TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — For every step forward in the preseason, there is always something that needs fine-tuning.
Entering their second preseason outings, the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were both hoping this week would be one in which they would find some clarity at the quarterback position.
Neither found it, but both head coaches left the field believing their signal callers are making progress to get their offenses to where they need to be.
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Chris Johnson ran for two touchdowns and Rob Bironas kicked three field goals as the Titans capitalized on some early turnovers to earn a 30-7 preseason victory over the Buccaneers on Friday night.
The Titans (No. 21 in the AP Pro32 rankings) got an early boost from their defense, turning two first-half turnovers by the Bucs (No. 26) into points.
“It was about defense. These guys came out and got a bunch of three-and-outs,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “They got two turnovers and it led to points for us … That’s encouraging for us to see.”
Jake Locker, Tennessee’s second-year quarterback, didn’t have an ideal outing in his first NFL start, completing 4 of 11 passes for 21 yards and an interception.
Munchak said Locker “made a bad decision on the one throw” but bounced back well.
But Locker’s counterpart, Josh Freeman, also looked shaky, completing 4 of 10 for 21 yards in five series of work.
Defensively, Tennessee linebacker Zach Brown and tackle Jurrell Casey led the way with six tackles, while linebacker Dekoda Watson had four stops and a sack for Tampa Bay.
The bigger issue for the Bucs was seeing running back LeGarrette Blount leave the game late in the first half with a groin injury. But afterward coach Greg Schiano said he didn’t expect the third-year back to miss much time.
Blount took a shot to his left leg late in the second quarter, and stayed down on the field for several minutes before finally ambling to his feet and gingerly walking off the field flanked by trainers.
“It’s not a knee, it’s more up in his groin area. He just got bent a funny way,” Schiano said. “LeGarrette’s a tough kid and I don’t think it is something that will sideline him too long. But if it does, we’ll deal with that.”
Blount said he wasn’t stressing over it.
“I’ll be back soon. I’ll be good,” he said. “I haven’t had an injury like it. I’ve had nicks and bruises. That’s kind of what it is. … It hurt. It’s just something that we’re going to have to look into tomorrow.”
Though most of Tampa’s starters had been pulled at the time of his injury Blount, last year’s starting running back, darted through the right side of the line and was struck by a defender on his leg as he dived forward.
He didn’t return to the game, but remained sitting on the sideline in uniform during the second half.
If Blount does have to miss any time, the Bucs can be encouraged by the continued productive preseason of Boise State rookie tailback Doug Martin, who led the team with 23 yards on seven carries.
In his second season out of Washington, Locker was looking to impress the coaching staff enough in hopes of earning the starting job over veteran Matt Hasselbeck. But he got off to a very rocky start.
Pinned inside his own 10 on the Titans’ second series of the game, Locker had his second pass intercepted by free safety Ahmad Black and returned all the way to the 2.
The Bucs quickly capitalized, with Freeman finding Mike Williams for a 2-yard touchdown pass to put Tampa up 7-0.
Locker had a serviceable outing replacing Hasselbeck in the Titans’ loss to open the preseason last week, but completed 1 of his first 4 attempts against the Bucs. He played all but one series in the first half
“I think today was a little sloppy,” Locker said. “We need to clean up, but the encouraging part was that we were able to put points on the board.”
Locker did have a few highlights, his biggest coming two series after his pick when he scrambled 21 yards on a broken play to set up a 14-yard touchdown run by Johnson to make it 7-7 late in the first quarter.
The play capped a dominating five-play, 71-yard drive that took just 2:26. Locker had his best throw of the game during that series, completing an 11-yard pass to Craig Stevens.
But Locker’s struggles stuck out more. They included him failing to lead his team into the end zone early in the second quarter after Titans defensive end Leger Douzable recovered a fumble by Tampa backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky on the Bucs’ 10.
Johnson didn’t have the same troubles producing when he got a chance to score, adding a second 14-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter that was setup by Chris Hawkins’ interception of Orlovsky.
Johnson finished with 46 yards on 10 carries.
In limited action Hasselbeck was an efficient 4 for 5 for 29 yards.
Freeman was looking to build off a decent performance in Week 1. But like Locker, he left a lot to be desired in just over a quarter of work.
Freeman seemed rushed at times, throwing across his body on a few occasions and narrowly avoiding interceptions.
After only getting one series of work with prized free agent receiver Vincent Jackson, Freeman’s tried to go to him three times, but only found him once for eight yards.
“It was one of those days where we had a number of plays where we went g to get ball down to Vince and trying to get ball down to Mike and it was just sinking,” Freeman said. “It’s still the preseason…but it’s definitely a chance to go out and get some game time experience and learn from it.”