NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Running backs Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis will provide the one-two punch for the Titans this season.
But there’s a battle going on behind them, and head coach Mike Vrabel said it’s a good one.
Veteran David Fluellen ran the ball well on Thursday in the team’s preseason game against the Packers. He carried the ball just three times, but picked up 21 yards. His experience gives him the edge for the No.3 spot.
But a pair of undrafted rookies are making noise – running backs Akrum Wadley and Dalyn Dawkins.
All three made contributions against the Packers. Wadley led the Titans with 27 rushing yards (on nine carries), and he also returned a kickoff 64 yards. But he also fumbled, and the Packers recovered it. Dawkins caught two passes for 23 yards, and carried the ball once for six yards.
“It's good competition,” Vrabel said at a press conference on Friday. “The one thing about Flu (David Fluellen) is he's a great professional. He knows his job. He takes it very seriously. He helps in the kicking game. He's a good player in the kicking game. He had a nice run, a really nice run.
“Certainly, with the younger two - Wadley was able to do some nice things, but then the fumble. It was good to see him bounce back from it with the nice return, but you just have to take care of the football and understand that ball security is job security. Dawk did some good things as well with a nice screen. He had a couple good runs. We like the group. Obviously, we'll keep working on them. We're excited about what they can do for us.”
A look at some of the other highlights from Vrabel’s press conference today:
- Vrabel said he liked the opening drive, when the Titans drove the ball 71 yards on just nine plays with quarterback Marcus Mariota leading the way. The drive was capped off with a four-yard touchdown pass to Darius Jennings.
“Well yeah, the guys were excited,” Vrabel said. “I think we talked about it. If we win the toss, I said if we can figure out if it's heads or tails, I said we're going to take the ball, and they were excited about it, and they went down and scored. Big third down conversion with Marcus (Mariota) and Nick (Williams), good protection. So it was an efficient drive. It was a good drive, and it was good to see that group go down there and kind of do what they did in the scrimmage in the one Friday night scrimmage that we had, and then being able to carry that over now into this week.”
- Despite the loss, after watching film, Vrabel saw a lot of things he liked.
“Well there's always room for improvement. I think that's what we do. We're always looking to improve,” Vrabel said. “I think that special teams I would say was solid. We're heading in the right direction there. I think that the way we tried to cover some of those kicks, the punt game, we were able to put the ball inside the 10-yard line twice, caused a fumble, had a tackle around the 10-yard line on a kickoff. Those are a lot of positive things, and we need to continue to do that and then make that a strength of our team. You know offensively and defensively, it's going to be the same thing. If you have a bunch a penalties, and you don't get off the field on third down, it leads to long drives and especially penalties down there in the red zone. It just gives them other opportunities. That's kind of where it was defensively. Offensively, we didn't get enough opportunity. We didn't get enough drives, enough chances, but it was good to see Luke (Falk) kind of take that group down there at the end of the game in kind of a hurry-up, two-minute situation. I knew we were down a couple of scores, but it was good to see them convert and had a nice throw and catch to Deontay (Burnett) on third down and then be able to find Tim (Semisch) in the end zone to finish off the drive.”
- The play of linebacker Harold Landry III, who recorded a sack in his first NFL game, was encouraging.
“Well, I think that's what he's here for,” he said. “I think that's what all those outside linebackers are here for, to set the edge in a running game and rush and sometimes not in that order. That's part of his job, so we're going to continue to work with him and coach him. It was good for him to get that first strip sack of his career even though in a few weeks it gets kind of erased, and we've got to go back to no sacks, but I think that anytime you can get those things in preseason and try to help your team, I think we'll keep working for his production. I think that's what you have to have. You look at third down and really it's not just the rush or not just the coverage. They all kind of go hand in hand. We need to keep that in mind here when we start coaching our guys.”
- Titans OC Matt LaFleur was on the sideline on Thursday night, but that’s not necessarily permanent.
“The games that he’s called in the past have been from upstairs,” Vrabel said. “He knows what that’s like. I think he just wanted to get a feel for being on the sideline. I’ll evaluate that. I’ll kind of make a decision as we work through. He’ll probably change it up each week. We’ll try to figure out what’s best for the offense and for the team.”
- Vrabel said his first game as a head coach was special.
“It was an unbelievable opportunity,” he said. “It was cool just to see our team out there for the first time with new uniforms, watching our coaches and players observe. Watching guys to see if they stayed in the game while trying to help their teammates and cheer for their teammates. Watching guys that were out there competing late in the game - all those things. Just trying to understand and trying to anticipate the next situation, trying to work on my job and try to improve on that each and every day. We're back to training camp today.”
- About those penalties. Vrabel wants to see them eliminated, at least the ones that are concentration lapses. The Titans were flagged 14 times for 124 yards against the Packers.
“I think that the point of emphasis is going to get called in the preseason and it's going to carry over into the season,” he said. “We have to understand what they're looking for when they talk about illegal contact. What they're talking about with lowering the helmet and pass interference. I mean, you can't line up off sides. That's ridiculous. We did that twice. I'll do a better job of making sure that we line up on sides. That's just concentration. Post-snap penalties, you'd like to eliminate them, but sometimes, those are out of aggressiveness. Those pre-snap penalties we have to eliminate.”
The Tennessee Titans open the 2018 preseason against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
The Titans prepare to take on the Green Bay Packers in the preseason opener for both teams Thursday night at Lambeau Field. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)