NASHVILLE — Through training camp, the exhibition schedule and the first three weeks of the regular season, the Tennessee Titans have had a hard time getting their two Pro Bowl wide receivers going at the same time.
Now they may not have either Sunday as they start a two-game road swing by visiting the New York Jets.
A.J. Brown played only eight snaps before hurting a hamstring in last week's home win over the Indianapolis Colts to open AFC South Division play, while seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones was on the field for 34 of the offense's 68 plays. In the fourth quarter, the Titans instead used Cameron Batson, Racey McMath, Chester Rogers and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. McMath is a rookie, while Rogers is the most experienced NFL player in that quartet with four full seasons with the Colts (2016-19).
Neither Brown, a second-round draft pick in 2019 who earned his first Pro Bowl selection last season, nor the 32-year-old Jones practiced Wednesday with both on the injury report and a hamstring listed as the reason. A hamstring injury limited Jones to just nine games in 2020, his 10th and final season with the Atlanta Falcons before they traded their former first-round pick to Tennessee.
Now the Titans (2-1) are ready to lean on the next man up — or receiver, in this case — as needed when they take the field against the Jets (0-3).
"I'm not sure who's going to end up trotting out there on Sunday, but confident in whoever it is," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "Had a ton of reps and confidence in those guys. And it's been something we've done since I've been here, so excited about the guys we have that could possibly step up for us."
The good news for the Titans is that being limited already at the position was good preparation for this situation. Another plus is that the roster is loaded with seven wide receivers, and an eighth, Marcus Johnson, started practicing Wednesday for his return from injured reserve.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel said the team tries to insulate itself everywhere for how player availability fluctuates through a season.
"And so hopefully everybody that shows up for meetings and comes to practice can understand that they could potentially have a role in the game," Vrabel said.
Jones missed three weeks of training camp after coming down on a foot awkwardly, while Brown also practiced sporadically, which left plenty of work for the other wide receivers.
"Just take it like preseason, just how it was when those guys were out," Rogers said. "You've got to step up and make plays. So that's definitely how I'm looking at it."
Rogers has as many catches (seven) and touchdowns (one) as Brown, and his average of 12.9 yards per reception is just behind Brown (13.1).
Westbrook-Ikhine started last week and had the first touchdown catch of his NFL career, though he also had a lost fumble. The 6-foot-2, 211-pounder went undrafted out of Indiana in 2020, but he earned his way onto the practice squad before being promoted to the roster in September 2020. He wound up playing in 14 games with one start and finished with three catches for 33 yards.
His secret? Know the playbook and know where everyone has to be, especially when a new play is put in.
"You can plug in place wherever it needs to be," Westbrook-Ikhine said. "And, you know, I kind of had that to me pretty much throughout my career in college. I was the same way, to being able to know the whole playbook and make yourself valuable."
Vrabel said that isn't as easy as it sounds.
"Nick's been able to handle that," the coach said. "Play multiple positions, play in the kicking game, come up with some big catches in opportune times."