NASHVILLE — Ahead of the Tennessee Titans first 2021 training camp practice, coach Mike Vrabel fielded questions from the media. What stood out about this particular press conference that differed from the thousands that have come before it?
It was the first time that Vrabel had met with the Tennessee media corps in-person for 18 months.
Teresa Walker of the Associated Press, who gets dibs on opening questions for the head coach, Zoomed in from her duties covering the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Outside of that, Titans availability felt as normal as it has since the 2019 NFL combine and COVID-19 wrecked our world. While we still remain on our heels as a society dealing with a global pandemic, the routine in Tuesday’s events brought a sense of comfort.
So, why on Earth should you care about any of this? The same logic applies to players looking to make strides in Tennessee.
Titans prospective starters needed this offseason
When COVID shut the world down, everyone’s daily regimens became disrupted.
Doubly so for NFL athletes who not only say Organized Team Activities and rookie minicamps vanish, but also had to devise at-home workout facilities with minimal to no equipment. Distribution chains were disrupted (and still are) in a way that it made it difficult to find and order equipment. If you did not have a Pelaton bike prior to the shutdown, good luck getting one. Problems like these plagued veteran players around the country making their normal preparations near impossible to replicate.
Now, imagine you are a rookie.
The NFL acclimation process is already a difficult one. Last year’s class of draft picks and undrafted free agents faced far greater adversity than any before them. Heading into the 2021 season, however, order in the league’s calendar has largely been restored.
Several Titans vying for new starting roles this season have already started to see dividends from the return of the offseason.
“I can’t really tell you why or what happened because we didn’t have (an offseason) last year,” Vrabel said on Tuesday. “I can just tell you that I saw some guys make some significant progress, guys that were here. Anthony Firkser, Teair Tart, Kristian Fulton, those guys that were here working out. Then I see them now and they look different, they don’t look like the guys that we coached last year.”
Firkser, Tart and Fulton all have golden opportunities in Tennessee this season.
Jonnu Smith’s departure presents a challenge. In an offense so loaded with skill position talent, though, Firkser should see ample one-on-one match-ups and thrive. Tart represents an intriguing conversation along the Titans defensive line as to who can best replace star nose tackle DaQuan Jones. For Fulton, GM Jon Robinson nuked his 2020 secondary and added three new cornerbacks to the mix.
The sophomore defensive back can prove that he is a part of the long-term solution while Tennessee patiently awaits first-round pick Caleb Farley’s return from the Non-Football Injury list.
2021 may not be completely normal, but its as the Titans and every other NFL team have come to it in quite some time. The goal of the offseason is to make an impression on the coaches and executives who will determine a player’s future.
Last year taught these three players not to take such opportunities for granted.