NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The starting receiver duo of the Tennessee Titans drew Batman and Robin comparisons from fans after the team acquired former Atlanta Falcons wideout Julio Jones to pair with budding star A.J. Brown.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has chemistry with Brown developed over the last two seasons. But Tannehill and Jones haven't gotten many live reps and have little time to get on the same page before the Titans host the Arizona Cardinals Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
"There is a lot of work to do still with [Jones]," Tannehill said. "We have talked through a lot of looks, and seen on tape other guys take the reps and talk through the spacing and the timing. Now it is just a matter of getting out there and doing it in person and making that connection."
The chemistry that Julio Jones and Matt Ryan had in Atlanta was strong. He opens up here on how he and Ryan Tannehill are working to develop trust, chemistry, etc. #Titans pic.twitter.com/b1i7fSYuDk— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) July 31, 2021
On one of their first days working together in training camp, Jones got hurt extending to catch a Tannehill pass that was out of reach. It was their last live rep together before this week.
Jones had been held out of practice and did mostly conditioning work. Meanwhile, Tannehill was placed on the reserve-COVID-19 list when Jones was able to take on a larger role in practice. Tannehill returned to practice on Monday which gives him four practices to work with Jones on the field.
The Titans' coaching staff is confident Tannehill and Jones will get the job done because they're veterans. Wide receivers coach Rob Moore likes how extensive the collaboration has been between Tannehill and Jones in the classroom.
"Not getting those reps makes the communication that much more important," Moore said. "They watch film together and talk about what they see. That becomes very vital when you're not on the field together."
Jones played in a similar system under then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan with the Atlanta Falcons in 2015 and 2016, so grasping the scheme shouldn't be an issue. Getting live reps on the field is where most of the progress stands to be made.
"It's very valuable just going out there and creating that chemistry," Jones said. "We have to keep working on it, getting our timing and getting better. Just for me, being at the right route depths. Getting in and out of breaks. Things like that. That's how you build trust with this game. The consistency. Doing it over and over."
Camp started out well for Tannehill and Jones. Over the first week, most of the work they did together was during special teams period when they focused on connecting from the top of the route. It gave Tannehill a chance to get a feel for how Jones comes out of his breaks and where he likes the ball to be placed.
Eventually, they progressed to 7-on-7 periods where Tannehill found Jones for a touchdown on their first rep together.
A quick look at the side work that Ryan Tannehill is getting in with Julio Jones and A.J. Brown while the other #Titans WRs are working with WR coach Robb Moore. pic.twitter.com/XkmWiPk9JV— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) July 29, 2021
Later that same day was when Jones got hurt. That missed connection is an example of the chemistry the two need to build quickly. Could Tannehill have put more air under the pass? Could Jones have come out his break more upfield?
"The key is listening," ESPN NFL analyst former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. "The receiver is the one out there trying to run the route, fight contact and try to snap his head back to catch the ball. You have to listen to that guy and try to understand what he's experiencing."
Talking through coverage situations will make the quarterback aware of how the receiver wants to approach it.
"Listening to how the receiver wants to go through stuff is such a big deal," Orlovsky said.
Establishing the trust it takes for receivers to know their quarterback won't lead them into taking a big hit takes time. Having been a receiver in college at Texas A&M, Tannehill has a feel for what goes into making plays at the position and where receivers like the ball to be placed in different situations.
"He's willing to work with you," Josh Reynolds said. "If you want it a certain way, he'll work to adjust his ball to adapt to you."
That level of understanding only helps the process.
Taking over in Week 6 of the 2019 season forced Tannehill to quickly establish chemistry with a group of receivers he hadn't worked with extensively when he was the backup. Still, the Titans' offense rocketed to one of the top units in the league.
Establishing chemistry with Jones in such a short time period will be challenging, but Tannehill feels they'll get it done.
"I am going to feel confident no matter what happens Week 1, we will find a way to make the plays," Tannehill said. "You look for your best one-on-one and try to put a good ball into a good spot there. It is nice to have a guy of his size and his playmaking ability in those situations."