By re-signing safety Kenny Vaccaro, the Tennessee Titans locked up a crucial component of arguably the NFL’s best and most complete secondary.

The chance to keep playing alongside such talented teammates was a big reason why Vaccaro wanted to remain in Tennessee. Not only does it make things easier for him, but it serves as a motivating force.

“It makes it a lot easier,” Vaccaro said. “[Kevin Byard] is the best safety in the league, Logan [Ryan]’s the best nickel in the league, and I’ve got the two best corners in the league, so my job is easy. They make me want to elevate my game.

“That’s my biggest thing—it’s not even competing against my opponent. I want to make sure I don’t let Kevin Byard down, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Adoree’ Jackson. That’s what drives me, not necessarily who we’re going against. I’m not going to let them down at any point in the game. That’s kind of where my passion came from.”

After being signed a week into Training Camp last season, Vaccaro quickly fit in with the defense. He stuck his head down, learned the playbook, and began making a big impact.

The fast transition was aided, according to Vaccaro, by the Titans asking him to get back to basics.

“Last year was actually my first year playing traditional safety ever in my career,” he said. “I always played like kind of a nickel, never got the chance, really. With the Saints I was multiple, but at the same time I was always just a nickel around the line of scrimmage, never really ten yards, 20 yards off the ball.

“So that was really my first season ever playing safety. I talked to [defensive backs coach] Kerry [Coombs] earlier, and he said: ‘your best football’s ahead of you.’”

That comfort led Vaccaro, who general manager Jon Robinson deemed a “primary target” in free agency, to sign a four-year contract extension with the Titans. There certainly would have been some interest in the Texas product had he hit the open market, but Vaccaro’s focus remained in Tennessee during free agency.

“I wasn’t really worried about that,” Vaccaro said, “I was worried about getting back to Tennessee. I knew my value, but at the same time, I knew I wanted to be here. I enjoyed it; easy transition coming to this team. It made it an easy decision.”

Vaccaro served last season, in many ways, as the missing piece for the Titans’ up and coming secondary. With Vaccaro and Kevin Byard, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Adoree’ Jackson, the Titans fielded a secondary in 2018 that really limited opponent’s opportunities in the passing game.

According to defensive coordinator Dean Pees, the talent at his disposal in the secondary really opens up the playbook for the rest of the defense. “If you can play man coverage and you can truly cover guys,” Pees said, “that’s obviously a big factor in how you play defense because you can turn some other guys lose up front, maybe you can pressure more if you’ve got good cover guys on the backend.

“…What you have if you have a good unit that can play well as a unit, it can allow you to do some things up front with some pressures and things like that that maybe you couldn’t do if you don’t have it. Whenever you have a secondary that doesn’t give up big plays, you’re going to have a heck of a defense.”

The unit will be helped in 2019 by the fact that all five starters have been retained. That continuity will allow the Titans’ secondary to continue to take steps forward in Pees’ system.

“We’re all coming back together,” Vaccaro said. “That continuity’s a big thing, especially in the secondary. I didn’t even get OTA’s with these guys [last year]. I came in a week into Training Camp, picked up the scheme in two days, and we were rolling. I’m excited to see what’s to come.”

In deciding to bring Vaccaro back, the Titans followed the age-old principle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Their secondary was one of the league’s best in 2018, and with Vaccaro back, odds are the unit will follow suit this year.

Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today

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