NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Preseason game No. 2 is in the books for the Titans.
Here's a look at six things that stood out from the team's 26-16 loss to the Panthers:
There's nothing timid about rookie receiver Tajae Sharpe. He runs crisp routes, and he attacks the football when it's in the air. I've been especially impressed with Sharpe's ability to go across the middle to make tough catches so early in his career. On the team's fourth offensive play against Carolina, Sharpe caught a pass from quarterback Marcus Mariota while running down the middle of the field, in traffic. I've seen a lot of receivers get alligator arms in similar situations. Sharpe was all-in, just like he's been all offseason.
Titans fullback Jalston Fowler was only in the game for eight snaps, but I noticed him, and the Panthers surely did as well. There's no doubt they felt him. Fowler attacked his man and delivered several nice blocks on Saturday, including two on back-to-back runs by running back Derrick Henry. Fowler was beat up last season because of injuries. He looks poised to beat up on opposing defenses this fall.
The Panthers made it look easy on their first possession, moving the ball 93 yards in just over two minutes to score a touchdown. The big play came on a 61-yard TD pass from quarterback Cam Newton to receiver Ted Ginn. The play should've been stopped for a minimal gain, but cornerback Antwon Blake whiffed on his tackle attempt, and safety Da'Norris Searcy got caught flat-footed. They're just two examples of some sloppy tackling. The Titans can't afford to have these kinds of miscues when the calendar flips to September 11.
Fourth-year receiver Justin Hunter is the type of player who gives coaches and general managers fits. Hunter is extremely talented, and he's a good athlete. He always has been. In the NFL, he's also been inconsistent, and he's frustrated those around him with his inconsistency. Numerous coaches have tried different motivational techniques to jumpstart Hunter. The Titans, and Hunter, are on the spot here. In the final year of his contract, he's clearly on the bubble. Hunter showed some spunk on Saturday, catching four passes for 54 yards. He also made some mistakes. Hunter needs to stay consistent down the stretch to make a case for himself.
Run game solid**
No, it wasn't 288 rushing yards. Not even close. What the Titans did against the Chargers in Week One was always going to be tough to match. Despite gaining just 96 yards on the ground against the Panthers, I thought the run game was still effective and impressive against a tough Carolina defense. Running backs Derrick Henry (6.2), David Cobb (4.5) and DeMarco Murray (4.0) all ran for at least four yards per carry, which was Tennessee's average as a team. Not flashy, but not bad.
I get asked a lot about whether Mariota might take off and run more this season than a year ago, and I suspect the answer is yes. What we've seen so far this preseason is Mariota not hesitating to tuck it and run for 6-7 yards at a time if he has open space. Yes, the Titans will have some designed runs in for Mariota. And yes, there will be times when he takes off on scrambles. But those quick-hitters, when Mariota takes off and runs, can be very effective. And he seems to have the baseball slide down as well.
The Tennessee Titans battle the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 of the 2016 preseason at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)