Jerry Gray has not had a good first quarter.
Granted, the Titans' defensive coordinator is lacking in personnel.
But he’s getting minimal pass rush from the front four and he’s fearful of blitzing because he’s a former defensive back who tends to worry first about coverage. And that coverage is soft enough as it is. He apparently doesn’t feel he can take the risk of subtracting from the numbers there in order to add to the rush.
Among the themes he hit this week: toughness.
And he’s right. Too many of his guys seem worried about even attempting a tone-setting shot -- safety Michael Griffin first among them.
But the language Gray chose to express his feelings seems disconnected from the league’s biggest issue right now: player safety.
Here’s Gray via The Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt:
“If you are worrying about (getting fined), you are not going to go out and try and blow the guy up. Great football players have to put that out of their mind. You have to say, ‘This is my territory between the numbers, and if you throw the football you better bring the Gator truck .’ And that’s how you have to play. You can’t play timid in the NFL.”
As Wyatt notes: The Gator is a utility vehicle teams use to transport severely injured players off the field.
Gray worked under Gregg Williams in Tennessee and Buffalo. In light of the bounty case against Williams that allegedly included pay for "cart-off hits," Gray's comments are significant.
Yes, big hits are a part of the game and a good defense needs a good share of them. But it’s probably not the best idea for Gray to talk about hits that leave an opponent injured. The way the league talks about such things is evolving.
Look, the Titans have a lot of room between the level of physicality they are bringing so far and the level that will get them regular fines. But it only takes one play to get a FedEx from the league office, or to necessitate that Gator pulling onto the field.
Gray can tacitly endorse and encourage both.
He’s not the guy who will get the fine, and he’s not the guy who will be carted off.
He is the guy sending a message that, at least on some level, runs contrary to what the league is preaching.
But he’s got to preach something, because his defense is bad.
This is not a major headline, I don't think. But it does suggest a disconnect with, or a counter to, the league's big theme. That's probably intentional. Gray has not gotten through to his players, so now perhaps he's purposefully attempting to reach them through the press.
More Gray via Wyatt:
“Have we blown anybody up? ... Maybe we are playing too timid. We can’t give up touchdowns as soon as we get off the bus. We didn’t do that last year. You can’t give up touchdowns in the first quarter and expect to get sacks and expect to get turnovers.”
“… I don’t coach a defense like this, and I don’t think they intend to play a defense like that. But when it happens, what do you do to fix it? And that is our job. We have 12 weeks to fix it.”
There is no disputing that.