VOL. 132 | NO. 179 | Friday, September 8, 2017
Titans Begin Season With Questions At Wide Receiver
Terry McCormick, Nashville Sports Correspondent
For most of their two decades in Tennessee, the wide receiver position has been a glaring hole for the Titans.
Other than the years when Derrick Mason and Drew Bennett were among Steve McNair’s primary targets, and an occasional quality free agent signing like Nate Washington, there have been many swings and misses when it comes to the Titans and the wide receiver position.
This season, it seemed Titans general manager Jon Robinson had succeeded where so many of his predecessors had failed.
After getting a solid first season from 2016 free agent Rishard Matthews, Robinson drafted Corey Davis with the fifth-pick overall and Taywan Taylor with a third-round choice.
Not completely satisfied with that, Robinson hedged his bet by grabbing former 1,000-yard receiver Eric Decker, who was released by the Jets in June.
All seemed rosy for once at wide receiver, strong enough that Tajae Sharpe, a starter as a rookie last year, seemed like an afterthought as he landed on PUP following foot surgery. And people wondered if Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie favorites Harry Douglas and Eric Weems would even have a spot on the roster, much less playing time.
Then, training camp happened, and injuries slowly but surely started to mount. First, Davis, who had missed a good part of OTAs with an ankle injury, limped off the practice field a few days into camp with a strained a hamstring.
Then, Decker tweaked his ankle in the first day of joint practices against Carolina, an injury that lasted several days longer than first expected.
Sharpe returned, then was hurt again against Kansas City last Thursday. And the veteran Douglas missed the final two games with soreness in his knee.
It added up to some tough decisions on cutdown day to get ready for the regular season opener this Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. Who is healthy, who is not and how will all the pieces fit on the roster and on the field due to all the injuries?
First, Sharpe’s season ended as he landed on injured reserve with Mularkey explaining that the move was “in the best interest of (Sharpe’s) career.”
Then, Weems was released on Saturday in final cuts, only to be brought back a day later, when the Titans decided instead to curiously place Douglas on IR.
Add losing Tre McBride on waivers to the Bears, and you begin to see that the situation isn’t quite as stable as the Titans had hoped.
The Titans have eased Davis and Decker back onto the practice field, but even Mularkey admits that this first week of practice for the regular season will be telling in terms of how much of the workload they can handle.
Davis especially will have to be guarded early on, first because of the nature of hamstring injuries and second because his practice time has been reduced.
That said, the shelving of both Sharpe and Douglas seems to indicate that the Titans believe Decker and Davis are ready, despite their abbreviated preseasons.
In time, with a little good luck and barring further injuries, the receiver issues should dissipate, and Marcus Mariota should have plenty of weapons at his disposal.
But in the short term, as Yogi Berra supposedly said, it feels like deja vu all over again.
Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com
Raiders at Titans: What to Watch
Marshawn Lynch vs. Titans defensive line. The Titans defensive front, led by Jurrell Casey, was stingy against the run last year, second best in the NFL. Oakland has a strong offensive line and now have former Seahawks star Lynch to run the ball a year after unretiring and joining the Raiders.
Titans offensive line vs. Raiders defensive front. The Titan offensive line struggled to run the ball in preseason. Not to worry, we have been told. Once the scheming, film-watching and game-planning start, everything will be fine. It had better be, because everything the Titans do on offense – running with DeMarco Murray and protecting Marcus Mariota, is predicated on a line that was one of the best in the league a year ago.
Brynden Trawick and Daren Bates vs. Raiders special teams. The Titans made a concerted effort in the offseason and in their choices on final roster cuts to upgrade special teams. That includes nabbing Trawick and Bates as free agents away from the Raiders, whose coverage units were among the best in the league last season.
First down: The Fibula Bowl – In Nashville, of course, Marcus Mariota’s recovery from a broken fibula was the talk of the offseason. But Oakland’s Derek Carr suffered a similar fibula break on the same day Mariota did – an injury that derailed the Raiders from what could have been a deep playoff run.
Both QBs will be in the spotlight as they make their way back under center for their respective teams. Mariota must avoid the slow start that plagued him in the first few weeks of 2016.
Second down: Don’t buy the hype – After being in the NFL’s witness protection program for the past several years, the Titans were one of the most-talked-about young teams in the AFC this summer.
As much as the players try to downplay the added recognition, it is there. The key for the Titans is not to buy into the hype, but use the same formula from last year that created those expectations.
Third down: Can the secondary jell? – The Titans spent a lot of money (Logan Ryan and Jonathan Cyprien) and a first-round draft pick (Adoree’ Jackson) to fix a broken secondary. In the preseason, there will still lots of big plays allowed, leading to questions about whether the problems have really been solved. Chances are the Titans will find out Sunday with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree visiting Nissan Stadium.
Fourth down: Make a statement – The Titans should have beaten the Raiders last season, but that game will be remembered for Taylor Lewan’s penalty that hampered a potential game-winning drive. The Raiders fancy themselves as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. If the Titans are going to be the playoff team that many people believe they should be, then they have to hold serve and give a strong account of themselves at home in the opener.