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Titans Vs. Panthers: 5 Things To Watch

Posted: 9:53 PM, Aug 18, 2017
Updated: 2017-08-19 02:53:12Z

The Titans meet the Panthers in their second game of the preseason Saturday at 2 p.m. at Nissan Stadium. It will be the culmination of a week in which the two teams practiced twice against one another and wrapped up the grueling three week grind of training camp.

It also should give us a better taste of just what each team is made of than what we saw in week one of the preseason when starters on both sides were limited to just a series or two.

Here are five things to watch come kickoff:

MAKING A STATEMENT

The Titans were disappointed in their effort in a 7-3 loss at the Jets Saturday and figure to want to put forth a better showing in front of the home fans this time around.

Against New York the Titans defense started slowly, giving up a long pass play that led to a touchdown on the game's opening drive. The offense followed that up with two relatively futile possessions and posted just three points on the night.

You have to think both units want to start fast Saturday, put some good drives on tape and get out of the game early on what figures to be a steamy afternoon at Nissan Stadium.

It also could get hot in the trenches Saturday. Remember these two teams went against each other in a pair of physical, two hour practices this week. Now they get to go full out against that same guy they have been beating on repeatedly. Expect more than a few guys to be licking their chops and want to come out and make a statement.

It's just the preseason, but for a Titans team with lofty expectations for this fall, it's important they show what they're capable of after a lackluster effort in their first game.

THE (RUSHING) CHAMP IS HERE

Titans running back DeMarco Murray did not play against the Jets while nursing a sore hamstring that sidelined him for much of the first two weeks of training camp. But the reigning AFC rushing champ returned to practice this week and is expected to play against the Panthers.

Murray popped big runs against the Carolina defense in both practices this week and would love to provide a boost to a running game that was bottled up last week. The veteran leader is also the rare star running back that seems to truly enjoy the work he gets in the preseason.

His return means the Titans will be able to utilize both backs in their one-two punch in the running game after Derrick Henry got the bulk of the early work against the Jets.

MARIOTA IN CHARGE

Marcus Mariota showed no sign of ill-effects from his fractured fibula against the Jets, firing a first down completion on the run to Richard Matthews on the Titans' first play from scrimmage.

But the third-year quarterback wasn't exactly thrilled with his performance. He was sacked once and nearly threw an interception as the offense sputtered.

A fierce competitor, Mariota tried to convince coaches to give he and the first team offense a third series in New Jersey to no avail, but he will get a little bit more work Saturday. Expect to see a determined quarterback who has almost always bounced back from poor performances in his young career. It's not a shock if Mariota's timing has been a bit off this preseason after getting just limited work this offseason, but he's a perfectionist and wants to get on track in a hurry.

With Panthers star QB Cam Newton not expected to play, that leaves the spotlight on Mariota to show why so many believe he might be the next great quarterback in the NFL.

DEFENSE TO RECKON WITH?

The Titans defense rebounded from their slow start against the Jets to pitch a shutout after the first series of the game. They'll look to continue that type of stifling effort against the Panthers.

The defense struggled at times in Wednesday's practice against Carolina, but rebounded well Thursday.

I'm particularly interested to see how the team's cornerbacks, a point of concern in the past, matchup against the Panthers' big and fast group of receivers. And also how the team's linebackers led by Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard and rookie fifth round pick Jayon Brown defend against Carolina's tight ends.

ADOREE KNOWS HIS ROLE

With top pick Corey Davis expected to miss his second straight preseason game, the focus once again will be on the team's other number one pick Adoree Jackson. The 18th overall pick in the draft has impressed in camp with his speed and versatility, but where exactly does he fit in on this team right now?

You would think a first round pick would be penciled into start at cornerback in the season opener, but LeShaun Sims continues to see significant work with the first team opposite Logan Ryan, and Jackson has showed flashes playing against receivers in the slot as a potential option as the team's nickelback. Where he plays and how much he plays against the Panthers may give us a little better indication of where he might line up when the Titans kick things off for real Sept. 10th against the Raiders.

Jackson has also shown the ability to be explosive in the return game as both a kick and punt returner. But just how much they're willing to put on him and how soon remains to be seen.

My vote is when you have an athlete of his caliber you don't worry about his age or experience. Get him involved as much as you can. As one of his former USC coaches said of Jackson, "every time he touched the ball on offense, defense or special teams you felt like he could score."