GM Jon Robinson’s vision for the defense is coming together. While other teams may look at size or speed, Robinson is looking at a different trait: tenacity.
This is the third off-season where Jon Robinson has had total reign over the Tennessee Titans roster. In a short period of time, we’ve seen cornerback liabilities such as Coty Sensabaugh and Brice McCain swapped for high caliber players like Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler. Robinson’s roster makeover has formed a young and dangerous playoff team whose window for championship contention is just beginning to open.
Teams in years past have been able to make Super Bowl runs based on a dominant defense complemented by a competent offense, and Robinson knows that. Recent Super Bowl champions such as the 2013 Baltimore Ravens, the 2014 Seattle Seahawks, and the 2016 Denver Broncos can all attest to this notion. In today’s pass-happy NFL, having a strong secondary is vital.
Robinson has tried to emulate this defensive success in his own way. In his first off-season as the GM, he took a leap of faith by selecting local MTSU product Kevin Byard with the first pick of the third round in the 2016 NFL Draft. Byard wasn’t a well known commodity coming out, hence why he wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine. But since being drafted, Byard has not only displayed his playmaking ability on the ball with his league-leading 10 takeaways in 2017, but has since played with a massive chip on his shoulder. Byard just has that ‘it’ factor, which can be infectious through a defense; especially a secondary.
Robinson followed that up with the additions of Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien in 2017 free agency. Ryan is a bigger corner, who plays the run the same way he plays the pass, with physicality. Ryan also brings a championship pedigree with him, which could play a key factor for the places Robinson plans this team to go in the upcoming years.
Understandably, fans haven’t been too high on Cyprien. His inconsistent coverage and the occasional bad angle that led to missed tackles has gotten on the nerves of many fans, including myself. But what can’t be denied about Cyprien is the fact that he brings it on every play. He may miss some plays, but he misses them at 100 miles per hour. That’s the kind of energy that any defensive coordinator would love to have.
Then fast forward to the 2017 NFL Draft, where Robinson surprised many with the selection of Adoree’ Jackson with the 18th pick. The narrative on Jackson was that he was a freak athlete who needed some polishing at the position and was also a threat whenever he got the ball in his hands. Nobody expected him to come in and stick with opposing number one wide receivers and make the occasional play in the run game. Well, he did that and then some.
Finally, Robinson topped off the remodel of the secondary by recently signing former Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler. While many only remember the play that sealed a championship for New England, Butler is actually an extremely physical corner who will get in the face of any pass catcher in the league. There’s only a handful of players in the world who can dominate Steve Smith like Butler did here.
There’s a theme that connects all these players together: their tenacity. Every single defensive back listed is going to play through the whistle and leave it all out on the field. Many use the term ‘business decision’ when discussing a defensive backs’ unwillingness to stick their head in and make the tackle. Robinson made it a point to not have those kinds of players in the secondary. This could explain why he decided to pass on acquiring a big-name corner like Marcus Peters. While Peters will make the occasional highlight play, you will also see plays that consist of ‘business decisions’ and low effort.
New DB coach Kerry Coombs can even bring the fire himself. He’s somebody who brings the energy to practice every day and will get the best out of his players. It doesn’t matter how talented a player is; when you have a positional coach with this kind of attitude, it can light a fire under anybody. Coombs personifies tenacity and fits this defensive back group perfectly.
The vision Robinson had for this secondary is one Titans fans couldn’t even fathom only a couple of years ago. It hasn’t even been a long time since the team trotted out players like Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Perrish Cox, and Marqueston Huff as starters. For far too long, this team has had opposing offenses throw the ball all over the yard.
With this group of hungry and competitive players, those days are likely over. While you may see the occasional miscommunication that results in a big play for the offense, you’ll be hard pressed to see this unit give up easy scores that Titans fans have grown accustomed to seeing in years past.