The 2014 and 2015 Tennessee Titans were bad, not just bad, they were perhaps the worst team in the entire NFL those two seasons, yes even worse than Jacksonville.
It led to a change in coaches, change in front office staff and obviously a massive change on the roster.
Still, there were core players on those rosters that were good players and they were the players that led the Titans out of the abyss and to four consecutive winning seasons and three playoff victories in four years.
2020 is a year of massive change though for the Titans, many of those core players are gone. Marcus Mariota, Delanie Walker, Jurrell Casey and Wesley Woodyard are no longer Titans. Mariota and Woodyard’s contracts expired, Casey was traded and Walker released after ankle injuries shut down two seasons.
“Yeah, it’s a tough part of the business.” said safety Kevin Byard, “It’s a reality that I’m starting to see and that I was told when I was a rookie by Da’Norris Searcy. He was just talking about how – I think he was in his sixth or seventh year, just saying how as the years go by, you get up in years, you start to see how so many guys in the locker room, they start to interchange and things like that.”
Key players did join the rebuild, players like Byard, Taylor Lewan, Daquan Jones and DeMarco Murray. They also helped turn things around, but they were not there for the dark days and with Ken Whisenhunt in charge they were really dark!
Casey could have got paid somewhere else, but he, like the rest of them dug in and proclaimed we will turn it around and they did. They helped set a new standard, a new way of doing business and a new brand of Titans football.
Byard appreciates the standard they set, “Most of the guys that were here when I was a rookie aren’t here anymore. Most of the leaders, Jurrell (Casey), all of the guys that I’ve grown to be so close with, (Marcus) Mariota, Wesley Woodyard, guys that I’ve learned a lot from as a pro are moving on. The way I kind of look at it is kind of changing of the guard a little bit. I have to use all of the things that I’ve learned from those guys and teach it to the younger guys. I think it’s just one of those… it’s all about making sure that when you leave, you leave a really good imprint on the locker room. I think everybody that you just named, Marcus to Wesley Woodyard, to everybody. I could name a lot of guys. They all left a very good imprint on the locker room, Delanie Walker, all of those guys.”
Byard knows one day his name will be in this same story, but not as a new leader but the old one who is no longer with the team. His time is now to step up though and he knows it and he is not alone. The Titans will be leaning on other players like Rashaan Evans, Daquan Jones, Harold Landry and Adoree Jackson to start stepping up on the defensive side of the ball.
On the offensive side we already saw Derrick Henry make this his team last year, but now with Ryan Tannehill returning the Titans have a new leader at quarterback.
Tannehill knows leadership comes with the position and this year establishing it comes with greater challenges, “Of course it’s tougher. It’s tougher at a distance, you’re looking through a screen, or text message, phone call, or FaceTime. But, I think it all starts with communication. Just being able to communicate with guys, build that relationship and then when we are on a Zoom call when we are talking football, then I’m able to just really voice my vision for a play, voice my opinion on a play, how I like guys to run the route and just be clear so that we’re all on the same page. I think as a backup, a lot of times I couldn’t do that. You couldn’t say your opinion, or how you wanted the guy to run the route. You just kind of had to go with the flow and bite your tongue a lot of times.”
The time to lead is now for a new set of Titans. They will set their own standard and thanks to the last group the bar for that standard is much, much higher.