Wrestler Turned Lineman 'Tougher Than Crap'

Adam Coon has a lot to learn but also has shown numerous attributes that Tennessee Titans coaches find appealing.
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NASHVILLE – Everyone involved agrees that Adam Coon has a lot to learn.

However, he also has a few things going for him that can’t necessarily be taught.

“He’s athletic. He’s tougher than crap,” Tennessee Titans offensive line coach Keith Carter said. “He works his butt off. He’s smart. All those things. He’s got all those really outstanding characteristics.

“Well, let’s go see how far we can take him from a technique standpoint and understanding standpoint, really.”

While his chances to make the 53-man roster at the start of the regular season are admittedly slim, Coon will be one of the most intriguing players on the Titans’ 90-man roster throughout training camp and the preseason.

An All-American wrestler at Michigan from 2013-18, he was a three-time NCAA All-American, a two-time NCAA finalist and won 116 of his 131 career matches. He signed with Tennessee as an offensive lineman earlier this month after he failed to make the U.S. team for the Olympics in Tokyo. Never mind that the last time he played organized football was 2012, his senior year in high school.

“He’s starting from scratch, man,” Carter said. “How you read a playbook. How you get in a stance. All that staff. But I’m excited. He’s the right guy for the job in the sense that he’s going to work his butt off (and) he’s going to keep coming back for more.”

Head coach Mike Vrabel has seen first-hand that what Coon is attempting is possible, which is why he saw fit to use a roster spot on a 26-year-old rookie who checked in at 6-foot-5, 294 pounds after he signed.

During his eight seasons as a linebacker with the New England Patriots, Vrabel was teammates with guard Stephen Neal, who was a four-time All-American and two-time national champion wrestler at Cal Bakersfield where he went 156-10. Neal did not play football in college but had a 10-year career with the Patriots during which he appeared in 86 games and started 81. Of course, it took more than a year before he got on the field in a regular season game and two full seasons before he became a starter.

“Wrestlers, especially at that elite level have unbelievable balance, core strength, things that I think would translate well into being an offensive lineman,” Vrabel said. “But having not played the game, there’s a lot of development that has to go on pretty quickly for him to compete. But he’s got a great attitude. He shows up. He competes. He goes hard. He just might not know what to do all the time.

“I think we just have to continue to coach him, develop him and see what we can get out of him and how he develops.”

At the conclusion of his college career, Coon’s sole focus was on his Olympic bid. Initially, the goal was to be in Tokyo in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the Games for a year.

In 2018 and 2019, he was a member of the U.S. Greco Roman team at the World Championships, and he won a silver medal in 2018. This April, he earned a spot on the national team once again, but the U.S. was not guaranteed a competitor in his weight class. At a last-chance qualifier tournament in May, he lost to a Ukrainian in the quarterfinals, which left him out of the Olympics.

One month later, he officially was an NFL hopeful.

“The fact that he’s out here shows that he wants to be here,” veteran guard Rodger Saffold said. “I see him working on drills off to the side, just constantly trying to learn. He seems to have a good attitude. Very critical of himself, which are good qualities to have as an offensive lineman.”

Right now, no one is willing to say for sure whether or not Coon actually is an offensive lineman or if he is a guy who is just kidding himself.

What is clear is that Titans coaches take his attempt to make it in the NFL quite seriously.

“You kind of sit back and ask yourself, ‘OK, who are the players (and) what ingredient do they have outside of technique that have a chance to make it?’” Carter said. “Adam checks all those boxes. … It will kind of be fun to see how far he can take it.”