Which Vrabel will we see directing the defense?

Friday, February 14, 2020, Vol. 44, No. 7

Jim Haslett, shown here during his time as defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins, has been brought in to coach inside linebackers for the Titans.

-- Photo By Mark E. Tenally | Ap Photo

The Tennessee Titans and coach Mike Vrabel have finalized the coaching staff for 2020 with two intriguing moves.

First, Vrabel brought in Jim Haslett, who has 24 years of NFL experience and last worked for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018, to coach inside linebackers.

Haslett, a one-time head coach of the New Orleans Saints and an interim head coach for the St. Louis Rams, brings a lengthy coaching resume and a veteran sounding board for Vrabel, something the Titans defensive staff needs with the retirement of Dean Pees the day after the Titans were eliminated in the AFC Championship Game.

It’s similar to Jeff Fisher bringing in veteran coaches like Gunther Cunningham and Dave McGinnis to coach linebackers while a young defensive coordinator like Jim Schwartz or Chuck Cecil gained experience in the role.

“Adding quality coaches to our staff has always been my priority with the ability to teach, develop and inspire,” Vrabel explained. “I have known Jim since my rookie season at Pittsburgh and was impressed with how he taught and developed the players on our defense. Over his career, he has experience and success as a head coach, defensive coordinator and linebacker coach.”

But unlike those situations, Haslett won’t be coming to Nashville to help break in a young defensive coordinator, per se. He will be coming in apparently to help his head coach run the defense.

With last week’s announcement, it appears that Vrabel himself will assume the defensive coordinator role since he did not bestow the title on anyone on his staff or from the outside.

It’s a role that will invite even more scrutiny during in 2020. Vrabel has been a hands-on coach during his time as an assistant into this first two years as the Titans head coach.

During any given practice, Vrabel can be seen working with injured players who are making their way back, absorbing their hits while wearing a blocking pad. That’s something he did during his time as a Texans assistant, as well.

And there is, of course, there’s the story of Vrabel going against draft prospects at a pro day and a prospect coming way with a cut lip.

As the 2019 season unfolded, Vrabel’s handling of game management went from questionable (not kicking a field goal up 14 against the Falcons) to baffling (a fake punt pass by Brett Kern on a critical fourth down) to much improved by the end of the season.

Whether his evolution came about through better judgment or players executing his strategy is worthy of debate. But that’s for another time.

With Vrabel making defensive calls, he’ll be more responsible than ever for the level of the Titans’ defense play. Under Pees, Tennessee’s defense was rarely dominant but almost always competitive, unpredictable and smart.

When Pees retired, Vrabel was peppered with questions about what he would do going forward regarding the defensive coordinator position.

“You always want to do what’s best for the players and the team, and, hopefully, there’ll be continuity,” he said. “Again, that’s a process that we’ve begun and we’ll continue to do.”

As for finding someone to replace Pees who shared a similar philosophy, Vrabel said he wanted someone he felt “comfortable” with. Mission accomplished.

“There’s a lot of options as far as being able to bring guys in to interview,” he added. “Again, I want to take my time, I want to make sure.

“You’ve heard me talk about things with the staff. I mean, it’s important that I’m comfortable with the person that’s going to be in that role. So again, this is not something that’s going to be done overnight. We’ll make sure that we do what’s best for the team.”

Vrabel obviously believes it won’t be too much responsibility for him to take a bigger role in the defense. How that unfolds will bear watching.