Now that the Tennessee Titans' starting quarterback situation is settled, coach Mike Munchak can move on to more routine matters in training camp.
The Titans must pare down their roster to 80 by Aug. 23, as an Aug. 28 deadline for the 53-man roster looms. The most intriguing battles for players on the bubble appear to be at cornerback, running back and wide receiver.
Stock rising: RB Jamie Harper, DE Keyunta Dawson, RB Darius Reynaud, S Al Afalava. Harper looked impressive with his power running and ability to spot the creases in the line in Friday's win over the Buccaneers. The problem for Harper is that he's in direct competition with Reynaud. The fourth-year running back has been the Titans' biggest surprise of camp. On the defensive line, Dawson recorded a sack and a pass defense in Tampa. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray lauded Afalava for his punishing hit on Bucs running back Le'Garrette Blount.
Stock falling: DT Shaun Smith, WR Michael Preston, TE Cameron Graham, S Markelle Martin. For the second straight week, Smith received little playing time. Smith is behind starters Sen'Derrick Marks and Jurrell Casey on the depth chart. He also appears to have fallen behind reserves Mike Martin and Karl Klug. Preston has shined in practice, but hasn't done much in two preseason games. With the emergence of Taylor Thompson, Graham may be headed for the practice squad. Martin (knee) has resumed running this week, but still remains on PUP.
Here are our position-by-position projections:
QB -- In: (3) Jake Locker, Matt Hasselbeck, Rusty Smith. Out: Nick Stephens. Analysis: Munchak quelled any speculation that Hasselbeck could be released by saying on Monday that he hopes the 36-year-old quarterback can remain with the team for several years. Smith may have turned in his best performance as a professional in Friday's win. Smith is moving close to lock status.
RB -- In: (4) Chris Johnson, Javon Ringer, Darius Reynaud, Jamie Harper Out: Herb Donaldson, Collin Mooney, Quinn Johnson (FB). Analysis: The big question here is whether the Titans' keep a fourth running back. In the recent past, Tennessee hasn't carried more than three. Reynaud has been electrifying in a dual role as a back and punt returner. Harper is the team's lone power back, while Ringer is the top threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. Harper could also be used at fullback, which makes Quinn Johnson expendable.
WR -- In: (5) Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins, Marc Mariani. Out: Michael Preston, D.J. Woods, James Kirkendoll, Chase Deadder, LaQuinton Evans. Reserve/Suspended List: Kenny Britt. Analysis: A second straight mediocre game by Preston has left him behind Mariani. Hawkins has been relatively quiet in the preseason, but received a $2 million signing bonus in the offseason. Hawkins' game experience could place him ahead of Preston.
TE -- In: (3) Jared Cook, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson. Out: Joey Haynos, Cameron Graham, Brandon Barden. Analysis: The coaching staff has raved about Thompson's potential, he is a lock to make the roster. Graham caught a 15-yard touchdown pass last week, but appears headed for the practice squad. Haynos is an intriguing option at 6-8, but may be the odd man out with greater needs at other positions.
OL -- In: (9) Michael Roos, Steve Hutchinson, Fernando Velasco, Leroy Harris, David Stewart, Kevin Matthews, Mike Otto, Ryan Durand, Byron Stingily. Out: Kyle DeVan, Chris Morris, George Bias, Troy Kropog, William Vlachos. Analysis: The Titans' kept 10 offensive linemen on last year's final 53-roster, but have more pressing issues at other spots this season. Offensive tackle Mike Otto, who underwent surgery on his right ring finger last week, could open up a spot if he's placed on PUP. Matthews, Durand, Stingily, DeVan and Kropog could be battling for the last three spots.
DL -- In: (10) Kamerion Wimbley, Derrick Morgan, Pannel Egboh, Keyunta Dawson, Jurrell Casey, Sen'Derrick Marks, Karl Klug, Mike Martin, Leger Douzable, Zach Clayton. Out: Scott Solomon, Malcolm Sheppard, Shaun Smith, Dave Ball, Lamar Divens, Keyunta Dawson, DaJohn Harris. Analysis: The last spot at defensive end could be decided among the trio of Dawson, Solomon and Sheppard. Dawson displays a quick burst off the ball, but is slightly undersized. Solomon is regarded for playing with constant enthusiasm, but has practice squad eligibility. Sheppard offers more versatility than Dawson and Solomon, but arguably less of an upside. Ball has yet to return to practice since suffering from concussion-like symptoms.
LB -- In: (7) Colin McCarthy, Akeem Ayers, Will Witherspoon, Zach Brown, Tim Shaw, Zac Diles, Patrick Bailey. Out: Kevin Malast. Analysis: Linebacker Gerald McRath (knee) is out for the season and potentially opens up one spot. McRath may have been beaten out by Shaw and Diles anyway. The top four -- McCarthy, Ayers, Witherspoon and Brown -- appear to be locks. The other four could be battling for two spots.
DB -- In: (10) Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Michael Griffin, Jordan Babineaux, Robert Johnson, Chris Hawkins, Coty Sensabaugh. Ryan Mouton, Al Afalava. Out: Terrence Wheatley, Tracy Wilson, Aaron Francisco, Al Afalava, Christian Scott. PUP: Markelle Martin. Analysis: It might be excessive to keep 10 defensive backs, but pass defense could be one of the Titans' biggest weaknesses. With injuries to Babineaux and Martin, the Titans safety situation is unsettled. The Titans could keep both Johnson and Afalava, or scour the waiver wire for a veteran safety. At cornerback, the battle among Hawkins, Sensabaugh and Mouton for the final spot is tight.
Special Teams -- In: (2) Rob Bironas and Brett Kern. Out: Beau Brinkley and Will Batson. Analysis: Brinkley is the team's lone long snapper on the roster, but OL Kevin Matthews has also taken practice snaps in training camp. Brinkley has had two bad snaps in the preseason and the Titans could save a spot by using Matthews at long snapper.
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