NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Cardinals in the regular season opener on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Julio Jones and A.J. Brown. It's a tandem Titans fans could only dream out – until it became a reality. Now, after all the hype, all the conversations about chemistry and communication, and all the talk about how good they might be together in the Tennessee offense, it's time to see it all play out. When Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill drops back in the pocket on Sunday, it will be fun to see where the ball ends up, and what Brown and Jones do with it.
The Titans have never been known as an all-out air attack, of course. That's because the NFL's leading rusher the past two seasons – Derrick Henry – has been a consistent force out of the backfield, and that's not about to change now. Coming off a season when Henry racked up 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns, the bruising back could find even more room to operate this fall. Physically, he looks good. Mentally, he looks ready. It's go-time for No.22, and he'll look to pick up where he left off.
The Titans couldn't get off the field on defense a year ago, when they had a hard time keeping opposing offenses out of the end zone. But so much has changed since then. Plenty of new faces will line up in the defense and make their Titans debuts, from outside linebacker Bud Dupree to defensive lineman Denico Autry to cornerbacks Jackrabbit Jenkins and Elijah Molden. How they all come together in Week One will be interesting to watch.
Kyler Murray and His Targets
The mission on Sunday for Tennessee's defense, of course, will be to contain Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. The Titans have preached "capture, not kill" when discussing how they want to defend the elusive Murray, as they've stressed swarming him rather than trying to deliver a big hit. But Murray also has a strong arm, and some dangerous guys to throw to in receivers DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green. This new-look Titans defense will be tested.
Brett Kern is back. But the rest of the Titans special teams units will look a lot different at the start of this season, from the kicker to return man Chester Rogers to long snapper Morgan Cox. I think we all remember the shaky start in the kicking game in the season opener a year ago. On Saturday the Titans promoted kicker Michael Badgley to the roster while placing kicker Sam Ficken on Injured Reserve. Having a guy who can change things in the return game would be a nice boost as well. A bunch of new faces will line up together to cover kicks and punts, and to pave the way. The Titans would love to see some positive developments here.
A Raucous Crowd
It's been a while since we've seen a lively, jam-packed crowd at Nissan Stadium. After a year of empty stadiums and limited capacity venues, the Titans are ready to welcome the rowdies back into the stands. Players and coaches talked this week about how a crowd can impact games, and the Titans are looking forward to seeing – and hearing – their fans on Sunday. It's been too long.