NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Entering last year’s training camp, the Tennessee Titans had two seasoned veterans on top of their quarterback depth chart with fifth-year starter Marcus Mariota and newly acquired backup Ryan Tannehill, who had been a starter for the Miami Dolphins for six seasons.
Fast-forward to 2020: Mariota has moved on to the Las Vegas Raiders and Tannehill is the starter in Tennessee. But who will be the No. 2?
Barring any late veteran additions, the competition for the backup spot will come down to second-year QB Logan Woodside — whose next regular-season snap will be his first — and 2020 seventh-round pick Cole McDonald.
“Logan [Woodside] and Cole [McDonald] are going to have every opportunity to fight it out,” Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith said Friday. “I’m excited to see — when we actually get on the field — how much [Woodside] has grown. Obviously, Cole [McDonald], another guy we’re excited to see what he does when he gets in there as well.”
Given Tannehill’s injury history — he has missed 24 games because of injuries since the start of 2016 season — it’s surprising that the Titans would rely on such an inexperienced group for depth.
Woodside, 25, was drafted in the seventh round by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018, but was cut and spent the first three weeks of the 2018 season on the Titans’ practice squad. Then he joined the San Antonio Commanders of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football, where he completed 58.3% of his 192 pass attempts for 1,353 yards along with 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
Woodside rejoined the Titans in 2019 and saw his first NFL preseason action, completing 46 of his 76 pass attempts for 539 yards. He finished with four touchdown passes and didn’t throw an interception in four preseason games.
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An undisclosed injury to his throwing arm resulted in Woodside being placed on injured reserve before last season. It’s safe to say that Woodside has the inside track for the backup job. Titans coach Mike Vrabel likes what he’s seen from Woodside, especially from a preparation standpoint.
Vrabel commended Woodside for staying locked in during the 2019 season by taking part in meetings to install the weekly game plan. He was also impressed with how Woodside met with quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara during the week as if he were going to play on Sundays.
The Titans’ staff wanted to see whether Woodside stayed engaged because at times injured players — especially younger ones — tend to distance themselves during rehab. Woodside exceeded their expectations.
“Logan [Woodside] did a great job last year in the role that he was in,” Smith said. “Obviously, he went on IR, but behind the scenes, he’s in all the meetings, he traveled with us, he was a big help to me during the week. He took on kind of a quasi-quality control role behind the scenes, just dived into the film and the game plan. Pat [O’Hara] did a great job with him at the end of the week. Logan would chart on game day, and he was a big help on the sideline.”
Tannehill credited Woodside for spending hours watching film with him last season and being an extra set of eyes to go over things with on the sideline. The extra work that Woodside put in last season could give him better command of the offense this year.
In Woodside’s mind, last season’s prep work provided an opportunity of a lifetime.
“This has just been my dream ever since I was a little kid, to make an active roster and to be in the NFL, and I used last year — it’s just a great learning atmosphere, being around these coaches, being around the great staff, being around the players that we have,” Woodside said. “Although I couldn’t do it on the field, just trying to really sharpen up mentally and continue to rehab because I knew if I continue to do that, maybe I’ll have another shot at it. And now, here we are. So, it’s really exciting.”
Woodside’s excitement about the 2020 season motivated him to stay in Nashville during the offseason. He took it upon himself to set up throwing sessions with some of the receivers when they were in town. A.J. Brown said he and Woodside were meeting up two or three times per week for throwing sessions.
While knowing the offense is a strength for Woodside, McDonald is a rookie who has to start from square one. McDonald started 24 games at Hawaii and had 4,135 yards passing and 33 touchdown passes last season.
Check out the highlights from NFL draft prospect and former Hawaii QB Cole McDonald.
McDonald’s athletic profile (6-foot-3, 215 pounds, 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash) is comparable to Tannehill’s (6-4, 217 pounds, 4.65-second 40). That bodes well for the rookie from a schematic standpoint because he would present a similar threat in the bootleg passing game.
“McDonald is a guy that has good size, really good athleticism. He ran fast, he moves around, has really good arm strength,” GM Jon Robinson said. “We’ve got to see what Cole [McDonald] has got once these guys get in here and we can work with them.”
McDonald is excited about competing for a spot that was once occupied by Hawaiian native Mariota, whom McDonald has met several times and is a player he looks up to.
“Even before I knew I was going to play for Hawaii or anything, I idolized Marcus, his style of play and how he approached the game and what he brought to it,” McDonald said after the draft. “Hopefully I get some love from Hawaii and even though Marcus was there before me, [hopefully] I can fill those big shoes he left behind. To come to a place he just left, it’s pretty cool.”