Ayers and McCarthy are prepping for their third pro season, and Brown is readying himself to follow up a dynamic rookie season. The projected starters at linebacker should have the opportunity to be conduits of the energy that senior defensive assistant Gregg Williams and linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio have for the game.
Each player has said recently how much the defense is committed to helping the team improve its 6-10 mark from a year ago and how much they’ve enjoyed interacting with Williams, who coached Houston Oilers linebackers earlier in his career, at meetings and on the field.
“He loves defense. He loves putting us in position to make plays, and he loves to be dominant and compete,” Ayers said. “His attitude, his energy that he brings to meetings is going to rub off on our entire defense. That’s what I love about him. He brings energy, passion, and you have no choice but to feed off it, so that’s going to make our defense even better this year, just for the simple fact that this energy, emotion and passion that he brings about playing defense.”
Brown and McCarthy were asked about Williams last week when they were on the Academy Sports + Outdoors Caravan.
“Woo, an intense guy,” Brown said. “You want to be on time for him. He’s about football, he’s about winning. Everything we do is about winning. He wants to win the Super Bowl, so he’s got the same goal as most of us in the room. He made it clear if you’re not about winning the Super Bowl, you shouldn’t be here.”
McCarthy, a captain of the defense in 2012, echoed the observations of passion and intensity in Williams.
“You should see him in the meetings,” McCarthy said. “That will get you fired up.”
McCarthy emerged as an impact player during his rookie season, but missed nine games last year as the Titans had five different players start a game at middle linebacker because of injuries. He’s ready to turn the page.
“It’s a new season. We know how we played last season,” McCarthy said. “We need to make the playoffs. We need to have a winning season. We need to get that winning atmosphere back in Nashville.”
Ayers said he believes the combination of Williams and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, who have worked together in nine previous NFL seasons, will help with that. The overlap with Williams and Gray includes 1997-2000 with the Titans/Oilers franchise when Williams was defensive coordinator and Gray was defensive quality control coach (1997-98) and defensive backs coach (1999-2000).
“They both bring something different to the table. They’re both great coaches,” Ayers said. “They’re good at what they do. Coach Gray is going to do the scheme and coverages, and Coach Williams likes to be more aggressive with blitzes and things like that. It’s good that we’ve got both of them because we’ve kind of got the best of both worlds. They can put their heads together and just come up with a great scheme week-in and week-out.”
One area for improvement is reducing the number of big plays allowed in 2013. Tennessee allowed 61 plays of at least 20 yards in 2012. Seventeen of those went for at least 30 yards, and eight resulted in gains of at least 40 yards.
Pass coverage allows the biggest room for improvement: 55 of the plays that gained at least 20 yards were passes, ranking the Titans 25th out of 32 NFL teams in the category. Tennessee was tied for 10th with seven passes allowed that gained at least 40 yards, tied for seventh with one run play of more than 40 yards allowed, and tied for third with six run plays of more than 20 yards allowed last season.
“That was something he was focusing on in our first meeting, eliminating those and allowing ourselves to get them on the ground and play another play,” McCarthy said. “I think the way he attacks with different disguises, we’re going to get pressure from different angles. We’re going to bring a lot of blitzes from linebackers, safeties, corners. Everybody’s coming, so it’s going to be exciting.”
Brown said Titans defenders must prove themselves and “play with a chip on our shoulder every game.”
“Nobody ever wants to lose. Six and 10 can’t cut it for us,” Brown said. “We’ve got to win the division. That’s the first goal and should be the goal for every football team. After that, just keep it going. If you get to the dance, you’ll be able to try to go to the show.”