Titans eager to see if revamped D can build on preseason

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee defensive coordinator Shane Bowen has a countdown going on for the Titans’ defense, ticking off the days and hours until kickoff against the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener.

It’s the first chance at redemption for a unit eager to forget 2020.

“I’m excited to go out there and see them cut it loose and play and hopefully things we emphasize show up and looking forward to it,” Bowen said.

The Titans looked impressive in the preseason, giving up 199 total yards and 132 passing yards per game. Both led the NFL, if preseason stats are worth anything.

For Tennessee, it was a much-needed sign that the offseason changes are working for a defense that was last on third down, giving up 50.8% conversions. The Titans were 30th in sacks ahead of Jacksonville and Cincinnati, 29th against the pass, 28th in total defense and 24th in points allowed.

“Obviously, nobody on the defense played well enough,” safety Kevin Byard said. “We can just put that out there.”

That’s why general manager Jon Robinson and coach Mike Vrabel made some changes.

Robinson released cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Adoree Jackson and safety Kenny Vaccaro to create salary cap space. He then signed outside linebacker Bud Dupree, defensive lineman Denico Autry and cornerback Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins in free agency.

He also drafted cornerbacks Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden and outside linebacker Rashad Weaver. As of now, the Titans have six new starters with safety Amani Hooker and nose tackle Teair Tart moving into the lineup.

Vrabel gave Bowen the coordinator title and hired Jim Schwartz, the former Eagles defensive coordinator and Detroit head coach, as a senior defensive assistant.

Byard said the Titans’ starting defense performed well while playing only a drive or two. Now it’s time to build on that.

“I’m really excited to see some of these guys, especially with me playing the first meaningful snaps, to go out there and make some plays,” Byard said. “They’re playing with swagger, some confidence because we’ve been able to build that up throughout this entire process of building this team throughout training camp and preseason.”

Dupree currently is listed as a starter and has practiced the past couple weeks after tearing his right ACL last December. Farley has been practicing after having a disc repaired in March, but Kristian Fulton, Tennessee’s second-round draft pick in 2020 out of LSU, currently is starting opposite Jenkins.

Bowen said Dupree took mental reps throughout training camp and has practiced the past couple weeks. Dupree’s eight sacks in 2020 with Pittsburgh would have led the Titans last season. A healthy Dupree would give the Titans a counter opposite Harold Landry, who had a team-high 5 1/2 sacks in 2020.

“You look out there and see him in practice you wouldn’t know he’s coming off an ACL, right? So I’m excited to see him go on Sunday,” Bowen said.

One thing the Titans did very well last season was take the ball away. They led the NFL with 15 different players having at least one takeaway, and their 23 takeaways helped Tennessee lead the league with a plus-11 turnover margin.

It’s a big focus again as the Titans got their hands on lots of interceptions this preseason, especially at practice.

“That’s the biggest thing for us, to make more splash plays,” linebacker Rashaan Evans said.

Notes: Pro Bowl WR A.J. Brown practiced fully Thursday after not practicing Wednesday with a knee injury. The Titans added WR Josh Reynolds (foot) and TE Tommy Hudson (toe) to the injury report after both were limited Thursday.

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