“This is an incredible opportunity and one I have been preparing for my entire football life,” Vrabel said in the Titans’ news release.
Vrabel played linebacker for the New England Patriots from 2001 to 2008 following a four-year stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers, finishing his career with a pair of seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. He lined up as a tight end in occasional goal-line formations for the Patriots and famously caught touchdown passes from Tom Brady in the 2003 and 2004 Super Bowls. He finished his career with 10 receptions, all for touchdowns.
The hiring suggests the Titans will tilt toward defense after a 2017 season in which they made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and won their first-round game at Kansas City before falling to the Patriots in a divisional-round matchup. But the Texans ranked last in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 27.2 points per game. The Titans were 17th, allowing 22.2.
Vrabel will have to coax a better year out of quarterback Marcus Mariota, whose passer rating dropped from 95.6 to 79.3 in 2017. He also threw 13 fewer touchdown passes and six more interceptions than he did in his breakout 2016 season.
Titans General Manager Jon Robinson noted in the team’s announcement that he thinks Vrabel can find solutions for both issues. Vrabel was the first candidate of three whom Robinson interviewed; Tennessee also considered Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.
Robinson was a scout for the Patriots from 2002 to 2013, giving him first-hand knowledge of Vrabel’s strengths.
“I saw him up close as a player for the Patriots and saw how he prepared himself to be successful on a daily basis,” Robinson said in the team’s release. “He was the ultimate team-first player, and he embodies that same mind-set as a coach. He is intelligent, energetic, detailed and a leader whose deep passion for this game will resonate with our players. As a coach, I have seen him develop talent at both the college and NFL level, and put players in position for them to be successful. I am excited to get him in front of our team and watch us grow together as a team.”