Caleb Farley

During the first day of the Titans’ offseason workout program, safety Kevin Byard stated the goal was for Tennessee to be the top defense in the NFL.

Lofty expectations, sure, but it may not be as far-fetched as one might think.

The Titans improved from the 28th overall defense in 2020 to 12th overall in 2021, and the team returns 10 off 11 starters from last year. But Tennessee taking that next step toward being an elite defense could hinge on the only player stepping into a starting role for the first time, Caleb Farley.

While Jackrabbit Jenkins didn’t exactly light the world on fire last season, he was fairly durable and mostly reliable. But the succession plan was always clear once the Titans drafted Farley 22nd overall last year: Farley was the future and Jenkins was the placeholder. 

Once Tennessee cut ties with Jenkins at the start of the offseason, the clock on Farley was sped up. Although he’s had a few roadblocks, the biggest being the rehabilitation of his surgically repaired ACL, Farley appears to be saying and doing all the right things.

“[Farley has] had a good first week,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said. “I'll tell you that, you know, just to touch on that. Had a really good first week — light years ahead of where he ended. So, not only just rehab, but just from a mental perspective and just being in those meetings and having him answer questions. And I'm not going to say who he beat, but he won the quiz competition today, so not going to tell the other guys that he beat, but he did a nice job.”

This offseason could be the most important one to date in Farley’s career simply because as far as NFL cornerbacks go, he’s still pretty green.

Farley, of course, tore his ACL in a 34-31 win over the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football in Week 6. It’s the second ACL surgery he’s had recently to go along with two major back surgeries as well.

The 23-year-old cornerback only had two years of experience at the position in college after switching from offense to defense, and he’s two full years removed from the last time he put in a full season’s worth of work at any level.

Limited to just 60 snaps over three games during his rookie season last year, Farley also sat out the 2020 season at Virginia Tech due to COVID-19 concerns. On top of rehabbing a major injury, Farley is also battling close to two years of not playing football.

But his development and growth — both physically and on the field — during the offseason have the Titans’ staff high on the potential of their 2021 first-round pick.

“Caleb’s working hard,” general manager Jon Robinson sad. “He's gained some size. He's continuing to learn and work at how to be a pro and make that transition to try to help our football team. He knows how important it is to us that he puts in the time, and he's dedicated, and he's certainly on the right track, it looks like.”

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_