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Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Jerry Gray wants players to own defense

By Paul Kuharsky

Jerry Gray, Chris Palmer
New coordinators Jerry Gray, left, (defense) and Chris Palmer bring experience to the Titans' staff.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Maybe it was overplayed. But at the end of Chuck Cecil’s two-year tenure as Titans defensive coordinator, some of his colleagues and some of his players were hardly quietly talking about their utter lack of opportunity for input.

Those people will surely find what Cecil’s successor, Jerry Gray, said Tuesday afternoon refreshing.

Mike Munchak’s defensive coordinator, who served as an assistant with the franchise from 1997-2000, said getting his players to feel they have ownership of the defense will be a big priority for him.

“You have to get the guys to understand that they are a part of the defense, it’s not just your defense and they are playing a part in it,” he said. “They take ownership. And when they take ownership, the defense works very well. They take pride in it, they take it home, they want to tell their wives and kids about it. And that’s what we’re hoping to get back here.”

Gray said he will learn what guys can and cannot do, and use them accordingly. He cited DeAngelo Hall, the cornerback he coached in Washington, who hated to play up on receivers at the line of scrimmage. Gray, therefore, allowed him to play off.

Since he was hired Saturday, Gray has not watched all of the Titans’ 2010 season, but said in what he has seen there were a lot of near misses on plays. If he can change that and help turn a good share of those into made plays, the defense can get better quickly.

He also doesn’t want players thinking too broadly. If disciplined, smart players can consider the two most important things and leave the other eight aside, he said they stand a better chance to succeed.

Gray hopes to meet with as many players on the defense as he can before a probable lockout on March 4.

The defense is still without a line coach, and the fates of the carryover defensive staff will be determined soon.

Munchak also had a chance at the news conference to sell new offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. The Titans announced earlier in the day that Palmer, a well-traveled 61-year old coach who’s worked with a variety of quarterbacks -- ranging from Tim Couch and David Carr to Tony Romo and Eli Manning -- would fill the void created when Munchak fired Mike Heimerdinger.

At first glance, he doesn’t appear the sort of fresh outsider Munchak spoke of bringing in as he formed a staff.

But Munchak said a veteran coach was just what he needed, as he’s got some assistants on offense without a great deal of experience. The Titans won’t know who their quarterback will be, and Palmer will be able to adjust quickly, which could be called for if there is an extended labor impasse.

The Titans new coach said he had “a couple” or “a few” offensive coordinator candidates to Nashville, and did a lot more work weeding people out on the phone.

He wouldn’t talk about how many guys he asked for permission to talk to from around the league. Two were reported: The Titans were denied permission to speak with Bill Callahan of the Jets and Mike Tice of the Bears.

Another element that makes Palmer an attractive deputy for Munchak is that the systems he’s been in have required quarterbacks to call the protections. If a quarterback is doing that, his position coach and coordinator have to know the intricacies of the pass-blocking scheme.

Munchak, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, doesn’t like the idea of a play-caller whose purview doesn’t include protection issues. Some leave them strictly to the line coach.

“[Palmer] can call a game knowing where the problems are up front,” Munchak said.