NFL Preseason Preview - Tennessee (0-1) at Tampa Bay (1-0)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Jake Locker is set to make his first-ever start at the NFL level. If it goes well, it could be the first of many for the Tennessee Titans' young quarterback this season.
When Locker leads the Titans' offense out on the field for the team's Week 2 preseason clash with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, he'll have the opportunity to separate himself from veteran incumbent Matt Hasselbeck in the tightly contested battle to be Tennessee's main man under center. Head coach Mike Munchak announced on Monday that the 2011 first-round draft pick would begin Friday's contest and run around 20-to-25 plays, with Hasselbeck taking over afterward.
Locker may have nudged slightly ahead in the race with a solid showing in the Titans' 27-17 loss at Seattle last Saturday, with the 24-year-old completing 7-of-13 passes for 80 yards over three second-quarter drives. Hasselbeck, on the other hand, threw two interceptions -- one of which was returned for a touchdown -- while hitting on 5-of-9 attempts for 45 yards in the longtime Seahawk's first appearance against his former team since joining Tennessee as a free agent prior to the 2011 season.
Chris Johnson also struggled for the Titans in his 2012 debut, with the big- play running back managing just eight yards on five carries and dropping a pair of passes. Rookie wide receiver Kendall Wright was impressive, however, with Tennessee's first-round choice in April's draft hauling in all three of his targets for a team-best 47 yards.
Reserve running back/return specialist Darius Reynaud turned out to be the Titans' star of the night, accounting for both Tennessee touchdowns with a 21- yard run and an 85-yard kick return.
Wright will draw a second straight starting assignment in place of the oft- injured Kenny Britt, who will miss at least two more weeks while recovering from multiple knee surgeries.
The revamped Buccaneers will be attempting to build off a good effort in their initial outing under new head coach Greg Schiano, a 20-7 road victory over Miami this past Friday, and resume a close competition of their own at the running back position.
LeGarette Blount, Tampa Bay's leading rusher the last two seasons, is trying to hold off a challenge from rookie first-round selection Doug Martin for his spot on the depth chart. Both backs performed pretty well against the Dolphins, with Blount rushing for 30 yards and a touchdown on seven carries and Martin amassing 21 yards and a score on his seven attempts.
Quarterback Josh Freeman was sharp out of the gates for the Bucs, connecting on 4-of-5 passes for 41 yards and leading the offense on a 13-play, 59-yard drive on his only series. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson, the club's most notable free-agent acquisition during the offseason, did not have a catch in his Tampa intro, however.
Another highly-regarded Buccaneers rookie, linebacker Lavonte David, came up with an interception in Friday's win. The second-round selection is part of a modified defense that also includes 2012 No. 7 overall pick Mark Barron, who's been cleared to start at safety for this week's matchup after sitting out the Miami game with a sprained toe.
Cornerback Aqib Talib, also held out last week due to a sore hamstring, is expected to suit up as well for Tampa Bay, though starting left tackle Donald Penn (calf), wide receiver Arrelious Benn (knee), defensive end Da'Quan Bowers (Achilles) and corner E.J. Biggers (broken foot) remain sidelined.
Tampa Bay has taken six of the eight all-time preseason meetings between these franchises and had won four straight in the series prior to a 27-20 loss in Nashville in 2009. The Buccaneers and Titans also went head-to-head during Week 12 of last year's regular season, with Tennessee claiming a 23-17 home decision.
08/15 09:50:09 ET