Roger McCreary Should Fit Well With Titans' Aggressive New Corners

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In a season where few players of significance showed improvement, Roger McCreary was a 2023 standout for the Titans.

The full-time nickel was the Titans' most consistent defensive back in coverage.

Tennessee Titans cornerback Roger McCreary (21) breaks up a pass intended for Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley (0) during late second quarter action. The Jacksonville Jaguars hosted the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville, FL Sunday, November 19, 2023. The Jaguars led 13 to 0 at the half. [Bob Self/Florida Times-Union]
Roger McCreary vs. Calvin Ridley/ © Bob Self/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

Among those who played over 31 percent of the snaps, he was best with a passer rating against him of 85.3 and an average depth of target of 6.7, typically lower for a slot defender. McCreary played 81 percent of Tennessee’s snaps. His Pro Football Focus pass coverage grade of 72.2 was slightly off that of his new teammate L’Jarius Sneed (73.8).

Now, surrounded by two better outside corners in Sneed and Chidobe Awuzie and on a defense that is likely to blitz much more, McCreary is expected to be in position to do more and shine more. Tuesday at the team’s mandatory minicamp we may see him on the field for the first time with the new starting nickel package providing Sneed isn’t rehabilitating a troublesome knee.

“I think we have a lot of room for improvement across the board on defense and I think we have a scheme that's in place now that ends up being aggressive-minded,” Brian Callahan said. “Doesn't necessarily mean aggressive and we're going to blitz all the time, but there's an aspect of challenging people, and I think that we have two corners that are really, really good at that. That's part of what makes them good corners, and that hopefully permeates to the rest of the secondary, Roger included, where you get a chance to play with a more aggressive style.

“There's a huge need for guys to play that nickel spot in the NFL the way the teams are. You're playing 60 percent, sometimes more, of your snaps in your nickel defense. And he's involved in the run fit, which Roger is really tough and gritty when it comes to those things. So having those guys out there, that sort of let him know you can play this way and be successful, is encouraging. So I'm excited to see what that brings for him.”

McCreary already brought an aggressive mindset to his spot. It should grow give the surroundings and the scheme. His 26 blitzes were the second-most on the team, behind departed linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair. McCreary produced to sacks and a hurry out of those runs at quarterbacks. 

Kenneth Murray, one of the team’s new middle linebackers, is likely to be its primary blitzer, but there will also be plenty of opportunity for the slot to go. Dennard Wilson’s mentors – Todd Bowles and Gregg Williams -- are big blitzing coaches. The Titans are not as strong with their front four as they’ve been in recent years after the departure of Denico Autry and should be able to cover better without extra numbers after the addition of Sneed, Awuzie and fifth-round corner Jarvis Brownlee.

“Our defensive coordinator, that’s what he’s said from Day One, he wants guys to be aggressive,” McCreary said. “From his history, he’s had aggressive guys and they’ve had great accomplishments. We’ve finally got that here, with aggressive guys here. And that’s our focus, to attack the offense first and I feel like that’s great. We’ll keep doing that, be aggressive, loud and communicate.”

Something Wilson says at times in meetings has caught on as a bit of a catchphrase with players already, Awuzie said.

“It can be any coverage, he shows us, at the end, ‘It can’t be that simple,’” Awuzie said. “And he’ll look at you crazy.” 

That hearkens back a bit to me to Mike Vrabel’s early defensive characterization of his Titans: “Coverage consistency, front multiplicity,” which also indicated an expectation of some simplicity in some coverage concepts.

The secondary personnel Wilson is working with is superior to anything Dean Pees, Shane Bowen and Vrabel ever had, so the hope is when something can be simple the guys executing it can do so very well.

Arden Key recently said the defense isn’t leaving the field until mistakes are corrected and things are being done right.

Awuzie said last week DBs were staying on the field extra.

“Even though this group is young, everybody really wants to be great and you don’t always get that on a football team,” he said. “…The foundational steps of a great secondary and a great defense is how important are the details to us, to each other? Are we going to the locker room talking about it? Or as soon as we’re off the field are we just talking about some other stuff?

“If you walk into the locker room you’ll see people on the iPads, talking about plays, waiting for the practice to get uploaded so they can talk about it. Or maybe they just don’t want to get yelled at by coach Wilson so they are trying to get ahead of it, But either way people are focused early on the details.”

In signing Awuzie and trading for Sneed, Titans brass selected two guys who would be prominent tone-setters. They will carry Wilson’s intensity onto the field. McCreary can be a significant part of that as well.

"He has great professionalism, obviously great athleticism," Awuzie said. "Obviously all the stuff on the field. Off the field, I just see a guy who's really focused, who wants to be really great. It matters to him. Just like I said with everybody in the secondary, but a lot is on Roger. He is the guy who's been here, I think had the most reps in the secondary as a corner/ nickel, so he's earned that right and he's definitely stepped into a leadership role."

Through minicamp and beyond, McCreary's attention will remain on the secondary and defensive theme, something that's easy to do based on how the coaching and playbook lead him there.

“That’s the main thing I’ve tried to focus on, being aggressive, talking, being vocal more on my blitzes and stuff,” he said. “We do a lot of that now. It’s just the coaching style and the plays that we have that make us aggressive. That’s what I like."

You are not authorised to post comments.

Comments powered by CComment