During Wednesday’s practice, safety Johnathan Cyprien went down with a knee injury. It was later announced that he had torn his ACL and would miss the entirety of the 2018 season. The Titans secondary depth was already thin. Behind Cyprien and starting free safety Kevin Byard, was a lot of inexperience. Kendrick Lewis was signed over from the Ravens, but was never an impact player in Baltimore. The Titans drafted Dane Cruikshank in the fifth round, but he is raw and considered a project. The best option was to find a safety still lingering in free agency. Luckily, there were many starting-caliber safeties available.
General manager Jon Robinson responded quickly to fill the void he left in the secondary. The Titans brought in multiple safeties to work out on Friday. The list included former Steeler Mike Mitchell, ex-Raven Lardarius Webb, and the Saints’ 2013 first round pick Kenny Vaccaro. Vaccaro impressed in his workout and stayed overnight in Nashville according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Eric Reid, the 49ers’ starting strong safety for many years, was supposed to visit as well. However, weather problems did not allow for him to arrive in Nashville on time. Due to this delay, Robinson pulled the trigger on Vaccaro to become the newest member of the Titans secondary.
Vaccaro played in all four of his years at the University of Texas and started during his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons. In his Longhorn years, he totaled over 200 tackles and intercepted five passes. He played primarily at safety, but would shift down to play nickel back when necessary. As a senior he was named a first team All-American.
During the draft process, Vaccaro was consistently heralded as the top safety in the draft class. He was an expected first round selection and became on when the Saints picked him 15th overall. Since being drafted, Vaccaro has had an inconsistent career. At some points he has looked like a star, but has faltered in others. Injuries have also hampered him as he has only completed one full 16 game season in his career. He has collected 8 interceptions, 7.5 sacks, and close to 400 tackles in his five seasons in the league. He has shown flashes of greatness with the Saints and if he stays healthy should make an impact in Tennessee.
Fit with the Titans
Vaccaro was the best fit of all of the options available to replace Cyprien. The Titans already have a “centerfielder” type free safety in All-Pro Kevin Byard. This makes Webb and Mitchell unlikely to fill Cyprien’s role as the run-stuffing box safety. Reid is a very similar player to Cyprien as a true box safety. The 49ers even had him play linebacker after he lost the starting safety position. However, Vaccaro gives the Titans a mix of these traits. He is a better coverage safety than Cyprien, but also can stuff the run in the same fashion.
Byard and Vaccaro give the Titans flexibility in the secondary. Both can blitz the quarterback and play as the single high safety if necessary. Although, having Byard deep would make me more comfortable. Cyprien struggled to play as the deep safety and didn’t give the defense this flexibility to have Byard play closer to the line at times. Vaccaro brings a happy medium between the enforcer that Cyprien was and the coverage skills that he desperately needed.
Does this Upgrade the Titans’ Secondary?
The secondary group is extremely close knit, as seen throughout the offseason and training camp. They came up with their motto, My Man Catch No Balls or MMCNB, worked out together in the offseason, and have been fiery in practices with position coach Kerry Coombs. The chemistry between the group of defensive backs cannot be understated. However, Byard and Vaccaro have the same agent and most likely are familiar with each other. Cyprien may have been close with the group, but Vaccaro has been a more talented all-around player. If he meshes with the group and plays with passion like the rest of the group, the already great Titans secondary should become even better.
The Cyprien injury was devastating to the team, but the Titans were lucky a talented safety was available in August. Vaccaro should hit the practice field sometime this week and fans will see if he is the starting-caliber safety the defense needs.