Mike Vrabel knows that the only way to go through an NFL training camp as a player is fully committed. He did it 14 times with three different teams before he came to the conclusion that he could not or would not want to do it again.
So, the Tennessee Titans head coach indicated that he was nonplussed by the recent decisions of cornerback Kevin Johnson and defensive lineman Abry Jones to retire even though both did so just weeks after they signed with the team.
Each dealt with significant injury issues in 2020. Johnson sustained a lacerated liver early in training camp with Cleveland and did not play until Week 4 of the regular season. In six seasons, he missed one-third of the possible regular season games due to a litany of health issues. Jones, on the other hand, played at least 15 games in six straight seasons before an ankle injury landed him on injured reserve after just five games last year.
“I think that every player, me included, you get to a point and you get to a time where your heart or your mind or your body just isn’t in it,” Vrabel said Tuesday, the day veterans reported for the start of training camp. “And it’s hard to fake that every single day in training camp. The grind gets you. The grind gets every one of us.”
Johnson is days away from his 29th birthday and would have been the third oldest member of the secondary behind cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins (32 years old) and safety Matthias Farley (29 years old).
A first-round pick (16th overall) by Houston in 2015, he retired on June 4, 11 weeks after he agreed to a one-year contract with Tennessee. Two weeks later, free agent Kevin Peterson was signed. At 27, Peterson, undrafted in 2016, is now one of the senior members of the secondary but has just 32 games of NFL experience to his credit.
Jones was signed a day before Johnson’s retirement but decided last week that he had had enough and was placed on the Reserve/Retired list Saturday. At 29 years old (he will be 30 before the start of the regular season), he would have been the second oldest member of the defensive line behind another free agent, Denico Autry (31). Undrafted out of Georgia in 2013, he had an eight-year NFL career exclusively with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Days after his decision, the Titans signed two veteran defensive linemen, Kyle Peko and Anthony Rush.
“I told those guys, ‘Congratulations,’” Vrabel said of Johnson and Jones. “I’m proud of them that they came to the decision that they did. Hopefully, they can find something quickly that continues to motivate them and makes them want to be successful.”