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What to watch for during Titans-Bears

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A few real reasons to tune in for the most meaningless football game of the year.

NFL: Preseason-New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The fact that the NFL has four preseason games is an absolute joke. No other professional sports league plays a higher of exhibition games to regular season games and it’s completely unnecessary.

Coaches have long played things close to the vest in preseason action to avoid putting the full extent of their schemes on tape for their opponents to see. Now they’ve slashed the amount of snaps that starters get in an attempt to preserve their team’s health for the regular season. What you’re left with is a bunch of backups and players who likely won’t make the 53-man roster playing the most vanilla version of the offensive and defensive schemes.

The entire preseason is a bad product, but the fourth preseason game really takes the cake for unwatchable slogs. Very few — if any — starters will play and by the second half, both teams appear ready to run out the clock and start getting ready for Week 1.

It is true that this game can matter for guys at the back of the roster, however it probably matters more for their chances of being signed elsewhere than it does for their chances of staying with the Titans. After all, Jon Robinson and the coaching staff have a whole summer’s worth of practices, meetings, and workouts to judge their players by, but other NFL teams mostly just have their pre-draft opinions and tape from preseason games to go off of.

All that being said, here are a few things that I’ll be watching when I tune in for Titans-Bears at 7:00 PM Central on Thursday night.

Will Derrick Henry, Harold Landry, David Fluellen, or Jonnu Smith get any work?

All four of these guys have been held out of all three preseason games to this point. Landry’s absences from the Eagles and Patriots games did not appear to be injury related, but his most recent game missed was (though we still don’t know what that injury might have been). The 2018 second round pick returned to practice in some capacity today, but I’d put his odds of playing on Thursday night the lowest out of this group. It’s more likely that the first we see of Landry in a game uniform is Week 1 in Cleveland.

Henry and Smith both returned to practice last week, but were held out of the preseason game against the Steelers. With Henry, I don’t think it makes a ton of sense for him to play any snaps unless the first team offensive line is playing as well. Being able to get him a few live reps with those guys to build a little chemistry might be beneficial, but I’m not sure a handful of carries in Chicago is going to make a world of difference either way.

The same question applies for Smith and Fluellen. Is the risk of an injury worth the reward that could be gained of giving them a few snaps? I’d lean towards no on all these guys and go with the approach Mike Vrabel used last year, sitting virtually all starters and key contributors. I don’t think any team has ever looked back at the end of the season and said “thank goodness we got our starting running back three carries in that fourth preseason game, that made all the difference”.

Can Logan Woodside A) make this game watchable and B) continue to put pressure on the Titans to keep three quarterbacks?

Luke Falk started preseason game number four last year and played all the way through. The Titans finished with 165 yards of total offense — not passing offense... total offense.

Woodside has been a huge step up as the third quarterback this preseason, going 29 of 47 (61.7%) for 327 yards (7.0 YPA), 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions to earn a 96.7 passer rating. More than just putting up numbers, Woodside has shown an NFL quality arm and improved accuracy and decision making compared to this time last year. Outside of the preseason spotlight, he’s earned praise from the coaching staff for doing the little things like getting in early and staying late to help teach the offense to rookies during rookie minicamp.

The question is whether he’s done enough to force the Titans to keep him as a third quarterback on the 53-man roster. There is a good chance that Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel have either already made that decision or at least have a strong lean, but Woodside leaving them with one last good impression certainly wouldn’t hurt his cause, especially since the threat of him being scooped up by another team is the real motivation to put him on the roster instead of waiving him and re-signing him to the practice squad. If nothing else, I’m willing to bet that he’ll move the offense more than 165 yards on Thursday night.

Who gets snaps among the offensive linemen?

Assuming the Titans sit their starters — I suspect they will — it will be interesting to see which offensive linemen get snaps in this game. After starting the Steelers game at right guard, Kevin Pamphile shifted over to left tackle for a drive with the first team offensive line while Ryan Tannehill was still in at quarterback. Jamil Douglas replaced Pamphile at right guard and Dennis Kelly went to the bench. Is that a hint that the Titans will use Pamphile as their backup tackle while Taylor Lewan is out? I tend to think that is their best plan of action unless a high quality tackle comes available after cuts. I’ll be interested to see if Pamphile gets work in this game, and if so, at what position? It sounds like Mike Vrabel isn’t completely set with a decision at right guard so there could still be an opportunity for someone to make a move there.

Of course the right guard that everyone wants to see is third round pick Nate Davis. He’s missed all three preseason games after suffering an injury early in camp. It would be really good to see him get some extended reps if he’s healthy enough to go. Based on what we’ve seen from Pamphile and Douglas, Davis is probably the only hope the Titans have to get above average play from the right guard position in 2019.

I will also be interested to see how much work Lewan gets in this game. He’s been playing with the second team offensive line all offseason as the team prepares for his four game suspension to start the year. This will effectively be the last opportunity that Lewan has to have contact with the team until after the Falcons game in Week 4. Will they want to give him some work to minimize the rust he’ll have to knock off before his return against the Bills in Week 5 or do they shut him down to preserve his health as well? My guess is that he plays.

Does Taywan Taylor play?

Taylor was the seventh wide receiver into the game against the Steelers behind Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, Tajae Sharpe, A.J. Brown, Darius Jennings, and Kalif Raymond. I think it’s pretty safe to say that he’s in at least some jeopardy of being left of the 53-man roster, or perhaps, moved in a trade if the Titans can find a partner who believes in the former third round pick. If Taylor plays against the Bears, I think that’s another pretty clear marker that his spot is at risk.

Which players can play their way onto the roster and which might land on the practice squad?

I went through the roster last week and presented cases for and against each player that I consider to be on the bubble. I had 41 “locks” in that piece and I think I’d add Darius Jennings, Corey Levin, Brent Urban, Austin Johnson, Daren Bates, David Long, and Tye Smith to that list to bring me to 48 at this point. Like it or not, my guess is that Jamil Douglas ends up being on the roster as well. That leaves four or five spots remaining for guys like Logan Woodside, Jeremy McNichols, Taywan Taylor, Kalif Raymond, Isaiah Mack, Matt Dickerson, Derick Roberson, LaTroy Lewis, Kenneth Durden, Kareem Orr, and Joshua Kalu to grab.

Those that don’t make the roster out of that group would have to pass through waivers unclaimed to be signed back onto the practice squad. There are also a few guys that I don’t think have a real shot at the roster that could be practice squad bound like Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Dalyn Dawkins, Frank Herron, LaDarius Wiley, and Braxton Hoyett. This could be a big game for those guys.

There could also be some gamesmanship by the Titans staff with some of the guys that they already know they want to try to get through to the practice squad. Former Titans Director of College Scouting Blake Beddingfield told the Midday 180 this week that he believes they might be trying to hide Ratliff-Williams and Orr based on usage the past couple weeks. Those are two guys that I’ve really liked from a talent standpoint, so it would be nice to see Jon Robinson find a way to keep them with the team.

Marcus Mariota’s hat

NFL: Preseason-New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

This thing is silly. Hopefully it’s the only headwear he sports during the game.