By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — The Titans are getting ready to open the preseason Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers, and last week they made a move to strengthen the roster at a key defensive position. They announced last Saturday the signing of two safeties. One was former New Orleans Saint Kenny Vaccaro. The second was free agent Jason Thompson. The loss of Johnathan Cyrpien to a season-ending injury made acquiring more personnel in the defensive backfield a key necessity, and the Vaccaro signing is considered more essential than that of Thompson.
Vaccaro has played five seasons in the NFL, all with the Saints. His reputation is one of versatility, being able to play either up on the line against the run or in coverage. But his weakness was reportedly on deep passes, which could be problematic considering how poorly the Titans pass defense finished last season (25th in the NFL). The problem wasn’t so much the amount of yardage, but the fact the Titans ranked near the bottom in both touchdown passes allowed and fourth quarter points surrendered, part of the reason why they were so anxious to sign Malcolm Butler.
However Vaccaro is considered adequate in coverage, and will be playing alongside free safety Kevin Byard, who led the league in interceptions last season on the way to being named both to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams. Thompson is a converted college QB who made the transition to defense last season. If nothing else he provides depth and competition at safety.
Expectations for the Titans are already sky high, with many observers picking them to finish first in the AFC South. Aside from bringing in Butler and Dion Lewis, the team also recently re-signed left tackle Taylor Lewan to a huge new deal, and also locked up defensive tackle Jurrell Casey to a long-term contract. They’ve brought in new offensive and defensive coaching staff, revamped the offense, changed QB Marcus Mariota’s stance, and have inserted into the offense some new formations designed to take advantage of his mobility.
Mariota says he’s 100 percent recovered from last season’s injuries. While it is doubtful he will play very much in the first game, there are still some things that the team wants to see from the opening moments, particularly on offense. While championships aren’t won or lost in the preseason, team identities can be forged, and Thursday night will start determining what that will be for this year’s edition of the Titans.