NASHVILLE – The questions were raised often throughout the 2020 season.
Who is in charge of the Tennessee Titans defense? Was it coach Mike Vrabel? Was it outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen, who was designated the in-game play caller? Was anyone actually in command?
That is not problem in 2021. Bowen was promoted to defensive coordinator early in the offseason, and despite the many denials about any confusion that came in response to those questions last year, he now says clarity has made things better.
“I think it has helped with everybody, with the coaching staff, the players,” Bowen, a 34-year-old, first-time coordinator said Tuesday. “I think that it has been good up to this point. (The players) kind of understand where the bus stops and it is what it is.
“I am excited for the opportunity, I really am. I am excited for the ways these guys are going about working right now and kind of what we are trying to get accomplished on defense.”
The issues began a day after the Titans lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game ahead of Super Bowl LIV. That is when Dean Pees, a long-time defensive coordinator who directed Tennessee’s unit for two seasons retired.
Head coach Mike Vrabel ultimately chose not to hire a replacement. Instead, he said he planned to be more involved with the defense (he has one season of experience as a coordinator) and said Bowen, a position coach, would call the plays.
Over the course of 16 games in the regular season that defense struggled to find any consistency or productivity. It allowed opponents to convert more third-down opportunities (113) than it stopped (111). Seven teams scored 30 or more points against the Titans, who ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks, first downs allowed and yards allowed.
With the title of defensive coordinator, Bowen says he has more freedom to choose where he wants to be when, whether it is during meetings or during practice. That ability to move around apparently has created a greater focus among the various entities that make up the defense.
“Now, if the (defensive backs) see something one way, I can immediately walk into the linebacker room and say, ‘Hey man, this is what we are thinking, this is how they see it,’” Bowen said. “That way everybody sees things the same way, we are communicating things the same way. I think that has been a tremendous asset, being able to bounce room to room.”
It also has allowed all of the players on that side of the ball to get to know him in a way only the outside linebackers did previously. No longer is he just one of the coaches who happens to call the plays. He is the guy in the front of the room during defense meetings. He is the guy in an office who is available to safeties and linemen and cornerbacks, if they want to talk. And he is the one who will get the blame or the credit this season, based on how things go.
“I have enjoyed it and I think it goes back to building relationships too,” Bowen said. “Making sure they see me, see me watching them, seeing me out there and it is not just me in a meeting room telling them, ‘Hey, on this play you do this.’ There is a lot more that goes into it.
“… I think building the relationships with the guys, that is a big part of it. That last year I don’t think was there, whereas this year it is growing, and it is becoming a bigger piece for me.”