TAMPA, Fla. – On a night when he didn’t play, Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill contributed with timely motivation for his understudy.
Or as Logan Woodside deemed it, “a good talking-to at halftime” to curb his frustration.
“To keep my head up and get ready to play the second half,” said Woodside.
While obviously the Titans’ preeminent quarterback, Tannehill wasn’t during Saturday’s 34-3 preseason thumping of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And here’s the thing: Neither was Woodside. He shared the role with Matt Barkley.
That was the Titans’ plan all along. Each would get two possessions and then give way to the other, a clear shift from last week’s preseason opener in which Woodside was clearly the top quarterback in the first half.
As unexpected as it was to see Barkley jog out for the Titans’ third possession of the game, more interesting was what happened once he did.
Zip. Barkley to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for 18 yards.
Zip. Barkley to Chester Rogers for 13 yards.
Zip. Barkley to Rogers again for 9 more yards.
Then the Titans went for a fourth-and-1 at Tampa’s 5-yard line – and opted to throw. Barkley rolled out and tossed a touchdown to Mekhi Sargent.
A brief tangent: Someone needs to convince me why Sargent, an undrafted free agent with 136 rushing yards in two preseason games, isn’t the second-best running back on the Titans’ roster at this point.
Someone also needs to convince me that Woodside is a slam-dunk No. 2 quarterback for the Titans.
After Saturday’s game, I no longer believe that he is.
This is now a legit competition – one that appears to be narrowing. Some of that is Barkley stepping up and quickly getting comfortable in this offense.
Some of that, too, is on Woodside. After he threw a pair of sloppy interceptions in the final stages of Thursday’s joint practice with the Buccaneers, the Titans opted to rotate Barkley equally Saturday, allowing the quarterbacks to be evaluated with the same supporting cast and against the same competition.
“It was encouraging,” Barkley said. “I am confident in who I am as a thrower and a passer and a quarterback. So just to be able to show this staff that I can help this team win and show Ryan I can be an extra set of eyes for him as well, hopefully that was conveyed tonight.”
Woodside admitted he was frustrated at halftime. He’d started slowly, but he wasn’t terrible. He led a nice second-half touchdown drive, capped by a 23-yard scoring pass to Dez Fitzpatrick.
After Woodside’s touchdown, Barkley returned and matched it with a 20-yard touchdown strike to Mason Kinsey.
Barkley was 12-for-16 passing for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Woodside was 7-for-8 for 64 yards and one touchdown. Edge to Barkley, which won’t make the next week any simpler for Woodside or for coaches having to figure out how to split reps at a position that is too important for how little the Titans have prioritized it lately.
How important? Trading for Tannehill as backup quarterback was Jon Robinson’s best move as Titans general manager. It saved the Titans’ 2019 season and put the franchise onto its current trajectory as a serious AFC contender.
And yet, since Marcus Mariota departed, the Titans haven’t done much to replace him. They grabbed the next man up in Woodside and handed him the role hoping – not knowing – he’d be good enough despite a lack of experience at this level.
While the Titans backed Woodside publicly, they kept bringing in discarded NFL quarterbacks to try to replace him. Barkley was the latest to enter a never-ending “competition” behind Tannehill.
Barkley wasn’t all that formidable a choice. Since entering the NFL in 2013 after his career at Southern Cal, he has played in only 19 games – with seven starts. He has thrown 22 interceptions to 11 touchdowns and is coming off a three-year stint on the Buffalo Bills’ sideline.
There’s nothing in Barkley’s past that would guarantee he’s better than Woodside.
But Woodside’s credentials are even shakier, and the Titans have known that for a while. They’ve been banking on a backup quarterback they’d released twice before.
They made Woodside the incumbent in this race, last year’s backup who’d naturally be expected to keep the job. He has all the advantages of familiarity with the Titans’ team and system. Yet somehow the new guy has shown up and managed to catch him in a couple of weeks when, really, it shouldn’t be that close.
The fact this is even debatable after two preseason games, while good for Barkley, is bad for the Titans.
They still don’t have their backup quarterback, and while it’s only a minor problem now, it could become a major one at a moment’s notice.
That No. 1 quarterback who is so good at pep talks, the Titans better hope he stays healthy so he doesn’t have to keep giving any.
Reach Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.