NASHVILLE – It was only a two-practice snapshot, but there was something decidedly flat about the Tennessee Titans offense during their work with the Patriots.

There just didn’t seem to be a lot of life which — given the Patriots defense was having its way with them — isn’t much of a surprise.

But the flatness I perceived from a distance is something Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel is monitoring. And not just when the Titans are coming out of the huddle or after a play. All the time.

It was interesting to watch Vrabel this week as his effort to instill an up-tempo, work-embracing, tough culture in Tennessee continues. He talked about it after a practice when he was asked by veteran Tennessee beat man Paul Kuharsky how Vrabel judges the energy.

“I think the way we take the field when we leave the building, I’m trying to evaluate, ‘Are we running on the field? Are we continuing on drives late in the day to be quick out of the huddle? Is the communication quick on defense?’ “ said Vrabel (answers start at around the five-minute mark of this video).

But, Vrabel quickly added, he doesn’t want that false-hustle, fake enthusiasm either.

“There’s a fine line between all those things that would be urgency and then a bunch of cheerleaders chirping. The one thing we don’t ever want in this org is frontrunners. We don’t want people that, when things are going well, you hear ‘em from the top of the building and when things aren’t going our way they disappear.


“I think there’s a fine line between the two,” he added. “I don’t want to confuse the energy level between a bunch of cheerleaders and a bunch of trash-talkers when things are going well.”

Kuharsky mentioned a couple of veteran offensive players for the Titans who often lead with enthusiasm. But who, after them, lights the wick?

“Whoever makes a play,” said Vrabel. “The cheerleaders, we got cheerleaders. The organization pays cheerleaders. Energy is brought by making plays on the field. Finishing. Whether it be a block downfield, an extra effort run, a great catch. The people who make plays are the ones who bring energy. That’s who we count on.”

In contrast to a quarterback like Tom Brady, Marcus Mariota is not what one would call a fiery leader. He kind of does his thing and — as every player loves to say of himself — would rather lead by example. (Just once, I want to hear a player say, “I’m more of a rah-rah guy who likes to yell rather than lead by example.”)

Anyway, what Vrabel wants is someone who can stem the tide when the negative momentum is washing over one of his units.

“As the days go on and the plays happen, there will be times during the game when (negative momentum builds),” said Vrabel. “All I can do is tell them we have to make a play. We can’t sit there and slam our helmet on the ground, we can’t start cheering and say, ‘Come on, let’s make a play!’ Someone has to physically make a play and that’s what we’re shooting for.

“Once you gain the momentum you have to fight and claw and scratch to keep it,” he added. “If you don’t have it, somebody’s got to make a play to get it back.”

There are echoes of early aughts Bill Belichick in Vrabel’s mindset. I remember him once commenting that being ready to play isn’t about slamming your head against a locker before you go on the field and reacting to bad play as a coach isn’t about flipping over a table at halftime. It’s about execution. Not window-dressing.

That’s a message Vrabel is trying to drill into his Titans in Year 2.

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