By Ron Wynn
After narrowly losing their second preseason game last week on a field goal at the horn, the Tennessee Titans were on the positive end of a close score Saturday night. They edged the Chicago Bears 14-13 on a game winning play from an unexpected source. The hero was a seventh-round pick who became a media darling after the game. Tommie Campbell didn’t graduate from an elite university or come with a big profile. Before he enrolled at small college California (Pa.), he was a janitor at the Pittsburgh International Airport for six months last year. He was in the game late alongside other reserves. It looked like the Titans were on their way to another preseason loss where their offense had been unable to score for long stretches. But when second-string Bears QB Caleb Hanie overthrew an open receiver near the goal line
Campbell broke on the ball. He caught it in stride and returned it for a 90-yard touchdown. His play helped salvage a lackluster night for the Titans offense, and put him in position to make the team as a special teams player. “I have to continue to progress,” Campbell said in assessing his chances of making the team. “I could go out there next week and get beat eight times and then what?” “It was exciting,” coach Mike Munchak added. “When he caught it, with his speed it is like watching (Chris Johnson) – he is gone. That is the beauty of that kid when we drafted him.” Campbell was one of many Titans defenders that had solid games as they held the Bears to one touchdown and two field goals. They were also fortunate Bears kicker Robbie Gould clanked a 29-yarder off the goal post in the first half, and that the Bears failed to capitalize on other possessions. But some of that was due to Titans defensive line pressure and coverage in key situations.
“The guys told me I needed to work on my celebrations,” Campbell added. “But it was my first time scoring in the NFL, and in college you can’t do celebration. It was my first celebration since playing street football.” Campbell adopted the high-stepping antics popularized by Deion Sanders about 20 yards from the end zone. Another player who had a solid defensive game was tackle Derrick Marks, who had missed the first two preseason contests. Marks had two tackles and seemed comfortable. “I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to do,” Marks said. “I felt pretty explosive.” Not many offensive players were touting their performance. Perhaps the one who most seriously damaged his starting chances was receiver Damian Williams. Williams and Nate Washington have gotten most of the first-team minutes this preseason as Kenny Britt continues to rehab his injured hamstring. Saturday Williams had an awful game. He was criticized in the first quarter for cutting off a pass route to avoid the free safety. That only caused an incomplete pass. Then Williams added to his woes with two dropped pass and a holding penalty. Both drops would have kept Titans’ drives alive. “I didn’t have my best performance tonight,” Williams said. “I’m not quite sure what it was. I don’t know if I was trying to get upfield or if I just plain dropped them. But one thing I do know about myself is that I’ll watch some film and I’ll be ready.”
Williams wasn’t the sole offensive Titan with problems. The team only gained five yards and had zero first downs during the first quarter. They scored one offensive touchdown for the second straight game. Jamie Harper, projected as the thirdstring running back but currently the starter, gained 36 years on 13 carries with a nine-yard touchdown run. The Bears did a good job stopping the run, particularly in the first half where the Titans gained only 41 yards on the ground.
Starting QB Matt Hasselbeck played deep into the third quarter. He was 12 of 22 for 135 yards, but was hurt by multiple drops of good passes. “I know the fans want to see a big show but it doesn’t come overnight,” Nate Washington commented. “We started off slow,but we got on the same page. We’ll continue to work and get things done.” Bears QB (and former Vandy star) Jay Cutler was 13 of 21 for 170 yards and one interception. The Bears also converted five of seven third downs in the first half, something that has been a point of emphasis for the Titans defense all preseason. “The Bears came out and really tried to move the ball,” Michael Griffin said. “I think eventually we settled down and started to get things turned around.”
The Titans lost another defensive lineman when end Jacob Ford suffered a hamstring strain as the first half ended. He joins Jason Jones and Derrick Morgan (both out with knee injuries) among defenders on the sidelines, though Jones and Morgan could possibly play in the preseason finale. Monday the Titans made some cuts toward finalizing their roster at 53 by Saturday afternoon. They released safety Nick Schommer, quarterback Brett Ratliff, fullback Patrick Hill, receiver Owen Spencer, long snapper John Stokes, punter Chad Cunningham, linebackers Kevin Malast and Jonathan Cornell, and most notably former Vandy mainstay defensive tackle Jovan Haye.
“It caught me (the release) off-guard,” Haye said. “You are running with the ones and I thought I was starting to play well. But they said they wanted to go a different route, they wanted to go younger. I feel like those guys are talented – they are going to be good pros. I am happy to see them succeed. I was just hoping to be a part of that group.” Haye added coach Munchak didn’t sugarcoat or obscure why he was being cut. “He didn’t blow no smoke. He just laid everything on the line, said what he had to say and I said what I had to say. We kept it professional and kept it moving. This is not the first time I’ve been released. Everyone’s career is a little different. My career is I happened to play on a few teams and I always said I didn’t think the Titans would be my last stop.” Hoye has been with the Titans since 2009, playing with Carolina and Tampa Bay before signing with Tennessee.
It’s also apparent that barring a surprise breakthrough holdout Chris Johnson won’t be joining the team anytime soon. He was placed on the Reserve/Did Not Report List Monday. The Titans play the Saints in New Orleans Thursday night before opening the regular season Sept. 11 in Jacksonville.