TAMPA, Fla. ⏤ Throughout the 2020 season, the Tennessee Titans’ historically bad defense was frequently disheveled, erratic and confused.

In the Titans’ first of two joint practices against QB Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday, however, the players on Tennessee’s defense weren’t the ones who were confused.

The Titans’ defense intercepted Brady three times during Wednesday’s practice, mostly thanks to a scheme that the seven-time Super Bowl champion said was difficult to read.

“They try to confuse you in the secondary, and they did a really good job of that today,” Brady said.

“They challenge you to think, and we’ve got to be much more on top of things tomorrow.”

It’s a big deal that the Titans’ defense was able to get the best of Brady and the Buccaneers.

WHY IT MATTERS

If the unit had performed so strongly against an average or even above-average team with a solid QB and some decent weapons, then the appropriate reaction would be something along the lines of “that’s great to see, but it’s just practice.”

That’s not what happened, though.

The Titans’ defense, coming off an exponentially hapless season, got the best of a Hall-of-Fame quarterback and his star-studded group of weapons that includes five-time All-Pro WR Antonio Brown, four-time All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski and three-time Pro Bowl WR Mike Evans.

By virtually any measure, that’s noteworthy.

While the effort that Tennessee’s defense put out on Wednesday didn’t indicate that the unit is going to be anything special⏤that will be determined in a stadium, not a practice facility⏤it does indicate that they’ve healed from 2020’s communication woes.

This is no longer a group that looks lost. Now, everyone seems to consistently be in the right place, not miles away from it.

Safety Amani Hooker was certainly in the right place when he managed to make a diving interception on a Brady pass over the middle of the field, as was CB Jackrabbit Jenkins when he got hold of a tipped pass intended for Gronkowski.

PLAYING WITH CONFIDENCE

This is also no longer a group that looks timid. Instead, the group is playing with a certain measure of swagger and confidence.

And after such a strong showing against a top-notch group of weapons, that confidence should start to shoot through the roof.

“You’re going against the Super Bowl champs,” safety Kevin Byard said. “I said before we came down here that it would be a great measuring stick for our defense.”

It’s also important to note that Wednesday’s practice wasn’t the first of 2021 in which the Titans’ defense rose to the occasion. The group has looked strong throughout all of Training Camp, making life difficult for QB Ryan Tannehill and the team’s offense.

If anything, Wednesday’s practice solidifies what the Titans defense has consistently shown over the last month: this isn’t 2020 anymore, and they’re a lot better now than they were then.

Cover image: George Walker IV/The Tennessean