That’s right. Titans football returns Thursday night at Lambeau Field. The Titans haven’t played live football since mid-January when their season ended in Foxborough against the Patriots. Although Thursday’s game may not feature a lot of meaningful football, it will be important for young players and experience for the new offense. The Packers probably won’t start key starters like quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but it should be a good matchup between possible playoff contenders. Here’s what to look for in Tennessee’s preseason opener.
Early Opportunities for Starters
New head coach Mike Vrabel has not said how long the starters will play Thursday night, but expect the offense to get a few drives. Marcus Mariota needs live game reps with the new offense and his young wide receivers. I don’t expect the first team offense to play the whole first quarter, but two or three drives seems likely. Vrabel said in his press conference Monday, the starters should all be prepared to play the whole game, although he knows it won’t come to that. Keeping the team healthy should be the number one priority, but the starters should get some chances early on.
Matt LaFleur’s Play Calling
New offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur called plays in the preseason last year, but never in preparation for actually calling them come September. The Titans fired Mike Mularkey in large part because he would not make a change with play calling. This puts a lot of pressure on Matt LaFleur to create an offense that will be unpredictable and creative. Also, he has to maximize the talents of Mariota which the old offensive coordinator, Terry Robiskie, could not do. Expect a watered down version of LaFleur’s offense Thursday night because it is only preseason, but it is something to pay attention to.
Offensive Player to Watch
A player who has quietly put himself in a position to make the roster is undrafted wide receiver Deontay Burnett. Last season at USC, Burnett scored eight touchdowns and accounted for more than 800 yards. The Titans found a possible diamond in the rough after the draft. Burnett has even gotten some first team reps throughout training camp. Although this is with starting wideouts Rishard Matthews and Corey Davis missing time.
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In the first game of the preseason, expect Burnett and Darius Jennings to get a good amount of reps at wide receiver. These two are competing for possibly the last wide receiver spot on the roster. Burnett may end up being a practice squad player, but if he impresses during the preseason, he could sneak onto the 53-man roster.
Defensive Player to Watch
Rookie outside linebacker Harold Landry will likely get a lot of work during the preseason. With Brian Orakpo injured, Landry will probably start and play for a good amount of time. Landry needs to produce immediately as the Titans lack depth at edge rusher. Behind Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, the Titans have Landry and seventh round picks Aaron Wallace and Josh Carraway.
Landry is a player who will benefit from as many live reps as possible and early returns in practice have been promising. Expect Landry to play at least the entire first quarter and make an impact with his snaps.
Matchup to Watch: Titans Young WR’s v.s. Packers Young DB’s
The Packers spent their top two selections in 2018 on cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. It will be interesting to see how they fare against the Titans youthful receiving corps. Corey Davis may not play Thursday night with an undisclosed injury, leaving the top three receivers as Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe, and Darius Jennings. These three all lack experience and it will be an interesting battle between to units still finding their bearings. Taywan Taylor has reportedly had a huge camp and it will be interesting to see how he fares against these young top DB’s.
Since this is the first preseason game, it is important to take the results with a grain of salt. The Titans are slowly implementing a new season and it will not be perfect. Expect a lot of young players getting opportunities. Even though it may not be meaningful, Titans football is back Thursday at 8 pm ET.