Steve Brown is not simply a voice of experience for the Tennessee Titans’ defensive backs. He’s the voice the cornerbacks and safeties hear most often when they are on the practice field.
It is not necessarily in the job description of the secondary assistant to speak up first and often during workouts. Common sense suggests that role is more befitting of secondary coach Brett Maxie.
It is, however, in Brown, who played eight seasons in the NFL (1983-90) as a cornerback.
“I think it’s just personality,” he said. “The bell rings, you just have to go. It’s not by design. [Maxie] and I work extremely well together, and we kind of feed off each other. It’s just my personality — go, go, go.”
The most significant changes coach Mike Munchak made to his coaching staff after his first season were the additions of Maxie, who had a 13-year playing career in his own right, and Brown. They replaced Marcus Robertson and Curtis Fuller, respectively.
Tennessee finished 14th in the NFL in pass defense in 2011, its best performance in three seasons but was in the bottom third of the league with 11 interceptions.
“We just needed a change in that room with direction,” Munchak said. “… It’s just a matter of sometimes you need a coaching change. It’s good for the players. I thought bringing in two guys like these guys with different personalities [was necessary].”
The difference was obvious to anyone who attended training camp workouts.
Brown is easily heard, enthusiastic and encouraging. From behind the secondary, he offers instant analysis of almost every play in practice in a style that easily could have been developed during the past nine seasons when he was a coach at the University of Kentucky.
Maxie looks studious in his thin glasses and acts very much the same way. Standing along the sideline his occasional gestures — often of dismay — belie his emotions but much more often than not he holds his tongue until the meeting room.
“I don’t like to have a knee-jerk reaction when something happens,” Maxie said. “I would rather wait until the player comes to the sideline or catch it on film. That works for me. … Early in my career I was knee-jerk reaction coach. I just found out that that’s not the right way to do it.”
For what it’s worth, the Titans were 11th in the preseason in pass defense, and their eight interceptions were the most in the league.
The impact of Maxie and Brown, though, faces a significant test in Sunday’s regular-season openers against the New England Patriots led by Tom Brady, who is poised to become the 14th player in NFL history with at least 40,000 passing yards.
In five career meetings with Tennessee — four Patriots’ victories — Brady has completed 60 percent of his throws with nine touchdowns and just one interception. His top wide receiver, Wes Welker, has 80 more receptions over the past five seasons than any other active player, and his top two tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, set in NFL record last season for combined catches in a year.
“There are a bunch of playmakers in the secondary,” Brady said. “… They’re good at every position, and there is depth. We have to be very sharp. We have to execute at a high level. We just can’t go against a team like this and take anything for granted.”
Likewise, no one should take for granted that Brown is doing any more of the work just because he is the one who says the most during workouts.
“Opposites attract,” Maxie said. “Steve is an outstanding teacher. I’m just excited about the opportunity that I have to work with him. He and I, we’re developing a really good chemistry.
“It’s one voice when we’re talking to our players and our players know that. They understand it and they respect it.”
Of course, it helps that only one is wired to speak up during practice.
• Three Titans did not practice Wednesday because of injury — defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks (knee), defensive end Scott Solomon (knee) and tackle Mike Otto (finger/knee). Two others, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey (elbow) and linebacker Zac Diles (hamstring) practiced. Munchak said Otto was the only one not expected to be available Sunday.