Five names to watch for Tennessee Titans' offense if A.J. Brown is sidelined with Marcus Johnson

Ben Arthur
Nashville Tennessean

Editor's note: After this story published, the Titans placed Marcus Johnson on injured reserve, ending his 2021 season. 

Injuries have continued to ravage the Tennessee Titans, and it has decimated their star-studded offense, where the skill position depth has been tested. 

Not only are Derrick Henry (foot) and Julio Jones (hamstring) on injured reserve, but  A.J. Brown (chest) and Marcus Johnson (hamstring) got hurt in last week’s game against the Texans, impacting their statuses for the Titans (8-3) against the Patriots (7-4) Sunday at Gillette Stadium (noon CT, CBS). 

Johnson was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, ending his season. If Brown is sidelined or limited this week, who’s most equipped to step up? 

Five names to watch: 

ROSTER MOVE:Tennessee Titans sign running back Dontrell Hilliard to active roster from practice squad, agent says

MAILBAG:Tennessee Titans mailbag: What are realistic playoff expectations with injuries, loss to Texans?

MIKE VRABEL:Tennessee Titans' Mike Vrabel: 'It’s going to take all 11' to clean up passing game, INTs

Wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine

Westbrook-Ikhine is the Titans’ third-leading receiver behind Brown and Jones with 272 yards. The second-year pro has 23 receptions on 31 targets. 

Undrafted out of Indiana in 2020, NWI has ascended from a core special teamer to a dependable pass catcher. And he’s had some big games this season. In Week 3, he led the Titans with 53 receiving yards when Jones was sidelined late with a hamstring injury. And he had his first-career 100-yard receiving game last week against the Texans (seven catches on eight targets for 107 yards), which featured a 46-yard catch and run. 

The Titans have praised Westbrook-Ikhine’s ability to play all the receiver spots, giving the team freedom to move him across any formation. 

Tight end Anthony Firkser

Firkser has been a nonfactor this season after hopes in the summer he’d take on a bigger role with the departure of Jonnu Smith. With the Titans’ pass-catching core decimated, Tennessee could look to get him going. 

There were signs it looked to do so against Houston, when Firkser saw a season-high seven targets. He had a season-best 33 receiving yards against the Jaguars in Week 5. 

For the year, Firkser has 19 receptions for 138 yards in nine games, pacing below his career-high 387 receiving yards on 39 catches in 2020.

Running back Dontrell Hilliard 

For the first time since Henry’s injury, The Titans’ run game on Sunday flashed promise. Stealing the show in the backfield was Hilliard, who paced Tennessee in rushing yards per carry (5.0), but also had a team high in targets (10) and catches (8) against Houston – as a practice-squad elevation. 

Coach Mike Vrabel indicated Monday that his play earned him more opportunities. He’s set to get them, as the team signed Hilliard to its 53-man roster.

Wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick

The rookie fourth-rounder had a bumpy start to his Titans career, beginning the year on the practice squad. But he was signed to the active roster with Jones’ placement on IR earlier this month.

Fitzpatrick had three catches on six targets for 35 yards and his first career touchdown against the Texans. He also led all Tennessee receivers with 64 snaps (79%) in the game. 

Fitzpatrick appeared to be out of sync at times with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had a career-high four interceptions. But the ex-Louisville standout is poised to earn more opportunities. The Titans had been pleased with the progress he made on the practice squad, where he earned show team player of the week on offense and special teams earlier in the season. 

Tight end Geoff Swaim

Assuming Swaim (concussion) can return this week,  he figures to be an integral part of the passing attack. Before missing last week’s game against the Texans, he posted at least four receptions in three straight games. He had nine receptions all of last season for Tennessee.

Swaim in 2021 has shown he’s capable of being more than just a run-blocking tight end. He has 19 receptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns so far this season. 

Ben Arthur covers the Tennessee Titans for The USA TODAY Network. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter at @benyarthur.