PREVIEW: Titans at Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars are already locked into the number 5 seed in the AFC. Winning their game against the Titans will do nothing for them in playoff terms, but Jacksonville's QB Byron Leftwich is practicing and hopes to get some playing time anyway. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio has to decide whether to play Leftwich or keep him on the sideline. On the other side, Tennessee Titan's QB Steve McNair, who is still beat up, may sit this one out.

Tennessee Titans (4-11) at Jacksonville Jaguars (11-4)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/1/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker

SERIES: 23rd meeting. The Titans lead the series 13-9 and have won six of the past eight meetings, but the Jaguars won 31-28 in Nashville on Nov. 20.

2005 RANKINGS: Titans: offense 14th (25th rush, 9th pass); defense 17th (22nd rush, 17th pass). Jaguars: offense 17th (11th rush, 19th pass); defense 6th (12th rush, 7th pass)

PREDICTION: Jaguars 20-17

KEYS TO THE GAME: The most important thing the Jaguars stand to gain Sunday is determining who will be their quarterback heading into the postseason. QB Byron Leftwich practiced this week and figures to get playing time as coach Jack Del Rio assesses whether to go with him or David Garrard next weekend. Just as important, however, is Jacksonville's resurgent running game behind RB Fred Taylor. The Titans have surrendered an average of 175.7 rushing yards the past three games, and have been particularly vulnerable to cutback runs. Titans QB Steve McNair's status is iffy with a sprained pectoral muscle, but backup Billy Volek is more than capable of leading the offense. The bigger question is how effective RB Chris Brown can be in not only providing balance, but helping to control the clock and keep Tennessee's defense on the sideline.

FAST FACTS: Titans: McNair needs 227 passing yards to break his career high of 3,387 set in 2002. ... Brown needs 149 rushing yards to become third player (Earl Campbell, Eddie George) in franchise history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Jaguars: Have won the past three meetings in Jacksonville. ... Are 8-1 against teams that currently have a losing record.

PERSONNEL NEWS

Titans:

--QB Steve McNair (strained pectoral muscle) missed his second practice in a row Thursday but is holding out hope he can participate Friday and said he wants to finish what he started Sunday in Jacksonville. Even if he starts against the Jaguars, it seems likely Matt Mauck will see some action.
--QB Matt Mauck took all the first-team practice reps on Thursday for the second day in a row. All indications are he will either start in place of an injured Steve McNair (strained pectoral muscle) or get work as the No. 2 QB at Jacksonville.
--QB Billy Volek appears destined to sit out the Titans' season finale at Jacksonville. Steve McNair could play depending on the status of his pectoral muscle strain, but if he can't go or needs to be relieved, Matt Mauck, who took all the first-team reps on Wednesday and Thursday, will get the call.
--RB Travis Henry (ankle) could get a bigger share of the workload against the Jaguars, because even though he's dinged up, Chris Brown's shoulder and ankle problems kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday.
--RB Chris Brown is likely to play Sunday, in large part so the Titans can say he made it through a 16-game season without missing a game because of injury. But he's been forced out of a couple of games early and didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday because of shoulder and ankle problems.
--WR Tyrone Calico won't play at Jacksonville after straining his left hamstring against Miami. His absence should create more opportunity for rookie Courtney Roby and newcomer Bobby Wade.

Jaguars:

--QB Byron Leftwich practiced Thursday for the second straight day without any setbacks and seems likely to play Sunday against Tennessee, although he may split time with David Garrard.
--QB David Garrard split snaps with Byron Leftwich in practice Thursday and may split snaps with him in the game.
--DE Reggie Hayward missed practice for the second consecutive day Thursday and could be held out of Sunday's game against Tennessee.
--RB Derrick Wimbush was added to the injury report as questionable with a hand injury. He didn't practice Thursday.
--WR Jimmy Smith returned to practice Thursday with a rib injury. He was downgraded from probable to questionable, but that was only because Titans coach Jeff Fisher listed all of his players as questionable, prompting Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio to do the same.
--G Vince Manuwai returned to practice Thursday after sitting out practice Wednesday. He was downgraded from probable to questionable, but that was only because Titans coach Jeff Fisher has all of his players listed as questionable, prompting Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio to do the same.
--G Chris Naeole practiced Thursday for the second straight day with a shoulder injury. He was downgraded from probable to questionable, but that was only because the Titans listed all of their injured players as questionable, prompting Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio to do the same.
--RB Greg Jones remained questionable with a neck injury for the second straight day, but he practiced Wednesday and Thursday.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Titans:

Plenty of Titans are eager for the season to wind down.

Defensive back Tony Beckham is at the top of the list.

A fourth-round draft pick in 2002, Beckham never really seized the opportunities that arose for him. He started the season ahead of Pacman Jones after the rookie's lengthy training camp holdout, then platooned a bit before losing out entirely.

Reduced to special teams action, last week he didn't even dress as the Titans continued to get a look at rookie Marcus Randall, a college quarterback converted to safety, on special teams.

"What can you do?" Beckham said. "What am I going to protest for, it is still their team. I am still going to be sitting out with a T-shirt on. Hey, I'm just happy to be in the NFL. I'm blessed, I'm still collecting checks, that's about it."

He's not expecting to play this Sunday at Jacksonville as well.

"I am not on anything (in practice), so I know I'm not playing," Beckham said. "I'm just going to get my tan on. I don't need no tan, but I am going to get one."

Jaguars:

Quarterback Byron Leftwich's demeanor was much more positive Thursday than it was Wednesday.

He now seems ready to return to the field Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

Leftwich seemed pensive and almost worried Wednesday before he took the practice field for the first time since breaking his left ankle on Nov. 27 at Arizona.

His mood changed dramatically Thursday after he was able to practice twice without suffering any setbacks.

"I didn't know what to expect Wednesday. I didn't want to tell you I'm OK or I'm not OK because I really didn't know," he said to explain why he seemed so downbeat Wednesday.

Now he knows.

"Everything went OK," he said. "There were no setbacks, which was huge. I woke up this morning and lifted my ankle out of bed and wondered how the first step was going to feel. It felt OK. That was a big thing for me. We're heading in the right direction. I'm happy for that. But I've still got some work to do."

Leftwich, who shared snaps with David Garrard, said he was better in the Thursday practice than in the Wednesday practice.

And he got rave reviews from wide receiver Jimmy Smith, who said, "He looked great. He hasn't missed a beat. He was throwing well. It was probably good for him because he's rested and he looked sharp. He's bouncing around out there. As bad as it was to have the injury, it's going to turn out to be a good thing for the team."

Leftwich was in such a good mood that he could laugh when he was asked if he's more toned after keeping himself in shape with upper body exercise.

"I'll never be on the cover of a magazine with my shirt off. That's just me," he said as he laughed.

Leftwich sounded like a player ready to return to action Sunday against Tennessee, but he referred all questions about whether he'll play to coach Jack Del Rio.

Since Del Rio doesn't meet with reporters on Thursdays, Del Rio will address those questions Friday.

But since Leftwich seemed so upbeat, he'll probably play. He seems likely to split time with Garrard.

If Leftwich looks good, he'll probably start the team's first playoff game next week.

In one other development, the Jaguars downgraded five players from probable to questionable on their injury report, including two, Smith and guard Vince Manuwai, who returned to practice Thursday after not practicing Wednesday.

This had more to do with Del Rio's latest gamesmanship ploy with Titans coach Jeff Fisher than it did with their injuries. Fisher put all of his players on his injury report as questionable on Wednesday, so Del Rio had all of his players questionable on Thursday except for Paul Spicer, who is listed as out.

The Titans usually list all their players as questionable, but the difference is that the Titans allow reporters to watch practice so they can see how much work each player gets in practice. The Jaguars only allow reporters to watch the first 30 minutes of practice, which is mandated by the league.


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