Titans plan to switch to aggressive, pressing approach on defense

How the Titans landed L'Jarius Sneed (0:54)

Adam Schefter tells Pat McAfee about how the Titans bucked other teams to trade for CB L'Jarius Sneed. (0:54)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Dennard Wilson doesn't hold back when he describes his aggressive plan for how he wants his defense to play. The Tennessee Titans' new defensive coordinator wants his unit to match that same energy and intensity on the field as well.

Wilson promises the defense will "be violent in their approach" to finding ways to stop opposing offenses. One of the primary ways Wilson plans to do this is through press coverage from the secondary.

"From day one, we press everything," Wilson said. "Period!"

That's a stark contrast from a Titans secondary that employed press coverage only 33% of the time last season -- which was more than only three teams. That same unit finished last in interceptions with six.

No wonder Wilson vowed to ensure his version of the Titans defense "attacks the ball with violence."

The formula Wilson plans to employ includes a key ingredient that's been consistently missing. He wants the cornerbacks to get right into the wide receiver's face and challenge them instead of allowing them to easily release into their routes.

"If you get free access, it's easy for the quarterbacks to complete balls," Wilson said. "So, what I do is I want to create hesitation at the line of scrimmage and make 'em earn it the hard way, make 'em earn it, throw the 50-50 ball, but everything else we're going to challenge."

Wilson knows a thing or two about pass defense. Although they didn't use much press coverage (28%) two seasons ago with Wilson as the secondary coach, the Philadelphia Eagles led the league in fewest passing yards allowed per game (171.6). Tennessee allowed a generous 274.8 yards that season, landing them on the other end of the column.

As the Baltimore Ravens secondary coach last year, Wilson found success once again when his unit finished tied with the Buffalo Bills for the second least passing touchdowns allowed (18). That group rolled out press coverage a fourth-best 68% of the time.

It's been a while since a Titans' secondary made an opposing group of pass-catchers feel like they could be in for a long day. Last year's starters have been replaced by new additions during the offseason with a dedication to being a more attacking group.

"Oh yeah, we're going to be aggressive," defensive backs coach Steve Jackson said. "You see the guys we've brought in. That's what they do."

The biggest addition to the secondary came via trade when general manager Ran Carthon worked out a deal to bring L'Jarius Sneed to Nashville from the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs had placed a nonexclusive franchise tag on Sneed in March before the Titans traded for him and gave him an extension through 2027.

Sneed is the perfect player for what Wilson wants to do. He was part of a Chiefs group that utilized press coverage 83% of the time, more than any other team over the last two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Kansas City also pressed a league-leading 85% of the time on third downs over that same span.

Sneed is known around the league for his tendency to jam receivers at the line and his physicality with them throughout the route.

"I like to put my hands on guys, be in their face and aggressive with guys," Sneed said during his introductory press conference in April.

Former Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie signed a free-agent deal with the Titans in March. Awuzie appreciates the physicality that comes with challenging receivers at the line of scrimmage. He feels it sets the tone not only to the guy he's lining up against, but also for his team.

"It's gamesmanship," Awuzie said. "You want to compete and show your teammates what you can do."

Awuzie, Sneed and third-year cornerback Roger McCreary have the potential to form one of the better trios in the NFL, and McCreary is relishing at the opportunity to challenge receivers alongside his new teammates.

"We put fear in the offense's heart by being aggressive," McCreary said. "Guys on the outside pressing and being more physical, that's something I really like that Dennard brought over here."

Even the rookies are taking Wilson's dedication to press coverage to heart. Undrafted free agent cornerback Gabe Jeudy-Lally got a solid jam on receiver Treylon Burks during a passing period in OTAs causing quarterback Will Levis to quickly go elsewhere with the ball.

Jeudy-Lally has already had some pretty intense battles with future Hall of Fame receiver DeAndre Hopkins as well, causing Hopkins to toss the ball at him after making a catch and kick the pylon after Jeudy-Lally's press coverage took him out of the play in another passing period last week.

Disrupting the timing is another key part of Wilson's formula for stopping passing attacks. Wilson pointed to how it throws things out of sync, and that slight delay gives the pass-rushers additional time to get home and make a play on the quarterback.

"You just gotta keep your foot on the gas as a pass-rusher," outside linebacker Harold Landry III said. "Those guys back there, if they take away the quarterback's first option and he's holding the ball, it creates so many opportunities for us up front to go out there and be productive."