TAMPA, Fla. ⏤ That Tennessee Titans QB competition that looked for a while like it had a predetermined outcome in favor of Logan Woodside?
Turns out it might not be so predetermined.
Woodside may still be the Titans’ preferred backup, but he no longer appears to be a bona fide lock for the job after the team chose to rotate him and QB Matt Barkley in its second preseason game, a 34-3 annihilation of Tampa Bay on Saturday.
That approach seemed to indicate that the Titans aren’t completely sold on Woodside being the better choice over Barkley.
A QB CAROUSEL
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The Titans switched quarterbacks every two drives, a total of six times, on Saturday.
“Keeping it consistent with who was in there in the game,” head coach Mike Vrabel said. “There was a certain group of receivers and linemen that you could evaluate them with based on who Tampa had in the game.”
That doesn’t sound like a coach who’s already made up his mind about who he wants to be Ryan Tannehill’s understudy, which seemed to be the case before Sam Ficken delivered Saturday night’s opening kickoff.
If Vrabel’s mind were made up, he likely would have deployed the same strategy as he did in the Titans’ first preseason game, allowing Woodside to play the entire first half and Barkley the second
He could have, then, continued to spread a narrative that Barkley was indeed a legitimate competitor to Woodside all the while knowing that Woodside was a shoo-in for the job.
Instead, he went with a unique and unconventional approach, something Vrabel is rarely afraid to do and for which he deserves to be lauded.
SUCCESS UNDER PRESSURE
That unconventional approach both provided the Titans a chance to see Woodside and Barkley against the same caliber of opposition and put the quarterbacks into high-pressure, high-stress situations.
“Going in every two series, I was just trying to get in a rhythm,” Woodside said. “Obviously, if we had a three-and-out or something, it was tough coming off the field.”
Amidst the challenges, he and Barkley rose to the occasion.
They went tit-for-tat all night, with Barkley throwing two touchdowns and Woodside one. Each made several on-time, accurate throws.
“I thought they both capitalized on the situations that the defense put them in,” Vrabel said.
Barkley, in particular, played very well and likely crept a little bit closer to Woodside’s position in the race for the Titans’ backup job.
The USC product has had a less-than-stellar NFL career, and there’s a reason he was available when the Titans signed him as a free agent earlier in August. His career TD-INT ratio, 11-22, is frightening.
But he’s got a big arm and can make every throw in an NFL offense, which can’t be said of Woodside. He’s also more willing to take risks, which does lead to mistakes, but also a more open offense and less congested line of scrimmage.
Plus, the idea that he is lightyears behind Woodside based on his grasp of the offense is just foolish.
Knowledge of the scheme should only separate a head-to-head battle between players if one of them is particularly deficient in that regard, which Barkley isn’t.
Sure, he’s behind Woodside now, but that’s to be expected when a player has only been with a team for a few weeks as Barkley has with the Titans.
Barkley is a smart veteran player. He’s already made big strides in grasping Tennessee’s offense, and he will achieve a level of comfort before long.
“It’s like speaking a second language,” Barkley said. “It comes with time; just reps. I’m not there yet, but I will be.”
He may not be better than Woodside, but his performance through two weeks of the preseason shows that it’s not crazy to wonder whether he is.
Deciding between Barkley, a mistake-prone backup QB with the ability to make big plays and open up the offense, and Woodside, a mistake-free backup QB with severely limited playmaking capabilities, could wind up being a tough choice for the Titans.
Based on Saturday’s game, it would appear the team hasn’t made that choice just yet.
Cover image: George Walker IV/The Tennessean