NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ While Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is Tennessee’s biggest on-field addition, another pivotal person who joined the organization cannot be overlooked _ even though he won’t play a single snap: Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau.
The designer of the 3-4 zone blitz system is excited about teaching the Titans his defensive scheme after leaving his long-time employer, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It’s a fresh challenge. We’re looking forward to it,” LeBeau said Tuesday when speaking with reporters for the first time since being hired in February. “I really like the athletes here, and the attitude they’ve some to work with here in this 2015 season.”
The 77-year-old LeBeau certainly has found a challenge in the Titans, who bottomed out last season going 2-14 and ranking 27th in the league in defense. LeBeau said he sees promise in Tennessee with what the team already has on hand.
“Some people would say it’s to get a system and draft people to fit it. Some of us don’t have that much time,” he said. “We try to accentuate what our players can do, and I think we have some players who can do some things. … I’m here for one reason. I want to help this team get where we want to get.”
The Titans are plenty excited to have the Hall of Famer on their side this season. LeBeau’s reputation and track record of success commands some needed respect for a franchise that has missed the playoffs six straight seasons.
“I think adding a guy like that is going to make each individual better, which in turn, is going to make the defense better,” said outside linebacker Derrick Morgan, who re-signed with Tennessee after a brief foray into free agency. “That was one of the key reasons for me signing back, just adding the knowledge to the defense. I think it’s invaluable, and it’s going to help the defense.”
Cornerback Jason McCourty echoed that respect factor of having LeBeau in Tennessee, and the Titans already are soaking in the Hall of Famer’s stories from both his days as a player and coach.
“For a player to be in the room with him, a Hall of Fame player and a Hall of Fame coach, that’s awesome,” McCourty said. “That’s the most knowledge you’re going to get from somebody. . We go over fire zone defenses, and he invented fire zone defenses. That’s impressive in itself. That’s awesome as a player and just as a student and somebody that loves the game to be able to learn from somebody like him.”
LeBeau first evaluated each player on the defense from last year and also assessed how the Titans performed in their first year of playing the 3-4 defense under his disciple, coordinator Ray Horton. LeBeau said he thought they did a great job running a complicated new scheme, though he could see some Titans thinking a bit too much before playing.
“This is not a business for thinking too much before they snap the ball,” LeBeau said. “You’ve got to know what you’re doing and go. I think those are growing pains that are involved in any new installation and any new concept and any new coaching staff, And fortunately that is behind us now.”
Notes: Mariota and his fellow rookies reported to work Monday, but the Titans are working them separately from the veterans while introducing them to the team’s coaches and headquarters. They wrap up the week with a rookie mini-camp before joining the rest of the roster in the offseason program May 18.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL