Tampa Bay Buccaneers were ahead, sure, but these weren't really the Tennessee Titans | Estes
TAMPA, Fla. – You’re going to hear bad things about Thursday morning. About how awful it was for the Tennessee Titans, about how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers outplayed them in the second of this week's two joint practices.
While that wasn’t universally true … yeah, it’s pretty much what happened.
I was thinking it from the sideline. Before I typed anything, coach Mike Vrabel said it for me.
“I thought it sucked,” Vrabel said. “From what I saw, we didn’t do very well offensively. I don’t think we competed like we did yesterday. Probably a lot of reasons, but just not good enough.”
This was troubling for the Titans, but not for reasons you might think. If you’re expecting me to get in a tizzy about one practice in mid-August: nah. It's way too hot for that. Step back, cool off and absorb these workouts for what they were and were not.
They were clearly not a fair fight.
One team practiced its best players. The Titans did not.
That’s the part that’s concerning.
No A.J. Brown. No Julio Jones. No Derrick Henry (he was out there, but didn’t participate, same as it has been in Nashville this preseason). Also absent was left tackle Taylor Lewan and three other projected offensive line starters, leaving Rodger Saffold out there to lead the charge.
“You’d hope to get everybody out here,” Saffold said, “but it just doesn’t work that way.”
Some absences you understood more than others. Lewan is still recovering from last season’s knee injury. He did a little in practices and then eased up, which has been the case much of August, though he had been doing more lately in Nashville. And I’ve had no problem with Henry taking it easy, given the battering he’ll face in the regular season.
As for those star receivers, though, was it an injury? Maintenance? Precautionary?
Who knows? Vrabel offered no details.
Brown has been in and out of practices, and we have no idea why. He was out there catching balls Monday night at Nissan Stadium, and I would have expected him to go in Tampa. He didn’t practice either day.
Jones hasn’t practiced since Aug. 2, when he got up slowly after failing to make a catch in the end zone early in training camp. No one has said he’s injured or how long he’ll be out. He hasn’t looked hurt when he’s been spotted on the sideline out of uniform.
At what point does this go from being a minor inconvenience to a serious problem for a Titans offense that has a new coordinator in Todd Downing and is sure to rely heavily on Jones being in sync with a quarterback with whom he’s barely practiced?
“Communicate and talk, that’s all we really can do,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said of his top two receivers, “talk through looks we’re seeing on tape. I’m trying to explain to them what I’ve seen … and make sure we’re seeing it the same way.”
Deep down, these practices in Tampa had to be frustrating for Tannehill, who was basically bringing a knife to a gun battle against quarterback Tom Brady and a Buccaneers team with its full constellation of stars available and practicing.
On offense: Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, O.J. Howard … and I could keep going.
On defense: Ndamukong Suh, Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Devin White, Lavonte David, Vita Vea – all the big dogs ready to run with A.J. and Julio and King Henry and that touted Titans offensive line.
Instead, the Buccaneers got a hefty dose of Chester Rogers (probably the Titans’ offensive MVP down here), Mason Kinsey, Jeremy McNichols and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine with a makeshift group of blockers.
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians noted after Wednesday’s practice that the Titans “ran out of offensive linemen. So we missed a couple of scenarios.” Ran out?
It had the perception of a home team throwing everyone out there to get the most out of these practices, and a visiting team that was just trying to get through them.
While I do understand being cautious in the preseason and getting everyone to the starting gate healthy, at some point football players need to play football.
On defense, the Titans are doing that. Caleb Farley and Bud Dupree, for example, practiced some here. Farley had rough stretches, but it’ll help his development to have taken his licks vs. receivers like Evans and Godwin.
It’s a shame that the Titans' best offensive players weren’t able to similarly take advantage of a priceless opportunity to test themselves against perhaps the best defense in the NFL.
If anything, those offensive players who were practicing overachieved to hold up as well as they did.
“I think it shows the mentality of the team,” Saffold said, trying to accentuate the positive. “Because if you’re able to go ahead and keep plugging people in and we’re able to find success, I mean, it’s only going to supercharge your offense when you get everybody back.”
Saffold said these two intense practices were as good as a game, that they were “a great opportunity to play against a Super Bowl champion team.”
He's right. These two days weren't about beating the Super Bowl champs at practice. It was about the practice itself, testing yourself against an outstanding team, learning by being able to share the Buccaneers' field and time for a couple of days.
For too many important Titans players, for whatever the reason, it was an opportunity missed.
Reach Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.