There are a lot of limitations on what NFL teams are able to do during Organized Team Activities (OTAs). They can’t wear pads, contact is extremely sparse, and coaches are only able to spend a small, fixed amount of time with the players on the field each day.
Despite these and other limitations, teams are still able to accomplish important goals and make progress during OTAs. The Tennessee Titans, who began their OTAs on Monday, are no exception.
When the team practiced on Tuesday, the first of three OTAs practices that will be open to the media, it became clear that the team will be focusing on three particular areas in the coming weeks.
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Even though the Titans’ new offensive coordinator is Arthur Smith, an in-house hire who plans to retain much of the same verbiage that Matt LaFleur used last season, there will still be a bit of turnover.
This idea was on full display when QB Marcus Mariota threw an interception during Tuesday’s practice to cornerback LeShaun Sims. The pass was intended for Taywan Taylor but was way off the mark due to miscommunication.
It’s going to take the Titans offense some time to adjust to Smith’s offense. It won’t take them nearly as long as it would have had the Titans gone a different direction with their OC hire, but it’s still going to be a process.
Additionally, the Titans’ new veterans and rookies are starting at square one when it comes to grasping the team’s schemes on both sides of the ball.
“I’m being asked to run every route in the route tree, now,” rookie receiver A.J. Brown said. “I was predominately a slot guy [in college], then moved to the outside. Right now, I’m being asked to run everything, learn everything.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” veteran linebacker Cameron Wake said of the Titans’ defensive scheme. “Bit of a learning curve, a little different than what I’m used to. I think when you look at the big picture, all the players, all the pieces are put in a position to make plays.”
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) May 21, 2019
Amidst the fast pace of Training Camp, when many players are literally competing for their NFL lives, work on fundamentals can often get lost. That’s why the Titans are taking advantage of the slow pace of OTAs to focus on the details.
As they work up to game speed, Titans players have the opportunity during OTAs to improve little things about their respective games such as technique, route running, tackling form, and other such areas.
“Communication, urgency in and out of the huddle,” head coach Mike Vrabel said when asked what the team can improve upon when there’s no contact allowed on the practice field. “Urgency to make checks, movement, how guys finish, how we are able to throw and catch the football, the routes that we run, those types of things.
“Are they able to take the meetings to the field? Can they handle the installation from one day to the next, when you go from post safety coverage to split safety coverage and then continue to add and mix everything that you’re doing each day? Can guys handle it and not let it pile up on them?”
“Wherever you are in your progress—your speed, your recognition—everybody has something to work on,” Cameron Wake said. “This is the time to do it. Wherever you set the bar now, the goal is to improve and improve. Wherever your starting point now is, that’s where you’re going to improve the finish line.
“You’re starting at 10? Get to 20. If you’re starting at 20, get to 30. That’s just the way it is. Start the bar high and just keep packing on, packing on, packing on. Like I said, when the bullets get flying come whatever date that is, we’ll be as ready as we possibly can be.”
Post practice tips for A.J. Brown from Corey Davis. pic.twitter.com/FacAiNhLeO
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) May 21, 2019
There are many NFL fans and media members who ascribe to the philosophy that culture really doesn’t matter in the league. While many teams do greatly exaggerate the value of a solid locker room, it certainly has value.
For the Titans, that’s one of their best qualities as a team. They get along well, and it ultimately helps them perform on the field.
It goes beyond just the idea that nobody, for the most part, is getting in trouble with the law or the league. The culture that the Titans have built has allowed them to develop unique chemistry and a sense of trust.
In football, which is often given the title of being the “ultimate team sport,” that trust can go a long way. Whether it’s from quarterback to receiver, running back to the offensive line, or free safety to strong safety, trust is vital in the NFL.
“I thought we all meshed well last year right when I came in,” said safety Kenny Vaccaro, “but this is more time for me to get closer to my teammates. Not just the DB’s, but the d-line, linebackers, getting to know those guys and their lives outside of football. That’s the biggest thing for me.”
Vaccaro didn’t join the Titans last season until August, when much of the team had already been together for several months. As such, he especially understands the value that OTAs provides.
“It feels good for me, man,” he said. “You gotta think, last year this time I was on the couch. I was telling these free agents and guys that got drafted that I was just waiting. I’m grateful, I’m humble. Just grateful to be out here working.”
The Titans’ next OTAs practice open to the media is Thursday of next week. They still have over two weeks left of the program, and they will surely use that time to continue working toward these focal points.
Cover image: Donn Jones/Tennessee Titans