Tennessee Titans: Position battles heat up in Oakland

The Tennessee Titans are less than 24 hours away from their nationally televised dress rehearsal against the Oakland Raiders. The game will be aired on CBS.

The Titans are also less than a week away from the first wave of roster cuts, when teams must trim down to 75 players by 3:00 pm (cst) on September 1.

With starters scheduled to play the entire first half Saturday night, players on the bubble are running out of opportunities to make their case for a final roster spot.

Today we’ll take a look at a couple of position battles that are still unsettled.

Wide Receiver

Last season the Titans only kept four wide receivers on the final roster. This year the magic number may / should be five, and even with the departure of Dorial Green-Beckham, someone will be on the outside looking in.

Starters:

Rookie fifth round pick Tajae Sharpe and free agent acquisition Rishard Matthews are locks for the top two spots.

Safe:

Kendall Wright missed the first two preseason games while nursing an ailing hamstring, and did not make the trip to Oakland. Head coach Mike Mularkey stated that Wright is on pace to practice Monday and play in the preseason finale next Thursday in Miami. He should be a safe bet to make the team.

Harry Douglas has been filling in for Wright, and has played well in his absence. He also has history with new offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie from their days in Atlanta, and is a favorite of coach Mularkey. He figures to be safe as well.

On the bubble

That leaves one potential spot open and three candidates…veterans Andre Johnson and Justin Hunter, and last year’s seventh round pick Tre McBride.

Lets just get this out of the way, unless a colossal rash of injuries hit the position in the next week, then Justin Hunter should be one of the odd men out. He simply hasn’t shown enough to be given another chance.

So now it comes down to a trusted veteran in Johnson, whose size mirrors that of the departed DGB. He’s had a good camp since arriving in Tennessee, and can serve as a regular season mentor and professional locker room presence.

McBride has played well, too. He also has value as a special teams player (which Johnson does not), which could be the great equalizer in this two-man race. Both will get their fair share of opportunities Saturday night.

Running Back

What a difference a year makes. Last season the bubble players were fighting to be the lead back, and now they are fighting for a roster spot.

Starters

DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry were brought in this offseason to usher in the Titans’ new exotic smash mouth era, and they have delivered so far. After two preseason games Murray was second in the league in preseason rushing yards and Henry was third. They have clearly separated themselves from the pack.

Safe

Dexter McCluster is also a favorite of coach Mularkey, and his versatility as a runner, receiver, and special teams returner gives him an edge. Not to mention being the most equipped to run the “exotic” plays.

Fullback Jalston Fowler also figures to be safe. His physical run blocking this preseason is just what Tennessee’s new-look offense needs. He also has value on special teams.

On the bubble

If you’re counting along at home, that makes four. It’s hard to image the Titans keeping more than five backs, which leaves a fierce competition for the vacant third running back spot between Bishop Sankey, Antonio Andrews, and David Cobb.

Sankey, like Hunter, has been given ample opportunities over the last two years to prove himself, and he hasn’t delivered when under the bright lights. He is playing better this August than he did last season, but Tennessee has been duped by his preseason performances before.

Andrews is having a solid preseason, but his downhill running style is so similar to Murray and Henry that it might actually serve as a deterrent. That is, if the Titans are looking for a change-of-pace back out of their third guy.

David Cobb made his preseason debut last Saturday, and promptly put the ball on the ground deep in Titan territory. Carolina cashed in on the turnover with a quick touchdown, and it changed the complexity of the game.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for more opportunities.

This one is tough. All three backs seem worthy of a third-man role, but like last year, neither of them can separate from the other two.

This battle may come down to the finale in Miami, and don’t rule out general manager Jon Robinson going with another veteran back all together once roster cuts begin next week. The Titans sit atop the waiver wire.

Who said the preseason was meaningless?

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