comscore Titans leaning on rookie Green-Beckham, Hunter this season
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Titans leaning on rookie Green-Beckham, Hunter this season

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  • Tennessee Titans wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (17) works to make a catch while he warms up during an NFL game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga. on Aug. 14. (Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)
    Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Marcus Cooper (31) breaks up a pass intended for Tennessee Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter (15) during the second half of a preseason NFL football game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., on Aug. 28.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. » The Tennessee Titans are counting heavily on rookie wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and Justin Hunter.

And there’s little room for error.

Green-Beckam is making his NFL debut Sunday in Tampa Bay and Hunter has 46 combined catches in two seasons — and they make up half the receiving corps after the Titans chose to keep only four wide receivers. That’s the fewest since this franchise moved to Tennessee in 1997.

Veterans Kendall Wright and Harry Douglas are the Titans’ starters, but coach Ken Whisenhunt said the young receivers are important pieces for the offense.

"We’re counting on them to do that," Whisenhunt said. "They’ve both shown us things during the preseason that you can get excited about. A lot of this, I’m counting on those guys to do that for us."

After strong preseason performances by tight ends Chase Coffman and Phillip Supernaw, the Titans kept both along with Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens and free agent signee Anthony Fasano.

That makes the Titans the first NFL team to start a season with more tight ends (five) than wide receivers (four) since 2010, according to STATS LLC. That season the Jets had four tight ends and three receivers, while the Indianapolis Colts had five tight ends and four receivers on their opening rosters.

"I’m comfortable going with four. That’s the best four and we’ll be fine," receivers coach Shawn Jefferson said. "If one guy gets a little winded, I can plug another guy in, and there’s no drop-off."

To make this work, the Titans need both Green-Beckham and Hunter must be consistent contributors for both the offense and rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota is to blossom.

Green-Beckham, seen as a possible first-round draft pick, fell to the second round after being dismissed at Missouri in April 2014 due to off-field issues. He sat out last season at Oklahoma after his transfer appeal was denied. The 6-foot-5, 237-pound rookie caught seven passes for 93 yards this preseason, and he understands the Titans are counting on him.

"So I’ve got to go out there and make plays whenever my number is called," Green-Beckham said. "With just having four guys, everybody is playing. All four of us are going to be in the game a whole lot. And what if an injury happens? Boom! You’ve got to go out there and know what you’re doing."

Mariota likes Green-Beckham’s potential.

"In a couple of those preseason games, he made a huge impact," Mariota said. "When you have a receiver that can make that sort of difference in the game, it makes your offense a lot more versatile. And as we continue to go forward, DGB will continue to get better, and he’ll make this offense that much more."

Hunter, a player the Titans traded up to draft in the second round in 2013, is the bigger question mark. He has shown flashes his first two seasons but caught just 28 receptions for 498 yards in 12 games a year ago for the Titans.

"The training wheels are off for Justin," Jefferson said. "He’s good to go. He’s got to go. The only young guy is DGB, and he’s been learning from the veteran guys."

Notes: Nose tackle Sammie Hill will not play against Tampa Bay after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Sept. 2. The Titans listed starting cornerback Jason McCourty, who had groin surgery Aug. 24 and has not practiced this week, as doubtful. Starting cornerback Perrish Cox (hip) was limited for a second straight practice and is questionable along with RB Antonio Andrews (hamstring). C Andy Gallik (illness) practiced fully and is probable.

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