Mike Vrabel ready for regular season debut as Titans coach
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Vrabel can’t remember a game where he didn’t have butterflies in his stomach before kickoff. As a linebacker over 14 seasons, he could get rid of them with a crunching tackle.
He won’t have that luxury Sunday in Miami making his NFL regular season head coaching debut with the Tennessee Titans.
“I don’t think I’ll need any hits from the team,” Vrabel said Thursday. “We all just stay composed and do our jobs. That’s the most important thing.”
Not much is expected from the Titans this season with the coaching change despite Tennessee winning its first playoff game in 14 years with back-to-back 9-7 seasons . Vrabel has three Super Bowl rings as a linebacker with New England , and the coach who frequently picks up a blocking pad and works with the Titans in practices has made it very clear what he wants.
Three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker said Vrabel doesn’t care what people say outside of the locker room or about Tennessee’s winless preseason. Vrabel’s focus has been preparing the Titans for the regular season, and Walker said the coach has been tough on them.
“He’s the type of guy he challenges you every day with questions asking you, ‘What’s the defensive players’ names? What’s their numbers?’ And I think that’s just to see how we’ve been preparing,” Walker said. “I’m excited to see how he is when we get down there in Miami and get the game started.”
Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, another defensive lineman, thinks Vrabel’s attitude of pushing everyone will help the Titans achieve more. Casey sees Vrabel creating a mindset that everyone has to bring more. Even on the practice field, the Titans are expected to jog between drills with Vrabel usually leading the way.
“That’s what I love about him,” Casey said. “He’s expecting a lot from everybody. The stars, he’s expecting more, and the young guy he’s expecting you to rise up and become stars.”
The Titans currently have a five-game winning streak in their first road game of the season, which started in 2013 with Mike Munchak.Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Mularkey kept that streak alive, wins that didn’t deliver nearly enough to keep either man around very long.
Now it’s Vrabel’s turn with the Titans gambling that the man long pegged as the next surefire success as an NFL head coach succeeds in Tennessee. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who came out of a short retirement to come to Tennessee, says Vrabel has been a professional as a player, assistant and coordinator. He expects nothing less now Vrabel is a head coach.
Nerves are part of the job even for experienced coaches like himself, according to Pees who’s going into his 46th NFL season.
“If you haven’t got a little something churning in your stomach, I think it’s probably something wrong with you,” Pees said. “You’re not very competitive. So it’s going to be exciting for him, and I’m excited to watch him too.”
A handful of Titans made clear that whatever happens on the field falls on their shoulders.
Walker said Vrabel and the assistants he brought in have been great, but they can only put the Titans in position to execute. Veteran linebacker Wesley Woodyard said the players can help minimize any growing pains by winning on game day for a man who played for a great coach in New England’s Bill Belichick.
“It seems like he’s a little bit more experienced than a first-time head coach,” Woodyard said.
NOTES: Rookie LB Harold Landry (ankle) did not practice Thursday after being limited Wednesday. S Kendrick Lewis (foot) missed a second straight practice. RT Jack Conklin (left knee) and LB Rashaan Evans (hamstring) were limited. LB Derrick Morgan (knee) practiced fully after being limited Wednesday.