NASHVILLE – Caleb Farley says his confidence level is just fine, thank you.
The Tennessee Titans' first-round pick in 2021, Farley has gone from competing for a starting role in training camp to playing just one defensive snap in the last six quarters.
He was benched for the second half of the lopsided loss to Buffalo in Week 2 after he surrendered two critical first-half receptions. Then, Farley got on the field just once on defense – when teammate Kristian Fulton cramped – during last Sunday’s victory over Las Vegas.
Coaches chose to use Terrance Mitchell – who’d been signed from the Patriots’ practice squad four days earlier – as the team’s third corner instead of Farley against the Raiders.
Was that a blow to his self-belief?
“I’m confident,” Farley said. “I mean, I’m not happy with it, but I’m here to work hard and do what I can do to put myself in position to help this team win. When the opportunity comes, whenever they make that decision or that call, it’s my job to rise to the occasion and do the best I can to come in and execute.
“That’s where I’m at mentally. Emotionally, I’m fine, I’m good, I’m excited. I’m glad we got our first win. Try to get another one this week.”
The decision to play Mitchell against the Raiders certainly didn’t come as a Sunday surprise to Farley, as both players had been told of the move earlier in the week.
“You’ve just got to put your head down and do what’s best for the team, put the team first,” Farley said. “That’s the decision that was made, and I stick behind it because guys make decisions that are best for the team.”
The challenge for Farley now is to bounce back, to find a way to once again become a contributor in the defensive secondary.
That doesn’t sound as if it’s a given, based on coach Mike Vrabel’s comments earlier in the week regarding the position.
“Hopefully we can have a full practice and have a competition,” Vrabel said. “See who is going to be the guy who is going to go out and play for us, and what the rotation might look like, as we work through what personnel they’re in and what personnel we end up playing.”
Said Farley: “Everything is a competition. It’s always been like that. We’re all here, ready to compete, continue to go for wins. Whenever my opportunity comes back up, it’s my job to take it.”
What must Farley improve upon to get back in the mix?
Vrabel seemed to indicate his issues are more mental than physical, when asked if Farley was failing to take what he learned from the practice field into games.
“We just all have to get comfortable doing our jobs and making sure that we’re understanding the call, understanding what the concept is that we’re trying to get done,” Vrabel said “Whether you’re playing pass rusher, inside linebacker or corner, just making sure that whatever that call is, that it’s getting executed. And that everyone is focused on doing their job.”
One continual concern is the lack of game reps Farley has had in recent years. He sat out his final season at Virginia Tech in 2020, due to COVID-19 concerns. Farley was limited to 60 defensive snaps as a rookie in 2021 before suffering a torn ACL.
The more snaps a player has, the more opportunities he gets to learn and to build confidence.
The less time on the field he sees, the harder it is to feel good about himself.
“I’m sure everybody comes into the league confident,” Fulton, a starter since his second year in the league, said. “But once you don’t have those reps and you’re not out there … you can’t lose confidence in yourself. That’s the trick as a (defensive back). You can’t lose that confidence because you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t able or capable to be out there playing the game.”
From the team’s standpoint, it’s difficult to let a player take his lumps and learn – especially at a position like cornerback – in the middle of the season.
That’s why Farley must prove himself in practice before he once again earns the trust of the coaching staff in games.
“I’ll just keep working hard, doing what I’m doing,” Farley said. “I’m ready to go. It’s really not my call, but when the opportunity comes, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Safety Kevin Byard, a team captain, says better days lie ahead for last year's 22nd overall pick.
“This is a process,” Byard said. “Obviously nobody wants to not play in the game. Obviously he was drafed in the first round and he came here to play.
“So maybe early in the season, things haven’t worked out the way he wanted to. But it’s only three games in. We’re going to need him for 14 other games. The opportunity is going to come. His time is going to come. I fully believe that, and I think he believes that as well.”