The Tennessee Titans are deep in preparation mode. The haunting Buffalo Bills are visiting Nashville for what has the potential to be a season-defining game for the two-tone blue faithful. The Titans are currently one game above .500 and sit comfortably in first place in the AFC South, but have largely failed to meet the expectations they entered 2021 with thus far.
Mike Vrabel and staff have dealt with a variety of injuries throughout the first five weeks of the season, particularly at wide receiver. A.J. Brown has yet to total 50 receiving yards in a single contest. The former Ole Miss standout has been plagued by a hamstring injury and returned to the field on a part-time basis (65.6% of their offensive snaps) in Tennessee's Week 5 win over Jacksonville. Brown's running mate Julio Jones has failed to feature in Tennessee's last two games while dealing with an injury of his own but made his triumphant return to the practice field on Wednesday. The Titans will continue to take a cautious approach with Jones, but all signs currently point to Jones being available on Monday night.
The recent absences of Jones and Brown left the Titans paper-thin at receiver, but they quietly welcomed back an exciting pass-catcher on Sunday that will strengthen the overall depth of the position. Marcus Johnson made his Titans debut and led his unit in snaps with 46. Johnson made the most of his newfound opportunity by totaling a team-high 52 receiving yards on three catches. Johnson's average of 17.3 yards per reception could help the team create the explosive passing plays that have been lacking thus far.
Johnson served as one of Tennessee's most surprising and heartwarming stories throughout July and August. The former undrafted free agent was originally signed as a member of their practice squad back in January of this year. His addition warranted little observation even from local members of the media. But Johnson routinely showcased his abilities throughout training camp and quickly worked his way near the top of Tennessee's depth chart.
Johnson's consistent play in practice caught the attention of his starting quarterback over the summer, who has full trust in his abilities.
Marcus has made some plays," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said during a late-August media scrimmage. "I'm really excited about what he's done. He's shown some big-play ability to go get the football in tight coverage and win in one-on-one situations."
The chemistry built between Tannehill and Johnson was evident in Sunday’s win over Jacksonville. With Brown and Jones nearing full health, the Titans hope they are done navigating through the adversity of fielding receivers without their top-heavy playmakers. But even at full strength, Johnson is their third-best receiver and will continue to see the field in upcoming matches.
If the Titans are to defeat the Bills on Monday night, it will likely be on the backs of their three-headed monster that consists of Derrick Henry, Brown, and Jones. But Johnson is an underrated playmaker that can take advantage of the lack of attention he'll receive as opposing defenses scramble to contain their horses.