Saturday afternoon’s practice at LP Field, billed as a “simulated game,” was one of the most boring things I’ve ever seen in Titans training camp. Only a few of the practices which were devoted exclusively to special teams work, such as kickoffs/kick returns or field goal attempts, were less thrilling.
Not much to report from Saturday afternoon, and no practice again until Monday afternoon, so I’ll use this time for a recap of the first week of camp with a few observations and questions.
Free agents weren’t able to practice until after the new CBA was ratified by the players on Thursday. Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Smith, Daniel Graham, Barrett Ruud, Frank Walker and Jordan Babineaux were latecomers but fit in quickly. Leroy Harris, Ahmard Hall, Jacob Ford and Dave Ball all re-signed but were likewise unable to practice until Thursday night.
Quarterbacks – Jake Locker began camp as the #1 but gave way to Hasselbeck. Locker was erratic the first few days but has improved somewhat since then. They’ve been getting the bulk of the reps the last few days at the expense of Brett Ratliff and Rusty Smith. Camp battle: Smith v Ratliff for a possible #3 QB spot.
Running backs – Javon Ringer is the #1 for now but Stafon Johnson and Jamie Harper have also been getting plenty of reps. Harper has flashed some running ability though he doesn’t appear to be as big as advertised. Johnson’s best chance of making the roster is if Chris Johnson continues to hold out.
Fullbacks – Joe Tronzo and Patrick Hill were the FBs during Hall’s absence in the first several days of camp. They’re both squat, muscular types who I‘d like to watch more when I devote some more time to watching the backs. I haven’t seen either of them getting much work and don’t know if that means the fullback won’t play a big role this year.
Receivers – Nate Washington, Justin Gage, Marc Mariani and Lavelle Hawkins have all had some good days so far. Gage will need to keep it up or he may become a victim of his $3.5 million salary. Kenny Britt has not yet practiced, due to concerns over his hamstring. Damian Williams has also been held out of a few practices. Veteran Yamon Figurs and UDFA rookie James Kirkendoll have shown flashes but are on the outside looking in.
Tight ends – A month ago, Drexel asked if now was the time for Jared Cook. Based on his performance in the first week of camp, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Hasselbeck seems to be building some chemistry and is bonding with Cook, who he’s targeted often and spoken with frequently on the field. Cook has made quite a few catches 20 yards or so downfield. Daniel Graham looks like a good pickup as another inline blocking TE.
Offensive line – Saturday’s “simulated game” was the best performance by the line as a whole so far. The starting five from last year have not yet practiced together though, as Harris missed the first practices and Michael Roos has missed the last three or four.
Bruce Matthews, Stewart, Scott, Velasco, Amano, Harris, Roos
Defensive tackles – I’ve been impressed by the new d-line. It’s easy to see how much bigger they are compared to last year and they’re obviously stouter against the run. The three rookie DTs have been a force, as has newly acquired Shaun Smith. Sen’Derrick Marks has not yet practiced but he’ll have one of three DT spots, along with Smith and Jurrell Casey. Camp battle: Zach Clayton and Karl Klug will battle for the fourth spot. Jovan Haye is probably toast.
Zach Clayton digs out.
Defensive ends – Derrick Morgan hasn’t had a lot of reps yet. Looks like he’s gradually being eased back into things. Jason Jones and William Hayes have been switching back and forth between LDE and RDE. Ball and Ford didn’t begin practicing until Thursday.
Linebackers – Second-round draft pick Akeem Ayers has taken over as the Sam and veteran FA Barrett Ruud as the Mike. Camp battle: Will Witherspoon v Gerald McRath for the starting Will position. Colin McCarthy ought to have a roster spot as Ruud’s backup. I don’t think Rennie Curran survives the final cut.
Mike Reinfeldt (background) watches Verner, Witherspoon, McRath and Ayers.
Cornerbacks – Cortland Finnegan is a holdout, says Jason Cole. Earlier in the week, Finnegan was blitzing a lot from the slot when the Titans were in nickel and I had wondered if that would be something we‘d see more of during the season. For the time being, at least, we won’t see the expected battle between Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty for the spot opposite Finny. Newbie Frank Walker has probably clinched a roster spot as the next man. Seventh-round draft pick Tommie Campbell has a chance to claim one too, now that Ryan Mouton is on IR.
Safeties – Chris Hope stuck around long enough to earn his $500k roster bonus and will probably still be the starter this season. Jordan Babineaux provides much needed depth. Michael Griffin and Vince Fuller are comfortably in place. Nick Schommer, Robert Johnson and Myron Rolle will have a tough row to hoe. Question: will Jerry Gray employ a strong/free tandem, a right/left, or a combination?
Coaching – This camp is quite different than previous Titans camps. Mike Munchak has set a palpable new mood and tone. Practices (at least before today’s snoozefest) are more upbeat and have more tempo. Some of the new assistants, particularly Tracy Rocker and Dave Ragone, are energetic and have creative drills.