Mike Vrabel again admitted the obvious truth about the NFL’s virtual offseason amid the coronavirus pandemic: it was challenging and unorthodox. For everyone.
Even with the circumstances, Vrabel, who enters his third season as the Tennessee Titans’ head coach, could not let tradition die. Players who showed improvement and leadership throughout installation and virtual workouts were named Offseason Performers of the Year.
The winners: were starting linebacker Rashaan Evans, backup quarterback Logan Woodside and second-year wide receiver Rashard Davis.
“It was much different this year,” Vrabel said during a video press conference Wednesday. “We couldn’t evaluate many guys and the efforts that they put in outside of Zoom. We had to give it some thought and observation throughout those meetings.
“I was excited to offer those guys that award. Very well deserving.”
While Evans (pictured) should not take anyone by surprise, Woodside and Davis may be eye opening to some.
Woodside is the team's presumed No. 2 option behind Ryan Tannehill as he enters his second full training camp with the Titans. Woodside played in all four of Tennessee’s preseason contests in 2019 and completed more than 70 percent of his throws for 539 yards and two touchdowns. He has yet to appear in a regular-season contest.
In recent video press conferences, Tannehill and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith expressed confidence in the 25-year-old out of Toledo, who the Cincinnati Bengals selected in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
“He's very inquisitive,” Tannehill said last week. “Last year, asked a lot of great questions and I feel like grew a lot, even though he wasn't out there practicing with us since he was on IR. Really he wasn't on the field, but I felt like he really got a lot out of last year and so far he's carrying that into 2020.”
Added Smith: “He was kind of a quasi-(coach) for us behind the scenes, and [I have been] very happy with what Logan's done in the offseason, and this is a great opportunity for him in camp. He’s got a command on the offense, and to get on the field and give you a better evaluation of templates. So far, we’re extremely happy with what he's done, and everything we thrown at him, he's handled.”
Davis, an undrafted wide receiver out of James Madison University, was with the Titans for the entire offseason after having been signed to the practice squad last November. He made his NFL debut in the regular season finale at Houston and played in the wild card victory at New England.
The 24-year-old bounced around from various practice squads (Philadelphia, Oakland and Kansas City) before ended up with Tennessee.
While Davis recorded just one catch for 16 yards last season, he could be in the conversation for more snaps this season behind AJ Brown, Corey Davis and Adam Humpheries as well as an option on punt and kickoff returns.
“His first catch [he] got rocked on the third down, but he held onto the ball and I was impressed,” Smith said. “… And then in the offseason we attacked it virtually and Rashard did a nice job so I'm excited to see him. There's going to be great competition, there's a lot of guys in there that have played, and they got a great work ethic and it's a great culture in that receiver room. I'm excited.”
The Titans did not select a receiver in the NFL Draft this past spring, but they did sign three undrafted free agents to compete (Mason Kinsey, Nick Westbrook and Kyle Williams). Khalif Raymond and Cody Hollister, who also appeared in games last season, are the other wide outs on the roster.
As the 2020 regular season approaches, the ceiling is higher for Evans, who enters his third season with the Titans. A first-round pick (No. 22 overall) out of Alabama in 2018, he was a starter for the first time last season at inside linebacker.
Evans led the Titans in 2019 with 139 tackles and his 11 tackles-for-loss were more than twice as many as any of his teammates. Evans also recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown in a Week 10 win against the Kansas City Chiefs and recorded a career-high 2 1/2 sacks last season.
This season, Evans has his sights set on the next level. To him, that includes Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. Since 2014, no Titans outside linebacker has appeared in a Pro Bowl.
“I definitely was honored to get the award in the offseason,” Evans said Wednesday. “Just making sure I do my job and I’m doing all the things I’m supposed to do, whether that be just helping some of these guys be able to get adjusted with the NFL lifestyle or just being able to stay on top of my work. Other than that, I feel like that’s what the award is for.”