None of the Tennessee Titans position groups will look more different this season than the secondary.
The part of the roster underwent significant retooling after the Titans finished in the bottom fourth of the league against the pass in 2020. Franchise officials cut several veteran contributors from the last few seasons in March, including a pair of cornerbacks, Malcolm Butler and Adoree’ Jackson, and safety Kenny Vaccaro.
While Tennessee could still add players in free agency and in the upcoming draft, they signed veteran cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Kevin Johnson in free agency.
Young players will also be tasked with taking on larger roles. One is Kristian Fulton, who enters his second season in the league after an up-and-down rookie season that included injury setbacks.
Monday afternoon, during a virtual press conference, coach Mike Vrabel said he expects Fulton to take a big step forward this season.
“Kristian got injured and didn’t get a chance to really compete there early on. He lost a lot of valuable reps,” Vrabel said. “He got to play for us a little bit late. So, this will be an important offseason for him, both physically and mentally.
“By all accounts, I think he’s ready to do that.”
The 2020 second-round pick by way of LSU played in five of the Titans’ first six contests as a rookie and made two starts before he landed on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury in Week 7.
Fulton recorded his first career interception in a Week 2 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, returning the tipped pass 44 yards. He also made 13 tackles and defended one pass in those appearances.
He returned to action in Week 17, the final game of the season, and played 16 defensive snaps while making one tackle. He played far less (six snaps) in the Titans lone postseason contest against the Baltimore Ravens.
It’s not yet clear what Fulton’s role in the secondary will be this season. But the 22-year-old has experience playing both outside and slot corner positions. He played a good amount at both while in college and received reps in the slot last season.
Cornerback will not be the only position in the secondary at which a younger player fills a void. Safety Amani Hooker effectively replaces Vaccaro, who started 42 games for the Titans at that position over the last three seasons.
A fourth-round pick in 2019, Hooker gained valuable experience last season, starting three games while playing more than 95 percent of defensive snaps in each when Vaccaro missed time due to a concussion.
Overall, though, Hooker played less than 35 percent of defensive snaps in nine games. He still finished tied for the team lead in interceptions (four) and second in passes defended (eight). He made 51 tackles in all, including 35 solo stops.
“There will be some new faces in there, like a lot of other teams,” Vrabel said. “We will have to get the guys that we have coached up in what we’re trying to do this year.”