The wait is finally over. The Tennessee Titans’ 2017 season officially kicks off today as the players take the field for the first practice of training camp.
Today we’ll profile the five biggest storylines to follow throughout camp.
1. Hold up…a holdout?
General manager Jon Robinson has experienced plenty of firsts heading into his second year at the helm, but this one he’d rather not add to the list.
As of the time of this press release, wide receiver Corey Davis remains the only unsigned first round pick in the entire NFL. If the fifth overall pick does not get a deal done before practice at 2:30pm central time then he will not be able to take the field with his teammates.
Head coach Mike Mularkey downplayed Davis’ absence yesterday and sounded confident that a deal would get worked out sooner than later, but admitted that he would officially address the issue if and when a holdout did occur.
Davis was drafted to come in and compete for a starting job so every rep that he misses puts him further behind the eight ball, especially given the fact that he missed time during the offseason while recovering from an ankle injury.
This is a fluid situation worth following because every day missed will draw bigger attention from the media, and distractions are the last thing the Titans need in this all-important season.
2. The return of MM8
Today also marks the official return of quarterback Marcus Mariota, who suffered a gruesome injury seven months ago.
While Mariota is confident that he is fully healed and can participate without restrictions, it’s worth following just how much the coaching staff puts on his plate…especially early in camp.
Coach Mularkey told the media yesterday that Mariota will be eased back into action, and will be closely monitored throughout camp. With so many new weapons on offense, a sidebar storyline to follow is how quickly the qb can develop chemistry with his new teammates with people flying around his newly healed fibula.
It’s no secret that the Titans will only go as far as Mariota will take them, so fans will hold their collective breath every time he drops back to pass.
3. The battle for 2…3…4…and 5
The Titans have completely overhauled the wide receiver position, making the battle for depth chart supremacy one to watch throughout camp.
Rishard Matthews, last year’s leading receiver, returns and (should) reclaim his starting job. Who plays opposite of him when the regular season opens is anybody’s guess.
As we discussed earlier, rookie Corey Davis was drafted to be that guy, but his contract holdout could severely hurt his chances if he misses considerable time. Tajae Sharpe, last year’s starter, had a tumultuous offseason off the field and an injury on the field that caused him to miss OTAs.
Late free agent acquisition Eric Decker is fully healed from the shoulder injury that derailed his 2016 season. He’s a veteran and a professional with tons of individual success prior to joining the Titans, and could be the early favorite to claim the job.
The x-factor of the group is rookie third round pick Taywan Taylor, who impressed during mini-camp with his blazing speed and sure hands.
This could also be the last time we see veteran Harry Douglas in a Titans uniform. He looks like the odd man out if the above mentioned players live up to expectations.
4. A nickel for your thoughts?
On the other side of the ball the Titans have also revamped their entire secondary, and will roll out two new starting cornerbacks in free agent Logan Ryan and rookie first round pick Adoree’ Jackson.
Who plays the nickel position is still up for debate, however.
Brice McCain is the early favorite to get the first crack at the job, but LeShaun Sims could provide steep competition after filling in admirably for Perrish Cox late in the 2016 season after his release.
Kalan Reed also figures to be in the mix, and should get more opportunities in his second season in Dick LeBeau’s system. But keep an eye on the waiver wire as well, because it is not out of the realm of possibility that Tennessee adds another player (or two) that has been released during camp.
5. Happy returns in 2017
Special teams were the Achilles Heel of the team in 2016, and while return man Marc Mariani was serviceable, the Titans desperately need more pop from their kick off and punt returners in 2017.
With Mariani now out of the picture, the competition to fill those roles is now wide open.
Eric Weems was signed early in free agency to fill the role, however, the arrival of Adoree’ Jackson (who was a prolific returner in college) should make things interesting.
This year’s seventh round pick, running back Khafrani Muhammad, was also a prolific return man last year at the University of California. And like Jackson, Muhammad also has blazing speed and elusiveness in the open field. The Titans will be looking for ways to get the ball in his hands as well.
Coach Mularkey hinted yesterday that several players have the potential and skill set to grab the job, so it will be interesting to see who rises to the top during the preseason.
If it is anyone other than Weems then his time in Tennessee could be short-lived. The Titans are already loaded at wide receiver, and he doesn’t figure to be a factor there.