Preseason opportunity awaits Canadian rookie, others

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at 9:05pm

There’s no question Stefan Charles is built like an NFL player.

He’s 6-foot-5, 323 pounds … and unusually athletic for someone his size.

Now the Tennessee Titans coaches are eager to see how he stacks up to proven NFL players.

When the Titans host the Washington Redskins on Thursday in the preseason opener for both teams most of the starters for each side will be out of action before the end of the first quarter. The majority of playing time will go to those down the depth chart, many of whom have little or no chance to play in the regular season.

It is likely that Charles, a free agent rookie defensive end out of Oshawa, Ontario, won’t have to wait as long as some others for his opportunity. The top-rated prospect in the Canadian Football League draft (he went 10th overall because of his desire to try out for the NFL) almost certainly will see the field in the first half and — to hear defensive coordinator Jerry Gray tell it — might even get some action against some Redskins’ starters.

“Physically he’s a specimen,” Gray said Tuesday. “… Hopefully he’ll get a chance to go in there early, and [we’ll] get a chance to see him go against some good football players. That way he won’t be dominating against guys who aren’t going to be playing on Sunday.

“We need to evaluate him against guys who are going to be playing on Sunday. So we may have to put him in and see if he can hold up.”

A look at five other relative unknowns who figure to have an opportunity to make names for themselves in this contest:

• Michael Preston, wide receiver: He has been with the Titans for the past two seasons, the vast majority of that time on the practice squad although he did have three catches for 42 yards in two appearances late last season.

He lacks the optimal speed but at 6-foot-5, 213 pounds he has legitimate NFL size. Expect him to get plenty of opportunities near the goal line where that size can make a real difference.

“He’s got size — he’s got a trait,” Loggains said. “When you have a trait … [he’s] in the red zone catching fade routes out here on our top corners.”

• Maikon Bonani, kicker: A back issue has kept Rob Bironas out of action for several days, and it makes no sense to push a player of his stature in the first preseason game.

That creates a rare opportunity for Bonani to kick early and often. He is a first-year pro who holds career records for points (319), field goals (69), field goal attempts (91) and field goal percentage (75.8) at South Florida.

“He’s been kicking well out here,” coach Mike Munchak said. “… You want to see someone kick maybe before halftime for a big kick or at the end of the game for a big kick. See how he kicks off in a real game. I would assume that there’s a good chance he will be the kicker Thursday.”

• Jack Doyle, tight end: With Delanie Walker still sidelined by offseason knee surgery, the tight end group includes two veterans, Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson.

Under Loggains, the offense will rely heavily on two-tight end sets. Given that Stevens will be among the first wave of starters pulled, guys like Doyle, an undrafted free agent from Western Kentucky, and Brandon Barden will get ample opportunity as they battle for what figures to be a spot on the practice squad.

“I think [Doyle is] a very football-smart guy,” Loggains said. “I think he has a very high football IQ. … The next step for him is the run blocking, to make sure he can hold up at the point of attack and be physical.”

• Jonathan Willard, linebacker: Interest in the free agent rookie out of Clemson grew dramatically after he helped pull a family from a burning vehicle along I-40 during his trip to town for training camp.

He is likely to be the third in the game at weakside linebacker after starter Zach Brown and special teams ace Tim Shaw, both of whom are proven commodities.

“He’ll rush a little bit,” Gray said. “He’ll get a chance to cover the running back out of the backfield.”

• Jackie Battle, running back: The Titans know him well from last season when he rushed for 69 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns against them. He is a veteran who spent five seasons with Kansas City before he joined the Chargers last year, and for his career he has rushed for 1,026 yards and seven touchdowns.

At 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, he easily is the biggest of the Titans’ running backs.

“The last couple days he really came on,” Loggains said. “We gave him a chance. I think he carried the ball seven or eight straight times Saturday in the mock game. He had a nice day [Monday]. So he continues to build on that. … He’s going to have plenty of opportunities.”