NASHVILLE — The closest running back Derrick Henry and wide receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones got to playing this preseason came when they put on their uniforms before kickoff. Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill watched the third and final exhibition game in quarantine, and several of his teammates were in the same situation.
The Tennessee Titans have wrapped the preseason with a 2-1 record after losing Saturday night at home to the Chicago Bears, 27-24, and final roster cuts are due Tuesday. Exactly how they'll click on offense remains to be seen as they prepare to host the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 12 to open the regular season.
"We'll have to make up for lost time," fourth-year Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel, who remains in quarantine with COVID-19, said Sunday via Zoom. "As it relates to how we feel about practice, we feel like practice is important."
That's where the Titans' challenge increases. The projected offensive starters have been together for perhaps a couple periods in training camp, with Jones — a seven-time Pro Bowl selection with the Atlanta Falcons before being traded this summer — joining a jog-through drill in the final week.
Yes, Henry was the NFL's offensive player of the year last season, when he eclipsed 2,000 yards on the ground and won a second straight league rushing title, and he was just voted the No. 4 overall player in the league by his peers. It's true that Jones, during his first 10 NFL seasons with the Falcons, showed the ability to produce on game days often with little practice. And Brown earned his first Pro Bowl nod last year in his second pro season, playing 14 games through knee and ankle injuries.
Still, just as the Titans appeared to be ramping up their work together, Tannehill went on the COVID-19 list Thursday. Ben Jones, their starting center, was put on that list Sunday after Vrabel talked to reporters.
"We know what the situation is," Vrabel said. "We know what it will be. We know when they'll their availability will be, at least Ryan's."
Tannehill and Ben Jones were among eight Tennessee players on the COVID-19 list. Returning requires either two negative test results in 48 hours or a 10-day quarantine. Vrabel, who might be able to return Wednesday after 10 days in quarantine himself, said he had no real update.
"Everything is on schedule," said Vrabel, who's texting those players regularly.
Tennessee traded for Julio Jones in June, hoping to boost one of the NFL's best offenses with a game-changing wide receiver. The Titans ranked fourth in scoring at 30.7 points per game last season and tied with the Buffalo Bills for second by averaging 396.4 yards a game, trailing only the Kansas City Chiefs.
After his most recent practice on Tuesday, Tannehill said he would be fine with not playing in the preseason, especially after there were no NFL exhibition games last year due to the pandemic. Tannehill set a franchise record last year for single-season combined touchdowns with 40 (33 passing, seven rushing).
The quarterback also said it was nice seeing Jones back at practice after the veteran receiver landed awkwardly on a foot Aug. 2, his first day of team drills.
"There is a lot of work to do still with him. We have talked through a lot of looks and seen on tape other guys take the reps and talk through the space and the timing," Tannehill said Tuesday. "Now it is just a matter of getting out here and doing it in person and make that connection."
Tannehill and the other Titans on reserve are in meetings thanks to Zoom. Practice time may not come until opening week. The Titans are practicing Monday through Thursday, then get a few days off before returning to prepare for the Cardinals.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan and left guard Rodger Saffold were on the field for 11 snaps Saturday. For Lewan, it was his first playing time since tearing his right ACL in mid-October.
"When you get hurt, you don't realize how fast this game can be taken away from you," he said.
Now Lewan has to prepare to face off against an Arizona pass rush led by Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt.
"Even watching film from last year, some of those guys that are still there that were second-team guys, they can really rush the passer and they play really hard," Lewan said. "I am excited to get out there. It is going to be a huge challenge for us week one."
The Titans started trimming the roster Sunday, waiving defensive lineman Freedom Akinmoladun, defensive back Nate Brooks, safety Clayton Geathers and linebackers Cassh Maluia and John Simon. They also placed running back Brian Hill on injured reserve after he was hurt against the Bears.