Titans’ secondary expect to 1 of the best, if not the best

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Malcolm Butler says he and his fellow members of the Tennessee Titans‘ secondary have set high goals for this season, and All-Pro safety Kevin Byard and cornerback Logan Ryan make it clear just how much they expect from themselves.

”We want to be, if not the best, one of the best secondaries in the league this year,” Byard said.

Ryan adds: ”Our expectations are to be the best we can be, whatever that may be. We expect it and want to be tops in the league.”

Bold talk, and yes it’s only June as the Titans prepare to wrap up their offseason program Thursday with the end of a three-day minicamp. Tennessee certainly has invested heavily in its secondary, enough that the players in this unit believe they should be a vital piece of a defense being molded by new coordinator Dean Pees and head coach Mike Vrabel.

The Titans have used draft picks and spent millions of dollars in remaking the secondary under general manager Jon Robinson over the past three offseasons. Tennessee selected Byard with the first pick of the third round in 2016 and cornerback Adoree Jackson with the 18th selection overall in 2017 . Ryan was a top addition as a free agent in March 2017 followed by signing Butler this past March – both signed away from New England.

Add in safety Johnathan Cyprien, another free agent addition, and it’s a group that wants to set the tone for the defense on the field.

”That’s all talk right now,” Byard said. ”At the end of the day, we’re going out here, we have the opportunity to actually be on the field right now and work with each other, and get the communication down, learn the defense, and going against a tough receiver crew in the Titans. That’s what we’re doing every single day. We know what we’re chasing, but this is all talk right now. We have to go to work.”

Tennessee has room for improvement. The Titans ranked 25th against the pass, giving up 239.3 yards per game. They tied for 18th with 12 interceptions thanks to Byard tied for the NFL-high with eight . Four other Titans each had an interception apiece, and only LeShaun Sims and Tye Smith remain on the roster with Byard.

Jackson was one of just two rookies in the NFL to start every game at cornerback, and only Tyrann Mathieu of Arizona played more snaps (1,261) than Jackson (1,260). But the cornerback who had five interceptions as a junior at Southern California before leaving early for the NFL still is looking for his first pick as a pro.

”My dad always tells me about it, so that’s probably my biggest critic that I have,” said Jackson, who noted he returned his first interception for a touchdown as a sophomore.

Ryan intercepted 13 passes over his first four seasons in the NFL with the Patriots. That earned him a three-year deal with the Titans in March 2017, but he went all season without picking off a pass for the first time in his career. Butler has eight interceptions over his past three seasons, which helped earn him a five-year contract from Tennessee.

”I’m pretty sure they’ll bump that number up from zero this year,” Butler said of Ryan and Jackson. ”Everyone wants the ball. We’ve just got to play hard and just play as a team and everything will work itself out.”

Vrabel brought in Kerry Coombs from Ohio State to coach the Titans’ secondary, a man with 35 years of experience making his NFL debut with Tennessee. Coombs isn’t ready to compare their secondary to anyone else right now even as he loves their chemistry, athleticism and work ethic.

”I can’t wait to go play against somebody else to see,” Coombs said. ”But I think our goal obviously is to be in that conversation.”

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker