NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans have finished training camp, played four preseason games, wrangled the 53-man roster and filled the eight-man development squad. Yes, it was quite the month of August.
So, what next? A Labor Day Weekend exhale? Not hardly, considering Tennessee opens the season Sunday at Pittsburgh before heading on the road again the following weekend to face AFC South rival Houston, the two-time division champ.
“Let the game week begin,” Titans third-year coach Mike Munchak said, “and let’s find out what we’re all about, what we have.”
After practicing Saturday and taking Sunday off, the Titans got into the game-week routine by practicing lightly Monday, taking today off and returning to practice Wednesday. They travel to Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“You know the roster is always going to have some tweaks as we go forward,” Munchak said, “but for the most part, the guys that are going to help us beat Pittsburgh are in the building. I think they’re excited that they’re on to the next phase.”
Playing games for real can’t come fast enough for the Titans, according to fifth-year receiver Kenny Britt.
“It’s been a long road for us, especially in camp and for myself, but we got through it and worked hard and got some things done that we wanted to and didn’t take steps back during OTAs,” Britt said. “I was excited about that, especially (Monday), we came out rolling, even when we had a couple days off and everybody is feeling good.”
The Titans face an old franchise nemesis in the Steelers, they’re longtime rival in the old AFC Central Division. This is the 76th meeting between the franchises dating back 1970 when the then-Houston Oilers won the first meeting.
Final starting slots earned
It went down to the wire for two starting spots. Incumbent Alterraun Verner held off Tommie Campbell to nail down the right cornerback position. The fourth-year Verner started all 16 games last season and has the better cover skills and football aptitude of the two. But the third-year Campbell is bigger and more athletic and had the job to lose.
Ultimately, the Titans had more faith in Verner in various situations.
“I just think overall we weighed everything,” Munchak said of choosing Verner, who had 78 tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown last season. “We had a plan. We explained the plan to both of them going into the OTAs. After watching the body of work from practice to OTAs and games, we just felt (Verner) was the right amount of most consistent.
“We’ll start with him obviously starting, but obviously (Campbell) will still be part of what we’re doing on defense, still be part of special teams. He’ll still play a big role, but just to start the game out, it’ll be Vern.”
Free agent acquisition Rob Turner won the center job over veteran Chris Spencer,
rookie Brian Schwenke and returning starter Fernando Velasco, who was
subsequently cut. Training camp started with Velasco battling rookie Brian Schwenke for the starting nod at center, but Rob Turner, who played 16 games last season for the Rams at both center and guard, finally emerged to win the position.
With Spencer, another free-agent acquisition, providing depth at both center and guard, and Schwenke the heir apparent who has healed from a nagging hamstring injury, Velasco was the odd-man out. Then again, the Titans saved $1.4 million in keeping Turner and cutting Velasco, who started 13 games last season.
“We let them all play some center,” Munchak said of Turner, Velasco, Turner and Schwenke. “We went through the body of work of all of them and how they were playing. We felt that Rob did the best in terms of running the group. As far as the center, we thought when he was playing the group played better.”
Veteran linebacker Moise Fokou, the former Colt, earned the spotting nod at middle linebacker over two-year Titans starter Colin McCarthy, who played in only the final preseason game because of a hamstring injury. Fokou was already leading the competition before McCarthy was injured early in training camp.
QB Smith returns to squad
After spending the past three seasons as the third-string quarterback, Rusty Smith did not make the Titans’ final 53-man roster. But after clearing waivers and not being added to another team’s 53-man roster, Smith was re-signed by the Titans for their eight-player development squad.
“For us to get him back meant a lot because we have confidence in him,” Munchak said of Smith, who has played in only three games, starting one, since being a sixth-round draft pick in 2010 out of Florida Atlantic. “My feeling is that if we have injuries, I’d much rather have him here than anyone else that we could go out and get at that position.
“He knows our system well. He knows our players well, and I think he’s got a good command of what we’re doing. I think it was good we didn’t lose him.”
The Titans will open the season with only two quarterbacks — starter Jake Locker and backup Ryan Fitzpatrick — for the first time since 2009. That season, former starter Vince Young was backed up by veteran Kerry Collins.
“We talked about that position that that was a possibility,” Munchak said of keep only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. “I talked to Rusty about it back in May and June. Because of the way the team was going, this was probably an opportunity that we could use only two, more so than in the last couple of years.”
Also returning to the Titans after being released was fullback Collin Mooney, who made the team last year out of Army as an undrafted free agent. He was promoted to the 53-man roster late in 2012 and played in four games.
Other development squad additions included defensive back Stefan Charles, offensive tackle Al Netter, wide receiver Rashad Ross, tight end Adam Schiltz, linebacker Jonathan “Tig” Willard and defensive back Khalid Whooten, the team’s sixth-round draft pick out of Nevada.
Doyle finds home with Colts
Undrafted free agent tight end Jack Doyle, out of nearby Western Kentucky, had shown flashes during training camp, but he did not make the team’s 53-man roster. The Titans did keep veteran Delanie Walker, the starter who signed as a free agent formerly with the 49ers, sixth-year Craig Stevens and second-year Taylor Thompson.
After being released, Doyle was signed by AFC South rival Indianapolis and placed directly on the team’s 53-man roster per league rule.
“We liked what we saw, but to carry four tight ends is hard when you carry a fullback (Quinn Johnson),” Munchak said of releasing Doyle. “You never know with that whether it’ll be over or not be over. That was a guy that worked well and earned a spot. I’m proud of him, happy for him. A guy that could be undrafted and make a 53, that’s pretty good.”