The pads were on again at Monday’s practice of Tennessee Titans Training Camp. This time, the players participated in their first scrimmage-style practice of the month.
Aside from the facts that there was no live tackling and no real pressure on the quarterback, Monday’s practice pretty closely mimicked a real game. There was a running game clock, a play clock, timeouts, and downs were counted and measured.
Head coach Mike Vrabel seemed to want the practice to be a mental exercise more than anything else. “I think it was an opportunity to bring together the first couple days of the installation that had been scripted. Hopefully, now, we can understand that this is how you play the game. We gotta get the plays in, I get that, but now we’ve got to start coaching situations and playing football. Understand how the game’s played and what the flow of the game looks like.”
The Titans’ defense got off to an excellent start during the first four practices of camp, and they were dominant yet again in Monday’s scrimmage. While they didn’t force any turnovers, they also didn’t give the offense very much breathing room.
While they were certainly playing against a talented defense, the Titans’ offense didn’t do very much during the day to help themselves. Their drives continually stalled, receivers struggled to create downfield separation, and they made too many mistakes.
The mistake that stood out the most was a drop by receiver Taywan Taylor. On a second down, quarterback Marcus Mariota stepped up in the pocket and delivered a great throw to Taylor over the middle. It would have been plenty of yardage for a first down, but the ball went right through Taylor’s hands.
Taylor did, however, later redeem himself with a nice snag on a deep throw. On fourth down, Mariota fired downfield to Taylor who was pretty well covered by Logan Ryan. The throw was perfect, and Taylor was able to secure the ball over his shoulder.
The biggest question out of all of this, and really the biggest question in a lot of team’s situations at the moment, is whether the offense’s struggles are due to stellar play from the defense, or poor play on their own part. As always, the answer is probably a mixture of both.
Vrabel on how his offense can improve moving forward. pic.twitter.com/P4ApgC4ftc
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Head coach Mike Vrabel did identify some things that the offense needs to correct if they want to improve through the remainder of Training Camp and the preseason. “I think we come out and there’s a great drive, just six or seven plays right down the field down in the red zone and then we make a mistake and we have a turnover…Little things that cost us. They really just kill the drives. Those are going to be the things we harp on is just making sure that we don’t get in our own way.”
Despite the rugged nature of the offense’s performance on Monday, it doesn’t seem like the problem has been a lack of chemistry between Mariota and his receivers. Wide receiver Michael Campanaro, who has gotten a lot of targets in the absence of Rishard Matthews, likes where he and his fellow receivers stand with their quarterback.
“It’s great with me and Marcus. It’s just been going awesome. We spent time together outside of the field, and he’s connecting with all the receivers. It’s been great playing with him; he’s a great leader and a great athlete.”
Campanaro added that he feels like the offense as a whole is doing a good job of learning and understanding offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s system. “I think guys have done a great job. From springtime to now, you can really see guys just getting comfortable in this system, with the details in the offense. That’s why we’re out here, we’re working every day, working on the details and just getting through the offense.”
LaFleur acknowledged that there probably is work to be done on that front, but that it is definitely doable. “I think it’s just a matter of continuing to rep it. I always tell the quarterbacks the further the ball travels in the air, usually the less the completion percentage. That’s just the way it is. Those guys just have got to get more reps with it, but they have made a few plays downfield which has been really encouraging throughout camp.”
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On the other side of things, All-Pro safety Kevin Byard likes the way that the defense rose to the occasion in Monday’s practice, but also sees room to improve. “Anytime the offense doesn’t get in the end zone, I take a lot of pride in that and it feels good. But at the end of the day, there’s still plays to be made, there’s still plays left on the field. At the end of the day, it’s still the first couple days of camp. We’re getting better, heading in the right direction, and that’s good to see.”
At this point of the preseason, it is too early to say that the Titans’ offense won’t have success once actual games are being played. After all, the “running game” during practices is very much a charade since defenders aren’t allowed to actually tackle.
However, it has become very clear in the first stage of camp that there is plenty of work for the offense to do. But, as LaFleur said, their success will simply depend on getting more time together.
The Titans have a day off on Tuesday before returning to the practice field on Wednesday morning. Hopefully, when that happens, the offense can take a step in the right direction.
Cover image via Titans Online.