Sports, Thrill of Victory

Titans prepare for preseason matchup against Chargers

Mike Mularkey and the Titans know what areas of need they have heading into the offseason. PHOTO BY DONN JONES, COURTESY TENNESSEE TITANS

This Saturday, August 13, the Tennessee Titans face the San Diego Chargers at Nissan Stadium in their first preseason matchup.

The following is news from Titans’ training camp leading up to the game.

Mularkey Is Promoting Competition

Head coach Mike Mularkey has shifted several players on the Titans’ lineup in order to promote competition within the team.

For starters, Mularkey moved Antwaun Woods, an undrafted free agent from USC, ahead of Austin Johnson, a second-round pick from Penn State, as the team’s No. 2 nose tackle. Mularkey commented that Woods is playing better than Johnson, and he hopes that Johnson takes the news personally and steps up his play.

Mike Mularkey has the Tennessee Titans ready to start the preseason. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Mike Mularkey has the Tennessee Titans ready to start the preseason. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

“Antwaun Woods is playing well,” Mularkey said. “One is playing better than the other right now. I want to see how Austin responds to that. Is he going to take it (personally) that an undrafted free agent has moved into the second spot on the depth chart? I’m hoping he does.”

Mularkey has also given safety Daimion Stafford reps with the first team defense after he posted an impressive interception against Marcus Mariota on Monday night’s scrimmage. Mularkey commented that Stafford’s performance at training camp has merited first team reps, and he hopes that the move promotes competition with Da’Norris Searcy, who currently holds the starting job at strong safety.

“[Searcy] hasn’t done anything to lose his job,” Mularkey said. He just needs to know that he’s being pushed, like all these guys are. You hope every position is like that, but Searcy has played well for us — I’m very happy with him.”

Finally, Mularkey moved Kevin Byard, a third-round pick from MTSU, ahead of Marqueston Huff, a three-year veteran, as the team’s No. 2 free safety. Mularkey compared this situation to the Woods versus Johnson nose tackle situation.

The Titans’ Secondary Is Impressing

In Monday night’s scrimmage, the Titans’ secondary was arguably the best unit on the field, as they accounted for two of three turnovers generated by the Titans’ defense. Daimion Stafford intercepted Mariota’s intended pass to tight end Craig Stevens, and Jason McCourty ripped the football out of Dorial Green-Beckham’s hands, leading to an interception by David Bass.

Heading into the 2016 regular season, the Titans’ secondary appears to be much improved compared to last season when the group ranked among the worst in the league.

The current number 1’s on the depth chart are Jason McCourty and Perrish Cox at cornerbacks, Da’Norris Searcy at strong safety, and Rashad Johnson at free safety. It’s a veteran bunch. Together, the four average six years of playing experience in the NFL.

McCourty commented that the team’s success next season hinges upon the secondary’s success: “We talk about it all the time. This team is going to go as far as our secondary takes us. We’re the last line of defense, and this is a passing league, so we feel like if we’re able to go out there and do what we’re supposed to do, that’ll catapult this team [upward].”

Can Andre Johnson give the Titans a big boost at wide receiver? PHOTO COURTESY ASSOCIATED PRESS

Can Andre Johnson give the Titans a big boost at wide receiver? PHOTO COURTESY ASSOCIATED PRESS

Titans’ secondary coach DeShea Townsend added that the secondary’s success hinges upon cohesiveness among the group. Townsend learned this lesson from defensive coordinator Dick LaBeau when the two worked together in Pittsburg, and now Townsend is bringing it to the Titans’ secondary in his first year as coach.

“I think the biggest thing is just a belief,” Townsend said, “a belief in the scheme, a belief in playing for your brother beside you, and a belief in not letting that person down … That’s the biggest message we do bring to our guys — that it’s not you, it’s not they, it’s we.”

Andre Johnson Believes in Team’s Talent at Receiver

About a week after joining the Titans’ organization, veteran wide receiver and future Hall-of-Famer Andre Johnson said that the Titans’ receiving core is one of the best he has played for, talent-wise.

I think it’s a very talented group, one of the most talented groups that I’ve ever been around, actually,” Johnson said. “I think the biggest thing is just them being young, having that veteran guy to kind of show them the ropes, show them what it takes to be in the league and play for a long time. But as far as talent, the talent is there. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.”

The “talented youngsters” that Johnson refers to are likely second-year pro Dorial Green-Beckham, fourth-year pro Justin Hunter, and rookie Tajae Sharpe, a fifth-round pick from UMass.

Johnson’s statements are not far fetched. Green-Beckham and Hunter are physical phenomena at 6’5’’ and 6’4’’, while Sharpe, despite playing in his first year, has been praised for playing at the level of third-year veteran.

The problem is consistency, not from Sharpe, but from Green-Beckham and Hunter. Both have oscillated between good days and bad days during preseason workouts and training camp. Perhaps under the mentorship of Andre Johnson, who is entering his 14th NFL season, Green-Beckham and Hunter will hit their stride and prove that the Titans’ receiving core indeed has much talent.