly be heard directing or correcting his receivers and isn’t afraid to hold guys accountable — loudly — when miscues happen. Brady isn’t just the best quarterback in NFL history, he might be the best receivers coach too.
  • The Titans defense got toasted on a couple deep balls up the seam to Braxton Berrios late in practice. The second year receiver was wide open both times on what appeared to be busted coverages.

Offense

  • I missed some of the early work with the Titans offense and that apparently included an acrobatic near catch from A.J. Brown in the end zone. Those who saw it said that it was a fantastic catch, but the rookie receiver was just barely not able to get a second foot in bounds. What I did see from Brown was a nice contested catch over the middle in a late two-minute period. The ball got raked out after Brown was on the ground, but it was ruled a catch on the field. He was also the instigator in the biggest skirmish of the day as he and Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore got into some pushing and shoving that eventually involved Corey Davis and Tajae Sharpe as well as a host of Patriots defenders. Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson both waded in to help separate the crowd. Brown brings a lot of swagger to a Titans offense that desperately needs it.
  • However, the biggest winner for the Titans offense from the periods I saw was Delanie Walker. Marcus Mariota’s trust in him remains unwavering despite the missed time last season. Walker was on the receiving end of several tight window throws from the Titans starting quarterback and had two nice chunk plays over the middle to start of the two minute team period towards the end of practice. He also made a nice grab on an iso fade route during a red zone seven on seven period. Having 82 back will be huge for this offense.
  • For those who are interested in tracking the farcical “QB battle”, Mariota was very clearly the better quarterback again today. Ryan Tannehill hasn’t done his best work the last couple days, and while Mariota hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire either, he’s clearly outplayed his backup.
  • With Adam Humphries sitting out, the Titans used a few different players in the slot with the first team, but Darius Jennings was the most frequent player to appear in that position. Jennings was OK, but didn’t seem to be on the same page as Mariota on a couple outbreaking routes (whether that’s on the QB or WR, I don’t know, but it looked like a timing issue to me). The Titans need Humphries to be healthy, and based on seeing him move around during warmups today, I think he’ll be back relatively soon.
  • I continue to feel that Jack Conklin has been one of the Titans best offensive linemen in camp. He looks back to his 2016-2017 form and that’s great news. He drew unsolicited praise from Mike Vrabel after practice — a truly rare bird — for picking up some things that had been discussed in meetings and translating them to the practice field. Vrabel also singled out Taywan Taylor, Adoree’ Jackson, and Kevin Pamphile as guys who have showed tangible improvement this week.

That is a wrap for Titans Training Camp 2019. The team will officially break camp tomorrow and begin transitioning to towards their normal in-season practice schedule next week.

Its hard to take too much away from practice work. After all, teams are often working on specific looks/techniques that they want to improve rather than simply trying to “win practice”, but I do think this Titans team has looked like a more dynamic group than the one that went 9-7 last season.

The offense still hasn’t gotten to showcase what it can look like with Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry, Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, A.J. Brown, and Delanie Walker all on the field together yet and I would guess that we won’t see that unit until Week 1 in Cleveland. We won’t see the offense truly at the peak of its potential until Taylor Lewan returns from his expected suspension in Week 5, but if you squint a little, you can see the outline of what could be a really fun offense.

On the defensive side, the Titans appear to be picking up where they left off in 2018. That makes sense, considering they’re returning 9 of 11 starters on that side of the ball, including all five members of the secondary. Rashaan Evans, Harold Landry, and Sharif Finch are all showing hints that they’re ready to make a year two leap and rookie safety Amani Hooker appears poised to be an instant contributor despite being the youngest player on the Titans roster. The only question surrounding this unit is whether they’ll be able to find enough pass rush with Harold Landry, Cameron Wake, and Sharif Finch leading the charge off the edge. I have a hard time believing that group will be worse than last year’s version which featured entirely too much Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo. An improved pass rush and continuity in the secondary should spell good things for the Titans defense in 2019.