NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans continue their preseason schedule today at Tampa Bay. Here are four things to watch in Tennessee's second preseason game.
TITANS QBS: This is a continuation from last week because the amiable competition between 14-year veteran Matt Hasselbeck and second-year pro Jake Locker has been the dominant storyline of Titans training camp. Titans coach Mike Munchak added a new wrinkle this week by scheduling Locker for his first start. The coach and young QB downplayed the decision, but they and Hasselbeck said it will be an experience that Locker won't forget. Hasselbeck started all 16 games in 2011, including a 23-17 win over Tampa Bay at LP Field, and last week in Seattle, where he played for 10 seasons.
The quarterbacks have alternated snaps with the first and second team offense this offseason, and Titans coaches have made rotations within those sets to try to prepare as many players as possible for any scenarios that injuries might create during the regular season.
When Locker entered last week's game, the Titans quickly spread the field with extra receivers and tried to use a hurry-up offense, receiver Nate Washington said, but the rhythm encountered a delay when a defender's helmet came off.
TITANS DEFENSE ON BUCS' FIRST DRIVE: Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray challenged his defense to start faster this week than it did in Seattle. Gray wants to see his defense limit yards and plays the first time it is challenged. Last week, a bizarre bounce led to a Seattle interception return for a touchdown. The Seahawks put together a 15-play, 62 yard drive that netted a field goal on its first possession to build a 10-0 lead.
Although the Titans rallied to tie the game at 17 in the second half, it's a bad habit to fall behind on the road. The Titans went 3-0 on the road when they scored first and 1-4 in road games when the opponent scored first in 2012.
A FEW MORE TOUCHES FOR CJ: Chris Johnson is expected to carry the ball a few more times than last week when he gained eight yards on five attempts. The average of less than 2 yards per carry was magnified by his first attempt that lost 3 and the limited opportunities.
Johnson won't handle the ball too much, however, because coaches want to evaluate additional running backs. Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper were the Titans' other two running backs in 2011, and Munchak said the Titans will also try to get reps for Darius Reynaud, who scored on a 21-yard run and an 85-yard punt return, earlier in tonight's game.
SECOND AND THIRD TEAMS: Increasing the competition at each position has been a foundational element of the Titans' offseason plans to build on last year's 9-7 campaign. It's an understandable strategy that benefits the offensive and defensive players at every position, but it has potential to create some tough decisions for coaches when they are forced to take the 90-player roster down to 75 by Aug. 27 and down to 53 by Aug. 31.
Preseason games mean the most to the players who may be lingering in the margin, and tonight's game will be an important element of their job interview.