When Mike Vrabel says he expects his players to do whatever is needed to help the team win, it is not just empty talk.
Every time the Tennessee Titans coach and his staff conceive a lineup adjustment to account for an injury, every time he asks a player to do something that is outside the norm, Vrabel can say he has done something similar. Thus, he can make a convincing case for why it can be done – and why it will work.
Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio noted as much last week during an interview with his team’s broadcast crew. Caserio was a coach and a scout with the New England Patriots from 2001-20, and Vrabel played for that team from 2001-08.
Caserio referenced 2005, when Vrabel – an outside linebacker by trade – played all 16 games at inside linebacker because the Patriots had an overwhelming need at that spot. Vrabel led the team in tackles that year and topped 100 for the only time in his career as New England went 10-6 and reached the divisional round of the playoffs.
“He actually made the transition from playing outside linebacker to inside linebacker,” Caserio said. “And it’s not an easy thing to do – you can’t just move from the end of the line of scrimmage to inside.
“But it just spoke to his selflessness. It spoke to his team-first mindset, and I’d say his mental toughness and his capacity. So, that’s who Mike was as a player. And how Mike was as a player manifests itself in how the Titans play. You definitely see that in their style of play.”
That anecdote sheds light on how the Titans have put together a six-game win streak, produced the best record in the AFC and built the largest lead (three games) of any of the AFC’s first-place teams despite the fact that they have used 82 different players and are on pace to set the record for the most used by any NFL team in a single season.
Vrabel does not focus on what he does not have and on how to make it work.
“Mike had a lot of confidence in himself,” Caserio said. “Mike was a very cerebral, a very smart player. … I mean, Mike is mentally and physically as tough a player as we ever had in New England. And they play to it.
“And [general manager] Jon [Robinson] has a great understanding of personnel and how to put a team together. So, they’ve put their stamp on it. They’ve built a good program. They have a number of good players, and they pose challenges on both sides of the ball, regardless of who they have on the field.”
The Titans face the Texans on Sunday at Nissan Stadium in the first of two meetings between the division rivals this season.