Learning from GOAT gives Titans fresh perspective

Friday, August 23, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 34

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel talks with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during a combined training camp practice in August in Nashville. Brady adn Vrabel were teammate when Vrabel played for the Patriots.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

For nearly 20 years now, the New England Patriots with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have set the standard by which all other NFL teams – past, present and future – are measured.

It doesn’t take much study to see the Patriots’ finished product on display every year in the postseason.

But Nashville football fans got to see a truly unique perspective this past week when the Patriots came to town for their two practice sessions with the Titans before Saturday night’s preseason game.

The preseason game itself wasn’t much different than any other preseason game. After about a quarter, or maybe a half, it didn’t do much to hold people’s attention, because fans know it didn’t count and Brady didn’t even play.

But what counted most for the Titans was the two practice sessions of going against Belichick and especially Brady and catching a glimpse of how they construct the finished product seen during the regular season and in the postseason.

It is a model of greatness often imitated – Titans GM Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel frequently draw on their Patriots roots – but seldom replicated.

Seeing how Brady proceeds through practice was maybe akin to watching Babe Ruth take batting practice. Or listening to the Beatles in the recording studio working to get just the right sound on each recorded track.

To take the Beatles analogy a step further, Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz recalls in interviews being invited to a recording session where the Fab Four were working their legendary Sgt. Pepper album.

Dolenz said he arrived expecting to attend a party-type atmosphere in the studio. Instead, he found just the four Beatles alone working in business-like fashion alongside producer George Martin during the session. Apparently, it was then that Dolenz realized just how dedicated and precise the Beatles were in making their music.

And just like this week, those at St. Thomas Sports Park got a chance to see the greatest quarterback and coach combination in modern NFL history plying their craft and demonstrating just how important football is to the Patriots and how they go about perfecting it.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel, a close friend of Brady’s from his playing days, knows the attention to detail cannot be overstated.

“I think the thing that you can always appreciate is the pace and the operation in which they get to the line of scrimmage, they get lined up, they use the cadence to their advantage, and they see you in man coverage and they’re able to snap the ball quickly when they feel like they have an advantage, getting the right plays, seeing pressure and being able to throw a screen,’’ Vrabel explains.

“That’s why we really enjoy practicing against a team like that.’’

Case in point, the receivers Brady threw to in practice this past week were basically a cast of no-names. Rob Gronkowski has retired, Julian Edelman is hurt. So Brady found himself slinging passes in the direction of guys named Jakobi Meyers, Connor Olszewski and Braxton Berrios.

It didn’t matter. The result was the same many times – Brady throwing precision passes and hitting open receivers in stride. And when it didn’t happen, Brady made sure to find out why.

Once, after Berrios had caught a touchdown in team drills a couple of plays before, on his next target, Berrios went one direction and Brady’s pass went the other. The rookie receiver hadn’t even made it all the way back to the huddle before Brady was letting him know rather decisively what he had done wrong.

And then a couple of plays later, Brady went back to Berrios, who redeemed himself with a solid route and reception.

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota runs a drill during an organized team activity at the Titans' training facility.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

It showed the inner workings of why Brady and the Patriots are so successful and how the process works. Brady was asked about that particular point, and he made his position very clear in what he expects.

“I think that’s the learning curve for a lot of players and being on the same page,’’ Brady explains.

“Really, I think so much is him expecting the ball to be a certain place and me expecting him to be a certain place. I think the chemistry between a quarterback and receiver, a quarterback and a tight end, is so important because it’s all anticipation.

“If you’re waiting for things to happen in the NFL, you’re too late. You’ve got to just anticipate and expect them to be a certain way, and that’s the way they turn out. I have, obviously, a lot of experience, so I know where guys should be, so I’m trying to tell them, ‘If you want the ball, this is where you’ve got to be,’ which is hopefully good learning for those guys, and it’s good teaching for me.

“I always say the quarterback can’t do anything without the receivers, and the receiver can’t do anything without the quarterback, which makes it a really great relationship. That’s why we work hard at it, that’s why you spend the time with those guys and you put all of the work in.”

That type of approach probably even made the Titans a little better, seeing it put into practice up close and personal. The Titans have held many joint practice sessions with various teams, and those sessions were good camp work, but nothing like what took place last week against New England and Brady.

“It’s the level of competitiveness that he has, the composure to be able to be talking and hearing a call, get guys in the huddle, get the personnel, break the huddle,” Vrabel points out. “He knows what defense you’re in, probably before you do. There’s just a lot of things that you have to do well to be able to disguise and be successful against him.”

Cornerback Logan Ryan, who is in his third season in Tennessee after having been Brady’s Patriot teammate, says the challenge of facing maybe the best quarterback ever can only make the Titans defense better for having done so.

“It was a great test for our room. We went against the best challenge in No. 12 over there, and he tested us,” Ryan says. “We had a few good plays, and he had some good plays. It was hotly contested, and that’s how you want it, going against the best.

“I think it made us better.”