NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Buccaneers in preseason game No.2 on Saturday night at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest:
Malik, Part 2
Titans quarterback Malik Willis jumped in the NFL pool last week in Baltimore, and the rookie made a few ripples, if not a bit of a splash. Willis ran for a score while also making a few highlight-reel throws, including a nifty sidearm sling. He showed off his athletic ability when he reversed course on the touchdown run. Willis also frustrated his coaches because he relied on his legs too much, and as a result was pulled early in favor of Logan Woodside. The Titans are giving Willis as much work as possible in order to find out what he's capable of in the early stages of his NFL career. Willis will make his Nissan Stadium debut on Saturday night, hoping he can make his coaches smile a little more. Willis will start for the Titans for the second straight week. Will he be joined by a few more veterans in this one? We'll see. Woodside will get some action, too, and coming off a two-interception game in Baltimore, he needs to play cleaner.
Two O-line Starting Spots Still Up for Grabs
Two starting spots remain up for grabs up front, and the contenders would like to make the decisions a little bit easier. Dillon Radunz and Nicholas Petit-Frere both had opportunities last week, and they'll get more chances on Saturday night as they continue to make a case for themselves to win the job at right tackle. Petit-Frere has shown improvement, and he's put himself in the conversation. Meanwhile, Aaron Brewer continues to keep a grip on the left guard spot. With Jamarco Jones sidelined for practices against the Buccaneers, his availability for Saturday is in question. Meanwhile, across the board the offensive line needs to protect better than it did last week. Roster spots behind the starting five are up for grabs for several.
Caleb Farley had an up-and-down week in joint practices, but he finished on a high note. The Titans hope the second-year cornerback can settle down, and settle in. Meanwhile, rookie cornerback Roger McCreary has been solid, and it looks like he'll make his debut after missing the preseason opener. The Titans are still sorting some things out in the secondary, where a pair of players – cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. and safety Tyree Gillespie – were added this week. Elijah Molden has been sidelined a good chunk of camp, and defensive back Theo Jackson didn't practice all week. While the Titans won't face Buccaneers starter Tom Brady in this one, the secondary should get plenty of chances to make some plays.
Back-Up Running Backs
Derrick Henry won't suit up on Saturday night. And, after watching Dontrell Hilliard go to work in joint practices this week, I think it's safe to say he's earned his roster spot, and a potential role on offense. But what about some of the back-ups? Well, Hassan Haskins and Julius Chestnut should be prepared to get a lot of work against the Buccaneers. Haskins ran hard in joint practices vs the Buccaneers during what I thought was a good week of work for him. Chestnut bounced back after an early fumble last week in Baltimore, and he'll look to keep the momentum going.
Robert Woods and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine got a lot of work this week as they gear up for the regular season. Neither player suited up in Preseason Week 1, however, so we'll have to wait and see if they're in action Saturday. Rookie Treylon Burks, meanwhile, hopes to keep building momentum heading into September. It will be interesting to see if Kyle Philips gets more action at receiver in this one after playing primarily on special teams last week. I suspect we'll see Racey McMath get a lot of work, along with receivers Dez Fitzpatrick, Mason Kinsey, Cody Hollister, Reggie Roberson Jr, and Terry Godwin.
The Titans are giving a lot of guys a chance in the return game, as spots remain there to be had. McMath, Trenton Cannon and Godwin all got at least one kick return last week, while Philips returned two punts for 16 yards. I suspect Philips is in line to be the punt returner Week 1 against the Giants, and a good night could help solidify that. I think Hilliard is a solid option at kick returner, even if he doesn't enter the mix in preseason games. So, can another one of these kick returners make a surge? Meanwhile at punter, Brett Kern aims to hold off strong-legged rookie Ryan Stonehouse. Look for players like linebackers Jack Gibbens, Chance Campbell, and Joe Jones, along with a bunch of others on the coverage teams. Some back-end roster spots are up for grabs, and guys who can help on special teams have a lot at stake.