- Ed Werder, ESPN NFL Insider
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The NFL is reviewing comments made by Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray
in which he said his players need to perform with a reckless abandon and not fret about consequences, according to a league source.
"If you are worrying about that, you are not going to go out and try and blow the guy up," Gray told The Tennessean on Thursday. "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."
The Gator is a vehicle teams use to take injured players off the field.
Gray, who coached under the suspended Gregg Williams with the Titans, Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins, told ESPN he regrets making the reference to the "Gator truck" and reiterated he was not urging his players to deliberately injure opponents or deliver illegal hits. Gray realizes that in the context of the New Orleans Saints' bounty punishment and the league's emphasis on player safety, his rhetoric could be misconstrued.
"This is football, but my choice of words under the circumstances was probably bad,'' he said. "If I could take that part of it back, I would. I don't want guys thinking about injuring people, and when you say 'Gator truck' that's probably what comes up. I just want our guys to be tougher.''
The league holds players and coaches accountable for playing within the framework of the rules.
According to a Titans source, Gray believes the NFL's willingness to fine players has adversely influenced the mentality of his players, and he was attempting to change their thought process.
A former defensive back, Gray is apparently frustrated that opposing receivers have run routes in the middle of the field without fear of consequence. Gray emphasized that he merely wants his team to be tougher and control the middle of the field with clean, tough hits. He mentioned the San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens as playing the style of defense he hopes his players will emulate.
Titans safety Michael Griffin told The Tennessean that defenders are in a tough spot, but he agrees with Gray that if a chance for a big shot is there, players need to take it.
"I've watched film and said to myself: 'OK, I could have taken a shot there,'" Griffin told the paper. "When the shot presents itself, yeah you take it. But that's the problem -- it's not like every game a shot is there. If there is a fine, I am not worried about it. You think about it, but when you go to take the hit, you have to do it right."
It has been a struggle for the Titans, who rank 31st in yards allowed and 32nd in points allowed. Tennessee (1-3), which has allowed 41 first-quarter points, also has just six sacks and one interception in four games.
"Have we blown anybody up? ... Maybe we are playing too timid," Gray told the newspaper. "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."
Tennessee visits the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
2dEric D. Williams
1dMel Kiper Jr.