During his playing days in the NFL, current Tennesse Titans Defensive Coordinator Chuck Cecil was regarded as one of the most vicious hitters in National Football League history. The October 11, 1993 issue of Sports Illustrated featured his picture and the question: “Is Chuck Cecil Too Vicious for the NFL?” on the cover.
During his days with the Green Bay Packers, Cecil earned the nickname “Scud” because of his hit-or-miss approach to tackling opponents. He often left his feet and led with his helmet, and much like the infamous missiles launched during the Gulf War – would occasionally miss completely or arrive late. However, whenever he made direct contact, devastation and human carnage were the result.
The hit-or-miss adjective could very well apply to the defensive unit Cecil leads today in Nashville. When Cecil was promoted from DBs Coach to Defensive Coordinator in the ’09 offseason, the Titans picked him over a few other, more experienced candidates, and the results weren’t pretty. Obviously criticism of Tennessee’s decision then arose.
By Paul M. Banks
Former Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz departed to take the head coaching job with the Detroit Lions, and Cecil inherited a top ten defense that returned every starter except the much talked about Albert Haynesworth. But the team slumped from 13-3 and a #1 seed in the AFC in ’08, to a 8-8 non-playoff qualifier in ’09. The Titans also surrendered 30+ points on five occasions. Cecil knows his defense needs to get much better; and soon. I recently had an exclusive conversation with him on the day of his College Football Hall of Fame induction.
I first asked if practicing every day against Chris Johnson, the most explosive back in all of football, and a 2,000 yard rusher last year can help improve the unit.
“I think it helps them respect the speed of the game a little more, the biggest difference between the college and the professional game is the hash marks and setting the edge. And what happens in college with the hash marks being so close to the sidelines, is you can out-run the contain. In the NFL, you should not be able to out-run the contain but Chris can do that and that’s what sets him apart. He actually out-runs the contain a lot of the time, and for us it helps us set a better edge by practicing against a guy like that. In college, if you have someone who is a lot faster than somebody else you have a lot longer time to outrun the edge. In the NFL, you don’t have that because the ball is always in the middle of the field basically,” he said.
An interesting aspect of the game that few are familiar with.
This year, Cecil is breaking in new starters in all three position groups, but returns former Pro Bowlers at both safety positions in Chris Hope and Michael Griffin. However, both players, especially Griffin, slumped badly last year.
Maybe there’s new hope in defensive end Derrick Morgan, the team’s first round draft pick this April, and a highly touted prospect that no one expected to still be on the board when Tennessee was picking.
“It was kind of disappointing because he was hurt for most of the OTAs, but we expect a lot out of him, he’s a bright kid. Schematically he’s picked it up, I think he’s well suited for what we do with our nine technique, the proof is in the pudding so we’ll have to wait and see, I really don’t see him being a dominant player this year, I don’t think that’s realistic, but I think as he grows and matures in the league and learns about blocks and things of that nature he’ll just continue to be a better player,” Cecil said of Morgan.
Last year, the main issue was replacing Haynesworth, this year it’s about filling the void of another departed defensive end, Kyle Vanden Bosch. But it’s his emotional leadership, and his role as champion of the conditioning program that will be the hardest to replace.
“Kyle is not a guy that you replace, I been doing this for 30 years as a player, a coach, I’ve never encountered a Kyle Vanden Bosch, he’s wired different than anyone you’ve ever been around, but the thing that Kyle brought to the team, he’s already showed that example, laid that down and explained to the younger guys not by mouth, but by action, what it is to be a professional. How do you go about your daily routine to prepare for Sunday? And he’s already done that routine for us, and what Detroit paid for when they bought him in free agency was for him to come to Detroit and to show them how to be a professional on defense.
He’s still an above average player, his Pro Bowl years may be behind him, but maybe playing next to Ndamukong Suh may open some wholes there, but that’s another reason they got him. As a coach, your words and actions only go so far. The best teacher for a player is a fellow player and what happens in the locker room and that’s the dynamic that Kyle brings for Detroit,” Cecil said.
Paul M. Banks is President and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com
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