All eyes are on the rookie for the Tennessee Titans. No, not Kenny Britt, Sen’Derrick Marks or even Jared Cook.
Perhaps the “rookie” who may well have the biggest impact on the Titans’ success in 2009 is new defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, who takes over calling the defense after Jim Schwartz became the head coach of the Detroit Lions.
Some wonder aloud how much the Titans approach will change under Cecil’s guidance. Will he adhere to the same philosophies as Schwartz, or will the aggressive style he played as a hard-hitting safety over seven NFL seasons show through in his play calls?
He promises there won’t be too much tinkering with what has been successful the past couple of seasons. After all, he’s been a part of the Titans system for eight years already, beginning as a quality control coach.
“When I first got here, I would have loved to have been the secondary coach right from jump street. But in retrospect and looking back, the best thing that happened to me from a football standpoint was my three years as a quality control coach,” Cecil said. “You learn so much breaking down film and as a coach, and it helps you learn to do what I’m going to do now, and to just learn the game basically. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.
So what has changed?
“I’ve been here long enough that basically the only thing that has changed per se, is that my office is bigger and I’ve got a window,” Cecil said.
Well, it’s a window of opportunity for Cecil to prove himself as a defensive coordinator for the first time in the NFL. But that, he says, is not his primary goal.
“The first misnomer that needs to be put to rest is that I’m not trying to put any kind of stamp on anything. It’s the players that do that, not me. I simply call the plays,” Cecil said. “They execute them. As far as me putting a stamp on anything, and I’m not trying to be anybody or do anything special, except help guys play as well as they can. That’s what my job is — to put them in the best position possible to succeed. That’s all I’m going to focus.
“I’m not going to try and be just like Jimmy [Schwartz]. I’m not going to try and be different than Jimmy. I’m just going to be whatever the offense dictates, I’m going to do whatever I think is best for us to succeed.”
‘Earn that money’
Still, the Titans players — especially those who played for Cecil in the secondary — believe some of his old aggressive style will be reflected as he ascends to calling the defensive signals.
“He’s the rookie of the bunch now,” safety Chris Hope said. “He’s a different kind of coach. Chuck is an in-your-face kind of coach — not sitting back and letting things happen, but we’re going to make things happen. I’m pretty sure his coaching style is going to resemble that a little bit.
“Chuck is a smart guy. Schwartz was known for his intelligence and academic approach to football. I’m pretty sure Chuck understands the game pretty well, but he’s going to see it from a different view than Coach Schwartz,” he added.
Cortland Finnegan agrees, saying he believes Cecil will challenge the secondary to make plays and stand their ground for him in man-to-man coverage more often in certain situations.
“A lot of the same things as Schwartz as far as down and distance, but at the same time, you can tell he’s sort of gutsy,” Finnegan said. “He always picks on the DBs and says, ‘Earn that money,’ and he’ll put us in man-to-man situations, maybe on third and short. Even on fourth down, he’ll blitz the house and say, ‘Cover your man.’
“I can appreciate that, because he believes in us, but he’s gutsy, too. Roll it out there. If your man catches it, it’s on you, and I can appreciate that, him believing in us especially.”
Ready for his dress rehearsal
As a first-time coordinator, Cecil is using the off-season to prepare himself for the real tests that will come in the fall. Already he is watching film of last year’s games, and tracking what sorts of calls he would have made in those particular situations as a coordinator.
“You play a simulated game, and I’ll play a couple hundred of them by the time the season starts,” Cecil said. “I’ll really find out what it’s all about during the season, and I know that, and I’m ready for that. This time of year, there’s things that need to be done as a coordinator obviously, but being a coordinator comes when you’ve got real live games.”
Cecil will use the preseason as a dress rehearsal and even has an extra game there to use as a trial run. The Titans were selected to face the Buffalo Bills in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. That means his preseason starts a week earlier than usual and lasts a week longer.
“I’m happy that we’ve got the extra game, because basically, it’s just another practice run for me. I’m excited about that. I don’t know if the preseason is a big thing for me, but I think it’s definitely a good thing for me, and I’m looking forward to that,” Cecil said.
The Titans players apparently are looking forward to seeing what Cecil the defensive coordinator is all about too.
“Preseason and OTAs aren’t just for the players. It’s for new coaches and new positions,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said.
Hope, for one, believes Cecil’s approach as a coach will take on a certain swagger in certain situations.
“I just know he’s not scared of anything. He played the game that way, and he’s not intimidated by anybody,” Hope said. “He played the game with a chip on his shoulder, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to coach the game with a chip on his shoulder.”