NASHVILLE – It was nearly seven months ago that the Tennessee Titans’ 2020 season ended.
Yet the 20-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the wild card round of the playoffs has not been forgotten, at least not by those who were there.
“I can say that no one in that locker room felt great after that,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said Wednesday. “It was a rough ending for us after the promising year we had. Winning the division was good, but that’s not why we compete in this game, to win the division – it’s a step – but ultimately [the goal] is to win the division.
“Yeah, sour taste in the mouth. Tough ending for us and I think it motivates a lot of guys in this locker room. But at the same time, it’s a new team, a lot of guys that weren’t here for that. We have to find a way to come together with all the new faces and find a way to compete for a championship this year.”
When they took the field for their first practice of their 2021 training camp, more than half the players on the 90-man roster – 48 of them, to be exact – had been signed since the end of last season. The newcomers included 38 veteran and rookie free agents, eight draft picks, one waiver claim (Elijah Nkansah) and one trade acquisition (Julio Jones).
One of the prevailing missions of training camp is to combine the confidence gained from last year’s successes (11 wins, the first division title since 2008) with the new players to form – ideally – a roster that has even more success.
“We just got to go out there and prove it,” inside linebacker Jayon Brown said. “I know these guys, and we have a really talented team. But every team thinks that. We have to go out and prove it. It doesn’t matter what I say.”
Offseason award winners: Coach Mike Vrabel said that tight end Anthony Firkser, wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and defensive linemen Larrell Murchison and Teair Tart were named the Titans’ offseason award winners. Murchison, a fifth-round pick in 2020, and Westbrook-Ikhine and Tart, undrafted last year, are all in their second seasons in the NFL. Firkser has been with Tennessee for three years but is in line for a bigger role in 2021.
The offseason award winners are singled out by coaches for their work habits and their attention to their individual improvement plans during the course of the offseason. And what does that recognition get them?
“An ‘Atta boy,’” coach Mike Vrabel said. “They get to – hopefully – play. They get better. We give them a parking spot out front.”
Defensive back added: The Titans signed veteran defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun prior to the day’s workout.
The 29-year-old filled a roster spot created when defensive back Chris Jones was placed on the Reserve-COVID-19 list. Players may be added to the COVID list if they test positive for the virus or are quarantined due to a close contact with an infected person. Teams are not allowed to reveal the reason a player is added to the list.
Undrafted out of Minnesota in 2016, Boddy-Calhoun has 47 games of NFL experience (22 starts) with four NFL teams (Cleveland, Houston, Indianapolis and San Francisco). For his career, he has been credited with 151 tackles, three interceptions, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Getting started: Third-round draft pick Elijah Molden said he felt a level of comfort on his first day of training camp that last year’s rookies probably did not.
“I (feel) fortunate enough that we were able to get in here for OTAs,” Molden said. “The rookies last year didn’t have that, and that makes it a lot harder. Then I stuck around here for the month and a half we had off.”
All offseason work other than virtual meetings was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. That meant the first time the entire roster got together was at the start of training camp.
Molden and the other first-year pros currently with the Titans already have had a chance to make their first impressions in person. Now, they just have to build on what they have done.
“The first couple of weeks – really probably the first year – is about [making] a good impression,” Molden said.
The last word: “I love the direction this team is going. I know that having a threat like Julio out there might make the box a little less [crowded] for us, which is nice. [We] don’t have to worry about the unblocked guy making the tackle, and I’m sure Derrick [Henry] loves that as well.” – left guard Rodger Saffold, on the impact wide receiver Julio Jones could have on the run game.