Here are some of my observations from Wednesday’s first joint practice between the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers.
(Full disclosure: I spent my time observing the Titans offense and Panthers defense. Notes on the Titans defense vs. Panthers offense are courtesy of Associated Press reporter Teresa Walker and comments from Coach Mike Mularkey and players.)
The Titans offense was glad to get in some work against the Panthers’ 4-3 scheme, considering that each day in camp practice Tennessee sees a 3-4 look, and also got that from the New York Jets in last Saturday’s preseason opener.
“There is some change, definitely some change. There are a couple of different schemes and line calls (against a 4-3),” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “The combination blcoks are different. It’s not just the line, it’s the tight ends and backs where they fit on specific plays. It was good for us.”
Due to rains in the area, the Titans and Panthers twice pushed the start time 30 minutes. The practice eventually began at 10:15 a.m. instead of 9:15.
Murray still rolling
DeMarco Murray continued to make his way back from a hamstring injury, and was a full participant in Wednesday’s work. On the first play of team drills, Murray went off the left side and found a big hole against the Panthers defense.
“The offensive line did a great job blocking. Taylor (Lewan) always does a great job blocking. They blocked it up and it was open,” Murray said of that first run.
As for his health, Mularkey indicated that the plan is for Murray to continue to work with an eye on playing Saturday against the Panthers. Murray is glad to be moving past the injury.
“Obviously it’s great to get back out there with the guys. The hammy is feeling better, and it was great to just get back out there with my teammates and compete,” he said.
Wide receiver Eric Decker made what was probably the catch of the day beating Captain Munnerlyn in one-on-ones, making a diving grab. But the veteran wide receiver also twisted his ankle on the play and was held out of team drills. Mularkey said the injury did not appear serious.
Tackle Dennis Kelly was overcome a bit by the heat and humidity about 10 minutes or so before practice ended. The situation, however, was not serious.
Linebacker Daron Bates had a trainer tend to the finger on his injured left hand, something he sustained against the Jets.
Several Titans were held out of practice, including: receiver Mekale McKay (hamstring), cornerback Demontre Hurst (groin), linebacker Aaron Wallace (back), long snapper Beau Brinkley (groin) and receiver Corey Davis (hamstring) were held out of practice.
Offensive highs and lows
Quarterback Marcus Mariota made a beautiful throw to Taywan Taylor dropping it in over tight coverage by Captain Munnerlyn in one-on-ones.
In team drills, he hit a wide open Rishard Matthews for a nice gain as well.
Tight end Jace Amaro had a good catch on a post corner route as well from Matt Cassel.
Running back Khalfani Muhammad, who seemed to have fallen down the depth chart early in camp, showed great speed on a touchdown run of about 65 yards in the first team period.
“He did some good things out there. It was good to see in a team environment,” Mularkey said.
As far as the bad, Mariota was picked off twice, both in team drills. The first came on a pass that was high, but Delanie Walker got a hand on. The ball then fluttered into the air and Colin Jones of the Panthers made a diving interception.
The second one came late in practice when Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson sniffed out a middle screen to Derrick Henry and picked the ball off for what would have been a Carolina TD.
Also, running back Akeem Judd lost a fumble at the goal line that was recovered by the Panthers linebacker David Mayo.
“They’ve got a great defense. They made some great plays against us and caused a couple of turnovers. All in all, it was a great practice. I think both sides were able to get better, and that’s what you want,” Mariota said.
Defensive highs and lows
Wesley Woodyard made a nice play, with a pass breakup against Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey later got his revenge with a nice catch down the sideline.
Rookie linebacker Jayon Brown continues to impress, gathering an interception off Panthers’ third-string QB Joe Webb. There was another play, however, where Brown did get lost and could not find the football, giving up a big completion.
For the most part, Mularkey has been pleased with the fifth-round pick’s play.
“I think he’s stood out since he’s been in the OTAs. He quietly goes about his business and he’s always around the football,” the coach said.
No Cam, but still fun
Panthers starting quarterback Cam Newton did not partake in drills for the Panthers, as he is still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. That didn’t stop him from engaging in some trash talk with some Titans defensive players – namely Brian Orakpo and Jurrell Casey.
“Cam got bored, and he’s sitting around and going to trash with his team. We can talk trash too and have some fun. I kind of went up him and messed with him as well,” Orakpo said.
The trash talk never escalated, however, as both teams were polite and respectful to each other – having been warned by the head coaches that such things would not be tolerated.
After one hit in seven-on-seven drills, where Rishard Matthews was sandwiched between two Panthers defensive backs, linebacker Luke Kuechly came over to Matthews, and said, “Hey, are you all right, 18?”
“It was probably one of the most respected joint practices I’ve ever been a part of and it was a lot of fun out there,” Orakpo said.
There were four Heisman Trophy winners at Wednesday’s practice – Titans players Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry, Panthers QB Cam Newton and former Titans running back Eddie George, who showed up to watch the proceedings.