NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With starter Malcolm Butler’s season now over, the Tennessee Titans’ corps of defensive backs is taking a “next man up” approach.
Butler, who suffered a broken wrist against the Carolina Panthers in Week Nine, was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.
It will be tough for the Titans defense to move forward without Butler, but the team is confident in his replacement, LeShaun Sims.
“He’s probably one of the best press man-to-man corners in the league,” CB Logan Ryan said of Sims. “He was the best corner in Training Camp this year. He didn’t let up a catch in one-on-ones for 25 straight passes. I’ve never been apart of that, never seen anyone that good.”
“LeShaun will be prepared, I’m not worried about LeShaun,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “He’ll step up, and he’ll do a good job. Obviously, we don’t like losing Malcolm or anybody, ever. But that’s the nature of this business.”
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As Pees alluded to, losing players due to injury is something that every NFL team has to deal with year in and year out.
It’s something that the Titans have already experienced throughout the 2019 season. Starting tight end Delanie Walker has missed the team’s last two games, OLB Cameron Wake missed two games, and CB Adoree’ Jackson and LB Jayon Brown have each missed a game.
“One thing we talk about in our room is that, when a guy goes down, the standard doesn’t change,” safety Kevin Byard said. “I think [Sims] is going to hold himself to that standard and take advantage of his opportunity.”
“That’s why guys are here on our roster, so that we have confidence in them that if they have to go in the game, they have to play for us, that they’ll be ready,” head coach Mike Vrabel said.
“There are a lot of guys that get opportunities in this league and do some really good things with them, and we’re confident that that’s what LeShaun will do.”
Butler’s injury is especially unfortunate for the Titans because of how well he had played over the course of the first half of the season. He was having great success in keeping the receivers he faced in check, and his ball-hawking skills had yielded two interceptions.
“The thing I always appreciated about Malcolm was his competitiveness,” Vrabel said. “I know it wasn’t perfect, but certainly always appreciated his competitiveness and how he attacked, how he finished plays. We wish that he hadn’t got hurt, but we understand that that’s the unfortunate part of this business.”
Sims’ opportunity to be a starter for the Titans in the final seven games of the season is a big one, considering that he is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.
Success for Sims over the next two months would likely equate to a lucrative contract in the spring of 2020.
“I got my first start when Aqib Talib got hurt six years ago,” Ryan said. “Malcolm got his opportunity in the Super Bowl, he waited for 16 or 17 games, and now we know him as the Malcolm Butler of today.”
Now, it’s Sims’ chance to make himself known.
Sims was not available for comment in the Titans’ locker room on Wednesday or Thursday.
Cover image: Jeff Hanisch & Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today