NASHVILLE, Tenn. ⏤ The Tennessee Titans are very talented and have a lot of exciting things going for them heading into the 2021 season, but safety Kevin Byard knows that won’t be enough.

“The game is not played on paper, it’s played on the field,” Byard said.

Luckily for Byard, his teammates and his coaches, the Tennessee Titans are poised to move far beyond “good-on-paper” territory in 2021, just as they did in 2020, because of the winning culture the team has constructed.

“Culture” gets thrown around a lot by football leaders as somewhat of a buzzword that has no real meaning behind it.

But when the Titans’ leadership praises the team’s culture, it’s not just lip service. Head coach Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson’s actions, not just their words, consistently show how much they value culture.

A MAJOR BOND

For starters, when Robinson brings new players into the locker room through free agency and the NFL draft, he cares deeply about finding players who add, not detract, from the team’s chemistry in the locker room.

Sure, he whiffed on Vic Beasley and Isaiah Wilson in 2020. But as a whole, Robinson has successfully filled the Titans’ roster with players who are passionate about winning games, even at the expense of individual achievement.

“Robinson and Vrabel do a great job of bringing the right guys in and really reinforcing their message, and we’ve got a good group of dudes who buy into that,” TE Geoff Swaim said.

As a result of Robinson’s insistence on taking calculated shots during the offseason rather than taking random swings for the fences purely based on talent and upside, the Titans’ locker room is filled with a unique bond and camaraderie.

The Titans’ players don’t just clock in every morning, put up with each other, then clock out. Instead, they build real relationships that continue off the field and even outside the building.

And while that doesn’t count for everything, it counts for a lot.

“When you have a team that believes in each other and can count on each other, then special things can happen,” QB Ryan Tannehill said.

Tennessee’s winning culture can also be seen in the teams’ preparedness for late-game situations, which stems mostly from Vrabel.

Vrabel doesn’t just coach the players on how to play well⏤he coaches them on how to win. That involves a fair amount of running through late-game situations in practice, which gives players a measure of confidence when those situations arise on Sundays.

“That’s something that Coach Vrabel has been doing a great job about, he’s been doing a great job of helping us prepare to win,” DL Jeffery Simmons said.

KNOWING HOW TO WIN

The Titans’ preparedness to win games extends beyond what happens in practice, though.

This is a team comprised of players who have experience winning at the NFL level, which is an advantage in itself.

The players currently on the Titans’ roster who were also with the team in 2020 are coming off an 11-win season.

The team’s two most notable free agency signings⏤OLB Bud Dupree and WR Josh Reynolds⏤come from successful organizations that have won a lot of games over the past few seasons.

WR Julio Jones, the Titans’ blockbuster offseason acquisition, made the playoffs several times with Atlanta and even played in a Super Bowl.

All of that experience in winning gives the Titans a leg-up that a lot of teams don’t have.

“Having the confidence from winning those types of games before, I think that carries through,” defensive coordinator Shane Bowen said.

That confidence, in addition to the chemistry in the locker room, is why Titans fans can be confident that this team isn’t going to be some kind of a massive flop in 2021. It’s also the hallmark of the impressive culture constructed by Vrabel and Robinson.

The Titans’ roster isn’t a talented group of players that was hastily and thoughtlessly thrown together during a couple of aggressive offseasons.

Rather, it’s a talented group that was built with a vast measure of intentionality.

  • Tannehill image: George Walker IV/The Tennessean
  • Jones image: Steve Roberts/USA Today