MOBILE — As the Tennessee Titans try and figure out how to pick up the pieces from a disappointing end to their 2021 season, general manager Jon Robinson has his work cut out for him. I caught up with Robinson at the 2022 Senior Bowl this week with much to discuss.
For starters: the status moving forward of Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Titans coach Mike Vrabel.
The two situations are obviously very different. For Tannehill, the three interceptions thrown in a 19-16 home playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals were damning for a large contingent of the Tennessee fan base. Vrabel’s situation is just a matter of where he and the organization are in terms of a contract extension.
We discussed those topics and the Titans draft plans for 2022 Wednesday on my 104.5 The Zone radio show.
Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson at the Senior Bowl
Buck Reising: So, (Mike) Vrabel gets a trip to Vegas and you’re here in Mobile, but for someone in your business, I don’t imagine there’s a better place to be right now.
Jon Robinson: It’s good to be down here and get to talk to the, to the prospects. It’s really our first time to sit down with those guys one-on-one and interview them and get to know them as people and learn a little bit about their history and their background in football, and then, you know, watching them compete out on the field. It’s a great sessions, a great measuring stick for those guys and looking forward to watching them compete.
BR: Well, I know we’re still pretty early in the week, but what have you learned so far?
JR: There’s certainly some big guys upfront on the lines of scrimmage. I thought, you know, that was an impressive looking group up there. There’s some disruptive guys on the defensive front. It looked like a pretty good tight-knit group. I know, from what I’ve seen at least early on. We’ll continue to evaluate them throughout the course of the week, but I’d say we’re off to a pretty good start down here.
BR: So, you’re heading into Season No. 7 with the Titans, Jon, but you obviously have been a personnel guy for a long time. How many senior bowls would this make for you?
JR: Holy smokes, Buck. You’re making me feel old. It’s probably, this is probably 20 or 21, I think. Yeah, trust me. I don’t feel like I’m that old either. I looked down around the stands and kind of down on the field and, you know, around the hotel and meeting spaces and there’s a lot of younger faces now that I don’t really know who some of them are. Guys like myself have kind of transitioned to being the older heads in the personnel world. Such goes the cycle of life, I guess.
BR: What separates Senior Bowl from all the other college all-star games? I know you were at East-West shrine this past week. What makes Senior Bowl different?
JR: All-Star games, they have varying degrees of guys that show up in terms of caliber of players. I think, historically, this is kind of the gold star game for guys to come to and participate in. You get a lot of coaches down here at this one where you don’t have as many as some of the other games. It’s a great week from a roster building and a team building standpoint because you’re evaluating these guys against arguably the best in the country.
Some of the juniors and underclassmen are here. A lot of times those guys are some of the better players, but it’s a great opportunity for, especially some of these smaller school players, to come down here and compete. It’s a really a good measuring stick for us as evaluators to see the how those guys perform on a higher level.
BR: Well, and you guys as a staff have really leaned into that specifically with so many of the guys that you’ve drafted over the past couple of years coming, or having participated in this particular All-Star game. I don’t know if I’m putting you on the spot here by asking you which guy that you ended up drafting that, that participated in the Senior Bowl made the best case for themselves in this All-Star game or throughout the course of the week of work with the different coaching staffs.
JR: I’d have to go back and think. Most everybody that has come down here and played in this game, it’s given us a chance to spend time with the players. They’ve had varying degrees of success after we drafted them. Some caught on a little quicker. Last year’s draft is probably freshest in my mind with Dylan (Radunz) playing down here. He played really good in the San Francisco game.
You still learn a lot about offensive line play and at the speed that we want to play with at the NFL level, Monty (Rice) down here, he didn’t participate in the game, but it gave us a chance to talk to Monty and start to get to know him. Dez Fitzpatrick was here. Certainly going off to a storied slow start with us in August, but really, really worked hard throughout the course of the season, this past season and got back up on the active roster and is really trending in the right direction.
I think you can make a case for a lot of guys that have come through this game and ended up on our football team. It’s a great tool for us, for all the clubs to evaluate these guys and spend time with them.
BR: With Dillon Radunz. You brought him up. What position do you guys see him at right now, Jon, after you’ve kind of had a season with him and to work with them on trying to trying to refine skill sets as an offensive lineman.
JR: Congrats, Duke. (Radunz) worked in a lot of spots. Obviously he started in the San Francisco game at tackle and played pretty good in that game. Certainly there was some things and some plays you need to clean up, but he’s worked at guard, worked both sides of the line. Coming into to the spraying going on once we get back and OTA is and trying to pay to mini camp and training camp, you know, that’ll probably clear itself up, you know, a little bit, but I think the fact that he has some playing experience, some practice experience, um, and a lot of different spots certainly bodes well for him, versatility wise, because you’ve got to have those guys who can play, you know, a couple of different spots and I won’t bill them to come in and compete and try to earning, earn a starting spot at one of those bonds.
I know he’s anxious to get back get to work and try to do that.
BR: Not, not to listen in on your conversation, but could I ask who you were congratulating just now?
JR: Yeah. Duke Tobin. He was personnel director there for Cincinnati. Congratulated him on making it to the final game.
BR: They had to go through you guys to get to the final game, Jon. And obviously the task at hand right now is to find ways to improve the football team and really at any time given your position. What most needs to improve from the way that your guys’ season ended?
JR: You can’t really look at the entire season in just one game. Certainly, it came down to one game and we didn’t make enough plays in that game to come out on top. There were different portions in that game that we played really well. Ultimately, it comes down to like, I can just about every playoff game. If you look at most of these games in the playoffs, it comes down to a handful of plays that one team makes and the other team does it for whatever reason.
That’s a huge tipping point in the outcome of the game. So, you know, I think we’ve got a great locker room. We got a great bunch of guys. We’ve got a lot of good football players and I think it’s just continuing to add to the team. There’s certainly players that were on this 2021 team that, that won’t be here next year on the 2022 team. There’ll be new players that come on to the 2022 team that weren’t on the 21 team. That’s the nature of the NFL. Happens every year with every football team.
We’re starting that transition and the new roster-building process for the 2022 team now.
BR: What was that kind of like to have to shuffle the deck at any given moment? I know you always have to be prepared for those situations, but this is a literal NFL record that you guys broke in terms of how many players dressed for you this year.
JR: You certainly don’t set out and at the end of the draft in May, or when you start to training camp, thinking that you’re going to have to use different guys that were around that, don’t even know what the final number was, but…
BR: 91 players. I promise you I’ve written it. I’ve said it a million times,
JR: Too many, Buck, but I think it’s a testimony to the personnel staff to have those lists ready, and having guys come in and, just start on the practice squad and end up on the active or signed to the active, whatever, however they get there. The identification of those players that we think could come in and help us, the coaches coaching those players up, teaching them the techniques, the fundamentals, the systems that we have shown that can win.
And then the players, the players being accepting of their role, accepting of the opportunity and not wanting to give that opportunity up and to keep forging ahead. Certainly don’t want to have to do it again. One thing that I’m certainly proud of: our organization as a whole and everybody that played a part training staff. Can’t say enough good things about our trainers and our strength staff with getting guys back healthy and ready to play.
That’s what we are charged to do. And, hopefully we don’t have to go through that many guys again. But if so, I think we’ve certainly proven that we’re ready to do it.
Ryan Tannehill will be Tennessee’s QB in 2022
BR: So the one constant, or one of the constants throughout the course of that, Jon was, was Ryan Tannehill. And he’s obviously under contract going into next season. And at this point, I know we talked about the Bengals and, and not boiling down the season to one game, but how would you assess the way that Ryan managed this season and are you guys committed to him next year? Is he your starter?
JR: Yeah, Ryan’s our quarterback. He’s made a lot of plays for us. He’s a great leader. He’s extremely tough. He’s throw some really good passes. I mean, he certainly had some that he’d probably like to have back, no different than any other position. There’s guys that would have this block or that block back or this pass rush, or that pass rush back, this route back. That’s what makes football special to me is that it’s a team sport and there’s a lot of factors that go into the production level of the offense, defense and the kicking game.
Love what Ryan brings to our football team, love what he stands for. We’re looking forward to him getting back in there and, and getting back on track and keeping this thing rolling.
BR: Special is a great way to put it, Jon. Because I know, I mean, certainly you guys, that’s gotta be not the highs and lows of it have to be pretty unique as a feeling. I know fans go through it too.
JR: There’s different plays and there’s so many things that go into the execution of an offensive play and a defensive play. It’s about being on the same page, making sure we run the route at the right depth that we hit our landmarks and, in the run game, did we hit our landmarks and the blitz pickup. You’re making the right read and you’re catching the football with the proper technique. All of those things and the details and the fundamentals and the execution and how consistently you execute those things in critical games. The playoff games are certainly critical games.
Division games are critical games. I mean, heck, there’s only 17 opportunities. They’re all big games. So the more you can capitalize on the team’s mistakes and minimize the ones that you make as a football team and execute those plays, the higher chance you have of success. Certainly in the regular season and definitely in the post season.
Robinson on extending Titans HC Mike Vrabel
BR: You’ve had success certainly, you and Mike Vrabel together. What kind of makes that relationship between you and Mike work so well, Jon?
BR: (Vrabel)’s a great leader. He coaches the coaches and coaches the players, and we try and identify the right types of guys. I identified before Vrabel came on those, those tough minded, those team-first guys, dependable guys, guys that are gonna hold their teammates accountable and we try and get as many of those guys in to the program as possible and coach those guys up. I’s interesting as I’ve talked to some of these guys here at the Senior Bowl. I tell a lot of them, I was like, “the one thing that we cannot coach you on is effort.”
We can work with you on your technique and your fundamentals. But your effort, you’re either going to play hard or you’re not going to play hard. We try to get as many guys that love football and want to play hard as possible and try to improve their technique and their fundamentals. Mike does a great job with stressing that, with emphasizing that, making sure his coaches are coaching them. We try to do a great job of getting those kinds of guys in, because historically that’s what has been successful for us.
BR: With that being said, Jon, Mike (Vrabel)’s contract status, have you guys started talking about an extension for him at all?
JR: Yeah. We’re working through some things on that. That’s club business. Have the utmost confidence in Mike and all the coaches here. And we love Mike being here. No doubt that we’ll get all that figured out.
Featured Image: USA Today Sports.