It’s been no day at the beach for first year Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel, and it won’t get any easier Sunday as the Titans meet the defending AFC South champion Jaguars in an early season divisional showdown (noon on NewsChannel 5).
There was the twice delayed, NFL-record seven hour season opening loss to the Dolphins in Miami. Then came a win against the Texans despite missing quarterback Marcus Mariota and several key contributors due to injury.
Now Vrabel and the Titans meet a 2-0 Jaguars team full of swagger after a 31-20 victory over the Patriots at home last week. Jacksonville boasts perhaps the league’s best defense and a strong running game, so Tennessee knows it must be ready for a physical affair.
The Titans will also have to be ready for Jags’ quarterback Blake Bortles, who is quietly emerging as a steady NFL quarterback.
“He’s doing a great job of distributing the ball and understanding what’s going on,” Titans cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said this week. “He’s not taking any bad chances. If somebody’s covered he’s going to find somebody that’s opened up.”
The third overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft has taken significant criticism during his tenure in Jacksonville, but is slowly but surely answering his critics.
Despite being viewed as a liability, Bortles helped lead the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game last year. He’s off to a good start this season, including a 376 yard, four touchdown performance in the win over the Patriots last week.
“They’re moving the ball efficiently,” Titans outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “Watching the Patriots game Bortles is making some plays on his feet, making some accurate throws. The guy looks poised, so we’re going to have a big fat ahead of us.”
Meanwhile, there remains uncertainty about the Titans’ quarterback situation. Mariota did more in practice this week and will certainly be active, but it’s unclear how effective he will be able to be, or even if he will be able to play, while dealing with the numbness in his throwing hand stemming from his ulnar nerve injury suffered in week one.
Blaine Gabbert subbed in valiantly during last week’s win over the Texans, but the Titans would certainly feel better about their chances of winning a third straight game over the rival Jaguars with a healthy Mariota.
The Titans will welcome back Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan Sunday after he cleared the league’s concussion protocol this week. Star right tackle Jack Conklin also practiced this week, but is not expected to make his season debut until next week.
The Titans announced Saturday that linebacker Kamalei Correa and safety Kendrick Lewis will be out Sunday.