Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has been tight-lipped about injuries, but there may be a competitive advantage that he is striving for with his strategy.
When it comes to injuries in the NFL, we are often hard pressed to find a coach who is willing to dish out the scoop. Of course, some are more tight than others. It has been some time since the Tennessee Titans had a “no bull” kind of head coach. Just last year, they were led by a soft-spoken coach in Mike Mularkey, and before that it was Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Munchak. That isn’t exactly an intimidating list. That is until this past off-season Tennessee went out and grabbed former player and coach Mike Vrabel, a man who doesn’t shy away from confrontation on the field nor off of it.
Vrabel is tied into the New England Patriots franchise for having played at linebacker from 2001-2008. Why is this relevant, you might ask. Vrabel played under coach Bill Belichick his entire time in New England. I’m sure plenty of press and reporters that have followed Belichick over the years would tell you that it’s not very easy to get the answer you’re looking for out of the veteran coach. He’s often known for his short and redundant responses. The Patriots coach has a past of keeping the status on players’ injuries under a tight lid.
With this being Vrabel’s first off-season as head coach, I, along with many others, have been curious as to see how he runs his ship. Training camp is well underway, which means so are injuries. Fans everywhere are holding their breath every time an update flashes across the TV or cell phone in hopes that they haven’t lost yet another key contributor.
In past years, coaches have been more or less open on the status of players that go down in training camp. But things this year seem a little different. One of the biggest names on the injury list this off-season happens to be Jack Conklin, the Titans’ All-Pro right tackle. The Spartan standout suffered a torn ACL in the Divisional Round loss to the Patriots in the playoffs last year. Vrabel has said there have been no setbacks in his rehab so far, but that’s about it. When asked about Conklin’s return to the field, Vrabel has just hinted that we might have to wait till September.
Here’s Jack Conklin on his rehab, via Tennessee Titans Online:
"“You don’t want to come back too early and hurt it again. You want to make sure you are full health and ready to go. If I come back too early, I am not only hurting myself, but I am hurting the team.”"
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So, has Mike Vrabel learned an advantage to keep injuries on the down low from his former mentor? As frustrating as it might be, there is a reason this happens around the NFL. Knowledge can be seen as power when it comes to game planning for opponents. A coach could spend all week checking out the injury report for their next matchup and be planning for a particular player. Then, come game day, you find out that player isn’t playing anymore, so now you have to change the plan. I suppose you could say the opposite happens as far as a player not practicing all week and then being active on gameday.
If a coach or player gets word of a particular injury from a player on the opposing team, it’s possible that they could use that to their advantage. In Conklin’s case, if pass rushers found out that he can’t swing certain blocks or that there is a part of his game that is suffering due to this injury, they discovered because the coach let the cat out of the bag, and they will certainly expose that. Maybe underselling injuries or not giving specifics and timetables is all part of the NFL mind game. And although Titans fans might not be used to the way Vrabel runs a ship, it’s important to trust his process.