Last week, Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt downplayed the downpour at LP Field. It all but washed out the chance for a look at his first-team offense.
But after Friday night's 31-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the second week of the preseason, Whisenhunt admitted that it was really his first chance to evaluate quarterback Jake Locker and the starting offense, and he liked what he saw.
Locker was 8 of 11 for 75 yards and a touchdown, hitting Justin Hunter with a 4-yard score in the back corner of the end zone where only the receiver had a chance to catch it.
"For his first chance of really operating the offense, there's a number of things that in that situation -- we were on the road, we were handling the noise, we were playing against a team that will give you a lot of pressure, so there were a lot of things going on that you have to manage outside of just running the offense itself, and I thought he did a nice job with that," Whisenhunt said.
"He was good in his reads. When they gave us the prevent defense, which they did a couple of times, he took off and ran with the ball and made some plays. I thought he was in control of it, and did a nice job. He made some accurate throws, was very efficient and we were successful when he was in there. So it was a nice start."
Locker, in his third system in four years as the Titans quarterback, is in a well-chronicled make-or-break season in the final year of his contract. And even though it was just one preseason start, the early returns were encouraging.
"It was great to see the way we came out and started the game. We had two long drives and overcame some tough down distances. Overall, it was something we can definitely build off of," Locker said.
There was plenty that was encouraging, but still plenty of things that needed to be cleaned up on the offensive side of the football. Second-year receiver Hunter had a big night, catching four passes for 111 yards and the two touchdowns. But Hunter still needs to work on his consistency, according to Whisenhunt.
Also, the Titans had five - yes, five - turnovers in the game, including two more by rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who had his second fumble and second interception in as many weeks. However, other than that, the sixth-round pick was marvelous, certainly playing much better than a late-round rookie would be expected to. Overall, he was 20 of 25 for 269 yards and two scores.
"There were a lot of good things, but the turnovers we've got to get eliminated. We're doing good in third down and doing good in the red zone, but we can't give the ball up," Whisenhunt said.
--During the week, wide receiver Justin Hunter was given a new nameplate on the back of his practice jersey, and it wasn't one that was a compliment.
Hunter's No. 15 jersey had the letters "J A G" spaced out across the back above the number. That stood for the old NFL saying, "Just Another Guy," a label Hunter earned from coach Ken Whisenhunt, who called him out in a meeting for not correctly running a route. Receivers coach Shawn Jefferson had the equipment manager make the jersey, and Hunter had to wear it for two days in practice.
In the game against the Saints, however, Hunter worked to shed the label, with two touchdowns among his four catches for 111 yards. He caught a 64-yard pass for a touchdown from Zach Mettenberger as one of those scores.
"It's hanging in his locker, I don't think he'll have it out at practice - maybe as a little reminder for him. He definitely was not a JAG last night," Whisenhunt said.
Whisenhunt emphasized however, that Hunter still has plenty of improving to do and needs to keep working.
--For the second straight week, the Titans defense allowed seven points on the first drive of the game. Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who is in charge of the switch to a 3-4 scheme, was not at all pleased after the defense got pushed around on the first series against Green Bay, and Whisenhunt voiced his concern after it happened again against the Saints.
"Defensively, the first drive, we had some mistakes, we had some communication errors. We had some technique errors," Whisenhunt said. "We got those addressed after the first drive and did a decent job after that. Those are the things we've got to do a better job in starting."
--The Titans had five turnovers in the game against New Orleans, and rookie Bishop Sankey, who has shown good instincts running the football, fumbled for the second straight week. He also put the ball on the ground twice in a sloppy practice on Monday after the Green Bay game. Still, Whisenhunt is not overly concerned that Sankey is a fumbler.
"He's a rookie. We've got to work through a lot of things with him," Whisenhunt said of the second-round pick.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Moise Fokou vs Patrick Bailey. With Colin McCarthy gone, the battle for what might be the last linebacker spot could be down to two players. And even though Fokou plays inside and Bailey outside, it could come down to which player does the best on special teams for the Titans. Bailey was Tennessee's special teams captain last year, but had two penalties vs. New Orleans.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson got the start in the cornerback battle against Coty Sensabaugh against the Saints. Sensabaugh started against Green Bay, and their battle for the starting job will extend into at least one more week.
--QB Charlie Whitehurst played just part of one series for the Titans before exiting with a finger injury. The injury does not appear to be serious, and rookie Zach Mettenberger finished up.
--T Michael Oher left the game with an arm injury against New Orleans, but the injury apparently was not serious.
--RB Shonn Greene suffered a double whammy when he suffered a knee injury on a carry in which he fumbled. Greene apparently hyperextended his right knee, the same knee he has had two arthroscopic procedures on in the past 11 months.
--K Travis Coons, whose leg strength was in question regarding his quest to win the kicker's battle and make the roster, helped his cause with a 50-yard field goal Friday night. Coons initially made a 45-yarder, but an illegal formation penalty backED him up five more yards. He still converted.
--LB Colin McCarthy underwent season-ending surgery on his left shoulder on Friday. He suffered the injury in the preseason opener last week.
--CB Coty Sensabaugh had a bit of a rough night, being burned twice deep by the explosive Saints offense.
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- Zach Mettenberger
- New Orleans Saints
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