TAMPA BAY, Fla. (WTVF) — There was no Tom Brady sighting. No Mike Evans or Gronk, or many of the other regulars from the Buccaneers Super Bowl LIV triumph inside Raymond James Stadium from six months ago, but the Titans, playing themselves with a good chunk of backups much of the night, beat the reigning champs 34-3 Saturday night in preseason action.
The Titans improved to 2-0 in the preseason and will wrap up the exhibition schedule next Saturday night at home against the Bears at 6 p.m. Here were some of the observations that stood out from the victory.
COMPETITION ON AT BACKUP QUARTERBACK
Tennessee knows what it has with Logan Woodside behind quarterback Ryan Tannehill. They had hoped that Deshone Kizer would challenge him for that backup position, but Kizer wasn’t up to the challenge. So a couple of weeks ago they brought in veteran journeyman Matt Barkley, who at age 30 has played for six NFL teams, including the last three seasons as Josh Allen’s backup in Buffalo.
Barkley seems to be impressing the coaches. He got a chance to get in the game early, entering for the Titans’ third possession. Barkley immediately hit Nick Westbrook-Ikhine over the middle on the team’s pet playaction in route. He later threw a beautiful touch ball to Mekhi Sargent on fourth and one for a five-yard touchdown pass to cap the seven play, 43-yard drive.
Barkley also led the Titans on a seven play, 33-yard field goal drive in the second quarter and a 2:00 drive to set up Sam Ficken’s 58-yard field goal to end the half. Then in the fourth quarter, Barkley did a masterful job of looking off the safety and spinning the ball through tight coverage to Mason Kinsey for a 20-yard touchdown.
In all, Barkley finished 12-16 for 115 yards and two touchdowns and may have nudged ahead in the battle for the no. 2 quarterback spot.
Woodside got off to a bit of a slow start, leading the offense to just one first down in four first half possessions. But he rebounded to finish the night an efficient 7-8 for 64 yards and a touchdown in the second half, so this competition is likely not close to being over.
Expect to see a lot more of both guys next Saturday against the Bears.
SARGENT IN CHARGE
Not many people, if anyone, had Mekhi Sargent in a battle to earn one of the 53 opening day roster spots on this Titans team. But after a special effort Saturday night in Tampa it’s hard to ignore what the rookie from Iowa is doing.
Besides the nice grab on the Barkley touchdown pass, Sargent busted off a pair of 15 yard runs on the way to a 16 carry, 78-yard night. He still needs to prove he can pass block and be a factor on special teams, but he took advantage of the heavy workload with no Derrick Henry or Darrynton Evans available and made a push to be a part of the opening day roster.
Tucker McCann suffered an unfortunate injury while being roughed on a kick in the first preseason game in Atlanta. That has opened the door for former Jets kicker Sam Ficken to take the lead in the battle for the kicking job. Ficken got all the kicks Saturday after a solid week of practice and was perfect, connecting easily from 48 yards and then the 58-yard bomb just before the half.
Hopefully, McCann can get healthy enough to get himself back in the competition, but Ficken’s consistency can allow the Titans to breathe a bit easier about their kicking as the preseason winds down.
ROUGH NIGHT FOR RADUNZ
It was not a great night for second-round draft pick Dillon Radunz. The rookie from North Dakota State started the night at right guard and got beat on the Titans' first two run plays of the night. He later shifted out to right tackle but struggled against Joe Tryon and the other Bucs’ rushers.
Radunz is young, comes from the FCS and played in just one game all last season at NDSU. He’s got lots of room for improvement, but it’s hard to imagine him winning a starting spot on this offensive line anytime soon. With Kendall Lamm’s injury concerns, that means the most likely starter at right tackle will come down to either Ty Sambrailo or David Quessenberry.
David Long Jr. had a sack of Blaine Gabbert on an early blitz. Long has been a standout during training camp and also had an interception last week in Atlanta. He’s going to play a key role for this defense.
He’s often overlooked upfront on the defensive line, but Teair Tart is a totally different player now than he was as a rookie this time last year. He will play a key role on this defense and hopefully take some pressure off of Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry.
Outside linebacker John Simon had a strip sack late in the first half. Simon, a veteran who has experience with Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Shane Bowen going back to college at Ohio State, knows the defense and continues to show up in a position to make plays. Seems like he can be a nice depth piece for this team.
It was a weird play, but the Titans' defense turned a turnover into points in the third quarter. Kyle Trask threw a nice seam route to tight end Tanner Hudson, but Hudson was hit and started to bobble the ball as he went to the turf. The ground caused it to bound into the air and Briean Boddy-Calhoun picked it out of the air and ran it back for a touchdown. The ruling on the field was that it was a fumble, and Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians argued it should’ve been incomplete. It probably should’ve been changed to an interception, but the replay upheld the call on the field, and the end result was the same: a Titans touchdown.
The Titans' defense struggled last season statistically, but it was adept at forcing turnovers. That trend continued in Tampa Bay with the defense forcing three turnovers, including late interceptions by Clayton Geathers and Jamal Carter. Through two preseason games they’re yet to allow a touchdown to either the Falcons or Bucs, surrendering six total points.
Marcus Johnson and Chester Rogers seemingly have holds on roster spots with their tremendous training camps so far. Rogers provides the added value as a returner. He had a long kickoff return negated by a penalty Saturday.
The emergence of Johnson and Rogers means it’s going to get very tight on the back end of the receiver depth chart between rookie draft picks Dez Fitzpatrick and Racey McMath and Westbrook-Ikhine and Cameron Batson.
Fitzpatrick has struggled to live up to the expectations as a fourth-round draft pick in camp and didn’t even enter the game Saturday until the final minute of the first half. But he had a pair of catches, including a 23-yard touchdown from Woodside in the third quarter to give coaches something to think about.
Regardless, whether it’s Fitzpatrick or not, multiple very good receivers are going to be released by the Titans in the coming weeks.