It was easy to see that the Tennessee Titans had problems on defense last season.
The difficulty was in knowing exactly who was at fault. Many figured it was defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. Mike Munchak clearly thought otherwise given that he retained Gray even as he retooled many other positions on his staff.
Now suddenly, regardless of what happens in 2013, Gray already is completely off the hook.
Safety Bernard Pollard, one of this year’s more notable free agent additions, made sure of that earlier this week in his first formal meeting with the collective local media.
“We, as players, can’t worry about what [the] coach is going to call,” Pollard said. “It’s not about the call. It’s about us going out there and playing defense. … If something doesn’t look right, we as players — we’re on the field, not the coaches.”
Just like that, the eighth-year veteran — fresh of a Super Bowl win — set a standard for accountability and performance that was noticeably absent last year when the Titans stayed on the field longer, and gave up more points than any other NFL defense. It also gave that unit a legitimate chance to be much better.
To be clear, Gray was not completely exonerated for his unit’s failings during a 6-10 campaign. Munchak did hire Gregg Williams as senior assistant/defense, which easily can be interpreted as head coach of the defense. In other words, Gray needed some measure of oversight.
Williams, though, did not exactly have a banner 2012 either. He served an indefinite suspension that ultimately forced him to sit out the entire season for his actions related to the New Orleans Saints’ pay-for-pain program. For a time, there were legitimate questions as to whether he ever would coach in the NFL again.
It would be easy to say that Gray and Williams are vulnerable, that they are two prime candidates to be made scapegoats at the first sign of trouble.
Pollard, though, wouldn’t hear of it. He put the onus completely on the players.
It was a direct departure from the 2012 season, when the standard practice was to adopt the shotgun approach. Rather than take dead aim at any issue, players and coaches tried to spread the blame for failures far and wide.
Everyone needs to be better. The offense needs to help the defense. The defense needs to help the offense. The coaches need to put players in better positions to succeed. The players need to find a way to make something happen.
On and on it went.
And it was not just the defense either. Chris Johnson never exactly embraced responsibility for the struggles of the run game. Neither did the offensive linemen. Neither did offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, at least not until he had no choice because he was fired.
The truth is that one or two people were not exclusively responsible for the shortcomings on either side of the ball. That’s never the case.
Real change can only happen, however, when someone actually is willing to believe it is, in fact, their responsibility and theirs alone.
Pollard didn’t wait for things to go wrong. The start of the season is still four months away, but he already has made it clear who’s to blame when things don’t go exactly as planned, and the Titans are bound to be better because of it.
“You can’t come down on the coach, because we’re playing football,” Pollard said. “It’s us. It’s not him. I guess that’s the … way I’m going with Coach Gray and Coach Williams. Whatever they call is what they call. If you want to come down on them, come down on the players because it’s us out there on the green, not them.”