COVID-19 questions still loom for Titans, as they do their best to prepare

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans look lined up to host the Steelers Monday, maybe Tuesday night at Nissan Stadium after a delay caused by four player and five staff positive COVID-19 tests in what would have been a regular week following their road win in Minnesota.

But questions still loom, and a new batch of bad test results Thursday morning or later could still force the league to alter its path no matter how badly it wants to stick to Week 4’s schedule, even if it pushes the boundaries of it.

BrinkleyTampa

While initial reports said everyone was asymptomatic, Mike Vrabel said some are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

He was unimpressed with the NFL’s level of concern with the human element of the whole situation. [Unlocked]

“I guess I would have liked to (have) heard from the league about how those individuals are feeling,” Vrabel said via Zoom from his home. “Again, there's a personal side of this that sometimes we look past. We want to make sure when we're going to play the games, and that protocols are being followed, but I think that there's a personal side of this about those individuals that did indeed test positive.”

Outside of some trainers and players in need of rehabilitation who are following extra precaution and are together there only in small numbers, Titans' headquarters is closed.

The Titans won’t get much practice work, if any, on their game plan and on a couple of very notable areas:

  • Ty Sambrailo preparing to replace Taylor Lewan, who will presumably miss the game with a shoulder injury suffered against the Vikings.
  • A newcomer who has likely not even met holder Brett Kern or kicker Stephen Gostkowski working as the long snapper for Beau Brinkley, one of the four players on COVID-Reserve.
  • Getting the operation running without Shane Bowen and a few additional coaches, who are among the five staff members who tested positive. We do not yet know who they are.

“We're confident that when we are allowed back in the building that the league will give us ample time to practice, Vrabel said. “We've worked on short weeks before. We've played three games in 13 days. I’m sure the other team that we've played before has had a few extra days of practice. And so it'll be important that the time that we do get to spend practicing, we take advantage of it.”

“I think we'll be able to practice. We've had weeks where we've had to walk through because of injuries. We're not going to use that as any sort of excuse going in. We'll be ready. We'll be focused. But I don't know what to tell you, I don’t. We're going to just proceed with how we have to do things, and this is the way we have to function and operate.

Vrabel has pulled things off in odd injury circumstances before and his team trusts him.

He’s instilled guys with the right mentality for an occasion like this, though mentality may simply not prove to be enough for a team that’s not played great while managing a 3-0 record against bad teams. The talented Steelers are also 3-0, also against bad teams. They have been practicing as usual.

“It's definitely going be a test,” Ryan Tannehill said. “Obviously, we didn't choose to be in this situation but it’s the hand we're dealt. I think we have mentally strong guys who are up to the task at hand. We have to be able to prepare for a game in an unusual situation, doing it virtually, not getting the practice reps that we're used to.

“But at the end the day, we have to get ourselves ready to go play a game and go play well against a really good team. A difficult task at hand, but I'm excited for the challenge and I know our guys will do what it takes to get ready to play.”

To surprise everyone and win with uneven preparation and without Brinkley, DaQuan Jones and low-ranking Kamalei Corre,  the Titans will need big games from their big guns, so the spotlight for me will be especially bright on Derrick Henry, Tannehill and Jeffery Simmons.

But the snapper and a run-stopper beside Simmons like Jack Crawford or Larrell Murchison or Matt Dickerson will also have to show up and not be a liability.

Kevin Byard said the Titans were looking to find the positives in being super-fresh rather than lamenting the negatives of not having their regular Wednesday-Thursday-Friday practice week. Friday is the lightest workday of the week as a team tapers down, but it still gets in important situational work on things like 2:00 drives and goal-line defense.

For a Monday night game, Friday becomes Saturday.apple icon 144x144 precomposed

For a Tuesday night game, Thursday becomes Saturday and Friday becomes Sunday.

“When you’re looking at a week of work, obviously it starts in the film, we start our mornings in the meetings, in the film,” Byard said. “We want to be able to take what we learned on the field.

“We might not be able to do that, we may be able to get only one look at it on the field. Obviously, I think for some veteran guys, a lot of times, if you get the film, get the game plan, because most of us know the defense we can go out and perform.”

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