Dick LeBeau turns 80: Messages to the Hall of Famer from three of his players

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Titans defensive coordinator and Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau turns 80 today, and Sunday he becomes the first 80-year old coordinator in NFL history.FullSizeRender 34

“My plan is to not acknowledge it,” LeBeau said, laughing. “To paraphrase Garth Brooks’ song, it’s a good song, I’m much too old to feel this damn young, man. That’s all I’ve got to say about the birthday.”

LeBeau was born on Sept. 9, 1937. He played at Ohio State from 1955-58 and for the Detroit Lions from 1959-1972 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. He's coached in the NFL since 1973.

LeBeau still loves the work and he's still sharp. The Titans are lucky to have him. He and the defense have a big task ahead, as Derick Carr and the Raiders offense can really push the ball downfield and the offensive line affords him quality protection.

I asked three members of LeBeau’s defense for a preview of what they’d say to him.

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The Titans' unanswered questions, in order of importance

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Cornerback LeShaun Sims (groin) is out. Left tackle Taylor Lewan (ankle) is in.

Still, there are things we still don’t know about Sunday.FullSizeRender 32

The top questions I want to see answered, in order of importance to me:

Who starts opposite Logan Ryan? Everyone presumes it’ll be Adoree’ Jackson, the 18th pick in the draft. And, frankly, it should be. But until it’s revealed before the game – maybe with a lineup 90 minutes ahead of kickoff, maybe not until the defense takes the field -- I am not going to say it’s definite. The Titans could start Brice McCain and bring in Jackson as part of the nickel package.

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Johnathan Cyprien vs. Jared Cook a matchup to watch

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Covering tight ends was an issue for the Titans last season, and rookie Jayon Brown’s role as the new nickel linebacker has been thoroughly discussed.

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But Brown won’t be part of the Titans’ base defense, and even the best coverage linebacker won’t always be asked to cover the tight end. Plenty of them are simply too fast and athletic for a linebacker to match up with.

It’s new strong safety Johnathan Cyprien we are likely to see trying to slow Jared Cook and the Raiders’ tight ends on Sunday at Nissan Stadium. 

“I feel good about that matchup,” Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “Johnathan’s got plenty of size, he’s fast, very agile. I’m very happy that Jonathan is on the Titans’ side.”

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With or without LeShaun Sims, time for Titans' secondary to prove improvement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With or without LeShaun Sims in the lineup Sunday against the Raiders, the Titans spent the offseason considering their pass defense and need to make a better showing in order to beat a quality offense.

The Titans were 29th in the NFL in pass defense last season, allowing 269.2 yards a game.

That prompted big additions to the secondary in veteran cornerback Logan Ryan, first-round corner Adoree’ Jackson and veteran strong safety Johnathan Cyprien.

Against a high-quality quarterback in Derrick Carr and two top-flight receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, the Titans need to show us they’ve

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Kevin Dodd on his explosion: 'It’s not what it used to be'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When the Titans trimmed their roster to 53, second-year outside linebacker Kevin Dodd was a little fearful, just like a lot of guys who’d spent over a month in the locker room working to stick on the list.

The 33rd pick in the 2016 draft out of Clemson had nothing to worry about.

But he’s one of the big Titans’ topics right now as training camp and the preseason left big, lingering questions about his ability to provide quality depth behind Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan.DoddCAR0819

A few days after Dodd played a whopping 42 snaps in the preseason finale, coach Mike Mularkey praised him again.

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Marcus Mariota has faith in Eric Decker even with minimal work together

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – If you picked a receiver new to his team to miss a lot of training camp time, chances are it’d be Eric Decker.

It certainly slowed things down for Tennessee to have him out with an ankle injury suffered during an Aug. 16 joint practice against the Panthers.

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The team was super-cautious with him, and he only returned to full work on Monday.

At Nissan Stadium against the Raiders in the season opener, odds are he will start opposite Richard Matthews, but even if he doesn’t he should play a heavy share of snaps.

But Decker’s known for being an exacting route runner who will show up at the right place at the right time, which means Marcus Mariota can trust him more easily even as the two haven’t worked together very extensively.

 “You try to make up for some time whether it’s extra routes after practice or just even talking football,” Decker said. “We both have played enough to understand the system, that it is about being in the right spot and just kind of trusting that you understand certain looks and talk through if you’ve got to make adjustments throughout the game.”

“That’s the biggest thing I want to gain, whatever team I’m on, is the trust of the quarterback. He’s got to understand

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Brian Orakpo not relying on new pass-rush moves in his ninth year

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When Brian Orakpo fires off at the snap against the Raiders on Sunday, he will unleash an array of moves while making every effort to disrupt and hit quarterback, Derek Carr.

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Orakpo will execute a game plan, adapt to what Oakland is doing and use everything he knows about left tackle Donald Penn.

None of it, however, will be new.

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