Jim Wyatt, Senior Writer/Editor, TitansOnline.com
Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees freely admits the defense is a work in progress, and said it has “a long, long way to go.” But so far he’s liked what he’s seen.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Inside linebackers coach Tyrone McKenzie has been going airborne, bumping into his pupils with mid-air collisions in celebration.
Defenders have slapped hands when quarterbacks have been forced to get rid of the football, either because of a quick pass rush and/or solid coverage in the secondary. Ball carriers have been stuffed near the line of scrimmage.
While quarterback Marcus Mariota has had some fun distributing the ball to the team’s offensive playmakers, through five days of organized team activities, the Titans have had plenty of positive moments on defense as well.
But new defensive coordinator Dean Pees isn’t celebrating anything yet.
“To me, in OTAs, it is always a little bit of advantage for the defense,” said Pees, “from the standpoint the offensive line really can’t come off and just railroad you and block you because we are not in pads and we are really not allowed to do that, and the contact has to be minimal. Really I think that is a disadvantage to the offense. Even when you pass rush and you are doing a drill, I think the defense has an advantage because the offense can’t cut – they can’t do a lot of things they can actually do in a game.”
But Pees said the competition has been good, and his unit is making progress.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We are a long ways from starting the season. But the guys are working hard. I think they are doing a great job in the classroom, paying attention, getting adjusted to a new system. And coaches are getting adjusted to them, too.
“I’d say for this point where we are, I am pleased, but we have a long, long way to go.”
A 45-year coaching veteran, Pees is on his third NFL stop with the Titans, after previous stops in New England and Baltimore. Pees has spent 14 years in the NFL, including eight seasons (2010-17) with the Ravens, including the previous six years (2012-17) as the defensive coordinator. Under Pees in 2017, the Ravens had a league-best three shutouts and 33 takeaways. The Ravens also ranked sixth in points allowed per game (18.9).
Before joining the Ravens, Pees spent six seasons (2004-09) with the Patriots. He originally joined the Patriots as linebackers coach, and spent his final four years as the defensive coordinator. It’s where he coached Titans coach Mike Vrabel.
On Wednesday, Pees addressed several of his position groups. He likes the depth at cornerback, and raved about Pro Bowl safety Kevin Byard.
“He is taking charge back there,” Pees said of Byard. “He is very, very conscientious, and I love that, especially with a safety. He studies as much at home as he does here. … He’s a professional.”
He’s been impressed by many of his new pupils, some of them established veterans, including Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey and linebackers Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan and Wesley Woodyard.
“What you see and what you hear comes to fruition when you actually watch them practice and watch them play,” he said. “Those guys come out here and practice every day hard, and I am very, very pleased. They are as advertised, and that’s great.”
He’s working in newcomers, like draft picks Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry.
“I think they are doing a good job,” Pees said. “I think all the rookies, the free agents we’ve brought in, all of them are really doing a good job. What you ask of them right now is just that they are paying attention in the classroom, they are trying to learn and trying to do what you are coaching them to do. That is really what you are looking for. To have expectations that the guy is going to walk out there his first day coming out of college and walk on to an NFL field and be perfect is not realistic. They are going to make mistakes. What you want to find out on all these guys, and it’s also true of veterans, is if a guy makes a mistake can they then correct it after you’ve corrected him. That is what you are really looking for. … And I think those guys are doing that.”
Pees said the defense is still working through the installation process, and hopes to have it completed by the time OTAs wrap up on June 7. The following week the Titans will hold their mandatory three-day minicamp.
There’s plenty on the horizon between now and the start of training camp in late July.
Pees is happy to be in the middle of it all. On Wednesday, he smiled when talking about his decision to scrap retirement plans.
After initially turning down a contract extension with the Ravens, and pondering a life of leisure around his big family, he’s back – reunited with his former pupil in Vrabel — and ready to go.
He’s already adjusted to his latest change in logo, and the same goes for his family.
“The other day my daughter sent me a picture of the two boys headed off to school with their Titans gear on,” Pees said. “Wherever grandpa is, that’s where they are.”