NASHVILLE — David Long is now starting for the Tennessee Titans at inside linebacker. His opportunity comes at the expense of long-time fan favorite Jayon Brown.

In a contract year for Tennessee, Brown has been relegated to a reserve role.

How the Titans handle their situation at linebacker is one of this season’s overarching storylines. With unrestricted free agency approaching for both Brown and former first-round pick Rashaan Evans this offseason, what would the presence of Long and 2021 draft choice Monty Rice mean for the two of Tennessee’s defensive incumbents?

The decision on Brown appears to have been made.

Titans preferred Long this year regardless of Brown’s injury

Titans coach Mike Vrabel is in favor of the hot hand approach when it comes to who contributes in his defense.

When Tennessee opened its season with a 38-13 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Brown led all linebackers with 62 defensive snaps (92.5%). Brown appeared on the Titans Week 2 injury report with a hamstring issue, was questionable to play and then ultimately ruled out for the team’s trip to Seattle. It was against the Seahawks that Long’s play stood out.

Aug 28, 2021; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans inside linebacker Jayon Brown (55) walks to the field before the game against the Chicago Bears at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports.

Now, it is the West Virginia product’s job to lose.

Long played 51 snaps (98.1%) in Seattle alongside Evans, whose 2021 play has improved enough from a season ago to keep him on the field. Brown began his return to practice slowly, but was a full participant on Friday before Tennessee hosted Indianapolis in Week 3. Long played all 57 defensive snaps, while Brown saw only nine (15.8%).

Long was on the field this past Sunday against the Jets for nearly the entire game (98.3%). Brown, who was a full participant all week with the hamstring issue, played slightly more 19 (31.7%). At the start of the Titans Week 5 work on Wednesday, Brown returned to the injury report and did not practice with a knee issue.

He suffered an MCL sprain in the 27-24 loss at New York.

Long in, Brown out…mostly

Tennessee’s coaching staff values Brown, but in a reserve role.

Sep 26, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans linebacker David Long (51) waits for the snap during the first half against the Indianapolis Colts at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

As for Long, Vrabel has been pleased with the progress the former sixth-round pick has made.

“David (Long Jr.) is, I would imagine if he is healthy and up for the game, he will start,” said Vrabel. “He has played well, he has played fast. We feel like we have a few guys in there that can rotate and we have to continue to rotate them, find some roles for them, keep them fresh, and try to continue to get some production and playmaking ability. David (Long Jr.) triggers on the football and plays fast and plays hard.”

Brown had hoped to be a fixture for the Titans defense in years to come. A giant billboard in Downtown Nashville just about a mile from where Tennessee plays its home games features him alongside wide receiver Julio Jones, running back Derrick Henry, left tackle Taylor Lewan and safety Kevin Byard. All are considered some of the franchise’s top attractions.

In the case of Brown, the marketing has surpassed the performance.

Featured Image: George Walker IV-USA TODAY Sports.