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VOL. 39 | NO. 33 | Friday, August 14, 2015

Hall of Fame coach LeBeau ‘another genius in the room’ for Titans

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Dick LeBeau, the Tennessee Titans’ assistant head coach for defense, instructs players during preseason training camp.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

If you want to know about the theory of relativity, who better to ask than Albert Einstein, if only he were still around.

If you want to talk light bulbs, access to Thomas Edison would have been great.

So when the Titans installed the 3-4 zone blitz defensive scheme last year, what could have been better than to learn it from the guy who invented it.

This year, they can.

One of the biggest acquisitions for the Titans in the off-season was not a player, but the signing of Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau to oversee the defense in the second year of the transition to a 3-4 system.

LeBeau’s resume includes more than 50 years in pro football as a player, coach and as the inventor of the defensive scheme the Titans implemented last year with significant growing pains.

The soon-to-be 78-year-old LeBeau, who has the title of assistant head coach/defense, is now running the system and emphasizing the importance of the players communicating on the field.

“It’s another genius in the room,” cornerback Jason McCourty says. “Since he’s been here, he’s preached communication. And he’s been teaching this defense for a number of years.

“He knows what beats it, and he knows the little nuances, and that’s been the biggest thing for us this year so far is communication.

“When you communicate in this defense, and guys know what to anticipate and where each other is going to be, you can actually go out there and make plays.”

Speaking of communication, the subject also applies to coaches in the meeting room.

When LeBeau was brought on board, he was given the responsibility of overseeing the defensive side of the ball, even though Ray Horton remains on staff as defensive coordinator.

Horton, a LeBeau disciple and one of his former players, is still one of the NFL’s rising coaching stars, but after last year’s 2-14 season the Titans figured another voice in the room – especially one with LeBeau’s credentials – couldn’t hurt.

The Titans have been down this road before in a manner of speaking. Two years ago, they called in a lifeline from former assistant coach Gregg Williams, who was seeking to get back in the league after being suspended in 2012 over the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.

Williams came in to assist defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, but the results in 2013 were less than desired, and a coaching change was made at the end of the season when Mike Munchak’s staff was fired.

So what makes this time different? Can two voices coming from the defensive room really be better than one?

For one thing, Horton says he was on board if it’s going to help the team.

“It was about a two-second conversation. It was, ‘If we can do it, let’s. Great.’ We’re in the talent business, acquiring talent that not only means players, it means coaches, scouts, it means everybody,” Horton told the Associated Press.

“The more good people you can have around, the better you will be. And that’s what we’re about - acquiring talent.”

LeBeau indicated similarly that it only took a day or two of being back with Horton to rekindle their old coaching connection and to work together on the same page.

McCourty, who was around when Gray and Williams were together, senses the LeBeau/Horton match will be a much different fit in the defensive room.

“I think you can see it’s a little bit of a different relationship with those guys. With Coach Gray and Coach Williams, Coach Gregg was there to help, but Gray was really the one there running the meeting and doing most of the talking,” McCourty says.

And what about how the current defensive coaches coexist?

“We haven’t sensed (any tension), and that started day one when Ray got up there introduced (and) Coach LeBeau. It was almost a Hall of Fame type speech,” McCourty recalls.

“You just saw the kind of respect he had for him. He said this guy is arguably the best defensive coach over the 20 or ever how many years it’s been. He was drafted by him, he played under Coach LeBeau, coached under Coach LeBeau. I think the amount of respect he has for the guy, it was a little bit easier for him, and he said it’s going to be a blast working for this guy.

“Ray is really a team-oriented guy, and they both are, and I think they truly feel like this is what is best for the team.”

LeBeau also appreciates the groundwork that Horton laid last year in the transition to a 3-4 scheme, making the job much easier this year for the Titans players to understand it.

“We benefit there from last year being 3-4,” LeBeau says. “They had that year, and that first year is usually the hardest one for guys making the transition.

“Whenever you get a new staff in whatever their philosophy is 3-4, 4-3, 5-1, whatever it is, there’s gonna be a period of adjustment there for the players.

“It’s going well because of the approach the players are taking. They’re working hard and they’ve spent a lot of time in the coaches sessions, adjusting to some different defenses and putting everything they’ve got into it, and that’s what it’s gonna take.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for 247 Sports NFL Insider.

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