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Mike Vrabel valuing takeaways, experience in hiring Dean Pees as trusted DC

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Sometimes retirement life isn't all it's hyped up to be.

The importance of coaching experience will be a key theme throughout Mike Vrabel's first year as head coach. He's building what is likely to be a young staff full of up-and-comers, but convincing Dean Pees to leave his four-week retirement to become the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator will give Vrabel an experienced coach and mentor to lean on during hard times.

This appears to be a strong move given Pees' long-standing success at several stops, most recently leading stout Baltimore Ravens defenses. The calling cards for a Pees-led defense are aggression in the running and passing games along with feasting on takeaways.

Vrabel said the defensive coordinator will call 100 percent of the plays except when he uses his head coach veto. This works well because Vrabel and Pees appear aligned in defensive vision.

It's likely the Titans will remain a 3-4 defense under Vrabel and Pees, as they had been under previous defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Vrabel's defensive philosophy of "front multiplicity and coverage consistency" indicates there will be some flexibility, versatility and room for hybrid players in the Titans' defense.

Vrabel is not expected to retain any defensive assistants from former head coach Mike Mularkey's staff. It will be his scheme with more focus on forcing turnovers and making game-changing plays on defense.

The Ravens led the NFL with 34 takeaways and had six defensive touchdowns during the 2017 season. The Titans were tied for 16th with 21 takeaways in 2017 and had two defensive touchdowns combined during the past two seasons.

It will be difficult to replace the relationship that LeBeau had with the Titans players from 2015-17. Pees is a good option for Vrabel to make that transition as smooth as it can be.

Pees has led a top-10 defense in six of his 10 seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator with the Patriots and Ravens. The Titans have a young secondary, led by cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Kevin Byard, to go along with a veteran front seven, led by defensive lineman Jurrell Casey and linebacker Wesley Woodyard. It's a defense with top-10 potential.

Pees also won Super Bowls as an assistant with the Patriots and Ravens, so that experience will certainly help.

There are some questions with the Pees hire, primarily regarding nepotism and Pees' retirement and return. It's clear that Vrabel wanted to bring in Pees, a successful and experienced mentor who coached him for five years in New England, but it's a little uneasy that it helped get his son, Matt, previously a Colorado high school football coach, an NFL job with the Titans.

The idea of meritocracy being the most important thing in the NFL sounds great, but nepotism happens all the time. Matt Pees will likely have a minor role on the Titans staff, but it's still a job that some other unemployed or employed NFL coach would love to have. Only time will tell how Matt does in his role and progresses in the NFL ranks.

Matt Pees' hire might have been part of the price to lure the elder Pees out of his brief retirement. Pees had an emotional news conference on Jan. 1 where he announced his plan to retire and explained his decision by noting a desire to spend more time with his wife, kids and grandkids and get out of the game while his health was still good.

These are questions that will likely be asked during Pees' introductory news conference.

All things considered, hiring Pees and Matt LaFleur as coordinators appears to be a strong haul for Vrabel. Maybe the most important job for a first-year head coach is surrounding himself with smart, capable coaches to run their area of expertise as Vrabel transitions into some of the CEO responsibilities of his new position.

The new era of Titans football is starting to take a clear direction under Vrabel. On April 2, Titans players will get their first full taste of the new staff.