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VOL. 44 | NO. 33 | Friday, August 14, 2020

Beasley tardiness another test of Titans' New England playbook

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Jon Robinson, Titans executive vice president and general manager, rose through the New England ranks and hired a head coach, Mike Vrabel, who played for the Patriots. But does he have Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s gift for getting selfish players to adopt a team-first mentality?

-- Photo By Charlie Neibergall | Ap

It is no secret that the Tennessee Titans have been built in large part on the New England Patriots model Bill Belichick masterminded two decades ago, a scheme that brought the Pats six Super Bowl championships.

While the Titans are still chasing that elusive first title, that model for finding team-first guys who love football might be put to one of its first real tests here in Tennessee.

After 10 days of being AWOL, prodigal linebacker Vic Beasley finally showed up at Titans camp Aug. 7 with little to no explanation for his prolonged absence.

In the time that Jon Robinson has been general manager, going on five seasons, the Titans have been built by drafting guys who are largely team first and by vetting free agents in a way that those who have come here from the outside have immediately bought into the process and become a part of that positive culture.

But from early indications, Beasley’s actions might make it tougher to integrate him into that culture. Surely, the Titans had to be more than a little ticked off when they only heard once from Beasley three days into camp that he would be in “soon.”

Six days later, head coach Mike Vrabel didn’t sound happy that Beasley still hadn’t reported, though he finally made it in the next day.

The Patriots’ veteran locker room structure was strong with guys like Tom Brady, Willie McGinest, Devin McCourty, Tedy Bruschi and Vrabel himself that Belichick could trust to rein in a wayward soul cast off from another team.

In New England, that player would check whatever baggage they had accumulated at the door and become part of the winning culture.

It happened with Randy Moss and Corey Dillon. Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson didn’t have as much success as the other two, but that was because his skill set had deteriorated more so than that he was a disruption in New England.

The Titans have had a handful of players over the years who have had different personalities and didn’t seem always to mesh in the locker room. The aforementioned Moss was here a half a season in 2010 as the Jeff Fisher era was coming to an end.

In the Titans’ early days, it was moody and often unproductive guys like Carl Pickens and Jason Layman who didn’t seem to fit the locker room prototype.

How would Patriots coach Bill Belichick, left, handle Vic Beasley’s tardiness? That’s a question Jon Robinson has likely asked himself this preseason.

-- Photo By Steven Senne | Ap

Later on, the human distraction that was Pacman Jones and immaturity of quarterback Vince Young took their toll on the team’s culture and psyche.

Even Cortland Finnegan, beloved as an overachiever in his early Titans tenure, had turned temperamental by the time he was finished in Tennessee.

More recently on Robinson’s watch, Kevin Dodd’s apathy and Rishard Matthews’ odd flameout were big storylines that detracted from team continuity. Their issues were not welcome and quickly dispensed with so as not to jeopardize the team culture that was being built.

Now that that culture has gotten stronger, will the Beasley experiment test its mettle?

Beasley had a reputation in Atlanta as being somewhat moody and maybe even a bit of a loner, people I have talked to say.

It apparently wore on the Falcons enough that the team decided it would not be pursuing a contract extension with the pass rusher, despite an eight-sack season.

Pass rushers in the prime of their career don’t exactly grow on trees, and it is unusual that one gets to the open market. The Titans scooped Beasley up on a one-year deal worth $9.5 million.

Beasley was the Titans’ biggest offseason acquisition (not counting extensions for Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill), signing March 31. But the team never made him available to the media for a proper introduction.

Granted, this was at the start of the pandemic, and there was plenty of panic in the country at that time. But no Zoom call was scheduled – only a three-paragraph statement via email to announce the deal.

The odd offseason reduced all OTAs and minicamps to virtual meetings, which Beasley participated in and grew more comfortable with as time went on, position coach Shane Bowen says.

But when it came time to be there in person, Beasley didn’t exactly go all in, being late to camp and being subject to a half million dollars’ worth of fines.

Still, Beasley’s new teammates sounded eager to forgive and turn the page on the matter.

“I’ve never met the guy,’’ safety Kenny Vaccaro says. “I’m excited to get to meet him. Whatever was going on before training camp with him getting here late has nothing to do with me. That’s his personal business. You don’t know what somebody is going through and their situation.

“It’s been a crazy year, 2020. So I’m not judging anybody for when they show up to camp or if they opt out and all types of things this year.”

Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones sounds equally open to embracing Beasley and making him a part of the team.

“He’ll come in and we’ll catch him up as best we can,” Jones says. “I don’t know why he was gone. That’s something that Coach Vrabel and Jon would know. But when he comes in, we’ll embrace him and help him learn the playbook as fast as he can.”

Beasley will get every chance to fit in the Titans despite the bad start. And if he is productive enough and doesn’t cause any more distractions, it will look like a great offseason gamble by Robinson.

It also would be proof the Titans locker room is strong enough to withstand a potentially different personality.

Vaccaro says Beasley will be fine if he just acts natural and produces.

“Just be yourself. Whatever got you here, whatever makes you great, don’t change that. As far as our team, you know what we preach,” Vaccaro says.

“It’s all about effort, all about condition and all about the details, just those little things honestly that make a team great. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when you get here. Be yourself, they wouldn’t have brought you in – Jon and Vrabel – if they didn’t think you were a fit, you wouldn’t be here. So just be yourself, and everything will be fine.”

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