Thanks to an injury creating an opportunity, and his ability to accept coaching, undrafted rookie receiver Kearis Jackson is in line to perhaps handle the Titans punt return chores for the season opener in New Orleans.
Jackson, one of six receivers currently on the Titans’ 53-man roster, got his chance to be the team’s returner when Kyle Philips went down with a sprained MCL in his left knee during joint practice work in Minnesota in preseason.
Jackson won out over Mason Kinsey and defensive back Eric Garror (both are on the practice squad) to likely get the first crack at handling returns for the Titans. Jackson also worked as a kickoff returner in preseason, though it remains to be seen if he will handle both duties against the Saints. There is also the possibility that Kinsey could be a practice squad call-up to be insurance at punt returner for Tennessee.
So, other than the injury to Philips that opened the door, what changed that allowed Jackson to go from potential practice squad candidate to a spot on the regular roster to now likely fielding punts in the Superdome.
Mike Vrabel said it was Jackson’s willingness to listen to the coaching points that the Titans were trying to teach him regarding his techniques and habits from what he had done before in college.
“I think at some point in time Kearis decided to be coached and to work each day and improve and change some behavior and learn multiple positions and then also be consistent catching the football and taking advantage of his opportunities.”
Jackson agreed with that assessment, saying, “You’ve got to listen. I don’t have too much room to be explaining myself or excuses or anything like that. You just take the coaching, and knowing that this is a business and this is an organization and you’ve got to do what they say. Just understanding what I’m getting myself into. I’m trying to be a professional football player. Vrabel, not only has he played in the NFL, but now he’s coaching.”
Vrabel said he didn’t want his explanation on Jackson to be viewed negatively, though. It was just about having accountability and improving in a number of areas.
“It’s not negative. I don’t want to mean it as negative. It’s just that guys that are conscientious, that show up, want to always do the right thing,” Vrabel said. “We understand that there’s going to be mistakes and maybe how they coached it at Georgia or how he learned it or how he thought it maybe wasn’t in line with what we were looking for. So again, it’s just about not making excuses and just having accountability and saying ‘Yeah, that has to be better’ or ‘I see it’ or whatever it may be. He did a nice job.”
Jackson was able to give a couple of examples of things he has worked to change in his game.
“It’s so many things that are very detailed, just like my hand placement on punts,” he said. “At first I was coming in too wide, so I had to make sure I get my hands inside on blocks. That’s one thing with the type of offense we run, we’ve got to be good blockers. And catching the ball in front of your eyes as well, and not doing too many body catches.”
The Titans listed six players on their first injury report of the season with three of them being limited. Outside linebacker Harold Landry was limited with an abdomen. Offensive lineman Dillon Radunz was limited as he is coming off knee surgery, and cornerback Tre Avery was limited due to a hamstring.
Arden Key (calf) was back at practice for the first tim since before the preseason finale against New England. He was a full participant, as were quarterback Will Levis (quad) and receiver Treylon Burks (knee).
The Titans players voted on seven team captains, including one newcomer.
Offensive team captains are quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Derrick Henry and center Aaron Brewer. On defense, safety Kevin Byard, defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons and first-year Titans linebacker Azeez Al Shaair were named captains. Long snapper Morgan Cox is the team’s special teams captain.