Titans lose Pro Bowl tight end, wait for 2 starters to heal
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans have lost their three-time Pro Bowl tight end at least for a big chunk of the season.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota is being evaluated after hurting his throwing arm, and two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan is in the concussion protocol.
And that’s just the latest injuries for the Titans.
Now Tennessee has to see who’s healthy enough for the home opener Sunday against AFC South rival Houston (0-1) and adapt accordingly.
“What we’re going to do every week is try to figure out what gives us the best chance to win, personnel wise, who we have available, maybe who we’re playing obviously,” rookie coach Mike Vrabel said Monday.
“We’ll be flexible enough to use any personnel that we think will help us win. I don’t think we can commit to anything right now.”
The Titans already are down starting right tackle Jack Conklin, who was inactive against Miami as he recovers from a torn left ACL repaired in January.
On defense, starting linebacker Derrick Morgan played only 14 snaps in the Titans’ 27-20 loss in Miami as the Titans work the veteran back in after a preseason injury.
Tennessee’s top two draft picks also are linebackers, and Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry both missed the opener with injuries.
Add to that the Titans are recovering from the league’s longest game since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970 because of two lightning delays that made the matchup in Miami last 7 hours, 8 minutes from the opening kickoff to the final second ticked off.
Morgan said it wasn’t easy warming up, cooling down again and again, but thinks the Titans learned some mental toughness from the day that wouldn’t end.
“Hopefully it never happens again and we never have to play football for eight hours straight,” Morgan said.
Mariota is being evaluated after he lost sensation in his right hand after the game from his injured right elbow. He was intercepted twice — both after taking a hit from Dolphins defensive lineman William Hayes following a handoff. Vrabel said they’re hopeful of getting a good report back on Mariota’s arm needing everybody that’s healthy and available.
Blaine Gabbert, signed this offseason, replaced Mariota and threw for 117 yards with an interception. The Titans do have rookie Logan Woodside on the practice squad, but will wait for a report on Mariota before deciding whether to add another quarterback.
Vrabel did say he told defensive coordinator Dean Pees to take note of how officials are handling quarterbacks carrying out a fake on a run-pass option.
“If that’s legal, then we have to do it the same exact way,” Vrabel said.
Lewan was resting Monday. Asked about Dolphins lineman Andre Branch’s hit, Vrabel said it probably wasn’t dirty even if the coach thinks his left tackle “absolutely” was targeted.
The Titans put tight end Delanie Walker on injured reserve Monday and the tight end will have surgery on his right ankle in the next few days. Walker came into the season with the most catches in the NFL by a tight end between 2013 and 2017. He also has been Mariota’s favorite target, leading the team in receptions in two of the past three years.
Vrabel said the Titans will evaluate Walker’s potential to return this season after surgery. Jonnu Smith, a third-round pick out of Florida International in 2017, has 19 receptions and will be the first expected to fill in for Walker. Smith had talked to Walker and said the veteran was in good spirits.
“It is some big shoes to fill,” Smith said.
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