Making sense of Tennessee Titans' wide receiver situation — and whether Kyle Philips is legit | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine is coming up in the world.

When the Tennessee Titans traveled to Baltimore for Thursday’s preseason game against the Ravens, Westbrook-Ikhine did not. That’s a training-camp status normally reserved for stars like Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill, not a third-year receiver who wasn’t drafted out of college and had to scratch and fight to make it in this league.

Looks like he has made it now.

“Yeah, it's different, for sure,” said Westbrook-Ikhine, answering in a predictable fashion, one that hints at how he did make it:

“But I've still got a lot to prove – in my head.”

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (15) shares a laugh with teammates during a training camp practice at Ascension Saint Thomas Sports Park Saturday, July 30, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn.

I can’t tell if Westbrook-Ikhine’s upgraded status is a result of his own play or the shakiness of the Titans’ receivers overall. Probably a little of both, honestly, as NWI is one of few certainties in the unit.

You’ve got Robert Woods doing Robert Woods things on and off the field, yet he is still recovering from a knee injury.

Racey McMath has been trending up. Dez Fitzpatrick has not.

One big bonus is that fifth-round rookie Kyle Philips has been uncoverable for much of camp. During Saturday’s practice, he beat a few DBs off the line so rapidly with quick feet that it elicited an audible response from onlookers and teammates. It’s too early for hype like this, but I can’t help but wonder if Philips is about to embarrass the rest of the NFL for letting him slip so far in the draft.

Westbrook-Ikhine, too, has been there.

Cleaning out my notebook from another week

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Treylon Burks (16) pulls in a catch during a training camp practice at Ascension Saint Thomas Sports Park Saturday, July 30, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn.

1. Checking on Burks: And then there is the other rookie receiver: First-round pick Treylon Burks, who played a lot Thursday and produced very little. Some of that had to do with the quarterbacks being able to make throws and take advantage.

“You can't control when you get the ball,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Saturday of Burks. “All you can do is worry about getting open. There were times that he was open. It's just when you look at the whole body of work – we talked about it – he realizes it has to be better.”—

I've said it before. Will say it again. I love Burks' ability and potential, but he's a rookie. There will be more bumps and inconsistencies for him this season.

“When my opportunity comes,” Burks said, “like Coach Vrabel said, 'Just go attack it.' So that's what I'm going to do.”

Tennessee Titans cornerback Kristian Fulton (26) runs through drills during a training camp practice at Ascension Saint Thomas Sports Park Saturday, July 30, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn.

2. Checking on Fulton: The Titans have fewer concerns and questions defensively, but I’ll raise one: What was cornerback Kristian Fulton doing out there in Thursday’s game? While nearly all key starters on defense sat out, Fulton’s 16 snaps were the biggest surprise of the evening to me. I mean, you’re talking about the likely CB1.

I feel as though I must use that subtle qualifier – "likely" – because when I asked Vrabel about Fulton, his answer didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the player's preseason thus far. Or in Fulton's performance in Baltimore, for that matter.

“I think his best work has been most recent in training camp as far as the practices,” Vrabel said Friday. “Wanted to try to continue that. I don’t know if that was necessarily the case (in Baltimore). It wasn’t terrible. But I think that we hold him to a high standard.”

3. The run game: Running back Julius Chestnut was the Titans' leading rusher Thursday, rumbling for 44 yards on seven carries. If you took away a 29-yard run, however, he would have had 15 yards on six carries, slightly worse than Hassan Haskins (six for 19 yards). Haskins (24) and Jordan Wilkins (21) also had more offensive snaps in the game.

And for what it's worth, Dontrell Hilliard didn't even play, though it's unclear if that was because of injury or not.

4. One more stat: Malik Willis was 6-of-11 passing Thursday night, while Logan Woodside was 14-of-24. That is 13 more passes, even though Willis played only two fewer snaps than Woodside. It's because Willis was too reluctant to cut passes loose. Woodside left the door open slightly in the backup QB discussion by throwing a couple of picks, but after the first preseason game, I'd still say it's a longshot to think Willis will play or back up Tannehill as a rookie this season.

Snap counts that stood out

Going over some individual snap counts from the Ravens game (these are only offensive or defensive plays):

LB Chance Campbell (48): Most on the team, and it's not even counting his 19 special teams snaps (also a team-high). Sure seems as though the Titans like what they've got in this late-round middle linebacker. Good timing, too, with Monty Rice still working through whatever has sidelined him thus far in training camp. UDFA rookie Jack Gibbens (45 snaps) is in a similar category as Campbell.

WR Treylon Burks (30): Highest among all WRs except one. It's understandable that the Titans would want to get the rookie a lot of work, even if it also indicated that he hasn't solidified himself yet as one of the rotation's top options. On the flip side, Burks was able to stay out there for 30 snaps.

OT Nicholas Petit-Frere (28): The Titans wanted to get a good evaluation of Petit-Frere, who played both tackle spots and is competing to start on the right side.

WR Dez Fitzpatrick (27): He was out there early and often. It appears Fitzpatrick has work to do to lock down a roster spot in Year 2.

CB Caleb Farley (24): That sounds about right. Just enough to shake off some rust, but not too much for a player who'll likely start.

TE Chig Okonkwo (23): Most of any tight end, and that's not even counting the 15 more snaps he got on special teams. It makes high numbers for Burks and Petit-Frere less conspicuous on a night in which the Titans were eager to get rookies on the field.

WR Racey McMath (8): He was productive when he was out there, too, including on special teams. Starting to get that "We've seen enough" vibe about McMath with those eight snaps.

OT Dillon Radunz (7): It was an encouraging sign for him that he played the same amount of snaps as Aaron Brewer and 21 fewer than Petit-Frere. Note, however, that when practices started back Saturday, Radunz was still splitting reps at RT with Petit-Frere.

WR Kyle Philips (3): The rookie who didn't play much. Philips' discrepancy with snap counts for Burks and Okonkwo was extreme. That speaks quite well for where Philips stands roster-wise, as does the fact he was returning punts.

RB/WR Trenton Cannon (3): I've been intrigued by this guy as kind of a hybrid skill player. Thought we'd see more of him, honestly.

And one last note: Receiver Mason Kinsey (46) played a dozen more snaps than anyone else on offense. I don't really know what that means, but I found it interesting.

Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at gestes@tennessean.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.