TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW: TIGHT ENDS
In camp (7): Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser, Ryan Hewitt, Cole Wick, Parker Hesse.
Offseason developments: Delanie Walker was back on the field on the first day of OTAs, which was a nice development. Walker, who sat out the team’s minicamp, estimated himself to be 85 percent. Jonnu Smith, meanwhile, did not practice all offseason as he recovers from last year’s season-ending knee injury. He was observed in June running on a side field while being supervised by trainers. Anthony Firkser worked in a yellow jersey during the offseason, an indication he wasn’t 100 percent. The Titans wanted to re-sign veteran tight end Luke Stocker, but he accepted a deal with the Falcons instead. With other tight ends banged up, MyCole Pruitt got a lot of work during OTAs and the minicamp. The Titans waived Keith Towbridge in June, and signed tight end Ryan Hewitt, formerly with the Bengals and Colts. The team also added Parker Hesse, an undrafted free agent from Iowa. Former 49ers tight end Cole Wick returned to practices after ending last season on Injured Reserve. The Titans hired Todd Downing as tight ends coach after Arthur Smith was promoted to offensive coordinator.
In the spotlight: Walker. After suffering a devastating ankle injury in last year’s season opener, there were forecasts of doom and gloom for the three-time Pro Bowler. Walker has heard them, and as he heads toward his 14th NFL season – and 35th birthday – he’ll aim to prove the doubters wrong. The Titans missed Walker last season, and his return should be a big one for the offense. Walker said recently he’s not sure if he’ll start training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, or on the active 90-man roster. Regardless, he’s expected to be ready for the regular season opener at Cleveland on September 8. Still, it would make Titans fans feel a lot better if Walker looks the part in camp, even if he doesn’t play in preseason games.
Battle to watch: Pruitt vs. Firkser. Walker and Smith are a part of the future, although patience may be needed with Smith. Pruitt performed well as a blocker in 2018, and he has a history with head coach Mike Vrabel. His chances of sticking around seem pretty good at this point. Firkser proved to be a dependable target in 2018, catching pretty much everything thrown his way, but he has more limitations as a blocker. The big question here is how many tight ends the Titans end up keeping, and whether a late addition (Hewitt) ends up being a factor. The Titans finished last season with just three tight ends on the 53-man roster.
Keep an eye on: Hewitt. The former Bengals and Colts tight end is pretty much an unknown quantity to fans in these parts, even though he caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck in December against the Titans and he has plenty of experience in the NFL. Hewitt didn’t join the Titans until after their offseason work, so he has some catching up to do. So what’s his story? Hewitt entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Bengals in 2014, and he spent four seasons with the team. He appeared in 12 games with two starts for the Colts in 2018, and his only reception came in the season finale against the Titans. Hewitt has played in 72 career games total. If he performs well in camp, it’s not unrealistic to think he could put himself in a position to make the 53.
Next up: Receivers.