The Tennessee Titans hire of Mike Vrabel on the heels of a bad statistical season in Houston shouldn’t cause panic.
Mike Vrabel spent years in the NFL making an impact. As a player, Vrabel took snaps on offense, defense and special teams. He focused on the execution of his assignment.
Whether that mean playing at different spots on the defense, trying to make a play on special teams or catching touchdowns from QB Tom Brady – Vrabel was readily available to fill whatever role his team tasked him with.
Throughout his tenure as a player in the league, Vrabel embraced the journey and earned championship hardware along the way.
Vrabel learned to respect the process. He learned what it takes to not only build a championship roster, but what is required by each individual in order to put the team in a position to win a championship.
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After building a solid reputation as a locker room leader, Vrabel wasted not time in finding a job. His passion and genuine love for the game made him an easy hire.
Vrabel immersed himself in his new venture coaching at the collegiate level. He returned to Ohio State – the place where he earned the respect of the Buckeye fans as a smart, tenacious competitor.
There was no doubt that Vrabel would bring that same tenacity and competitive nature in the recruitment and coaching stage of his career.
Working under Urban Meyer, Vrabel helped mentor the linebacker and the defensive line. His work with Jonathan Hankins helped elevate the draft stock of the defensive tackle taken in round two.
Three years of coaching in the college ranks – combined with the respect he earned in the league – helped him earn a shot in the pros.
Vrabel’s Time with Texans
Vrabel’s first job came in the form of a position coach for the Houston Texans.
He was tasked with coaching the position he knew best – the linebacker.
Vrabel helped his players discover their motor. He had established the clout as a player that garnered the respect of his players.
During the two years he served as a linebacker coach, Vrabel helped Jadaveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus play to their first-round talent potential. Vrabel also helped Bernardrick McKinney develop into a big contributor within the linebacker corps.
With DC Romeo Crennel being elevated to Assistant HC, Vrabel was promoted to take over the Texans defense.
The expectations were high for Vrabel, and why wouldn’t they be? Prior to the 2017 season, the Texans had allowed the fewest yards in the league and their best defensive player J.J. Watt was set to return.
Injury Depleted Roster
Had Houston’s 2016 defense stayed in tact, a case can be made that Vrabel could have built a top five defense. That wasn’t the case.
The Texans lost A.J. Bouye to the Jaguars, which was a devastating blow to their secondary. Both Watt and Mercilus were lost with injury early in the year.
However, the biggest blow to Vrabel’s defense was the loss of an offensive player.
Deshaun Watson season-ending injury was the nail in the coffin for Vrabel’s defense.
The Texans offense could not sustain drives, thus keeping Vrabal’s patched up defense on the field for long stretches of time. The fatigue contributed to the Texans defense leading the league in most points allowed.
Disaster happened. The offense couldn’t score points and the defense couldn’t stop teams from scoring.
Offensively, the Texans only scored more than 16 points once following the loss of Watson. Defensively, Houston never allowed fewer than 20 points following the bye.
Simple math states that a recipe for losing football games.
Vrabel’s Chip on His Shoulder
As illustrated above, Vrabel coached a patched-up defense on a team that had next to nothing in terms of an offensive threat.
Houston allowed 436 points on the season.
Vrabel will not be defined by his sole season as the defensive coordinator in Houston. He knows he is better than that. In fact, the case could be made that Vrabel’s intensity kept the Texans defense from throwing in the towel.
With a new crop of talent, and draft choices he heavily weighed in on, Vrabel will implement his defense.
Entrusting in DC Dean Pees to steer the ship, Vrabel can design a defense that showcases the versatility of his players. Expect surprises as he will concentrate his efforts on creating mismatches and defensive advantages.
The secondary group is the most solidified – at least on paper. A solid secondary will help afford Vrabel and Pees the time needed to be strategic with usage of their linebacker and defensive line groups.
Circling back to the defensive points allowed, Vrabel’s DC Pees had a top 10 defense – giving up 303 points on the season.
The merging of the minds in the Titans defensive coaching room will yield some new look defensive schemes.
If the defense can become what Vrabel and Pees envision, the Titans offense will be given a lot more chances to put points on the board.