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Notebook: Preseason Finale Gives Titans Another Tool as Cuts Approach

Posted Aug 30, 2013

Tennessee’s desire to keep its first teamers as healthy as possible overlapped with the goal of taking a longer look at younger players in the Titans’ preseason finale at Minnesota Thursday.

Coaches wanted to have a final assessment tool to evaluate players deeper on the roster for a final evaluation before they whittle down Tennessee’s roster from 75 to 53 players by 5 p.m. Saturday.

Titans coach Mike Munchak opted to rest Kenny Britt this week and did the same with Nate Washington and Chris Johnson on offense. With Kendall Wright also out while recovering from a knee injury, the Titans started fourth-year pro Damian Williams and Michael Preston, who spent most of the past two seasons on the practice squad, at receiver.

Tennessee, however, made a commitment to run the football early. Veteran Jackie Battle started in place of Chris Johnson (coach’s decision) and Shonn Greene (ankle soreness) and carried 10 times on Tennessee’s game-opening 18-play drive.

The emphasis on the run led to two catches apiece by Williams and Preston, but several grabs for younger players, as well as amble rush attempts by Jalen Parmele and Darius Reynaud.

“A lot of the young guys played on both sides of the ball so it will be fun to watch that game (Friday) morning,” Munchak said. “But nice full drives on the offense in the early first half which was good to see. I saw each group put together a long drive and score some points. Second half we got the turnovers, which was good to see some of the young guys against theirs. I think we got what we wanted out of this.”  

Here’s a rundown of performances by players at the lower end of the depth chart:

WR Michael Preston — the former Heidelberg University Student Prince is battling at what many believe is Tennessee’s deepest position group for the number of players that the Titans will likely keep.

Preston finished the preseason tied with Washington for the team lead with 10 receptions and led the team with 172 receiving yards this preseason.  

Jack Doyle had five catches and a TD in Tennessee's preseason finale at Minnesota. Click here for a slideshow from the game.

TE Jack Doyle — the undrafted rookie out of Western Kentucky’s seven targets tied with 2013 second-round pick Justin Hunter for the team high. Doyle made five catches for 48 yards, including a short touchdown just before halftime but did have a fumble after a reception early in the third quarter.

Doyle received more reps and playing time during training camp and the preseason because of a knee injury to Delanie Walker and tried to make the most of those opportunities. Will they be enough for Doyle to be Tennessee’s fourth tight end (if the Titans keep four tight ends), land on the practice squad or gain attention from another team?

When asked about the last time he was worried about making a roster, Doyle said “I don’t know, never,” but added, “If you had ever asked me in middle school if I would be at this level playing, I would have laughed at you. So I’m really excited at the opportunity the Titans have given me. I’m extremely thankful and just ready to get tomorrow going.”

QB Rusty Smith — although he’s beginning his fourth pro season, Smith hasn’t logged significant experience in the regular season. Tennessee opted to bring in Smith for the two-minute drill before halftime, and he rewarded coaches with crisp execution, completing 7 of 9 passes for 71 yards of an 80-yard and the TD pass to Doyle. Smith finished 13-for-21 for 178 yards, including a 50-yarder that hit undrafted rookie Rashad Ross in stride, but also threw an interception in the second half.

Smith is behind Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick on the depth chart, however, and the Titans have the option of only carrying two quarterbacks into the season.

RB Jalen Parmele — the fourth-year pro is no stranger to the NFL or running backs coach Sylvester Croom (since they were together in Jacksonville in 2012), but was new to the Titans this year. Parmele had nearly twice as many carries (17) than the nine he had in the first three preseason games combined and gained 46 yards. He also showed versatility with four catches on as many targets for 37 yards.

S Daimion Stafford a seventh-round selection this past April, Stafford missed some opportunities this preseason because of a hamstring injury, but he made the most of his snaps Thursday.

Stafford returned an interception nine yards and recovered a fumble forced during a hit by Gary Guyton and Jonathan Willard at Tennessee’s goal line and returned it 40 yards. Stafford said he knows that playing on special teams will be quite important.

“I feel good (heading into the season),” Stafford said. “There are a couple things I could have done better on special teams, and that is probably where I will be playing most of the year, so I definitely need to work on that.”

DT Zach Clayton — one of Tennessee’s two seventh-round picks in 2011 (along with Tommie Campbell), Clayton recorded the first of consecutive sacks of McLeod Bethel-Thompson (Keyunta Dawson added the second) late in the third quarter. He had four tackles.

Clayton appeared in three games as a rookie in 2011 and spent all of 2012 on the practice squad.

HUNTER’S SECOND TD: Hunter played in two preseason games before recording his first NFL touchdown catch against Atlanta last week. He didn’t have to wait long for his second from Ryan Fitzpatrick this preseason.

The TD against the Falcons occurred on a quick strike, but the one against the Vikings came on a deeper route that Hunter turned toward the middle of the field and caught the ball in stride.

‘MAC’ BACK IN ACTION: Thursday marked the return of linebacker Colin McCarthy, who hadn’t seen game action since Nov. 25, 2012. McCarthy didn’t start but played a significant amount of time at middle linebacker, re-applying the leadership qualities that prompted teammates to choose him as a defensive captain in 2012. The fourth-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft led the Titans with six tackles against the Vikings.

“It has been a while since I have played in a game situation,” McCarthy said. “It felt great to get an opportunity during the preseason, when it doesn’t really count, to go out there and knock some of the cobwebs off. I think as the game went on I felt more comfortable out there with the guys. I will build off of this and get ready for Pittsburgh.”

DELANIE DEBUTS: Walker, who signed with the Titans after seven seasons in San Francisco, made his debut in a Tennessee uniform after missing time because of a knee procedure he had before training camp. Walker didn’t play a significant number of snaps but was able to get back in the groove and prepare himself for the season-opener at Pittsburgh on Sept. 8.

“I feel good going into the regular season,” Walker said. “I had a lot of opportunities with being in a nine-play drive for my first game of the preseason. I did not feel any pain blocking or running routes. I am confident going into Pittsburgh with only one preseason game under my belt.”

Notes: Tennessee rushed the ball a preseason-high 41 times for 147 yards (3.6) per carry and finished the preseason with 587 yards on 132 carries (4.5 per carry). Titans QBs finished 21-for-31 passing and did not take a sack. … In addition to Greene, receivers Kendall Wright (knee), Kenny Britt (coach’s decision), Nate Washington (coach’s decision) and Marc Mariani (shoulder), fullback Quinn Johnson (hamstring), cornerback Jason McCourty (coach’s decision), safety Bernard Pollard (coach’s decision), linebackers Zaviar Gooden (ankle), Zach Brown (foot) and Akeem Ayers (ankle), defensive ends Ropati Pitoitua (hand) and Derrick Morgan (coach’s decision), and defensive tackles Jurrell Casey (coach’s decision) and Sammie Hill (elbow) did not play.

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