NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On a steamy 90-degree August day in training camp, Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill dropped back and looked to his left as rookie receiver Kyle Philips attempted to run his route against the defense.
Philips didn’t follow the assignment and failed to get open like he had done so many times during camp.
Tannehill noticed Philips had gotten tangled up with rookie cornerback Roger McCreary, so he threw the ball out of bounds. As Philips jogged back to the huddle, a visibly upset Tannehill yelled at him for not getting the assignment right. The rookie nodded his head in response to Tannehill’s scolding.
The scolding worked.
Later in practice during a two-minute period, Tannehill and Philips found themselves in the same matchup. Philips ran the route precisely and Tannehill delivered a pass to him for a key play in the drive.
“Juice. Energy. Leadership,” Titans general manager Jon Robinson said of Tannehill. “He’s working with the new players that are on the team about, ‘Hey, when you run this route this way, look for the ball, because this is what I’m looking for out of you on this certain route.’ He’s fired up to be back out there.”
Almost all players are excited to be back on the field. But for Tannehill, it’s a little different.
A look at Ryan Tannehill in the pocket. pic.twitter.com/trUs0C8HMR
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) July 28, 2022
Tannehill’s 21 touchdown passes last season were the lowest single-season total since joining the Titans in 2019. Tannehill’s 14 interceptions were more than his first two seasons with the team (13) combined.
Despite that, the Titans finished as the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and after a bye in the first round of the playoffs, they were set to get back star running back Derrick Henry, who had missed the final nine games of the regular season with a Jones fracture in his right foot, for what they thought would be a long postseason run.
That didn’t happen.
The 2021 season came to a screeching halt when Tannehill’s three-interception hiccup against the Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round helped facilitate a quick playoff exit.
“Those are hard moments,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, who has known Tannehill since his days at Texas A&M. “They’re harder when it’s the last game of the season, and then you’ve got to go through an offseason before you get another chance to go out and do it.”
Tannehill said it put him in a dark place that caused him to seek counseling. But according to Tannehill he has emerged on the other side of that, and he entered training camp facing a season of redemption. Tannehill called the loss a scar he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life, saying that it will enhance his desire to work harder. He’s ready to win like he never has before.
“You look at things in your past and experiences that you’ve been through to learn from them and use them as fuel,” Tannehill said. “That’s the thought moving forward. Attacking this year each and every day trying to get the most out of it.”
At age 34, Tannehill is looking to become a better leader by “pushing the envelope and bringing the guys along the best he can.”
As the Titans got back to work, one of the primary objectives for Tannehill was to develop chemistry with a new set of pass catchers. He is without four of his top five pass catchers from last season. Tannehill had to establish trust with newcomers Robert Woods, Austin Hooper, Treylon Burks, Chigoziem Okonkwo and Philips.
“You hear him talking through things and explaining situations,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “He’s very conscious of being vocal and working through things with tight ends that are new or with receivers trying to figure out where each and every guy is going to be and then making sure that they’re where he wants them to be.”
Tannehill took more ownership of the offense during training camp. Henry said Tannehill is always communicating in meetings and on the practice field. The veteran quarterback made it a point to be more vocal.
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) May 3, 2022
Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing gave Tannehill time to show the receivers how he wants them to run their routes and come out of breaks against different coverages during install periods. As a former college receiver, that later converted to quarterback for the Aggies, Tannehill can relate to receivers in different situations which helps him explain what he wants more concisely.
Woods commended Tannehill’s penchant for communicating on the field between reps, in the classroom and in the hallway as they’re going from meeting to meeting.
“There’s no time off,” Woods said. “He’s always leading.”
Tannehill takes receivers to fine-tune their timing on another field during the special teams portion of practice. They’ll talk through different scenarios and ways to attack defenses. Then he’ll throw the ball to the locations he expects them to be.
“He’s very clear and concise with his communication,” wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine said. “So we know exactly what he wants from us as receivers.”
Now that camp is over, the Titans can turn their attention to the regular season. For Tannehill, it’s an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start the journey towards redemption.
“I know he’s probably as disappointed in the way that it ended more so than anybody, and he’s had to carry that with him,” Aikman said. “I would imagine that no one in Tennessee’s more excited about Week 1 than he is, just so he could put it behind him and start playing again.”
“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of really good work out here,” Tannehill said. “I feel really good about the progress we’ve made and hope to continue moving forward.”