Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Vrabel's Ability to Last, Win Uncommon Among Franchise's Head Coaches


Sunday's victory at Seattle was his 50th game in the regular season and his 30th win, both notable numbers among those who have led the Oilers/Titans.



September 20, 2021


NASHVILLE – Mike Vrabel has shown the sort of staying power his immediate predecessors did not.

Sunday’s 33-30 overtime victory at Seattle was Vrabel’s 50th regular season game with the Tennessee Titans, which makes him the franchise’s first head coach since Jeff Fisher to stick around that long.

Not only has he brought stability, he has brought success. With the come-from-behind triumph over the Seahawks, Vrabel improved to 30-20 in his current role and became the second-fastest coach in franchise history to win 30 games. The only one to win 30 games faster was Jack Pardee, who did it in his first 48 contests.

“I try to focus on improving and getting better and how I lead this football team and how we get ready and prepare, the product we put on the field, making sure the operation is clean and the players know what to do,” Vrabel said recently. “… When (the players) go out there, we have to have confidence in them that they know their job and they are going to go out there and execute. At that point in time, it is the 11 players on the field.

“As far as my reflection, I just have to make sure that we continue to not do things that get us beat and emphasize the things that we believe are important.”

Overall, Vrabel is the 19th different coach in franchise history and the fifth of the Titans era (1999-present).

Fisher is the Titans/Oilers all-time leader in wins with 147, but it took him 64 games to get his 30th. His last season was 2010, and what followed was a rapidly changing line of successors from Mike Munchak (48 games) to Ken Whisenhunt (23 games) to Mike Mularkey (41 games). Of those last three, Mularkey was the only one whose tenure included playoff games, but even his two from 2017 got him to 43 games overall.

In addition to Fisher and Pardee, only Bum Phillips, Jerry Glanville and Wally Lemm coached for 50 games or more. Among those six, Vrabel’s .600 winning percentage in the regular season is second only to Bum Phillips (.611). Yet it took Phillips 53 games to get to 30 victories.

“He’s done a great job,” Jim Mora Jr., a former NFL head coach for two franchises, said of Vrabel. “He’s very consistent. I think he’s very direct with his team, his players. They know exactly what they’re going to get. I think they have trust in him.

“… I like watching (the Titans) play. I like watching him coach. I like his style on the sidelines. He displays professionalism. I think he displays toughness. I think he displays a belief in his team and his players, and those things are all so critical. … He’s their leader. They look at him. There’s a sense of confidence, a sense of resolve. And I think it’s really important to that organization.”

Sunday was the eighth time under Vrabel the Titans won when they trailed after three quarters, which accounts for 26.7 percent of his total victories. In this case, they were behind by eight with 15 minutes to play but the deficit grew to 14 fewer than two minutes later.

With their latest rally, which included Derrick Henry’s game-tying touchdown in the final minute of regulations, the Titans improved to 4-0 in overtime with Vrabel in charge.

Only two of the franchise’s first 18 coaches managed postseason victories than the two Vrabel notched during the 2019 season.

“He played the game at the highest level, at a championship level for championship team – he has rings to prove it – so he walks in with credibility every single day,” Mora said. And he’s garnered (the players’) trust, their respect.

“This is his team. You see his imprints all over the team in the way they play – the discipline, the toughness, the attention to detail, the fight that they show, the grit that they show.”

All indications are that he will have plenty more opportunities to show it.

Friday, September 17, 2021

AFC North Whiparound, Week 2: Opener overreactions and surprises, biggest statement win and predictions


By Jeff Zrebiec and Jay Morrison Sep 17, 2021


Each week during the season, and at other points from February to August, our AFC North beat writers discuss their teams and provide a look at some of the key storylines making an impact on the division.

Week 1 always spurs the biggest overreactions. What was the biggest one concerning the team you cover — either positive or negative — that came out of the opener?

Jay Morrison (Bengals): I almost forgot what the view looks like from up here. Anyway, the biggest overreaction in Cincinnati is that the offensive line is going to send Joe Burrow to the hospital again. Yes, the Bengals gave up five sacks and another two quarterback hits, one of which was right under Burrow’s chin, but head coach Zac Taylor pinned only two of the five on the line, citing poor eyes and missed assignments from the backs and tight ends as the cause of the others. Center Trey Hopkins had his toughest day as a pro, but he suffered a torn ACL in the season finale last season and was on a load management plan all of camp. The rust is off, and he should look more like himself each week. It’s also worth noting that tackles Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff didn’t give up a single pressure on 31 dropbacks Sunday, and Reiff finished with a pass rush win rate of 100 percent.


(Top photo of Chase Claypool: Mark Konezny / USA Today)

Alfonza “Pep” Hamilton Is The NFL’s Coveted QB Guru | He Proved It Again On Sunday


By J.R. Gamble

L.A. Chargers second-year quarterback Justin Herbert put on a clinic in a big road win against the highly touted defense of the Washington Football Team on Sunday. 

As observers watch Herbert continue to elevate as a young quarterback, those in the know can’t help but say, “That’s the work of one Alfonza ‘Pep’ Hamilton, quarterback guru.”

Now, don’t get it wrong. Herbert has all the tools, standing 6 feet 6 and 240 pounds with a rocket for an arm and outstanding feet. He was a high draft pick (No. 6 overall in 2020) but scouts and analysts had reservations about his mechanics and how long it would take him to be able to compete at the pro level. He was called a “project.”

Boy, Were They Wrong

One year of learning and tutelage under Pep Hamilton changed that. Hamilton’s résumé stretches far and wide and speaks for itself. He’s served as an offensive coordinator for the Colts, working with 2012 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck.

Pep’s also been the assistant head coach for the Cleveland Browns and Michigan Wolverines, where he developed quarterbacks and directed the passing games. 

As the GM and head coach of the XFL’s D.C. Defenders for one season, Pep made NFL bust Cardale Jones look like the star quarterback the Buffalo Bills envisioned when they picked him in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft fresh off a national championship. 

Hamilton has worked with quarterbacks as a position coach or coordinator on the pro or college level for 21 out of his 25 years in football. 

He hasn’t been able to secure a head coaching job yet, but when a team has a young quarterback that needs developing or a veteran that needs mental reshaping, Pep’s services are in high demand

Prepare The Future 

The Chargers brought Pep in during a tough 2020 COVID season. 

Herbert, who was drafted with the expectation that he would replace the departed future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers, wasn’t able to attend any training camps with the Chargers staff. The best he and Hamilton could do was converse via text and video and during the virtual mini-camps.  

When asked about his strategy with the young player, Hamilton said, “We’re preparing Justin to be ready to come in and compete from Day One.” 

Whatever Pep did during those virtual sessions worked because Herbert shattered almost every NFL rookie passing record in existence: most passing touchdowns (31) and most completions (396).

The QB Whisperer: Deshaun Watson Who?

It wasn’t by accident and it wasn’t surprising. Hamilton is a genius when it comes to developing quarterbacks, having coached up a list of starters prior to making Herbert’s NFL transition as smooth as a Michael Jackson moonwalk. 

Quarterbacks like Luck and Alex Smith, Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton and Chad Pennington have all had success on the NFL level and attribute much of their rapid advancement to Hamilton, who is now the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Houston Texans.

Fans all wondered why the only people who weren’t panicking about DeShaun Watson missing games due to an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations were the Texans. That’s because this season they added Hamilton to the staff and brought in a veteran quarterback who had already been touched by Pep’s wisdom and guidance in the past.   

Journeyman Tyrod Taylor was supposed to be the starter in L.A. before a punctured lung sidelined him and Herbert swooped in and stole the job. Hamilton spent significant time with Taylor as well in 2020. The 11-year veteran, who didn’t become a starter until 2015, took Pep’s jewels, went to the Texans, and looked like a poor man’s Deshaun Watson on Sunday.  

Known as a game manager whose greatest asset is his ability to protect the ball, Taylor became a playmaker, throwing for 291 yards and two touchdowns to lead a season-opening win over the Jaguars. 

What’s In Pep’s Kool-Aid? 

Texans backup quarterback David Mills says Hamilton is constantly coaching up his quarterbacks even during the game. 

“A big thing we have worked on is just staying loaded at all times in the pocket, so whenever something pops, we are able to get the ball out in a split second,” said Mills during the preseason.

“And then, a lot of the stuff (Pep) does on game days is just making sure we are prepared for everything the defense is showing us.”

So much for all of the people who said the Texans weren’t going to win a game this season. Those doubters underestimated the heavily influential hand of Pep Hamilton, the NFL’s quarterback whisperer.   

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