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 »This Week in History
Tennessee Titans
INSIDE SLANT

  Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

  Vrabel new head coach of Titans

The Tennessee Titans got a taste of the playoffs this season beating the Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card game before losing in an AFC divisional game to New England.

On Jan. 22, the Titans got a taste of what new head coach Mike Vrabel expects, and just making the playoffs is not the goal.

The three-time Super Bowl winner was introduced and talked about building the team the right way with the "right 53 players." He pointed to the Patriots' way and said mistakes will be made once, but not twice.

"Our players are going to be prepared and they're going to be fast and aggressive," he told reporters.

Continuing to build the team around franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota, whom he called a "special talent," is the most important task at hand.

"I talked to Marcus last night," he told reporters. "We're going to do things that are going to help him. There's not going to be a greater relationship that I need to foster than the one with our quarterback.

"I can't wait to work with him and help him take that next step in his career."

Vrabel's passion and acumen for details struck general manager Jon Robinson right away as he began a search to replace Mike Mularkey, who was fired. The first person that Robinson interviewed was Vrabel, whom he knew from when he was in the Patriots' personnel department.

"When (Vrabel) came in and talked about how he wanted to build a roster, what his vision was, it was clear to us that he was the guy for this job," Robinson told The (Nashville) Tennessean. "He had a great presence about him in the interview. His football intelligence showed quickly."

Vrabel joins the Titans after four seasons with the Houston Texans, spending the first three seasons (2014-16) coaching linebackers and one year (2017) as the team's defensive coordinator. During that time the Texans built one of the strongest defenses in the league.

During a playing and coaching career that started as a third-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers out of Ohio State, Vrabel has spent time learning from Bill Belichick, Bill Cowher, Romeo Crennel, Urban Meyer, Bill O'Brien and Todd Haley.

Vrabel played in 206 NFL games, totaled 57 sacks, 496 tackles, 11 interceptions, 20 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries and 10 touchdown receptions. Additionally, his teams advanced to the playoffs eight times and played in 20 postseason games. He compiled eight postseason sacks and two postseason touchdown receptions.

He plans to translate that versatility to his new team.

"Unless you're the quarterback, you better come in here prepared to play more than one position," he said. "We're going to pick guys that can help us at more than one position. I know (defensive end) Jurrell Casey has some experience catching passes. He could be one we would use."

As far as hiring assistants, there is talk that Vrabel might be targeting current Ohio State co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day as his offensive coordinator.

The Tennessean reported on Monday that Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, 80, will not return next season.

"I don't want to put a timetable on hiring a staff because I want to hire the right guys, the best guys," he said. "We're not going to rush into any decisions."

It was a bittersweet season for the Titans, who in some ways enjoyed their best successes in more than a decade. The Titans not only made the postseason for the first time in nine years, but won their first playoff game in 14 years with a wild-card win in Kansas City. However, speculation persisted that Mike Mularkey's job was in danger, and the Titans parted ways with their head coach after a divisional round loss in New England.

Mularkey's dismissal came about because of a couple of things mostly related to the offense, which regressed from 2016. Mularkey's downfall was because of his reluctance to make changes to his staff and to his offensive philosophy.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota's growth in year three was choked off in large part because of an offense that seemed to stifle him in some ways. Sure, Mariota coming off injuries hurt his development, but in the end, the reason the Titans and general manager Jon Robinsom moved in a different direction was because Mariota failed to take the next step on Mularkey's watch, despite a 19-15 record the past two seasons.

Mariota wasn't the only issue, but as the quarterback, he was the focal point of the offensive issues. The running game was inconsistent as DeMarco Murray began to show wear and tear, while the offensive line regressed from 2016. Young receivers Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor also seemed to have a more difficult time than they should have with route-running and getting into the right spots.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: As stated above, the Titans made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and even won a game for the first time in a long time. For all his struggles with injuries and interceptions (a career-high 15), Mariota showed enough moxie that the Titans believe that in the right hands, he can still develop into a star. The Titans had some other steady players on the offensive side of the ball and a few others that flashed their potential. Tight end Delanie Walker and left tackle Taylor Lewan, both Pro-Bowl selections, were solid, and running back Derrick Henry flashed especially in the playoff win at Kansas City with 156 yards rushing.

Defensively, the Titans were better than a year ago, despite occasional lapses (57 points allowed to Houston, 40 to Pittsburgh). Overall, there are pieces here to work with, led by defensive end Jurrell Casey and All-Pro second-year safety Kevin Byard, who had eight interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard also enjoyed a resurgence, leading the team in tackles, while pass rushers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo were solid. Punter Brett Kern averaged over 50 yards per punt and made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his 10-year career.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The biggest thing that went wrong for the Titans was the regression of the offense, which was stagnant at times and lacked creativity. There was also the reluctance to use the no-huddle, and things were so unsettled late in the year in a three-game losing streak that receiver Rishard Matthews called the offense "predictable." In the end, despite using a bit more of the no-huddle late in the year, the damage was done and the Titans, apparently believing that head coach Mike Mularkey had taken the Titans as far as he could while clinging to his exotic smashmouth philosophy, parted ways with the organization.

MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: It would be easy to name Mariota in this spot, but despite his struggles, he still led five come-from-behind wins this season and guided the Titans to the divisional round of the playoffs. It was in the supporting cast. First-round pick Corey Davis, the fifth overall choice in the draft, suffered through a hamstring injury that cost him most of training camp and preseason and then nearly half the regular season when he reinjured it in Week 2. When Davis came back, he showed flashes, finishing with 34 catches for 375 yards. But he also had issues with route running, which led to some of Mariota's turnovers. In all, it was a tough transition from Western Michigan to the NFL for Davis, though he had his best game of the year in the playoff loss to the Patriots, catching two touchdown passes, including a dazzling one-hander.

MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Wesley Woodyard has been a two-down linebacker much of his time with the Titans. But in his 10th year in the NFL, Woodyard changed to a vegan diet and found a fountain of youth, leading the Titans in tackles and becoming a three-down linebacker in the nickel package, supplanting the much younger Avery Williamson in that role.

ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: With Mike Mularkey being let go and the entire staff in limbo, it might be hard to choose any assistant coach on this staff that is on the rise. The best that Titans probably have to offer in that regard might be defensive line coach Nick Eason, whose players have been integral in making the Titans' run defense one of the best in the league the past two years.


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