When the Tennessee Titans finished the 2016 regular season, there was little question regarding the team's most pressing positional deficit: the secondary.
The unit allowed 269 yards per game (31st), 25 touchdowns (tied 17th), and a passer rating of 88.3 to opposing quarterbacks (15th).
Compare these numbers to those from the Titans' run defense last season: 88.3 yards per game (3rd), 10 touchdowns allowed (tied 5th) and 4.4 rushing first downs per game (1st).
In order to bring its pass defense up to speed, Tennessee has revamped their secondary during the offseason.
The team released veteran corner Jason McCourty in April after eight years in Nashville, as well as veteran corner Perrish Cox before Week 13 of the regular season. McCourty has since signed with the Cleveland Browns while Cox remains a free agent.
Soon after, the Titans signed free agent Logan Ryan, two-time Super Bowl champion and former corner for the New England Patriots, and free agent Johnathan Cyprien, former strong safety for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team also selected USC corner Adoree' Jackson with the No. 18 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
The Titans' 2017 starting lineup in the secondary, therefore, looks to be Kevin Byard at free safety, Cyprien at strong safety, and Ryan and Jackson at corners.
Of course the roster has not be finalized yet, and under the rotation system run by Titans' defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, other players like LeShaun Sims, Brice McCain and Da'Norris Searcy will see playing time as well.
"I'm definitely optimistic about what's in front of us," LeBeau said in regards to his new secondary. His reason for optimism is reasonable.
Byard is coming off an impressive rookie season. Ryan has the experience and leadership of having played in two Super Bowls. Cyprien is a physical run stopper. And Jackson is a speedy athlete with high potential.
"I love Jonathan Cyprien," LeBeau said. "He's tough, he's big, he's a very good athlete for his size. ... I think everybody is going to be pretty pleased with him."
LeBeau continued, "I like the fact that we drafted [Jackson] because he was fast. But he's faster than fast. That's what I like about him.
"He's got a really good knack for the ball and he's got tremendous burst. That's the game today in the NFL. You got people spread all over, and the quarterbacks are pretty adept at getting balls to them, so you need people to match them and [Jackson is] one of the kind that can."
All this being said, a glaring obstacle among the four is that none has played a snap together in an NFL game, which has prompted an emphasis on communication during Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
"We're not in any game situations yet, but communication, communication, communication," Ryan said. "There is no such thing as over-communication but if there was, that's what we are doing right now. We're trying to make sure everyone knows, we're all rookies again in a sense of learning a whole new defense."
A whole new defense indeed for Ryan, Cyprien and Jackson who are entering their first season with the Titans. Among the expected starters, Byard has the most experience with the current scheme as a second-year pro.
"All those guys, even with their veteran experience – the nomenclature is all new to them," LeBeau said. "I'm sure some of the defenses are new to them. I'm sure that we have more defenses than what they've run in their previous home."
The positive to learning a new defense is a return to "the basics" says Ryan, since the small details of a scheme can be overlooked when everyone has played under the same defense for several years.
Moreover, the unit has a lot of "youth and energy," according to Ryan. Jackson is just 21-years-old, Byard is 23, and Ryan and Cyprien are 26.
Minicamp began for the Titans June 13, during which time pads and contact are still not permitted like during OTAs. However, once Training Camp begins in late July, the team will get a better sense of how their new secondary plays under game-time conditions.
May 16 2018