Titans lean on core from AFC title loss in new offseason

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans know every season means starting over no matter how the previous one ended.

They hope having so many starters back from a team that reached the AFC championship game in January gives them an edge as the NFL works through an offseason like never before.

The Titans have nine starters back on offense led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year, and NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry. Eight starters are back on defense, nine with cornerback Malcolm Butler returning from injured reserve.

They began their offseason program Monday using technology to work remotely with NFL facilities still closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Continuity from that amazing postseason run helps as the Titans go back to work.

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“It definitely helps us back, especially in this type of situation when we’re not able to get in the building and spend a lot of time around each other and the coaching staff,” Tannehill said Tuesday.

“But guys that are already kind of familiar with it, now we’re just able to go a bit more in depth and detail on a lot of things that we did last year and make small adjustments. It can only make us better.”

The Titans lost right tackle Jack Conklin as a free agent to Cleveland, and wide receiver Tajae Sharpe signed with Minnesota. Tennessee traded five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey to Denver, while cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Tramaine Brock remain free agents.

Tennessee kept veteran Dennis Kelly, who started four games at left tackle for the Titans last season, and drafted Isaiah Wilson at No. 29 overall last week to help replace Conklin. Kristian Fulton of LSU, taken at No. 61 overall, is expected to help replace Ryan in the lineup.

The Titans are working without defensive coordinator Dean Pees who retired after the 35-24 loss in Kansas City. Coach Mike Vrabel, going into his third season, has yet to say who will call the defensive plays.

Safety Kevin Byard said losing Pees is definitely a big loss for the Titans, a coordinator who spent plenty of time in the secondary room ready to answer any question.

Byard pointed out that Vrabel remains and comes from Pees’ coaching tree, speaking the same language with similar defensive philosophies.

“I don’t think philosophy-wise our defense is going to change that much,” Byard said. “That’s going to be good for us actually going into a season not actually being able to have those OTAs. It will be a loss, but at the same time the fact that we still have Vrabel, we still have the same coaching staff I think that will help us tremendously at a time like this.”

The Titans’ secondary also has been together now for at least two seasons, and Byard said that will help when the rookies join the offseason program.

Vrabel has said repeatedly he does not anticipate issues with the Titans being in shape and ready whenever the NFL allows teams to get to work on football fields because of how well each player is personally motivated.

Byard has been working with his own trainer, using the Peloton bike he bought for his wife last year, while Tannehill has his own home gym in South Florida.

Everyone is trying to figure out when the NFL will allow teams to start back up together. Byard and his teammates want to be ready for that moment because they know their goal.

“Start off where we left off last year trying to take this thing to the Super Bowl this time,” Byard said.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker

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