Wide receivers Corey Davis, Adam Humphries and Cam Batson, along with tight end MyCole Pruitt, are among the 13 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, dating back to Sept. 24. Davis will be out, and Humphries and Batson -- who both went on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Oct. 2 -- are unlikely to be available.
On top of that, second-year player A.J. Brown missed the past two games because of a bone bruise on his knee. Brown is listed as questionable after being a full participant in practice Saturday. If Brown is unable to go and Davis and Humphries aren't cleared to return, the Titans' starting receivers could be Kalif Raymond and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine -- neither of whom has started an NFL game.
Not having Davis or Humphries against the Bills would be a blow to Tennessee's passing game. Ryan Tannehill has connected with Davis and Humphries 15 times so far this season, which ties them for the most receptions on the team. Batson has two receptions, but he was on the field for 32% of the Titans' offensive snaps.
Perhaps the biggest issue for the Titans will be finding someone to replace Humphries' production from the slot. Humphries has become a security blanket for Tannehill, especially on third downs, when his 75% catch rate helps the team move the chains.
The quarterback has done a solid job getting everyone involved, as shown by the 11 players who have a reception through three games.
"We’re going to be down a few guys, but it also raises a big opportunity for some guys that have been with us," Tannehill said. "We have some young receivers. So, big opportunity for those guys. I have a ton of confidence and we've been with them since training camp, so excited to see what they do on Tuesday."
The rookie Westbrook-Ikhine hasn't made his first reception, but he will get to be more involved in the game plan this week. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver gives Tannehill a big target to look to in the passing game.
Westbrook-Ikhine and Raymond will line up as outside receivers for most reps. Raymond is the sole receiver when Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith looks to generate big plays in the passing game with 13 personnel (1 RB, 1 WR, 3 TEs). Smith dialed up play-action passes twice for 41-yard and 61-yard catches by Raymond to set up touchdowns in the Titans' Week 3, 31-30 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Pruitt's receiving ability is another factor that contributes to the effectiveness of Tennessee's 13 personnel package in the passing game.
#Titans OC Arthur Smith has been very creative finding ways to effectively pass the ball with 13 personnel. Here's one way he set TE MyCole Pruitt up for a red zone TD from Ryan Tannehill. The Titans won't have Pruit this week, so expect to see Geoff Swaim. pic.twitter.com/IiVmieM6QG— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) October 12, 2020
Tight end Geoff Swaim will see his first game action with the Titans in place of Pruitt. Swaim will also have to fill in for Pruitt by lining up in the backfield as an H-back and helping block for Derrick Henry, as Tennessee will also be without fullback Khari Blasingame.
Navigating the roster holes will be difficult, but GM Jon Robinson plans to use practice-squad players to help fill the void.
"That has been a challenge, but it's one of the reasons for the expanded practice-squad roster," Robinson said. "We tell those guys all the time, 'You never know when your number is going to be called. In this environment of pro football and what we're dealing with, those guys have to stay ready, stay vigilant. We'll see how it goes with roster moves to get 48 guys that can get out there."
Expect to see practice-squad receivers Cody Hollister and Chester Rogers added to the active roster. Titans coach Mike Vrabel hinted at the possibility of using some unorthodox ways of coping with a limited roster.
"I know that there will be some guys that’ll have to pull some double duty for us as we prepare and try to give each other a look, mostly the DBs will have to help us out as wide receivers," Vrabel said on Oct. 6. "That's just where we're at, but confident that we'll have the right number of players at each position for the game."
Facing the Bills, one of the NFL's hottest teams, will be more difficult with a short staff -- but the Titans aren't making any excuses.
"We all understand we have a job to do, and this is the circumstances that we've been presented with," Vrabel said.