It did not take long for new head man Mike Vrabel to assemble his coaching staff. It will be intriguing to see how the staff fits and works together as a unit. Vrabel vowed to piece together a top notch staff and on the surface it looks as if he just may have delivered on that promise.
The coaching staff is as follows:
– Matt LaFleur (Offensive Coordinator)
– Rob Moore (Wide Receivers)
– Pat O’hara (Quarterbacks)
-Keith Carter (Offensive Line)
– Tony Dews (Running back)
-Arthur Smith (Tight Ends)
-Dean Pees (Defensive Coordinator)
-Shane Bowen (Outside Linebackers)
-Tyrone McKenzie (Inside Linebackers)
-Kerry Coombs (Secondary)
-Terrell Williams (Defensive Line)
-Craig Aukerman (Special teams)
Let’s take a gander at the background and expertise of the new Titans coaching staff members. Everything stems from the head coach, so we will start with Mike Vrabel.
Mike Vrabel (Head Coach)
Mike Vrabel was named fifth coach in Titans history and 19th in franchise history in January. Vrabel is a breath of fresh air for fans who were clamoring for change. He brings to the table a no B.S personality. A guy who is a straight shooter. As a player he spent fourteen years in the NFL. Vrabel suited up for three different teams, those being the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots, and the Kansas City Chiefs. Vrabel should definitely resonate with players on the roster who are striving to achieve greater success. Vrabel has won three Super Bowls. Players can look at his resume and see the blue print and realize Vrabel knows what it takes to win and win big. Vrabel also received recognition for individual performance. In 2007 Vrabel was selected to the pro bowl but also was picked to the all-pro team. Vrabel has coupled individual success with team success. Players can look at Vrabel’s past and see a guy who was a heck of a player, but also a guy who was a team first guy. After retiring in 2010, Vrabel coached linebackers and defensive linemen at Ohio State University for three seasons. From 2014-2016 Vrabel coached up the linebackers for the Houston Texans. In 2017 he was promoted to the defensive coordinator position. As with many first time NFL coaches there could be a learning curve. I do not think he will be hindered by the promotion. Vrabel strikes me as a guy who is well equipped to handle all the extra duties on his plate.
Matt LaFleur (Offensive Coordinator)
Matt LaFleur was a hot commodity after his one season coordinating the Los Angeles Rams. LaFleur is a guy that should be bring some extra juice to the team. Some Titans fans griped about Terry Robiskie and those fans got their wish. LaFleur is a young gun in the coaching profession, only 38 years of age. LaFleur was attached at the hip to another young coaching super star, head coach of the Rams, Sean McVay. The Rams offense in 2017 was night and day more productive than the year before under Jeff Fisher in 2016.
LaFleur played an instrumental role developing Jared Goff, who threw for 28 touchdowns opposed to only seven interceptions. It was not just an aerial attack for LaFluer’s offense in L.A. Halfback Todd Gurley thrived in the offense. Priority A should be for LaFleur to mentor Marcus Mariota and groom him into a more consistent passer. We all know that Mariota has wheels but LaFleur will be tasked with tinkering with his accuracy.
LaFleur is a coach that puts tons of emphasis on starting out fast on first and second downs. He is also an advocate for a balanced offense that constantly keeps the defense guessing and on their heels. LaFleur strikes me as an innovator. Look for him to think outside the box at times with his play calling, but not get too fancy. LaFleur seems to be a guy who is open and tends not to be too stubborn with his play calling. It is good to have a coach like LaFleur who can adjust and adapt.
Rob Moore (Wide Receivers)
Mike Vrabel got a coup with Moore, who was previously the wide receivers coach with the Oakland Raiders. Moore coached in Oakland for three seasons, starting in 2015 all the way through 2017. He also had a brief stint in Buffalo in 2014.
Moore has had a unique ascent to where he is currently with the Titans. His very first coaching gig was in New Jersey for Montclair High School. He has also dabbled in the junior college ranks. Prior to his time in Buffalo and Oakland, Moore was at Syracuse from 2010-2013 serving as the wide receivers’ coach. He has coached the likes of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Moore will be tasked with developing guys like Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, and Eric Decker. The wide receiving corps definitely has potential and some skillset there, but Moore will need to groom his guys and focus on having the playbook down pat, but also doing the little things, like running proper routes and catching the ball consistently. Look for him to relate to players given has past of coaching at the high school, college and professional level. Quality coaching from Moore could be the difference between an ok wide receivers group and a very good wide receivers group.
Pat O’Hara (Quarterbacks)
O’hara is a coach that is following Mike Vrabel. O’hara was with the Houston Texans for three seasons from 2015-2017 as an offensive assistant and a guy who worked hand in hand with the quarterbacks.
O’hara spent time himself as a quarterback, suiting up for teams in the Arena Football League, the NFL, and the World League. He also coached four different teams in the Arena Football League. He will be called upon to develop Marcus Mariota and be a quarterback whisperer. All eyes will be on Marcus in year four of his NFL career. He will be connected to Mariota in a sense. If Mariota is successful O’hara will be deemed successful as well. O’hara and LaFleur will need to collaborate and have Mariota clean up his game. That means no air mailing and gift wrapping interceptions. More interceptions than touchdowns will not cut it. O’hara will need to simplify and have things slow down for Mariota. When Marcus is in his comfort zone he performs at a high level. When he thinks too much he is prone to make errors.
Keith Carter (Offensive Line)
Keith Carter has 13 years of coaching experience under his belt. Five of those years have been spent in the NFL. Prior to joining Vrabel’s staff, Carter was with the Atlanta Falcons for three years from 2015-2017.
This past season, Carter served as the running backs coach. Prior to that he was the assistant offensive line coach for the Falcons. The offensive line cupboard is not bare. Carter will need his guys to play to their strengths and be a big, disciplined, and nasty unit. Carter will need to have his guys cut down on bone head penalties. No costly late hits and unnecessary penalties. If the unit can gel, the sky is the limit.
Tony Dews (Running Backs)
Last season Dews was the running backs coach at West Virginia University. He has bounced around as a coach for over 20 years. Projecting the backfield for 2018 can seem a little bit murky. If Demarco Murray is not on the team Derrick Henry will really have to morph into a guy that can consistently handle the load. No matter how it shakes out, Dews will have talent, but he will need to coach up whoever he has in his backfield. If both Murray and Henry still share the backfield Dews will have to perform a juggling act. Both Henry and Murray are alpha males who can do the bulk of the work. I think Henry and Murray have proven they can coexist. It will also be crucial for Dews to develop all the running backs on the roster, not just the headliners.
Arthur Smith (Tight Ends)
The Titans and Vrabel opted to go in-house here. Smith has been with the franchise for eight seasons. Smith will be picking up where he left off. He has spent time the last couple of seasons as the tight ends coach. This will be his third season overall coaching the tight ends. Smith will have Delanie Walker at his disposal. Walker is a versatile talent that would make any tight end coach look good. Smith could be a guy that lets Walker lead the way and show others, especially rookies, how NFL players are supposed to go about their business. Smith will need to coach up the reserve tight ends. You never know when a guy will go down with an injury. Will a guy like Phillip Supernaw be ready to step into a main role? Also, Jonu Smith will need to make strides and be a complement to Walker. You cannot double team both of those guys. If Austin Smith can get Jonu Smith to perform at a high level, it brings another element to the team.
Dean Pees (Defensive Coordinator)
On January 30 Dean Pees was announced as the defensive coordinator for the Titans. Pees has plenty of mileage and experience under his belt when it comes to coaching. Pees has coached for over four decades.
Most recently Pees was with the Baltimore Ravens. He was tapped to be the linebackers coach for the Ravens in 2010 and held that position leading up to the 2012 season. In 2012 he was given the reins and the keys to the defense. Pees was the defensive coordinator from 2012-2017. In 2012 he was at the helm of the defense that won the Super Bowl. Half of his defenses in Baltimore ended up being toward the top of the NFL defensive rankings. Pees’ defense could look a lot like the defenses he coached in Baltimore. The calling card for his defenses is having guys that are big, physical, and fast. Dick Lebeau did a solid job but can Pees take this team to the next level? Will he be working with a full deck of players like he had in Baltimore? I think the answer to that will be yes. It is also worth wondering if Pees will have a guy like Terrell Suggs or Ray Lewis spearheading the defense.
Shane Bowen (Outside Linebackers)
Shane Bowen decided to make the transition to the Titans after spending two years with the Texans.
Bowen coached at the collegiate level at the upstart Kennesaw State. Bowen coached linebackers at Kennesaw State. Vrabel wanted to have a defensive staff that consists of two linebackers’ coaches, one inside and one outside. Bowen picked to be in charge of the outside linebackers. He will be coaching along side inside linebackers’ coach Tyrone McKenzie. It is unique to have two separate guys coaching linebackers. Can the two coexist? The structure is there for them to operate and work together. I do not think the transition will be too difficult.
Tyrone McKenzie (Inside Linebackers)
McKenzie will be designated to coaching the inside or middle linebackers, while Shane Bowen will oversee the outside backers.
McKenzie, like Matt LaFleur will be making the transition from being a Los Angeles Ram’s coach to a coach for the Titans.
McKenzie coached special teams for the Rams in 2017.
McKenzie was a player in the league as well. He was selected in the third round by the New England Patriots. His brief career included stops at New England, Tampa Bay and Minnesota. McKenzie has experience in the college ranks. In 2015 he was a graduate assistant for the Colorado Buffaloes. McKenzie got his feet wet coaching up defensive lineman at Stanford in 2016 while also being dubbed a quality control assistant for the Cardinal. McKenzie and Bowen will have talented guys to work with but they will need one to emerge as the bell cow. McKenzie will need to have his guys understand their role and what is expected of them. But the group will also need a vocal leader in the clubhouse who leads by example.
Kerry Coombs (Secondary)
There is a direct connection between Coombs and Vrabel. They both crossed paths and developed a relationship while both were coaching at Ohio State. Coombs spent six seasons in Columbus, Ohio coaching the secondary and special teams.
The Buckeyes and Coombs have had some stellar defenses with standout defensive backs. Vrabel hopes to bottle up some of that defensive back dominance and convert it over to his Titans defensive backfield this season.
Coombs will have some young Ferraris in the garage with safety Kevin Byard and cornerback Adoree Jackson. Also in the secondary will be seasoned players Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien. Both Cyprien and Ryan were drafted in 2013. Pees is renowned for being good schematically but also talented when it comes to player development. Jackson is a guy whose ceiling is very high. Coombs will need to get everything out of Jackson and make sure he ascends to the next level. Coombs can mold Jackson into one of the best defensive backs in the league. Coombs will need to put emphasis on consistency. Cyprien, Jackson, Ryan and Byard have talent in spades but can there is always need for guys to improve and be more consistent.
Terrell Williams (Defensive Line)
Terrell Williams has spent over 20 years in the coaching profession. The last three seasons have been with the Miami Dolphins. From 2015-2017 Williams coached the defensive line for the Dolphins. Williams has helped mold guys like Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake into stars.
Williams should have a healthy stable of guys in the defensive trenches. Look for Williams to rotate capable bodies to ideally wear down offenses. There are a bunch of solid players on the line, but is there a Cameron Wake on the roster?
Craig Aukerman (Special Teams)
Although it sometimes falls off the radar, special teams are critical. Often times games can hinge on kicking and punting. Aukerman is one of the few guys on the staff that will not have to uproot and move to a completely different town in order to coach. Aukerman was the special teams’ assistant for the Titans in 2017.
Aukerman was the Chargers special teams coach from 2013-2015 and the special teams’ coordinator in 2016. Aukerman will have the tools in the toolbox with punter Brett Kern and kicker Ryan Succop.