NASHVILLE, Tenn. – NFL offenses are moving faster and faster, speeding up the tempo to take advantage of defenses. So the Tennessee Titans are trying to scratch out a precious few extra seconds.
They are practicing without the player-coach helmet communication system during training camp.
"That's just part of the process of getting better at what we're going to see a lot during the season is no-huddle and people trying to take advantage of that and trying to frustrate you and trying to get you not lined up right," Titans coach Mike Munchak said Thursday.
"So we're working on all different ways to communicate with the players on the field, like all teams do, but something we need to get better at and work at it."
Three to four people are signaling in plays to the defense, with the Titans expected to look to the sideline for the call. The move avoids having to huddle up and get the signal from the person wearing the helmet with the coordinator's voice in his ear, and that buys precious time to prepare for whatever the offense is trying to do.
An added bonus is their practice plan will help during games if the helmet system breaks down or if the defender wearing the helmet gets injured.
"That headset could go off anytime in the game," linebacker Moise Fokou said. "If you have your d-linemen plus everyone else on the field know what the call is, the margin for error is a lot smaller in setting up your defense. I think we're doing a tremendous job not using the headset as much because it prepares us for those moments."
The Titans had plenty of issues last year using the helmet device when middle linebacker Colin McCarthy missed seven games due to injury. They also wound up allowing a franchise-worst 471 points, giving up 30 or more points in six of the first seven games.
Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said they are making every defensive player learn the signals.
"We're going through signal call meetings and all those things, and that's what I think we got to make sure we're ahead of the curve instead of waiting till something happens," Gray said. "Let's go out and make it happen. Be in front of it."
For defenders, it's pretty easy to fall back into old habits. Cornerback Jason McCourty points out signals came in from the sideline in college, where there's no microphone in the helmet like what the NFL allows for one player on defense to use to help counter the helmet used by quarterbacks on offense. McCourty likes the variety.
"When you get in a game with Tom Brady or a guy like Peyton Manning and they're not huddling and they're getting to the line and moving fast, we got to be able, especially the guys in the secondary, we don't always have time to get to the huddle, so to be able to look to the sideline, you can get the signal and go," McCourty said.
Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said signaling forces the Titans to make sure they hear the call and be more disciplined to avoid a busted play messing up the whole defense. Not huddling allows the defense to line up before the offense.
"Everybody's already in their spots and you can get down," Casey said. "Once you get down in your stance, offensive linemen, they don't know how to figure out certain things. It gives us a little bit of an advantage."
Having time — even 2 or 3 seconds — can help defenders focus on the next play and stop worrying about what just happened.
"We always say on defense, stay ahead of the offense," McCourty said. "When they're shifting and they're motioning and giving you different things, if you're not aligned right before the snap you're not going to be able to beat the play. So as much as we can get started before they do, that's going to help us in the long run."
Notes: McCarthy missed practice Thursday and will have an MRI for what Munchak called a sore leg. McCarthy just practiced with the first-team defense for the first time Wednesday. ... Chris Johnson did not practice after rolling his right ankle and said he will check with trainers Friday. RB Jalen Parmele also sat out with a sore ankle. ... LB Zaviar Gooden limped off late in practice, and Munchak said he appeared to get caught up in a pile.
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