The Titans released the fifth installment of their Igniting the Fire video series tonight. This episode, titled “Blitz and Hard Hits”, features the position that Mike Vrabel mastered during his playing career: linebacker. That position group also features the team’s top two draft picks in Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry.
Here is tonight’s new episode for your viewing pleasure.
The episodes seem to be getting better and better each week. This one starts with several shots of Vrabel doing hands on work with the linebackers. This was his position as both a player and a position coach and the current Titans certainly seem to be giving him their full attention.
Brian Orakpo specifically talked about how he had never played for a defensive-minded head coach and seemed pretty energized by the chance to work with Vrabel. We also got a great shot of Derrick Morgan working with 2nd round pick Harold Landry giving him some tips on beating blocks.
I can’t imagine too many NFL rookies were drafted in to better situations than Landry was in April. He gets to come in and learn under two established veterans who really know the craft of pass rushing. Not only do Orakpo and Morgan have a combined 224 games of NFL experience, but they also have the team-first mindset to pass down that knowledge to the young rookie despite the fact that he will one day replace one of them in the starting lineup. Not only that, but their presence reduces the pressure on Landry to be an every down starter right away. He will get a chance to be worked in to the lineup as he’s ready. When you add in the fact that he gets coached by a staff headed by Mike Vrabel — who is often credited with the development of Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney in Houston — and you have a real recipe for success. Landry’s comments in this episode and to the media on other occasions certainly seem to show a rookie who understands how lucky he is and is working to take advantage of his situation.
First round pick Rashaan Evans is in a similar situation at inside linebacker as well. He gets to learn under 10-year pro Wesley Woodyard and he also gets the benefit of having a head coach coach who played his position as Vrabel worked at inside linebacker during his career as well. I would say there is a little more pressure on Evans to start early due to the first round pick label and less entrenched starters ahead of him on the depth chart.
We also got a short introduction to the Titans first new Strength and Conditioning coach in over 30 years in Tom Kanavy. He is taking over the post left by the legendary Steve Watterson who retired earlier this offseason. Kanavy has been with the team since 2015 so he knows the players well. There was nothing really groundbreaking to take away from this segment, but it’s good to get an introduction to Watterson’s replacement.
The second half of the episode starts with a discussion about why the Titans decided to split the linebacking group in to separate units with separate coaches. Last season the Titans had one linebackers coach — Lou Spanos — who covered both outside and inside linebackers. Under Vrabel, these are viewed as distinct groups so he has an outside linebackers coach in Shane Bowen and an inside linebackers coach in Tyrone McKenzie.
Bowen followed Vrabel from Houston where he was a defensive assistant for the last two seasons. McKenzie came from the Rams where he worked as a special teams coach and defensive assistant for one season. He was originally drafted by the Patriots when Dean Pees was the defensive coordinator in New England.
Splitting the roles makes a ton of sense for the reasons explained in the episode. Outside linebackers and inside linebackers in a 3-4 defense are completely different roles and they should be coached differently.
One thing that I noticed in watching the personnel packages from the practice clips they used was that it sure looks like Will Compton is currently working with the first unit at inside linebacker. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise due to the fact that he’s a veteran who knows how to call a defense at the NFL level. There is still plenty of time for guys like Evans and Jayon Brown to catch and pass him, but my guess based on these clips is that the team at least opens camp with Woodyard and Compton as the starting inside backers in base defense.
Next week’s episode looks a little different. They are going to be showing some of the offseason team building activities.