The revamped Tennessee Titans secondary has not only undergone a new look in terms of personnel, but has also improved in terms of communication through four games this season.
While three of the four starters from a year ago are new with only Chris Hope back among the starters from a year ago, there have been far fewer instances where players have looked at each other and asked questions after a long pass completion by an opponent.
Some players have pointed to accountability as one factor for their better play, but one of the main influences is the improvement in communication among the defensive secondary this season.
“Everybody is just knowing their job and just relying on one another,” said Cortland Finnegan, who has shifted from nickelback to starting cornerback. “When you’re trusting one another, that helps out a lot. For the most part, it’s been sound for the first four games. But we’ve got 12 more and hopefully it’s the same.”
The trust factor began building in the offseason, according to the players.
“It had to do a lot with the offseason, guys growing together as a family,” Finnegan said. “We did a lot of things outside of football, and that was big for us. I guess we’ve just been preparing better with each other. That’s one of the things that I think has been carrying over better onto the field.”
The camaraderie stretched beyond the football field into recreational activities and just spending time with each other as a team and as friends. Can off-field relationships translate into a better performance between players on the field? Hope says it does.
“We trust each other,” Hope said. “I felt like we had a lot of camaraderie built up among each other this offseason. Whether it was playing basketball, lifting weights or chilling at each other’s houses. We now know each other’s weaknesses to a certain extent, and we just trust each other. I can have a feeling of what kind of guy I’m lining up next to. I know what makes him tick. I know if he gets beat, where he’s going to get beat at most of the time.”
Communication is the first ingredient to a successful defense, according to Titans head coach Jeff Fisher. And nowhere is communication more necessary than in the defensive backfield, where mistakes defending a pass play can cost many more yards oftentimes than on a running play.
“Communication is probably the No. 1 most important aspect on a defense,” Fisher said. “If a defense is not checking and communicating and waving their hands, the odds are you’re going to have a tough time. We talk about communication, technique and effort as the three key ingredients in defense, and it starts with communication.”
Perhaps the most surprising aspect is how quickly everything has come together for the secondary that is 75 percent new from a year ago.
It might be even more startling that they are doing so without Adam “Pacman” Jones — their most dynamic playmaker — who is suspended for the season. However, there is the theory that Jones, despite his knack to make big plays, could sometimes freelance too much to the detriment of the rest of the secondary and the defensive scheme.
The focus now is all about everyone doing the same thing assignment-wise.
“Whether it’s right or wrong, we all do the same thing. And everybody in our group is a stand-up guy with accountability,” Hope said.
For Hope, even though Calvin Lowry represents his third starting free safety in three years, a strong trust factor has developed between the two, even in a short amount of time.
“When I line up, I don’t really focus on who I’m lining up next to,” Hope said. “I focus more on understanding his game. It’s not the name or who I’m standing beside. Everybody on this defense can play football. I haven’t really realized that the last three years I’ve played with three different safeties.
“I think Calvin plays with a chip on his shoulder, and I think he plays with the opportunity of seizing the moment. I know he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be every time. If we mess up, we all mess up together. I know he knows exactly where he’s supposed to be.”
Hope says Lowry’s style is different that of last year’s starter Lamont Thompson, who was let go in final cuts and signed with Miami.
“Lamont was a little more laid back and didn’t say too much,” Hope said. “Sometimes if I was unsure about something, he wouldn’t clear it up for me at times. So the communications sometimes with Lamont was great when we all knew, but if we didn’t know something, we all played something different.
“It relies on one of the safeties to make the call, whether it’s right or wrong. I don’t know it; you don’t know it, but let’s call something, and then we all play it together. That was the only little gray area I could see between me and Lamont.”
The Titans secondary is working to make sure everything is clear — especially when it comes to communication.