Former New Orleans Kenny Vaccaro was the right choice for the Tennessee Titans to replace Johnathan Cyprien.
When Cyprien tore his ACL on a safety blitz in Wednesday’s practice of Training Camp, it was devastating for the Titans. He was a big locker room voice in addition to being a sizeable presence on the field.
But because of the NFL’s nature—the league’s acronym is often comedically referred to as standing for “Not For Long”—the Titans moved quickly. Luckily for them, the safety position was rich in the free agent market.
Following the team’s announcement of Cyprien’s injury, it was very quickly reported by various sources, namely NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that the Titans were set to have four veteran safeties in for a visit: Mike Mitchell, Ladarius Webb, Eric Reid, and Vaccaro.
Reid was reportedly unable to make his visit due to flight cancellations.
A major reason that the Titans settled on Vaccaro, according to head coach Mike Vrabel, was because he crushed his workout. “He had a great workout—that was an impressive safety workout that he had. These guys did a great job, all those guys that were able to come in. What we expect is that he’s a pro and that he comes in and learns what to do quickly.”
But perhaps the biggest reason the Titans decided on Vaccaro was his skill set. While he isn’t as close to Cyprien’s mold as some of the other players the Titans brought in for a workout, Vaccaro is probably the best overall football player of those guys.
It is important to note that there is reason why Vaccaro remained unsigned in August. He does have a lot of talent, after all he was a first-round draft pick. But though he’s far from a bust, he was never quite able to consistently live up to his pre-draft hype with the Saints.
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For that reason, the idea that he will actually turn out to be a vast improvement over the injured Cyprien is probably a flawed one.
Still, Vaccaro will have a big role with the team. His head coach seems to be pretty fond of him. “He’s got a unique skill set. He’s got good size, good speed. He had a great workout. There were times where, I think last year, he didn’t look like himself early on in his career—the guy that was the first rounder—but from what we saw, we were excited to see him do the things that we asked him to do in the workout.”
Vrabel added that there is a pretty good chance Vaccaro will play in the Titans’ first preseason game next Thursday against the Green Bay Packers. “That would be the plan. You sign guys in the preseason to play them and get them going. So, I would certainly love to get him ready to get out there and be able to help us on the field in some capacity on Thursday night. That’s why you sign guys in camp.”
As for Vaccaro, he is simply focused at the moment on working hard and earning the respect of his teammates. “It’s hard coming out here. These guys have all grinded together, they know each other’s names, know each other’s families, wives, kids, and children. Not knowing anybody, I’ve got to catch up quick and earn my respect.”
He added that he has a lot to prove with such a talented group of defensive backs around him. “And that’s not even because I signed a one year deal. Just because this league, I’ve learned this offseason, is so precious. You never know what’s going to happen. You’ve got to value every minute and every moment you’ve got with it.”
— Steve Layman (@SteveLayman) August 4, 2018
The biggest reason that Vaccaro is the best overall player out of those worked out by the Titans is the diversity of his skill set. While players like Eric Reid and Malcolm Mitchell fit more into the “thumper” mold, Vaccaro has the ability to move around.
According to draft analyst Michael Kist on Twitter, Vaccaro can play both safety positions in addition to being able to cover the slot. He’s fast and has prototype size.
Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees is known for having a defense that moves players around. Based on his talent and his past experience with the Saints, Vaccaro feels he will be a good fit in the system. “I think it’s going to be good. I’ve moved around my whole career, I’ve never really sat down in one spot. So I’ve gotten really comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m really excited for this defense. I know I’ve got to earn my way up, and I’m ready to do it.”
Vaccaro is also a good fit with secondary coach Kerry Coombs. He told reporters that his position coach in college, Duane Akina of Texas, was also very loud and involved. “Kerry is screaming every play, and that’s how [Akina] was. So, it was a perfect fit for me. I like that—if a coach is not saying something to me, I feel like I’m doing something wrong. I want to be corrected every step of the way. That’s showing that you care about the player.”
Though Vaccaro is not going to come to Tennessee and affect the defense in the same way you would expect someone like Malcolm Butler to do, he should have a positive impact. Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel seem to have gotten this one right.
Cover image via Turron Davenport.