Titans, Jaguars tweak receiving corps for prime-time game
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles are throwing to some different targets these days.
Mariota will be without his top receiver, veteran Kendall Wright, for the third consecutive week when Tennessee plays at Jacksonville on Thursday night. Wright is sidelined with a sprained ligament in his left knee.
Adding to the team’s wideout woes, Justin Hunter was placed on injured reserve Monday with a fractured right ankle.
Without Wright and Hunter, the Titans (2-7) will have Harry Douglas, Dorial Green-Beckham and Rico Richardson as their three main receivers. That trio has 29 catches among them this season. The fourth will be either Tre McBride, a seventh-round pick signed off the practice squad, or Andrew Turzilli, who was with Tennessee in camp and signed off San Francisco’s practice squad Tuesday.
“I was with them throughout the entire rookie minicamp, through OTAs,” said Mariota, who has 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions in three road starts. “So if their number is called, those guys will be ready. We’ll expect good things out of them.”
The Jaguars (3-6), meanwhile, have two guys back in the mix at the position.
Second-year pro Marqise Lee returned last week after missing five games because of a nagging hamstring injury, and rookie Rashad Greene was expected to be activated from short-term injured reserve. Greene sat out seven games after tearing ligaments in his left thumb, but has practiced in full for two weeks.
Lee and Greene should complement Jacksonville’s dynamic starting duo of Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, who have combined for the most touchdowns (14) of any wide receiver tandem in the NFL this season.
“The positive is they are coming back, so we have a chance now to spread the ball around a little bit more,” Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “We feel good about the playmakers that we have. The ones that are coming back now have a chance to contribute. We’re just excited that they’re back and ready to play.”
Hurns missed practice Monday while visiting a sports hernia specialist in Philadelphia, but he was full go Tuesday and is expected to play. Hurns, who also played through foot and ankle injuries this season, has a touchdown catch in a franchise-record seven consecutive games. It’s the longest current streak in the NFL.
“He’s going to play,” Robinson said. “He’s done this before. It’s something he’s been going through the whole year. He’s going to play. I’m pretty confident with that. He’s as tough as they come.”
Some more things to know about the Titans and Jaguars heading into a prime-time game featuring the bottom two teams in the woeful AFC South:
PLAYOFF PUSH: Both teams are alive in the division. Jacksonville trails Houston and Indianapolis by a game, and Tennessee is two games back. With the Titans and Jags both 0-2 in the AFC South, though, the loser Thursday could be in trouble. “We’re all still kind of right there for this time of the year,” Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey said. “It’s not by any means that we’re out of the picture for this division. Our guys know that. They know where we sit. We’ve got to win this one before we can worry about anything else.”
MULARKEY RETURNS: Mularkey’s return to Jacksonville has been a story line all week. Mularkey was Jaguars head coach in 2012. He was fired after a 2-14 season in which the Jags lost eight games by 16 or more points and unraveled down the stretch. Six players remain on Jacksonville’s roster from that year.
SACK TIME: The Titans are coming off a five-sack performance against Carolina, their most this season and the most the Panthers had allowed in a game in 2015. Linebacker Brian Orakpo has been leading the way lately, and he now has at least a sack in three straight games. The Titans rank second in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt. The Jaguars, meanwhile, have yielded 28 sacks.
PROTECTING MARIOTA: Mariota has been sacked just once in the last two games. The improved protection comes after Mularkey changed up the offensive line, moving left guard Byron Bell back to right tackle and inserting Joe Looney into the lineup.
BOLD RUSH: The teams will wear “color rush” uniforms for the game, with the Titans clad in light blue jerseys, pants, socks and shoes, and the Jaguars donning an all-gold ensemble. Colorblind viewers watching the Bills-Jets game last week complained that the solid uniforms were hard to distinguish from each other.