Titans face tough decisions at LB, WR and returner
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Coach Mike Munchak says opening against the Steelers is a pretty exciting way to start the season. The best part of a 1-3 preseason is how healthy the Titans are now that the games count.
Munchak said Friday that linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown are expected to be ready for the opener Sept. 8 at Pittsburgh. They missed the final two preseason games, including Thursday night's 24-23 loss at Minnesota. Linebacker Colin McCarthy even played a couple series after missing three with a sore hamstring and led the Titans in tackles.
The fact that those linebackers have been injured makes paring down the roster to 53 before Saturday's deadline that much more challenging. The toughest decisions will be how many linebackers and receivers to keep, plus which kick returner.
"It isn't one thing, it's just kind of finishing up the puzzle that we started back in January," Munchak said of finalizing the roster.
The Titans waived 10 players with 12 more needing to be let go before Saturday's deadline for a 53-man roster. Among those cut were running back Jalen Parmele, and Munchak said that means Jackie Battle, signed the day before camp opened, has won the No. 3 job backing up Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene.
Ayers hurt his right ankle Aug. 17 in a loss at Cincinnati, while Brown has had a sore foot since that game. McCarthy, pushing free agent signee Moise Fokou to get back his starting job at middle linebacker, hurt his right hamstring July 31 and missed three weeks.
Munchak said McCarthy had to catch up to the speed of the game when the linebacker got on the field against Minnesota and now just needs to keep playing.
"The good news is he felt healthy that way," Munchak said. "He didn't feel limited at all because of the injury that he had or the injuries he has had, so I think that's good for him going forward. And now he just needs to get back in the grind, and we need to find ways for him to contribute and help us win this weekend."
The Titans also must decide whether to keep eight offensive linemen or nine a year after four starters had season-ending injuries. With the deepest receiving corps this team has in Tennessee, they could keep six receivers with Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, Damian Williams, Justin Hunter and possibly Michael Preston.
The decision at kick returner could help decide whether Tennessee keeps an extra receiver or running back. Darius Reynaud scored twice on punt returns and once on a kickoff in 2012, but Marc Mariani was a Pro Bowl returner as a seventh-round draft pick in 2010. Mariani is recovering from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the last three games.
Munchak said Mariani is a tough decision because they must project when he can return.
"Those are things we're trying to get a good handle on," Munchak said.
The Titans also have to pick a starter at center and cornerback. Rob Turner appears to be in line to start at center, while Tommie Campbell and Alterraun Verner have competed at cornerback. Munchak said they want players to be the first to hear Saturday before making any announcements.
But both Campbell and Verner struggled against the Vikings, complicating that decision. Coty Sensabaugh also has been impressive as the extra defensive back should the Titans decide to pick someone else.
Once the cuts are made Saturday trimming the roster to 53, Munchak said they will be keeping an eye out on other players available around the league. The Titans went 6-10 last season, so they could be looking for an experienced safety, cornerback or linebacker.
"We're just keeping all of our options open," Munchak said.
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