NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans face the New York Jets in the preseason opener on Saturday night.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
The starting quarterback is always a player to keep both eyes on, but it's especially true this week when Mariota takes the field. Mariota will be playing in his first game since suffering a fractured fibula on Decemer 24 against the Jaguars. While he's looked good every step of the way, up to this point he hasn't face rushers who could hit him, or sack him. The Titans want to keep Mariota clean, of course. Coaches also want to see him in action, where he could continue building momentum leading up to the season opener.
Eric Decker's return
Fans in New York will be paying close attention to Decker, a former Jet who returns for the first time since being released. Decker arrived in Tennessee with big credentials, and a solid reputation. He's been a good fit in Tennessee, where he already seems to have good chemistry with the team's quarterbacks. While he won't play much, lining up on Tennessee's sideline will certainly provide a different feeling for Decker. It will also allow him a chance to develop more chemistry with Mariota.
The return game**
The Titans plan to give several returners a chance to win the starting job during the course of the preseason, so it will be interesting to see who emerges from the group. Could Adoree' Jackson do enough to convince coaches they can't live without him in the return game? Could another candidate have issues that force the coaches to drop him from consideration? Some clues will be provided on Saturday night in East Rutherford, N.J.
The preseason opener provides a tune-up for everyone, and that will be the case in the secondary, as newcomers like Logan Ryan, Johnathan Cyprien and Jackson will all make their first appearance in a Titan uniform. The preseason will not only give them a chance to get on the same page, it will also provide an opportunity for players like second-year cornerback LeShaun Sims to prove he belongs in the starting lineup.
The running backs**
With DeMarco Murray slowed with a hamstring injury, Derrick Henry has gotten plenty of work in practices. He's looked good, and there's no doubt he wants to prove to coaches he's worthy of more action moving forward. The way to do that is to perform well when given opportunities. But back-ups like David Fluellen, Khalfani Muhammad, Akeem Judd and Brandon Radcliff are fighting for recognition, too, not to mention roster spots, whether it's on the 53-man or the practice squad.
Kevin Dodd, pass rush
It's been a while since Titans outside linebacker Kevin Dodd felt like himself in a game. Dodd was placed on Injured Reserve after playing in his final game of 2016 in mid-November. He had a second procedure on his foot, and has spent 2017 working his way back. Dodd has shown some encouraging signs in training camp, but he wants to prove himself again in games. Saturday night's game against the Jets provides a chance for Dodd, and plenty others.
Titans players take the field for Day 13 of the team's 2017 training camp at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Gary Glenn)