Kenny Britt and Chuck Cecil couldn’t be any more different. One is a wide receiver that attended Rutgers University and was the Titans first-round selection in the 2009 draft. The other is a first-year defensive coordinator who was an overachieving, hard-hitting defensive back that gained notoriety for his big hits and bloody noses during his seven-year NFL career. In fact, the only thing that these two might have in common is that they are both Titans. That, and the fact that each will be responsible for making a big impact on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, respectively, next season. With expectations high coming off of a 13-3 season and a team built for a deep run into the playoffs, both of these “rookies” will be counted on to do their part in achieving the team’s ultimate goal; a Super Bowl Championship.
Chuck Cecil is the epitome of what the Titans’ pride themselves on defensively: aggressive, ball-hawking, play-to-the-whistle (and sometimes beyond) type of guys. He had a reputation as a player of constantly toeing that razor-thin line (the same one Courtland Finnegan teeters on). In fact, Sports Illustrated once posed the question, "Is Chuck Cecil Too Vicious for the NFL?” on the cover of a 1993 issue. During his time with the Titans as a quality control assistant and defensive backs coach, Cecil has certainly stamped his imprint on the defense. His work was most evident in the play of the secondary last season; a secondary that sent three players to the Pro Bowl (Finnegan, Chris Hope and Michael Griffin) and finished tied for sixth in the league in interceptions (20).
His task as the newly christened defensive coordinator will not be easy. When Jim Schwartz vacated the same post this off-season to accept the Detroit Lions head-coaching job, the Titans lost one of the bright young minds in the NFL. Cecil is also considered one of the up-and-coming coaches in the league, but his approach to the game is much different than Schwartz’s. Schwartz is part of a new breed of NFL-coaching that applies Billy Beane’s Moneyball-style theory to football. He was an Economics major at Georgetown, and he plays numbers, odds and situations much more than simply “feeling a game out”. The thought that there is some sort of pattern or code he must crack is how he tackles a game plan. That is not to say that Cecil simply coaches from his gut, but he has more of a hands-on approach with players and coaching in general.
Cecil is not afraid to get in a player’s face in order to get the message across, just as he wasn’t afraid to get in an opposing offensive players face to make a statement. He won’t be responsible for motivating the defense, because as professional football players he shouldn’t have to (much in line with the way Schwartz coached), but if he feels that he needs to ruffle some feathers or call a defender out for a mistake, Cecil will not hesitate.
The loss of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to the Redskins in free agency will certainly make Cecil’s job tougher. He has taken the reigns of a unit that finished 7th in the league in total defense and 2nd in points allowed, but will do so without its top defender from last year. The addition of Javon Haye in free agency and Sen’Derrick Marks in the draft will certainly help counter that loss and should expand the defensive line rotation, but Cecil’s charge should be a tall one nonetheless.
All of their differences in style aside, I don’t expect to see that much of a difference in play calling between to two. Much like Schwartz, Cecil will have a set of plays within each base formation that he goes to throughout the game, but where Schwartz had the luxury of dropping linebackers and defensive backs into coverage with Haynesworth eating up the middle and getting in the backfield, Cecil may rush defenders off the end more and will be a bit more creative in blitz packages to attack the quarterback. His mission will be one of dual importance; to make the seamless transition from defensive backs coach to head of the defense, while also putting his own mark on a defense that returns most of their starters and should, yet again, be one of the better units in the league.
The selection of Kenny Britt in the first round signaled a drastic departure from one of the basic tenants of Titans’ thinking: The wide receiver position is one of limited importance to their brand of offense. While it may be true that the Titans are a run-first team, it is hard to imagine that any franchise would simply discard a skill position with such ease (as many have made it out to be for the Titans). Before Britt, the Titans hadn’t selected a WR in the first round in more than a decade, when they took Kevin Dyson (before Randy Moss) with the 16th pick in the 1998 draft. They have also been the victims of several bad “big name” free agent signings throughout the years (i.e. Yancey Thigpen, Carl Pickens and David Givens). Coupled with the fact that the team has had relative success in finding late round gems like Justin McCareins, Drew Bennett (a UFA) and, of course, Derrick Mason has certainly contributed to the development of the Titans’ philosophy at the position. Well, all of that seems to be out the window now with Britt on board.
Britt is a big, gliding receiver with strong hands who showed a propensity to stretch the field in college, but also has the physicality to go over the middle and make catches in coverage. He is already projected as the No. 3 guy behind Justin Gage and Nate Washington, and he should give Kerry Collins another big target to help move the chains. With the addition of Chris Johnson at running back last year and Britt this year, the Titans have given offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger a few shiny new toys to build his offense around. The thought of a more explosive passing game (let’s not forget about rookie TE Jared Cook) to compliment an already lethal ground attack should open up the Titans’ offense even more next season.
There is always a learning curve for young receivers, but Britt will be relied on from day one, so it will be sink or swim early on for the rookie. There is certain to be a transitional period for the defense under Cecil as well. It will be each of their responsibility to be prepared to hit the ground running once training camp starts this summer. If the Titans are going to build on the success of last season, these two men will be counted on greatly to help do so.
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