NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans have the NFL's highest-paid safety Kevin Byard at the back of their defense, and a four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle anchoring the line in Jurrell Casey.
In the middle are two young linebackers in Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown ready to show the NFL exactly what they can do.
"Oh, no doubt," said Evans, the Titans' first-round pick in 2018 out of Alabama. "I think timing is everything. That's my little motto. At some point, it's going to be our turn. So all we can do right now is continue to do what we've been doing and everything else will fall in place."
The Titans still have veteran Wesley Woodyard around for his 12th season and to keep teaching Evans and Brown. Woodyard started 14 games and led the team in tackles last season. He now is a key reserve with both Evans and Brown the starters on the depth chart. It's what was expected for Evans as the No. 22 pick overall in 2018 after he started seven games last season.
Brown was a fifth-round pick out of UCLA in 2017, and he has worked his way from an undersized linebacker at 6 feet and 226 pounds to start nine games last season. Brown played so well in 2018 that he ranked second on the team with six sacks and with 107 tackles and tied for second with 18 quarterback pressures. That earned him an extra $373,575 in performance-based pay, the fourth-highest amount the NFL handed out.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel, a linebacker for 14 seasons himself, said Brown learned his job and a new scheme to become an every-down linebacker.
"He's an instinctive player," Vrabel said of Brown. "I think he's probably become a little bit more calloused to playing on first and second down and not just a third-down player. But, he keeps working and he's got a great attitude."
Now both Evans and Brown have had another offseason in the defense of coordinator Dean Pees, allowing the young linebackers to learn the intricacies of a scheme that features a lot of disguises to trip up opponents. Brown says he feels very comfortable being in the playbook now going into a second season and playing alongside his fellow linebackers.
"I still got strides to go to be where I want to be," Brown said.
Evans was limited at the start of his rookie season after hurting a hamstring in the preseason. The 6-2, 232-pound Evans still played in 15 games and had 63 tackles. He's also much more comfortable in the NFL and in Pees' defense, which allowed the third-fewest points in the league last season.
"Just the fact that I had the first year up under my belt, being able to go through the system and knowing exactly what I need to do and what they expect of me," Evans said.
If either linebacker has a question, there's Woodyard at the ready as the veteran among the inside linebackers. Tennessee's outside linebackers are led by veteran Cameron Wake, a free agent signee in March, and a pair of second-year pass rushers in Harold Landry III and Sharif Finch. Woodyard said Brown has sat next to him in meeting rooms since he arrived and that Evans is right there listening whenever he speaks.
"Anytime I talk, he's looking right there dead in my mouth trying to see what I say, write it down," Woodyard said. "When we get on the field, it makes it easier because it's a trust and it's an accountability factor. One thing about us, we want to compete and we hold each other to the highest standards, and we don't want to lose."
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