With Titans’ 53-man roster set, here are 7 players near the top who will swing the season


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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s official, all you 53-man roster watchers: The Titans are keeping pass rusher Caleb Murphy, receiver Kearis Jackson and cornerback Anthony Kendall.

Also official: Any extended discussion of those players, or guys such as Julius Chestnut and Dillon Radunz, probably means bad things for the Tennessee Titans in 2023. It’s fun to guess on rosters, watch guys battle for spots and see it all come together. But now it’s time to talk about, and watch, the players who were always going to be on the team. The guys who will determine what this season becomes, starting Sept. 10 at New Orleans.

All of them are variables to some extent and have a range of possible outcomes. #IfHealthy is the team’s unofficial hashtag after consecutive seasons of abhorrent health, and if Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry and Kevin Byard are available — as they’ve mostly been in recent years — and don’t fall off the performance cliff, you know what you’re going to get from them. You’re going to get football that helps a team win.

Here are seven Titans whose fall outcomes are hazier, because of injury concerns, performance uncertainty or both. If more of these variables break the Titans’ way than don’t, a return to AFC South supremacy is very attainable.

When Mike Vrabel used the term “best-case scenario” after Burks suffered a knee injury in a joint practice in Minnesota a couple of weeks ago, he wasn’t kidding. An awkward fall and devastated reaction turned out to be an LCL sprain, and Burks is already back on the practice field soaring for one-handed catches. Like fellow second-year receiver Kyle Philips — who starts the season shelved with a knee injury — Burks has seen his progress slowed by health setbacks. But before this last little one, he was putting his supreme confidence and physical gifts on display in practice every day.

Tim Kelly’s offense seems to suit Burks, he knows what to do and he can hurt defenses on screens, in the red zone and on 50/50 balls deep downfield. That’s what practice says, anyway, along with a few glimpses late last season. It’s time for Burks to make it a regular Sunday eyeful.

Each starting offensive lineman could qualify, but Dillard is by far the biggest and most important question. Rookie left guard Peter Skoronski and center Aaron Brewer look solid. New right guard Daniel Brunskill is a question in his opportunity to be a regular starter, but there are options behind him, including Corey Levin and the recently activated Radunz (though Radunz, coming off an ACL, is still a few weeks away). Chris Hubbard is no resounding answer in place of Nicholas Petit-Frere at right tackle, but Justin Murray and Radunz could fill in as well while Petit-Frere serves a six-game gambling suspension.

If Dillard falters, there’s simply no great answer. The best is probably moving Skoronski outside, but that weakens the interior. The Titans don’t want to do that. They need Dillard to play like a starting left tackle, like a guy who simply didn’t get enough opportunity on a loaded Eagles line, who doesn’t need constant help against top pass rushers. He’ll be better than Dennis Daley. But he needs to be a lot better. And the entirety of camp didn’t inspire overwhelming confidence that he will be.

After Ryan Succop and Greg Joseph and Cody Parkey and Cairo Santos and Stephen Gostkowski and Sam Sloman and Sam Ficken and Randy Bullock and Caleb Shudak — and others, all since 2019 — the Titans have gone older and reliable. And it’s the sensible play. GM Ran Carthon sent a 2025 seventh-round pick to the Patriots, who are keeping Chad Ryland, for the 38-year-old Folk.

They hope this Bill Belichick castoff ends up better than the last, Gostkowski, who was just 18-for-26 in 2020 for the Titans. Folk’s journeyman career peaked in New England, where he was 108-for-121 (89.3 percent) in four seasons, including 12-for-17 from beyond 50 yards. Bullock was 43-for-51 (84.3 percent) the past two seasons for the Titans, but he doesn’t have a big leg and attempted just three of 50 or more (making two, both from 51).

The Titans aren’t getting kickoff force from Folk — 30 of his 33 last season did not go for touchbacks — but they can think field goal inside the opposing 40 now. They’re going to be in plenty of close games this season and need Folk to be hovering right around that 90 percent mark.

The Titans didn’t extend Fulton after he missed 20 of the first 50 regular-season games of his career, mostly because of soft-tissue injuries. He has looked in camp like a guy intent on showing them that was a mistake and securing a hefty second NFL contract. Fulton has added some muscle and it seems to be helping both durability and performance — so far.

If Camp Fulton is Regular Season Fulton, the Titans have a legitimate No. 1 corner to lead a solid trio that also features second-year slot man Roger McCreary and free-agent pickup Sean Murphy-Bunting on the other side. Considering the pass rush in front of them and the safeties behind them, those guys will be set up for success. And Fulton will be set up for the next phase of his career, perhaps continuing in Nashville.

This is purely a health question, for a guy who made as many plays as anyone on the Titans defense during camp. And it’s an underrated one — Hooker has missed 13 of 34 possible regular-season games in the past two seasons. In 2022, he had knee, shoulder and concussion issues. If he avoids anything significant this season, he and Byard will make up one of the most effective safety tandems in the NFL. If he doesn’t, the drop-off will be significant and potentially problematic.

An injury to safety Amani Hooker could be problematic. (Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA Today)

Two receivers and just one offensive lineman? Seems off, doesn’t it? But this is about health, not performance, as well. Hopkins took part in all but a couple of days of camp, built chemistry with Tannehill and will get open and make plays this season in every game he appears. In how many will he appear? It’s a fair question given his recent history.

Hopkins missed two games in the first eight seasons of his career. In the past two seasons, he has missed 15. That includes a PED suspension of six games last season, but you combine that with knee, hamstring, neck, shoulder and ankle injuries since 2020, for a player who is now 31, and you can see where this might go. It might go the way of Julio Jones, circa 2021 in Nashville. Hopkins’ camp with the Titans has been much more encouraging than Jones’ was. If that carries into the season, this offense will have teeth.

Harold Landry

ACL rehab went as well for Landry — who is approaching the one-year anniversary of the injury — as he could have hoped. And he spent the time building his upper body and will unleash some speed-to-power moves to complement his vicious outside speed rush. Conventional wisdom and recent Titans history both warn of the need for patience in Landry’s first season back from that injury. But he looks good. And if he’s, say, 80 percent of what he was in his 12-sack season of 2021, this pass rush is going to look a lot like that one. Maybe better.

Required reading

(Top photo of Treylon Burks: Cooper Neill / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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