Steve Watterson has been the Titans/Oilers strength and conditioning coach since I was 1 year old, and he will continue in that position under new head coach Mike Vrabel in 2018 per Jim Wyatt at the team’s website. That’s an incredible run that has seen Watterson survive six coaching changes. He was originally hired under Jerry Glanville back in 1986, but then continued under Jack Pardee, Jeff Fisher, Mike Munchak, Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Mularkey, and now Mike Vrabel who decided to retain Watterson after watching him work for the last few weeks. He stands as the longest tenured position coach in the entire NFL.
Its hard as a fan to judge the quality of work by a strength and conditioning coach, but Watterson must be doing something right. Despite the Titans struggles with hamstrings in 2017, the team has largely been able to remain relatively healthy over the past few seasons. Additionally, the team’s near-perfect attendance at voluntary OTA’s last summer seems to indicate a healthy level of respect from the players for his workouts. He’s known as one of the pioneers in the realm of kettlebell workouts, something you can see a little bit of in this video with former NFL player Heath Evans.
Watterson has a big opportunity this summer as the team is largely healthy heading in to the offseason with the exception of Jack Conklin and DaQuan Jones (if he’s retained). I talk a lot about the jump that second year players tend to make in the NFL thanks to a first full NFL offseason training program. We saw some of that with the improvements that Kevin Byard, Derrick Henry, and Austin Johnson showed from year one to year two. This offseason will be big for guys like Corey Davis, Adoree Jackson, Jonnu Smith, Taywan Taylor, and Jayon Brown. Jackson in particular will be getting his first football-focused offseason of his playing career. The play of those five guys in 2018 could have a massive impact on the success of Mike Vrabel’s first season in Nashville.
In addition to announcing Watterson’s return, the team also announced three new hires. Terrell Williams was officially confirmed as the team’s new defensive line coach after recently leaving the same position in Miami. You can read more about Williams from my post when this was reported previously here. The two new names that were announced are below.
Keith Carter - Offensive Line Coach
Carter comes to Tennessee from the Falcons where he worked as the running backs coach in 2017 after two years as an assistant offensive line coach. He worked alongside new Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur in Atlanta in 2015 and 2016 so this is likely a hire that was driven by the Tennessee’s new playcaller.
Carter played tight end for UCLA from 2001-2004 before moving in to coaching immediately following his college career. He worked as an offensive line coach at several stops in the college ranks from 2005-2011 before getting his first taste of NFL coaching as a quality control assistant on the Seahawks 2012 and 2013 staffs. He returned to college for one season as the offensive line coach/running game coordinator for San Jose State in 2014 before joining the Falcons in 2015.
This hire hints at the Titans possibility that the running game may move to more of a zone blocking scheme than what we had seen under Mularkey and Robiskie these past two seasons. The Falcons — particularly in 2015-2016 when Carter and LaFleur worked under Shanahan — have relied heavily on outside zone runs as the base of their rushing attack. While LaFleur’s offense is most certainly not going to be a carbon copy of Shanahan’s, it stands to reason that he will borrow a lot from the coach that he spent 8 of his past 10 seasons working under.
If the Titans do move to more zone blocking, that will represent an adjustment for both the offensive linemen and the running backs. Zone blocking is more complex than man or power schemes and it typically requires more mobile and agile offensive linemen. It remains to be seen which current linemen may take to the zone scheme best. We can safely assume that Taylor Lewan would excel — even more than he already does — by using his elite athleticism to a larger extent. One of the biggest potential beneficiaries from a move to a zone scheme would be 2nd year guard/center Corey Levin. He is a plus athlete and could fit really well in a zone scheme. I expect the Titans to bring some outside competition in for the two starting guard spots, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Levin end up squarely in the mix come training camp.
Tony Dews - Running Backs Coach
The Titans are also adding Tony Dews as the new running backs coach. Dews has 20 years of coaching experience, all at the college level. Most recently he worked as West Virginia’s running backs coach for the 2017 season. Prior to that he had spent 5 years as the University of Arizona’s wide receivers coach. The most interesting thing about Dews’ coaching background is that he has literally coached every position except quarterbacks at some point in his career. Defensive line, offensive line, defensive backs, linebackers, wide receivers, running backs, and special teams. As a player at Liberty University he played tight end — the Titans LOOOOOOOVE former tight ends as coaches almost as much as Mike Mularkey loved using tight ends — and was the team’s leading receiver his last two years there.
There isn’t a ton to form an opinion off of in Dews’ background and it is hard to find the connection from him to anyone on his staff. Maybe this makes West Virginia running back Justin Crawford a player to keep an eye on in the later rounds of the draft?
Mike Vrabel’s first staff now appears to be complete. They will likely continue to add coaches at assistant position group and quality control assistant type roles, but this probably does it for the primary position coaches. Here is that staff in full.
Head Coach: Mike Vrabel
Offensive Coordinator: Matt LaFleur
Quarterbacks Coach: Pat O’Hara
Running Backs Coach: Tony Dews
Wide Receivers Coach: Rob Moore
Tight Ends Coach: Arthur Smith
Offensive Line Coach: Keith Carter
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: Steve Watterson