When it comes to the Tennessee Titans’ preseason finale Thursday against the New Orleans Saints, veteran safety Chris Hope is more concerned with his body than he is with his body of work.
“I wouldn’t particularly care about playing too much because in football – or any sport – whether it’s a practice or a preseason game, all the hits count,” Hope said. “The stats don’t count. You can get five tackles in a preseason game, your body is going to feel those same five tackles no matter if they count or not.”
Hope and the rest of the Titans’ starting defense have made their brief appearances in the first three games count. They have not allowed a point in the first quarter in any of those contests, and last Saturday at Carolina they had a stretch of five series’ in which they allowed one first down (the result of a penalty) a total of 19 net yards.
“Anytime you play good football on a high level – you’re aggressive, you execute assignments, you’re tacking well, everybody’s running to the ball – that’s something you can always depend on because football doesn’t change,” Hope said. “Most teams that are good, they make few mistakes, they always tackle well and they don’t give up big plays.
“If you can keep those things consistent then you have a chance to be a good team.”
Almost any way you look at it, that’s a good thing. Almost.
If there is a downside to the play of the defense in the preseason, it’s that it has provided little opportunity for the Titans’ to work on kickoff returns.
Of the Titans’ 12 kickoff returns, eight have been by rookie wide receiver Marc Mariani, who primarily has done that job in the second half. Damian Williams (three) and Alvin Pearman (one) have handled the others.
It’s similar to a year ago when Tennessee averaged just under four kickoff returns in its five preseason games. Of course, the Titans finished 29th in the league in kickoff return average in 2009.
“There is a fine line there,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “On one hand you hope you get a lot of opportunities to return kickoffs, but then on the other hand you don’t because you’re not playing well defensively.
“Same thing, you want to cover kicks. Now, we got plenty of opportunities to cover punts last week.”
Tennessee punted eight times in the 15-7 loss at Carolina, but also forced the Panthers to punt seven of its own.
In the preseason, Titans’ opponents have punted a total of 20 times.
The final game before the season-opener, though, is a little more critical when it comes to special teams.
“We have to do two things – we’ve got to continue to get the young guys reps, and we have to also work players at the positions in which they are going to be playing in the regular season,” Fisher said. “… We’ve got a lot of things we need to accomplish special teams-wise.
“We’re going to play hard, we’re going to play a lot of people, we’re going to play the starters and we’ll continue to play guys who are working to earn a spot on this roster.”