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Reports: Titans retain tight ends coach Arthur Smith and add two more defensive assistants

Mike Vrabel continues to fill out his staff in Tennessee.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

OK, so these aren’t as exciting as the hires of Dean Pees and Matt LaFleur, but we did get reports of two new defensive position coaches joining Mike Vrabel’s first staff in Tennessee and a report of our first confirmed holdover from Mike Mularkey’s staff.

Tyrone McKenzie - Inside Linebackers Coach

McKenzie is just 32 years old, but he is considered an up-and-coming coach in the league after a seven year playing career as a linebacker that featured stops in New England (SHOCKER), Tampa Bay, and Minnesota.

McKenzie was the Patriots 3rd round pick in 2009 — defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ last season in New England — but his career got off to a rough start when he suffered a torn ACL in rookie mini camp. From there, his playing career never really took off. He bounced around practice squads for the most part before finding a home on the Vikings 53-man roster in 2012.

After not making the cut out of Vikings camp in 2013, McKenzie decided to go back to school and got his masters degree in education at the University of Colorado while working there as a grad assistant. After getting his degree, he returned to the NFL as an assistant special teams coach on Sean McVay’s staff in LA in 2017. There he helped Rams special teams guru John Fassel guide the NFL’s 2nd ranked special teams unit according to DVOA.

The Titans are hiring McKenzie to coach inside linebackers, the position he played in the NFL. He has previous ties to both Dean Pees and Matt LaFleur after playing for Pees in 2009 and coaching with LaFleur in 2017 so Vrabel likely had some pretty good references to work from. This profile on him from his time in Colorado is very enlightening in to the type of person the Titans are getting.

With the Titans McKenzie will inherit a group of inside linebackers in flux. Wesley Woodyard is just 8 months younger than his new coach, but he is coming off his best season as a pro in 2017. The Titans have a decision to make at the other starting linebacker spot though as Avery Williamson is poised to become an unrestricted free agent on March 14th unless the Titans sign him to an extension before then. Jayon Brown had an up and down rookie year as a coverage linebacker and guys like Daren Bates and Nate Palmer are more suited to key special teams roles. If the team decides not to bring Williamson back, this is a spot that we could see addressed early in the draft.

The Titans reportedly were also interested in former Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans for this position, but the 49ers blocked their interview request. McKenzie seems like a future coordinator and possibly head coach to me.

Terrell Williams - Defensive Line Coach

Williams is 43 years old and was available due to his contract with the Dolphins expiring at the end of their season. He had worked as Miami’s defensive line coach for three seasons (2015-2017) after two seasons in the same position for the Raiders.

While in Miami, Williams got excellent play out of the supremely talented Ndamukong Suh and the ageless Cameron Wake. In 2017, he worked with several rookies in defensive tackles Davon Godcheaux and Vincent Taylor as well as first round pick defensive end Charles Harris. His line played well against the run, but struggled to generate much pass rush outside of Wake’s 10.5 sacks — though they did sack poor Matt Cassel 6 times in that travesty of a game in Week 5.

His three seasons in Oakland were largely uneventful — he didn’t get much production out of a slew of bad players — but he did work with Khalil Mack during his rookie season in 2014. He didn’t get much production out of Mack in his rookie season, just 4 sacks despite starting all 16 games.

Williams will take over a veteran unit in Tennessee led by Jurrell Casey. The Titans have a decision to make with DaQuan Jones as he enters free agency, but they also return Austin Johnson, Sylvester Williams, Karl Klug, and David King along the defensive front.

Arthur Smith - Tight Ends Coach

Smith is the first confirmed holdover from Mike Mularkey’s staff. He came to the Titans in 2011 as a defensive quality control assistant on Mike Munchak’s first staff and has risen in organization ever since despite a revolving set of bosses. Vrabel will be the 4th Titans head coach Smith has worked under in his 7 years with the team. He became the primary tight ends coach midway through the 2015 season, back filling the spot vacated when Mike Mularkey was promoted to interim head coach. During that time he’s helped Delanie Walker make three consecutive Pro Bowls as well as getting excellent work from Anthony Fasano and a solid rookie season from Jonnu Smith.

Smith is well-respected around the organization and those that follow the team closely. The Titans tight ends have been a strength of the team for years now so maintaining continuity at this spot makes a lot of sense.

So here is a quick snapshot of where we are with the coaching staff as of January 31st (note that only Vrabel and the two coordinators have been officially confirmed by the team):

Head Coach: Mike Vrabel

Offensive Coordinator: Matt LaFleur

Quarterbacks Coach: Pat O’Hara

Running Backs Coach:

Wide Receivers Coach: Rob Moore

Tight Ends Coach: Arthur Smith

Offensive Line Coach:

Defensive Coordinator: Dean Pees

Defensive Line Coach: Terrell Williams

Outside Linebackers Coach: Shane Bowen

Inside Linebackers Coach: Tyrone McKenzie

Defensive Backs Coach: Kerry Coombs

Special Teams Coordinator: Craig Aukerman

Strength and Conditioning Coach:

So the defensive position coach spots appear to be filled now — although it’s possible that they decide to split Coombs’ role and hire a safeties coach — so Vrabel only has about 3-4 spots left to hire for his first staff. Its hard to look at this group as anything other than a massive success right now.

Among the remaining spots, we know that the Titans have interviewed Raiders running backs coach Bernie Parmalee, but we don’t have a reported hire for that position yet. I have yet to see any names linked with the offensive line coach position. Mike Vrabel talked about watching Titans mainstay Steve Watterson work as strength coach before making a decision on him. He seems likely to stay, but no official announcement has been made at this time.