Minicamp indicated this Titans defender may retain his starting job after all

Don't write off this Tennessee Titans defender, who outperformed fan expectations at OTAs
Tennessee Titans Mandatory Minicamp
Tennessee Titans Mandatory Minicamp / Johnnie Izquierdo/GettyImages

The expectation this offseason has been that the Tennessee Titans would have two new starters at inside linebacker in 2024. Last year's captain was Azeez Al-Shaair, who decided to sign with the Houston Texans in free agency. General manager Ran Carthon replaced Al-Shaair by signing former first-round pick Kenneth Murray Jr.

The starter opposite Al-Shaair last season was second-year undrafted free agent Jack Gibbens. Gibbens was a Mike Vrabel favorite. The former Minnesota defender played nearly 55% of all Titans defensive snaps throughout 2023 according to Pro Football Reference.

The results were a mixed bag. Pro Football Focus assigned Gibbens a solid run-stopping grade of 94.1 as he finished second on the team in tackles with 95 takedowns. A classic two-down thumper with a lackluster athletic profile, Gibbens struggled in coverage, allowing 17 receptions on 23 targets (73.9% target-to-reception rate).

A regime change that saw Brian Callahan replace Vrabel as the head coach have many believing Gibbens will be replaced in the starting lineup this season. Callahan's defensive coordinator Dennard Wilson believes in a more attacking-minded defense that prioritizes athleticism. After all, the Titans utilized a fourth-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft on former North Carolina linebacker Cedric Gray.

Gibbens responded to the change in leadership by stringing together an outstanding mandatory minicamp and organized team activity (OTA) period. He routinely received rave reviews for his leadership and ability to adjust to a new defensive scheme. At one of the final OTA practices, Gibbens displayed his offseason growth by intercepting sophomore quarterback Will Levis.

New Titans linebackers coach Frank Bush is working with a young, but ascending room. Gray continues learning the ropes. Murray Jr. and Gibbens seem penciled into the starting roles for now. Other options in the group include Otis Reese IV, rookie draft-pick James Williams, Luke Gifford, Chance Campbell, and Garrett Wallow. It's Gibbens that coach Bush has been most impressed with.

Many assumed Gibbens' athletic profile wouldn't endear itself to Callahan and Wilson. Both coaches have talked up the third-year linebacker all offseason long. Callahan recently said "you don't have to be a high-end athlete to be a good off-ball linebacker" in response to a question about Gibbens.

Many (myself included) assumed Gray or Reese IV would replace Gibbens as a primary starting off-ball linebacker this season. Perhaps that assumption was premature. Gibbens continues to maximize his opportunities while appearing primed for an excellent training camp period this July.