NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Brynden Trawick has started just one game during his first four seasons in the NFL, but he’s impacted plenty of games while playing on special teams.
Still, at least some were surprised when the Titans reached a deal with the special teams ace on the first day of free agency earlier this month.
“Am I surprised?,’’ Trawick said when asked about the quick development. “No, I’m not surprised. Should I be surprised?”
He shouldn’t have been. Heading into the offseason, the Titans made upgrading special teams a big priority. And the team did just that early on by adding three players known for their work on special teams, while also reaching deals with two of their own.
In addition to Trawick, who played last season with the Raiders after spending three years with the Ravens, the Titans also signed former Raiders and Rams linebacker Daren Bates and former Falcons return man Eric Weems. The Titans also signed two of their own in free agents Nate Palmer and Phillip Supernaw.
“Special teams is the third phase of the game,’’ Weems said. “It can make or break a game. Games are not just won or lost on offense and defense. Special teams can lose you a game.”
Titans general manager Jon Robinson and coach Mike Mularkey know this well.
A year ago, the Titans won a game late in the season on kicker Ryan Succop’s field goal to beat the Chiefs. Earlier in the year, the team allowed a punt return for a touchdown late in the game in a loss to the Texans. The Titans also had a number of other breakdowns on special teams, and that contributed to special teams coach Bobby April losing his job during the season. The Titans promoted Steve Hoffman to coordinator, and he’ll run the show this fall.
With upgraded personnel.
“Obviously they wanted a better core than they’ve had in previous years, adding three of the top guys in the league from last year,’’ Trawick said. “So it is definitely going to be an improvement and it is definitely going to be fun to watch. Having three of the top guys in the league on one team. It is going to be fun.”
In 2016, the Titans finished 20th in the NFL in punt return average, and 26thin kickoff return average. The team also finished 26thin punt coverage, and 18th in kickoff return average allowed.
Weems should provide a boost in the return game, and on the coverage teams. Last year he led the 2016 NFC champion Falcons in punt returns (11.4-yard average) and kick returns (23-yard average), and also in special-teams tackles (15).
Trawick has played in 53 games in four years. He played in 15 games for the Raiders last season, and led the Raiders with 14 special teams tackles.
Bates was a key special teams contributor with the Raiders last season, posting 12 stops. In 2013 while with the Rams, Bates returned a fumbled kickoff return for a touchdown against the Texans. In 2014, he leaped over the long-snapper in a game against the Giants and blocked the kick. He was named a captain with the Rams in 2015.
“To me, you have to be a little ‘off’ (to do it),’’ Bates said of playing special teams. “You can’t be sensitive, you have to be violent. You have to be a different type player. You have to have a defensive player’s mindset, but just a little more off. I call it being crazy. You have to play with reckless abandon and be violent.
“But special teams is everybody. To be able to come in and chance the whole aspect and look on special teams, that’s what I plan to do. From kickoff to the end of the game, special teams is something I need to dominate in for us to win games.”
Robinson believes they’ll all make a big impact.
He’s also looking forward to more consistent play on special teams.
“We just wanted guys that would factor in the kicking game – that is an important piece to the game,’’ Robinson said. “When you can control field position and improve your team’s field position, limit the other team’s field position. There is strategy involved in that and we feel like we’ve added some guys via free agency and kept some guys who from a strategic standpoint can improve the field position game and get the ball back to our offense in the most advantageous position possible and try and put stress on the opposition’s offense to make them come out backed up or in a hole.
“The guys we’ve added, they all take a lot of pride in playing special teams. They’re good at what they do and they should all make us better as a team.”