NASHVILLE, Tenn. — One of the Tennessee Titans‘ biggest strengths in 2019 was kick coverage, but the team will need to develop new talent to continue the success in 2020.
While core defensive backs like Tye Smith, Joshua Kalu and Chris Milton are all back for the upcoming season, the Titans lost a pair of key special teams contributors at linebacker in Wesley Woodyard and Daren Bates.
It will be up to some of the team’s younger players to fill that void.
“It’s a great opportunity for our younger players to come in there, step in, and show us what they can do,” special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman said.
The Titans’ biggest offseason acquisition at inside linebacker was Nick Dzubnar, who was a major contributor on special teams for the Los Angeles Chargers.
He will certainly be counted on to help make up for the losses of Bates and Woodyard.
“I coached Nick with the Chargers a couple of years back,” Aukerman said. “Watching him play and really grow as a player these last couple of years was really nice to see when we evaluated him during free agency. We expect a lot out of him.”
Shane Bowen on his role with the #Titans: “I think I’m an extension of Vrabel when it comes to his defense and what he wants and expects. Ultimately, though, it’s about these outside linebackers.”
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) July 31, 2020
While Dzubnar will fill some of the void the Titans will have on special teams, he won’t be able to fill all of it. It will be up to the Titans’ younger players, particularly undrafted free agents, to pull some of the weight as well.
“We’re excited about our young players,” Aukerman said. “Those guys are going to get a great opportunity to get up in there and get plenty of reps during Training Camp.
“That’s what we told them early on, ‘you guys are going to have one of the better opportunities to come in and compete, and earn a spot for us.'”
Currently, the Titans have just three inside linebackers on the roster who were on the team in 2019. Adding Dzubnar to that mix brings the total to four, which would be a low number of bodies at that spot to enter the 2020 season with.
As a result, it does seem likely that an unknown player will have a real opportunity to carve out a roster spot because of his special teams play.
“We lost some guys in that room and whoever it might be, whether it’s a first or second-year guy, somebody’s going to have to step up and claim that role,” outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen said. “I think special teams plays a big part in that, too.”
When the Titans begin practicing as a team again in mid-August, inside linebacker will be a position to keep an eye on.
Cover image: Robert Hanashiro & Geoff Burke / USA Today