NASHVILLE, Tenn. — He’s not Ray Lewis. Nor is he Ed Reed.
But he is Bernard Pollard, the hard-hitting strong safety who helped the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl last season while teaming on defense with those future Hall of Famers.
What the Titans hope the newly signed free agent can bring this season is a bit of that nastiness and determination to a porous defense that gave up 471 points last season — worst in the NFL and the most points allowed in franchise history.
“I flip that switch on the football field,” said Pollard, a seven-year NFL veteran who led the Ravens in tackles last season (98). “I gotta hope everybody’s got switches, because if you don’t, this is the wrong sport that you are in.”
The Titans are trying to flip plenty of switches for a team that spiraled downward to a 6-10 record last season. Much of that was on a defense that yielded 29.4 points per game and a league-worst 55 touchdowns.
While it can’t be called a complete overhaul, there has been an influx of hopeful impact defensive players through free agency, including Pollard, tackle Sammie Hill (formerly of Detroit), end Ropati Pitoitua (Kansas City), linebacker Moise Foiku (Indianapolis) and strong safety George Wilson (Buffalo).
The additions of Pollard and Wilson at strong safety allows veteran Michael Griffin to move back to his more natural position — free safety — from which he was twice named to the Pro Bowl. But it’s more than just adjustment of scheme for the Titans, but rather seeking a new attitude when it comes to playing defense.
And with the start this week of organized team activities, it is evident the hard-hitting Pollard is already a focal point for a change of attitude when it comes to how the defense goes about its business.
“He plays with an old-school mentality,” Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said of Pollard, whose explosive legal hit and forced fumble on New England running back Stevan Ridley — he was knocked unconscious — in the fourth quarter of last season’s AFC title game has already grown to legendary status.
“We are hoping that it is infectious,” Gray added, “because we are trying to get what we lost 10 years ago. We had that attitude that we are going to compete at every level.”
A little more than a decade ago, Gray was the secondary coach under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who took Gray with him as defensive coordinator when he got the Buffalo head coaching job in 2001. After spending last season suspended by the NFL for his role in the Saints’ Bountygate case, Williams was reinstated by the league earlier this year.
He was soon hired by Titans head coach Mike Munchak as a defensive assistant to again work alongside Gray.
The influx of free agents and drafted players has put Titans players on notice that all positions on both sides of the ball are up for grabs. Within the past week, two former draft picks — fifth-year receiver Lavelle Hawkins and second-year running back Jamie Harper — were released.
“That’s what makes you a better football team, not that you have been drafted in the first round or you deserve this type of money,” Gray said of the roster competition. “You have to go onto the football field every day — if you make $12 million or you make $500,000 — you have to earn it. That’s the thing we have to get back to.
” … I really applaud the team for saying, ‘Know what? We need to get out of that area and move to the competition area like we used to do.'”
The combination of Pollard’s attitude and the demanding energy of Williams helping assist the defense makes for quite the volatile combination.”We have to go out there and let it all hang out, man,” said the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Pollard, who has 585 career tackles after stints in Baltimore, Houston (2009-10) and Kansas City (2006-08), which drafted him in the second round in 2006 out of Purdue.
“If you are going to talk in the media, and you are going to talk in the paper,” he said. “Well, you have to understand you don’t win games in the media and the paper. You don’t win games like that.
” … You go out there and beat the guy in front of you. That’s the concept and understanding that we have to have on this defense, is beat the man across from you.”
Even though they’ve only been together on the field a few times this spring, Pollard’s attitude is already rubbing off on fellow Titans, especially the younger ones who understand that the veteran has played and achieved at the highest level.
“(Pollard) knows what it takes to get there,” Titans third-year outside Akeem Ayers said. “He knows what a winning team looks like, so us as young guys, we pretty much only know one thing. And we’re trying to flip the culture here.
“We’re trying to change the way we play defense, our mindset and all that. He’s definitely somebody we can look to to guide us in that right direction.”
Not that Pollard is as demonstrative as former Ravens teammate Lewis, but rather one that shows how it’s done when he hits the gridiron.
“I am not Ray Lewis. I am not Ed Reed,” Pollard said. “Those guys are Hall of Famers … legends in Baltimore. I’ll say a few things.
“For the most part, I am going to go out there and knock the piss out of somebody on the field. Hopefully, you will follow. That’s the mindset we have to have on this defense.”
Pollard also knows he’s not Ray Lewis for another reason. It’s called longevity.
“You look at Ray, he played 17 years,” he said. “I am at eight, and I’m not trying to see 17.”