NASHVILLE – It was about the time the Tennessee Titans’ 2020 season ended with a wild card loss to the Baltimore Ravens that Kristian Fulton made up his mind that he wanted to play a more significant role in 2020.
Early in the offseason, it was clear that he would have no choice.
The Titans cut cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Adoreé Jackson and allowed others to go elsewhere in free agency. Before long, pretty much every player ahead of Fulton, a 2020 second-round draft pick, was gone.
As a result, Fulton figures to get exactly what he wanted. In his second NFL season, he is expected to be an every-down player on a defense that could feature as many as six new starters, three of whom arrived by free agency (defensive lineman Denico Autry, outside linebacker Bud Dupree and cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins).
“To be honest, right after the Baltimore game I kind of knew what my role would be coming into the next year. It didn’t feel too good standing on the sideline. So, I knew I wanted to push myself to compete for a starting job. And that’s how I took this offseason by approach.
“You kind of let the cards fall into place. I didn’t really know (Butler and Jackson) were going to get released or nothing like that. But [I was] just preparing myself to come out here and compete with those vets. … I need to get a role on the field.”
Injuries limited Fulton to just six games played in his rookie season. After a good start – four tackles in Week 1, a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown in Week 2 – he spent all of November and half of December on injured reserve and then was inactive for a couple games when he was healthy. He played just 16 snaps on defense in the regular season finale and six in the playoff loss to the Ravens.
Lessons on which he missed out along the way, he is trying to learn now. Coach Mike Vrabel said, for example, that wide receiver Josh Reynolds beat Fulton for a reception on the first day of training camp, but when confronted with the same play days later Fulton came up with an interception.
“Those are positive things when you make a mistake, that you come back, and you recognize it, and you learn from it,” Vrabel said. “He took advantage of the same coverage and same route and made a play.
“… I am confident in (Fulton). [He] just needs to continue to work on his consistency.”
No rough stuff: Rookie safety Brady Breeze, a sixth-round pick out of Oregon, was kicked off the field at the end of Wednesday’s workout for what coaches deemed was an unnecessary and dangerous hit on wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick, a fourth-round choice, as Fitzpatrick jumped to try for a catch.
The incident took place just a day after Carolina wide receiver Keith Kirkwood was taken from the field in an ambulance after safety J.T. Ibe hit him in the head during the Panthers’ practice Tuesday.
“We just had to be smarter than that,” Vrabel said. “The ball is in the air. Receiver is up in the air, and – not playing the ball – (Breeze) just put his shoulder into the guy. We saw the unfortunate situation (Tuesday) in Carolina, and I get it to a certain degree. I do. I mean, this is their livelihood. These guys are trying to make this team and trying to find a role for themselves and stand out.
“… (Breeze) is a young player, hopefully he can learn from it and learn from not getting anybody injured and we can move on.”
Changing role: At 29 years old, Matthias Farley is the senior citizen among the six safeties on the training camp roster. He is also older than all but one of the 10 cornerbacks.
As a result, Farley changed more than just teams during the offseason when he signed with the Titans as a free agent. He experienced a change in the way his teammates perceive him.
“It’s kind of strange being on this side of it,” Farley said. “I kind of feel like I’ve always been asking guys and asking guys, ‘What’s this like? What’s that like?’
“To sort of have the rookies come ask me questions, it’s a big honor, honestly, to have made it this far and to give them some knowledge that some older guys gave me when I was a rookie.”
The last word: “We didn’t script anything today, we got both teams on the side, and a lot of moving parts. A lot of guys down on the offensive line, very, very thin. We have games, we have weeks like that. We can go back in the three years we have been together here. Things happen during the season. The preseason is chaotic. Just trying to work the operation.” – Vrabel on the thrust of Wednesday’s workout.