NASHVILLE – The numbers in the end will tell the story.
For now, though, something Kevin Byard said at the conclusion of training camp spoke volumes for how the Tennessee Titans’ passing game has evolved since the offseason departures of wide receiver AJ Brown and four others who were among the top seven. good in their expectations last season.
“Obviously, Kyle Philips has been like that [quarterback] Ryan [Tannehill’s] go to receiver in two minutes and a lot of different situations,” Byard said Thursday.
He must know. Byard is the leader of the Titans defense and one of the NFL’s most productive pass defenders in recent seasons. As such, he has faced off against Tannehill and the Titans offense nearly every day throughout the offseason and through camp, which opened on July 27.
Philips, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA this year’s draft, steadily earned more and more time with the first-team offense as things progressed and — if Byard is correct — is now a guy Tannehill will it appears early and often. this season.
“He gets open, catches the ball and knows where to go,” coach Mike Vrabel said recently. “… I think he does a good job of recognizing whether it’s man or zone, how he wants to run his route and be decisive.
“It seems like the quarterback trusts him.”
Make no mistake, Tannehill plays favorites when it comes to his passers.
For the past two seasons, Brown was his favorite target. In Tannehill’s first start for Tennessee, the two connected six times, which was twice as many as the wide receiver — then a rookie — in any previous game.
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Eighteen times in 43 starts (41.9 percent) Tannehill targeted Brown eight times or more. During the same period, he targeted eight others eight times or more, a total of 14 times. There were eight occasions in which he threw the same player 11 or more times in a single contest, five of them to Brown.
There have been 14 times with Tannehill at quarterback that a Titans player has caught seven or more passes in a game. Brown, who was traded to Philadelphia in April, accounted for eight of them.
If Philips really is his guy, Tannehill won’t be throwing the same spots this year.
Brown is 6-foot-1, 226 pounds and made a lot of plays in the outfield and infield where he met (often outmatched) small corners and won physical battles for the ball.
Philips is 5-foot-11, 189 pounds and operates primarily out of the slot. From there, he uses speed and accuracy to get open in the spaces that are available between some combination of linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties.
“(Philips) has been out here, he’s made some plays,” wide receivers coach Rob Moore said. “He’s immersed in the playbook. He doesn’t have a bunch of mental mistakes and he practices a lot. He has a lot of qualities that we thought he had when we got him.”
The thought of not having to wait so long for Philips to open up, as he often did for Brown, probably has an appeal for Tannehill as well. After all, he was sacked 47 times in 2021, second among all NFL quarterbacks behind Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and the second-highest total of his career.
The preseason has done nothing to support Byard’s assertion. Philips has just one reception for 11 yards in the first two games.
“Keep getting better every day and then come game time help my team by making some plays, making some blocks,” Philips said. “And – obviously – win the game because that’s the most important thing.”
Of course, Tannehill didn’t play in either of those contests. So until he’s under center outside of a practice, everyone will just have to take Byard’s word for where Tannehill looks most often.