NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans finally have three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, and Vic Beasley Jr., too.
Now it’s up to coach Mike Vrabel and his assistants to figure out how much they can get from both outside linebackers starting when they open the season in Denver.
“It’s great to add pieces,” Vrabel said. “And again, we’re just set to see where everybody fits in.”
Vrabel said Monday that Clowney has started the testing process, and later in the day the outside linebacker signed his contract. The hope is for Clowney to get into the building sometime Tuesday and see where he is at physically to start practicing.
“He hasn’t even looked at our playbook yet,” Vrabel said. “So for for us to start to figure out what the versatility is, we’re familiar with the player’s skill set, with J.D.’s skill set and where he may potentially fit is all going to depend on how much he can handle.”
Both Vrabel and Clowney know each other pretty well. Vrabel coached linebackers in Houston between 2014 and 2016 during Clowney’s first three seasons in the NFL after being drated No. 1 overall in 2014. He was defensive coordinator during Clowney’s best season in 2017 with a career-high 9 1/2 sacks.
Vrabel expects some familiarity for Clowney with what the Titans are doing on defense and noted the linebacker has a really good football I.Q., was able to handle what coaches asked of him in the past.
“He has an ability to learn and study and understand the concepts that we’re trying to coach and, again, he had a good grasp on what we’re asking him to do with some other stuff with his original job,” Vrabel said. “So, I think that that became easy to learn the second job.”
The Titans also need to see where Beasley is physically. Beasley had been their biggest free agent signee this year until Clowney agreed to terms on his own one-year deal. But Beasley reported late to training camp and spent all preseason on the non-football injury list before passing his physical Saturday.
Tennessee signed Beasley to his one-year deal hoping Vrabel and outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen could help him regain his 2016 form when led the NFL in sacks with a career-best 15 1/2.
Adding Clowney now gives the Titans seven first-round picks on defense. General manager Jon Robinson drafted linebacker Rashaan Evans, defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons and cornerback Adoree Jackson, while signing Clowney, Beasley, safety Kenny Vaccaro and cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
Now Clowney and Beasley have a chance to help boost a defense that ranked 21st in yards allowed, 24th against the pass and next to last in red zone defense in 2019 despite reaching the AFC championship. The Titans ranked 12th in points allowed per game.
Safety Kevin Byard noted previous Titans coach Mike Mularkey always listed Clowney as the top game wrecker whenever they played Houston. He expects Clowney to continue doing just that with Tennessee forcing coordinators to focus game plans on slowing down the linebacker.
“He’s going to be a great addition to our defense,” Byard said.
Vrabel has talked since he was hired as Tennessee’s head coach about using multiple looks on defense; front multiplicity as he called it. Now Clowney and Beasley give Vrabel options to mix them with Simmons, lineman DaQuan Jones and Harold Landry III along the front.
The best would be if the Titans don’t have to rely on blitzes, especially from defensive backs, to generate pressure on quarterbacks after getting 5 1/2 of 43 sacks from defensive backs in 2019. Byard, who has the most interceptions in the NFL since 2017 with 17, gets a little giddy at the thought.
“Man … if you create pressure with a four-man rush, I mean, that’s heaven on earth,” Byard said.
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