NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Last June, Mike Vrabel green-lighted a project most NFL head coaches would have balked at in their first year: gave the OK for more access to his new football team.
“Igniting The Fire,” marketed as a behind-the-scenes look at the Tennessee Titans, made its debut as a digital mini-series last June. An episode was released each Tuesday of the NFL’s summer vacation (a span of six weeks) with the intention of giving fans a reason to care about professional football in Nashville when no football is being played. The idea proved an innovative one and Tennessee will run ITF back this summer for a second season headlined by this year’s Vrabel slogan “Good To Great.”
The team released the first episode Wednesday and fans should be encouraged by that. Innovation is good (maybe even great), but there is always room for improvement. Let us take a look at both the good and bad from ITF: Season 1 and what might be improved upon in the weeks to come.
What I Like:
- Vrabel Gets Why It’s Important
It is not in the job description of an NFL head coach to be aware of anything other than what is happening on the field and in the meeting rooms. But Vrabel’s recognition of the importance of something like ITF for a fan base that could use a little extra engagement speaks, in small part, to why he is a good match for this franchise. Vrabel’s community engagement, willingness to display legitimate personality and just general energy is something that Tennessee has lacked. ITF is an in-house production so the message can be controlled but it presents an opportunity that most in Vrabel’s position would schluff off as an unneeded distraction. But while distractions are not good for football teams, they prove necessary for fan bases in the doldrums of NFL summers.
- Process, Process, Process
As media members, we traffic in the access we can provide to fans. Often times, though, coaches, players, front office personnel and the like can be hesitant to divulge information on their respective processes when we have the opportunity to speak with them in press conference settings. That is not to say that the kind of minutiae we are looking for cannot be found out in other ways but, with ITF, the team can do it on their own terms and be more comfortable doing so. Football fans are smarter than ever, despite what my Twitter mentions might prove. Give them as much insight into the product they so desperately want to pay for and it will engender much-needed goodwill.
What Can Be Done Better
- Scrap The Filler
Episode 1: The Next Steps did not feature the kind of “filler” I’m referencing; there was more than enough in Season 1 to last us a lifetime. Let me preface this by saying: I harbor absolutely no ill will towards assistant equipment manager Joey Barranco, video director Anthony Pastrana or sports dietitian Jill Merkel. They all serve integral purposes to the football team and should not be faulted for being featured for doing what they do. But in ITF episodes that run between 11-15 minutes, surely there can be better, more engaging aspects of pro football organizations highlighted for the people who crave it. Would it be too in-the-weeds to highlight the job of an area scout? I understand that I am not the target demo for this show, but I can’t be alone in thinking that the kind of “access” these mid-episode interviews provided could be a little less…equipment-centric.
- When In Doubt, More Taylor Lewan
“We want to move the needle,” said GM Jon Robinson in Wednesday’s early release. What moves the needle for the Titans more than their eccentric, $80 million left tackle? Taylor Lewan did not appear in ITF: Season 1 because it was filmed in the midst of as a mandatory minicamp holdout and that, from both perspectives, is totally understandable. Now that Lewan is under contract and pumping a new podcast, there should be no reason he cannot drive at least one scene an episode. I exaggerate, of course, because Lewan appeals to my 25-year-old sensibilities and also happens to be one of the best players on the team. But the Titans should never be hesitant to showcase the players with whom fans can create visceral connections with and Lewan is certainly one. Linebacker Rashaan Evans, rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown, safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Kevin Byard all have the makings of star players AND big personalities. Give me more of the entertainers and less of the understated players your organization is trying to push.