Just three days after Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel yelled at reporters and stormed off after being asked multiple questions regarding the team’s waiver claim of linebacker Zach Cunningham, he was finally ready to speak about Tennessee’s newest transaction.
Vrabel disclosed on Monday that Cunningham was expected to practice with the team for the first time on Wednesday.
Cunningham hasn’t played since Nov. 28 — a 21-14 loss to the New York Jets when he was with the Houston Texans. He was benched twice by Houston this season for violating team rules, most recently sitting in Week 13 after showing up late to a COVID-19 test. Texans head coach David Culley said when he released the star LB it was because he wasn't meeting the standards of the team.
Vrabel, however, stated that Cunningham’s shortcomings from his previous team won’t be held against him in Nashville.
“I am thinking about this week,” Vrabel said. “For me personally, where is he at? How can he help out the football team? Figure out different ways to make sure he knows what he is doing and where we are going to put him and what we are asking him to do. That is really my focus right now. I can only speak for myself. That is what we are focused on right now.”
Cunningham, who led the NFL with 164 tackles last year, accumulated 67 tackles, four tackles for loss, three passes defensed and a forced fumble in 10 games with the Texans this season. He has the fourth-most tackles in the NFL since 2017 (570).
The 27-year-old is a much-needed addition to the middle of the Titans' defense, which ranks No. 3 in the NFL in run-stop win rate (33 percent). Tennessee has had a tough time keeping its inside linebackers healthy — David Long Jr., Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans have missed a combined 14 games.
Cunningham is walking into perhaps the best possible situation, as Vrabel and Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen both worked with him during his rookie season in Houston. With Vrabel as his defensive coordinator and Bowen a defensive assistant, Cunningham registered 90 tackles, six passes defensed, five tackles for loss, two QB hits, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
The Titans have perhaps the best head coach-defensive coordinator duo in the league to best maximize Cunningham’s skillset.
“I am not sure of [his] role,” Vrabel said. “Zach is a player that has really good length. Very instinctive, he is a very instinctive player. He triggers. He has had a lot of tackles. He has been a very productive player in this league. Where all that fits as far as a role? I wouldn’t be able to tell you right now obviously.
“He has played on the punt team. He has done a great job as a tackle on the punt team running down there in coverage as well as when he started at inside linebacker. That is something that I know [special teams coach Craig Aukerman] is excited about. We will see where everything else fits in.”
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_