NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Falcons in the preseason opener on Friday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill won't play in tonight's game. Instead, back-up Logan Woodside will get the start, and he's expected to play at least until halftime. Matt Barkley, signed earlier this month to replace DeShone Kizer, will finish the contest. At this point, Woodside remains the favorite to be the team's No.2 QB in 2021, although it's been a while since Titans fans have seen him in extended action. Woodside, of course, didn't get a chance to play in the preseason in 2020. In four preseason contests in 2019, Woodside completed 46-of-76 passes for 539 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Woodside started the 2019 preseason finale against Bears and played the entire game, finishing the night completing 17-of-29 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns. A strong performance against the Falcons could ease the minds of some fans. But an off night, coupled with an impressive performance by Barkley, could at least spark some chatter.
The Titans won't add any wear and tear on running back Derrick Henry's body in the preseason opener. So, second-year running back Darrynton Evans will have an opportunity to show just how far he's come since last year, as he'll get the start. Evans has been busy in camp, getting most the work with the 1s as Henry's work has been limited. Evans is a versatile back who can do a number of things, and the more he proves he can do, the better the chance he has to get more playing time this fall. It won't be a one-man show at running back in this one, however. Back-ups Brian Hill and Jeremy McNichols figure to be busy as well, and keep an eye on Mekhi Sargent, who has been fun to watch in camp.
The Draft Picks
First-round pick Caleb Farley, who missed the early portion of camp, won't play against the Falcons. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said on Wednesday he's just not ready. But the rest of the team's draft class will be worth keeping an eye on, from offensive lineman Dillon Radunz to linebacker Monty Rice to receivers Dez Fitzpatrick and Racey McMath, to outside linebacker Rashad Weaver. I didn't mention defensive backs Elijah Molden and Brady Breeze, because at this point, I'm not sure they'll play, as each is nursing an injury. Radunz has worked at guard and tackle in camp, and he could work in a few spots in this one. Weaver has come on of late, while McMath has been a little quieter after loud start. In Atlanta, it would be a good time for Fitzpatrick to rise up.
Julio Jones and A.J. Brown are expected to make quite a one-two punch during the regular season, but not tonight. Instead, Friday's game will provide a number of other receivers a chance to continue making a case for themselves to be on the 53-man roster this fall. Veteran receiver Marcus Johnson has been one of the stars of the offseason so far, and he'll look to build on that momentum in the preseason. But several others will be vying to do the same, from the previously mentioned McMath and Fitzpatrick to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Chester Rogers, Cameron Batson, Fred Brown, and Mason Kinsey. I'm thinking 6-7 receivers will ultimately make the roster out of camp, starting with Jones, Brown and Josh Reynolds. But who else will join them? We'll get some more clues tonight.
Either Tucker McCann or Sam Ficken is going to win the team's kicking job this preseason … or somebody not currently on the roster. Yes, so much depends on what happens in the next few weeks. I suspect the Titans would love to see one of these two kickers win it, because it would provide a chance for stability at the position for years to come. But one of these guys is going to have to prove himself, and earn it. McCann, who played in college at Missouri, has never kicked in an NFL game, including the preseason. So, this will provide his biggest test to date. How are things going so far in practices? Well, McCann is 29-of-36 so far in camp, while Ficken is 17-of-19.
Once again, I'm not expecting to see a lot of the front-liners play. All those looking to see the debut of veteran outside linebacker Bud Dupree are going to be disappointed, and the reality is he's going to have a lot of company on the DNP list. Still, the preseason opener will provide defensive coordinator Shane Bowen a chance to see his players continue the good work they've done so far in camp – at least that's the hope. In 12 training camp practices so far, the defense has picked off 16 passes. The group has flown around in practices, and players have gotten their hands on the football. Right out of the gate in the preseason, everyone is hoping to see the same against another team.