‘Relentless’ Mike Vrabel extends hands-on approach to assessing prospects

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Most coaches stand on the side and observe while attending college pro days. That’s not the case with Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and his staff. Their pro day tour consists of physically getting involved in drills with the prospects during workouts.

Vrabel’s involvement with defensive lineman Christian Wilkins during Clemson’s pro day caught a lot of attention on social media. The two were already pretty familiar with each other before the encounter.

“Coach Vrabel, me and him have a little bit of a relationship,” Wilkins said. “Me being from Massachusetts, I was always a Patriots fan, so I knew who he was growing up. He recruited me when I was at Suffield Academy, and he was at Ohio State, so we have a little bit of a relationship there.”

Wilkins lined up in front of Vrabel and showed his power as he struck a chest pad that Vrabel wore to simulate giving offensive lineman an initial punch. Vrabel took the time to coach Wilkins on throwing his hands and appeared to be impressed with a couple of Wilkins’ punches. The Titans need to add to their defensive line, and Wilkins is the No. 5 overall prospect on Todd McShay’s big board. His versatility and disruptive play would be a plus for Tennessee.

Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver also got the Vrabel treatment at his pro day.

“Wherever I go, your hands are going into my chest,” Vrabel said to Oliver before their rep. “See how low your hands were? You didn’t strike. If you get your hands like this, you can knock the s— out of him.”

Oliver did exactly what Vrabel showed him and got a solid strike the next time they lined up against each other.

The prospects seem to enjoy the hands-on interaction with the Titans coaches. Ole Miss tight end Dawson Knox appreciated how well he was able to communicate with Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. Knox said he had a good time with Smith, who walked Knox through new drills that he felt would help the tight end at the next level.

Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams got to work out with Titans defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs and assistant defensive back coach Scott Booker. Coombs lined up as a wide receiver to see how disruptive Williams is at the line of scrimmage. Williams got a good punch on Coombs, almost knocking him over.

Vrabel’s son goes to the same high school (Father Ryan High School in Nashville) that Williams went to, so the cornerback already knew the coach. Williams came away from his pro day impressed with the other Titans coaches.

“They’re some really good guys. We have a really good relationship,” Williams said.

Vrabel and his coaching staff made it a point to be hands-on with the players in their first year with the Titans. Rolling up their sleeves and grinding with the players is a way to connect. It’s not uncommon to see the coaching staff, including 69-year-old defensive coordinator Dean Pees, take part in post-practice conditioning.

Before games, Vrabel could be spotted in the end zone wearing his chest pad doing the same drills with defensive lineman DaQuan Jones that he did with Wilkins and Oliver. The hands-on approach was one of the many ways the coaching staff got players to buy into the culture in their first year together.

“He’s very hands-on and relentless in his coaching. He wants to make sure you know what you’re doing. You know he cares about his players,” running back Derrick Henry said.

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