NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Dick LeBeau looks at Jameis Winston and sees the next quarterback he must prepare to stop. That approach sure helps explain why the defensive genius has such an impressive record against rookies.
Since 2004, LeBeau is 20-2 against rookie quarterbacks. Now in his first year in charge of Tennessee's defense, his debut Sunday tasked will be against the top overall pick in Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Some coaches choose to blitz defenders from every direction to pressure a rookie into mistakes, while others drop players back into coverage.
For the man credited with devising the zone blitz, the choice remains the same.
"I always think more pressure is better than less," LeBeau said Thursday. "You're talking to a pressure coach."
The Titans hired LeBeau in February as assistant head coach in charge of the defense, working with coordinator Ray Horton to improve a unit that gave up 27.3 points per game last season and tied for 29th in the NFL. Only one team was worse than the Titans against the run, and Tennessee gave up 137.2 yards per game as they went 2-14 last season.
Tennessee showed little this preseason of the blitzes and stunts LeBeau can call, but the coach who turned 78 on Wednesday said he liked how the Titans defended the run holding opponents to 89.3 yards per game. The Titans also protected some of their veterans like linebacker Brian Orakpo, the three-time Pro Bowler with 40 career sacks, by limiting their work this preseason.
"You guys seen just a taste of what we're capable of when we're on all cylinders," Orakpo said. "Obviously, we still got stuff to improve on, but I think we're ahead of schedule so to speak. I'm excited about what we can do as a total defense."
LeBeau promises only to run the Titans' defense, not tipping anything about how exotic the blitzes could be. He said the Titans have worked hard and will try to give fans a hustling and hard-hitting defense. LeBeau certainly sounds impressed with Winston, a quarterback he says is no rookie the way he throws the ball.
"He's going to try to make us miserable, we're going to try to make him miserable," LeBeau said. "One of us will win out. At the end of the game, we'll see who that is."
Winston certainly is expecting to be pressured a lot, especially after being sacked seven times this preseason. Winston said on a conference call he's studying to be ready for LeBeau.
"It's a blessing to get a chance to compete against a coach with his accolades, so I'm honored," Winston said of LeBeau. "But we're ready"
Having a Hall of Fame cornerback and a coach now heading into his 57th NFL season certainly feeds the Titans' confidence. Linebacker Derrick Morgan said they're very happy to have him in Tennessee.
"He has an infinite source of wisdom," Morgan said. "Just on the sideline, he can see things from a different perspective that a lot of players or coaches can't see because he's seen it all. Just having that on the sideline, I know there's games I came to the sideline in preseason ... and he was able to give some insight."
Stopping Bucs running back Doug Martin will be the Titans' best approach to slowing down Winston. That also will keep the Titans from having to dip deeply into LeBeau's playbook.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt helped convince LeBeau to join him and Horton in Tennessee, and he said he's seen the Titans respond to LeBeau.
"Hopefully we'll see those results Sunday," Whisenhunt said.
Notes: CB Jason McCourty (groin) and NT Sammie Hill (right knee) did not practice for a second straight day. The Titans added three players to the injury report and all were limited Thursday in practice: RB Antonio Andrews (hamstring), CB Perrish Cox (hip) and C Andy Gallik (illness).
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