Vaccinations, reshaped Titans, backup QBs, kicker patience and more

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On the eve of the first practice of Titans' training camp, let’s run through the most important things Mike Vrabel had to say.Tennessee Titans Mural Team Video Room

MV: “As you guys can see, we still have some new construction going on, but the coaches' offices and the players meeting rooms, the squad room is finished. It's fantastic. It is going to allow us to teach and coach our players. ...So, again just want to thank (Amy Adams Strunk) and her family for continuing to provide the resources for us to do our job.”

The upgrades have been steady and on a grand scale. The coaches’ offices used to occupy a share of the first floor of the two-story section of the building along with the locker room, meeting rooms/ the auditorium, the cafeteria, the media relations department, the media room and the media library.

In recent years the media moved upstairs and a studio for team media productions was built into that space. [Unlocked]

Jeff Fisher’s coaching staff in 1999 when the team moved in, not counting strength and conditioning which is housed in the weight room, was 12 people. Mike Vrabel’s current coaching staff, not including strength and conditioning, is 21.

They have a lot more space now, as the media relations area and studio are gone and will be part of the new building that is not yet finished. The upstairs spaces for Jon Robinson and his staff have also been refurbished. It continues to be a better and better workplace.

MV on Covid vaccinations: “We continue to add players, as recently as yesterday, to the vaccination list. Guys are continuing to do research to educate themselves to make a personal decision that we have said it was all along. It is a personal decision and hopefully, one that they can come to that will help them and that will help this team. Percentages, I am very comfortable with where they are. They continue to go up and I would expect them to go up. As far as identifying those players that haven’t been vaccinated, that will be done within our building so that we can continue to remind them of the protocols that they have to do and make sure they are following those protocols.

“There won’t be any different protocols once you’re on the practice field, so I wouldn’t see any reason to try and differentiate those players on the field. It is being done so that inside the building, we can remind those players that aren’t (vaccinated), ‘Hey, this is where you have to sit, this is what you have to do.’ So that was the reason for the differentiation.”

The Titans sell team-first players. The fact is that things are set up to be easier for players who are vaccinated.

You can't be part of a full weight room, for one thing, if you aren't. So you are part of a special schedule where you are lifting with as many as nine others who also are not vaccinated.

If you’re a member of the team and you are not vaccinated, then the fact is you are not team-first under the very definition the team has laid out for three years of the Robinson-Vrabel regime

They can dance around that and avoid that, but it’s the fact. Having players operating under two sets of protocols is inconvenient at best and having a lower rate of vaccinated players than some teams they will play against will put the Titans at a competitive disadvantage.

MV: All of our coaches that will be working with the players have been fully vaccinated.

I’m not sure what sort of coach won’t be working with players, but he certainly left room for someone there.

MV: What we expect out of John (Simon) is what we expect out of everybody else. Be available to come out to work, learn, you know, I coached John in college, had an opportunity to coach him in Houston, and we made the decision to bring him in here. I am sure he will compete at outside linebacker and special teams just like the rest of those guys in that group.

John Simon Bio Screenshot

I like Simon a lot better than Tuzar Skipper or Brooks Reed. And he could be better than Derick Roberson, Wyatt Ray or Rashad Weaver.

But I would have preferred this signing for depth in 2018 when Vrabel arrived in Tennessee. (The third and fourth OLBs were Kamalei Correa and Sharif Finch.)  Vrabel coached Simon, who turns 31 on Oct. 14, at both Ohio State and with the Texans. But Simon went to New England after a year in Baltimore, three in Houston and one in Indianapolis.

MV: "I saw some guys make some significant progress, guys that were here. Anthony Firkser, Teair Tart, Kristian Fulton, those guys that were here working out. Then I see them now and they look different, they don’t look like the guys that we coached last year."

Those are three names you’ve got to be excited to hear the coach mention, as all three are going to have expanded roles and be key people based on departures. We shall now look closely to see if our less trained eyes see the differences in them.

Qurterback DeShone Kizer, Tennessee TitansMV: “I don’t really go in there with a plan, but I would imagine [Logan Woodside and DeShone Kizer] will play a lot and they will play a lot with different people. I think that is the thing when you are evaluating quarterbacks is that they both have the opportunity to play with some players that you anticipate being on your roster.

"Then sometimes you evaluate them with guys that may not be. How do they motivate those guys? How do they inspire those guys? How do they function when they are not playing with a first-string receiver or a first-string offensive line?”

It's some extensive reading between the lines, but I take from this that we aren’t going to see much of Ryan Tannehill.

Which would have been my presumption without Vrabel’s comments on his backups. With what they have invested in Woodside in terms of time and teaching, I suspect Kizer as the No. 2 could only come from him have a great camp and preseason and Woodside being disappointing.

A.J. McCarron and Feleipe Franks are the QBs behind Matt Ryan in Atlanta. If Woodside came free, I bet Arthur Smith would be interested.

(Kizer pool photo courtesy of George Walker, The Tennessean.) 

MV on his defense: “You know, I can’t wait to watch these guys play, practice, perform. We go back and our job is to – obviously, with coaches especially, you are looking at the negative. You can remember every time you called something, and they hit you on it, or something bad happened. When you go back and you watch there are a lot of great snaps, there is a lot of great defense, but we have to be better.”

“We have to be better on third down, we have to go and force the quarterback and make him be uncomfortable. We have to cover guys at the sticks and all those things that we teach. Again, that is where the problems occurred. I don’t think it was – just miserable. There are a lot of good snaps in there and unfortunately, when you play bad third-down defense you are just giving them more opportunities, and we know with more opportunities comes more production. That is something that we hit hard in the offseason. We are teaching it and practicing it, so hopefully, that will start to show up and we will obviously be practicing it out here.”

I was not at the press conference.

This was a better overall answer than was conveyed in the short snippet tweets that came out in the moment -- and I know how it can be difficult to convey a big answer in a short Tweet.

He said he’s looking at the negative, but the thing that got the attention was that it wasn’t miserable. And really any coach who oversaw an unsuccessful unit will say that and look to build on the good stuff that was in there. He's never going to concede that a great deal of the good stuff was simply made moot by the 51.9 third-down percentage and the paltry 19 sacks. He's just not.

But look, six or seven of the top 12 defenders – Denico Autry, Bud Dupree, Teair Tart, Janoris Jenkins, Caleb Farley, Amani Hooker and Kristian Fulton/ Elijah Molden -- will be new or in higher-ranking roles this season. That tells you what Vrabel thought about the defense.

apple icon 144x144 precomposedMV: "We will work with those guys [Tucker McCann and Blake Haubeil] right now and see where it goes. We are comfortable and positive that those guys are going to go out and compete. Give Tucker an opportunity. He wasn’t available to us last year. He was really impressive as we worked our way through training camp and then got injured. So, I think it is the right thing to do, to let those guys compete, and then if – like any other position – if we have to bring guys in, we can do that."

He said Stephen Gostkowski is a possible alternative until he retires. McCann wasn’t lighting it up with his offseason chances.

Robinson-Vrabel has done a lot of great things. Learning and improving their approach to kicker is not one of them. They seem to like to court disaster.

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