NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Titans open the preseason Thursday against the Ravens in Baltimore. While we don’t expect to see much, if any, of the team’s top stars like Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill, Jeffery Simmons and Kevin Byard, there will be plenty to keep your eye on.
Here are five things to watch going into Thursday’s kickoff at 6:30 p.m. Central.
BURKS PROGRESSION CONTINUES
Treylon Burks answered questions about his conditioning and readiness for the NFL with a diving catch on a 50-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill on the second play from scrimmage in training camp. He’s continued to show an ability to get open and a big catch readiness that were reasons why the Titans drafted him 18th overall. Is he ready to replace A.J. Brown? Only time will tell. But he’s seemingly put the conditioning and asthma issues in his past and should have the chance to show what he can do Thursday in his first NFL game action.
The struggles of the Titans' last two draft classes have been well documented. Through off-field issues, injuries and simple lack of production impact players have been few and far between. General Manager Jon Robinson believes that can change with this class — and it’s not just Burks.
Second-round pick Roger McCreary looks like an immediate impact player at cornerback, especially in the absence of injured nickelback Elijah Molden.
Third-round pick Nicholas Petit-Frere is in a battle with last year’s second-round pick to win the starting right tackle spot. Petit-Frere is a smart, versatile lineman that played multiple positions at Ohio State. He’s seen an increase in reps with the first team over the last week and it may be telling to see whether it’s Radunz or Petit-Frere that gets the most work against the Ravens.
Fourth-round pick Chig Okonkwo has impressed with his ability to get open as a tight end, as has fifth-round pick Kyle Phillips who has seen a significant number of first-team reps in the last week. Both should see significant opportunities in the preseason.
After a torrid start to training camp, Ryan Tannehill is clearly the Titans starter. He’s also unlikely to see the field in Baltimore. Logan Woodside is likely to make the start, but the Titans should use the preseason to get rookie third-round pick Malik Willis as many reps as they can.
Willis has a strong arm and the ability to make plays with his legs. He’s continued to pick up the offense and demonstrate good decision-making, but at times has reacted a bit slow and struggled with his accuracy. The coaches have worked with Willis to try to speed up his progressions. They think getting the ball out on time will help improve the accuracy. The preseason will be the time he can show just how far he’s come along in that regard.
The Titans are expected to have one of the top defenses in the NFL this year. It’s difficult to find and obvious weakness, but one area of concern is the depth at inside linebacker behind starters Zach Cunningham and David Long.
Monty Rice is still working his way back from injury, so most of the reps have gone to veterans Dylan Cole and Joe Jones and rookies Chance Campbell and Jack Gibbens. Who plays well not just in their defensive snaps, but also on special teams will go a long ways to determining who makes the team and is in line behind Cunningham and Long.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD?
Brett Kern is the longest-tenured Titan, entering his 14th season. He’s a three-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the most consistent punters in the league. But Kern is 36 and is not cheap. Will this be the year the Titans decide to move on?
Rookie punter Ryan Stonehouse from Colorado State has been impressive in offseason workouts and now in camp, consistently booming punts with hang times of more than five seconds. He was one of the best punters in college football and is now posing a young, cheap and talented alternative should the Titans feel now is the time to make the move. A strong preseason could further make Stonehouse’s case.