Dick LeBeau keeping Titans' safeties fresh with rotation
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Rotating defensive linemen or even outside linebackers to keep players fresh to rush the quarterback is nothing new in the NFL.
The Tennessee Titans have extended the practice and are alternating four players at the two safety positions.
The rotation includes listed starters Da'Norris Searcy and Rashad Johnson, plus special teams captain Daimion Stafford and rookie third-round pick Kevin Byard.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, a Hall of Fame player and longtime coach, approached Titans coach Mike Mularkey with the idea before the season after all four players performed well through the offseason and training camp.
''We just thought we had a group of safeties that had complementary skill sets, and they were all pretty good athletes. And if we can keep them really fresh and really sharp in the fourth quarter, like you want your defensive line, we would take that,'' LeBeau said. ''I checked with coach Mularkey and he thought it was a good idea, and it's been good for us.''
LeBeau rotates the safeties usually by series, or in an extended drive, rather than situationally.
''It was a great idea,'' Mularkey said. ''I think they're all playing good football for us. They all have a little bit to each of them, and obviously if you're playing a lot you feel like you're a bigger part of it. Our guys have really contributed the way we hoped.''
Johnson leads the foursome with 22 tackles followed by Stafford with 20, Searcy 17 and Byard 14. Stafford has the only interception in the group.
Even though it means fewer snaps each game, the players have bought in to the concept knowing the payoff is having more stamina in the fourth quarter. The Titans (3-3) currently rank ninth in the NFL in total defense and 11th against the pass with Indianapolis (2-4) visiting Sunday.
''A lot of us play on special teams too, so it keeps everybody fresh,'' Searcy said. "My reaction, me being an older guy, I know it takes a lot off your body because you're not out there hitting. It keeps everybody fresh and able to play.''
Johnson, in his eighth NFL season, has adapted well to a lesser role even though he had never rotated in and out of games before this season.
''At the end of the day, it just keeps you locked in and focused for the entire game, because you never know what type of situation you may get thrown in,'' Johnson said. ''It keeps guys on their toes.''
LeBeau and the Titans' defensive coaches may have been planting the seeds of this rotation as far back as May.
''They said, `Some days we don't know how the rotation is going to be. We're going to call it out on the sideline and you've got to run in and be ready to play,''' Johnson said. ''I think they were kind of preparing for something like this, knowing they had so many guys that could play the position.''
One player benefiting the most might be Byard, a rookie from Middle Tennessee. He played the most snaps of the four in last week's 28-26 win over Cleveland.
''My confidence is building up every game,'' Byard said.
Notes: The Titans listed only two players on their injury report, and both are expected to play. Tight end Anthony Fasano and cornerback Brice McCain were on the report after sitting out Wednesday with ankle injuries. Both were full participants on Thursday and Friday. The Colts listed 19 players on their initial injury report and have already ruled out seven players for Sunday's game.
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