The Tennessee Titans play their first of three preseason contests against the Baltimore Ravens this Thursday. It represents the first in-game opportunity for ascending talents and bubble players to make an impact. Several first-to-three-year players appear primed to take advantage of the opportunity. The inside linebacker position is of particular curiosity. The depth at the position has received a downgrade in recent weeks due to injury.
David Long Jr. and Zach Cunningham are the unquestioned starters. Linebacker is a physical position that’s difficult to evaluate until padded practices begin. It’s possible Long and Cunningham could play a series or two against the Ravens for momentum purposes, but Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel will be careful with his starters. It’s also plausible that Long and Cunningham could be held out altogether.
Sophomore linebacker Monty Rice remains on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List after being added on July 23, prior to the first training camp practice. Rice suffered a season-ending Achilles injury last season in a late-November contest against the New England Patriots. It was obviously a serious injury, because Rice remains on the mend nearly eight months later. Starting inside linebackers are extremely unlikely to make it through a 17-game season unscathed. The Titans will need Rice’s services sooner rather than later.
The team’s fourth inside linebacker is presumably Dylan Cole. Cole suffered an ankle injury at Friday’s practice and remains on the sidelines as of Monday. It makes Cole extremely unlikely to feature in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Ravens. It adds another layer to the situation at linebacker heading into that contest.
Not practicing today: Roger McCreary, Elijah Molden, Dylan Cole, Josh Kalu and Cody Hollister. That’s seven straight missed practices for Molden. #Titans— Ben Arthur (@benyarthur) August 8, 2022
All of this uncertainty could thrust two rookie linebackers into the spotlight on Thursday: Sixth-round selection Chance Campbell and undrafted free agent Jack Gibbens.
Gibbens enjoyed a fruitful collegiate campaign in 2021, having recorded an astounding 92 tackles in his lone season as a Minnesota Gopher. Gibbens recorded an interception at practice last week, and earned some hilarious praise from Mike Vrabel.
.@Titans HC Mike Vrabel loves undrafted LB @johngibbens18 because of his smarts. Calls him "Dr Gibby." Said he's smart and answers a lot of questions in meetings. Said Gibbens told him: Coach, I wasn't in pre-med. Vrabel said: I know, it's a joke.— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) August 7, 2022
Campbell has also strung together some impressive practices as of late. Both Campbell and Gibbens are currently taking advantage of increased reps. Veteran returnee Joe Jones is also in the mix, and should play Thursday against the Ravens.
Everyone is understandably looking forward to seeing the likes of Malik Willis, Caleb Farley and Treylon Burks on Thursday. But Gibbens and Campbell are two underrated candidates that could enjoy standout performances against the Ravens. Both rookie linebackers should play at least an entire half, possibly more.