Titans trample Vikings with 281 rushing yards
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Malik Willis rushed for 91 yards and threw a touchdown pass while playing the entire game for Tennessee, and the Titans dominated at the line of scrimmage in a 24-16 preseason victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night.
Rookie Tyjae Spears had a 33-yard touchdown run, Julius Chestnut rushed for 98 yards and a score and the Titans (1-1) racked up 281 yards on the ground to give resting star Derrick Henry a good show.
“Shoutout to the o-line,” Spears said. “They opened it up.”
Willis, the 2022 third-round draft pick, has been vying with rookie Will Levis for the backup role to Ryan Tannehill. Levis was injured Thursday in a joint practice with the Vikings, giving Willis an extended look.
“He did some good things. Obviously, he put the ball in harm’s way, but I saw him progress through. I saw him make some plays when there was time,” Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel said. “I liked his decisiveness and using his athletic ability and committing when he did decide to scramble.”
Playing behind the starting offensive line in the first quarter, Willis was out of sync with his receivers on several throws — tight end Chig Okonkwo had two drops — and finished 10 for 17 for 85 yards. He had a pass intercepted by Troy Dye and fumbled during a sack, with the Titans recovering.
“We just keep staying in front of the sticks," Willis said. "That’s what we didn’t do in the first half.”
Rookie DeWayne McBride had a touchdown run and Greg Joseph made all three of his field goal tries for the Vikings (0-2), who didn't play a single starter.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins, who turned 35 on Saturday, flashed a wide smile as he waved to the crowd after a happy birthday message flashed on the videoboard. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson practiced his touchdown dance, the Griddy. Otherwise this was simply an audition for depth guys and roster hopefuls.
Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell again took the cautious approach by keeping his starters on the sideline, satisfied with two days of intense drills and simulated game situations. He handed the play calling for the second half to offensive coordinator Wes Phillips. Defensive coordinator Brian Flores took some different turns with the strategy too.
“Listen, if we were playing our normal calls then some of these runs aren’t getting off,” O'Connell said. “Our mindset is on September 10th and beyond.”
With Hassan Haskins out, Spears was the next ball carrier up. The third-round draft pick out of Tulane took advantage of his time. He hurdled Lewis Cine and made the second-year safety whiff on his arm tackle attempt on the way to the end zone in the first quarter.
“That was obviously a beautiful sight to see from him,” Chestnut said. “We kept rolling from that.”
Cine, the 2022 first-round draft pick who's coming back from a badly broken leg that cut short his rookie season, contributed a sack later in the game.
“It felt good, but I felt like I've got to be more consistent,” Cine said.
Titans nose tackle Teair Tart, who was kicked out of practice Thursday for throwing a punch at Vikings center Garrett Bradbury, was the only starter who played on defense. Undrafted rookie Caleb Murphy, an outside linebacker from Division II Ferris State, had two sacks.
One of the loudest roars from the crowd came after a video interview with the late Bud Grant, the Hall of Fame head coach who died in March at age 95. The Vikings are honoring Grant, who guided them to four Super Bowl appearances, this season with a jersey patch and other tributes.
Titans: After WR Treylon Burks was sidelined earlier this week, two more WRs suffered knee injuries: Kyle Phillips and Kearis Jackson. Philips, their fifth-round draft pick in 2022, is first in line as the punt returner. Jackson, an undrafted rookie from Georgia, returned one punt and two kickoffs.
Vikings: S Theo Jackson hurt his shoulder on the tackle that saved a touchdown on a 55-yard run by Chestnut, but he was cleared to return. CB Najee Thompson experienced concussion symptoms after a special teams tackle.
Titans: Host New England on Friday night after joint practices with the Patriots on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Vikings: Host Arizona next Saturday night after joint practices with the Cardinals on Wednesday and Thursday.
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