There's something different about Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen — and it's good | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean

Not that it guarantees improvement where the Tennessee Titans most need it, but I can’t help but notice Shane Bowen, defensive coordinator, seems different from Shane Bowen, sort-of-defensive-coordinator. In a good way.

Maybe it’s a little extra gray in his chin whiskers. They suggest experience beyond Bowen’s 34 years while also hinting at the increased pressure of his new role.

And it is a new role.

Really, that's what feels different. Because that title is important, even if Mike Vrabel has tried to tell us it’s not.

Professional titles do matter to people. They matter in your job. They matter in my job. And they matter, too, in Bowen’s job, which has changed a great deal.

Again, in a good way.

“Ultimately being the final voice, right?” Bowen said. “It has changed in that regard.”

Final voice. At least Bowen knows that now. And if he knows that, then Titans players surely do, too.

This was all so complicated last season, and needlessly so. Titans players said Bowen was acting as the defensive coordinator. He had responsibility. He ran meetings. He called plays. He even showed up to weekly media calls to answer questions about the defense, as a coordinator would.

But he was not the defensive coordinator.

Tennessee Titans outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen watches his players during a training camp practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.

We can’t know what to expect from a Bowen defense

Among plenty of fans and media like yours truly, Bowen’s formal promotion this offseason was generally met with grumbles, and for obvious reasons. The Titans’ defense was putrid last season, so much that it’s fair to question how Vrabel or anyone else could say, “Yes, more of the same, please.”

Is it going to be more of the same, though?

That's what I'm starting to wonder, and I've settled on this: Bowen deserves an opportunity to convince us otherwise. We can’t know what to expect from a Bowen defense, because we haven’t seen one yet.

He caught an inordinate amount of blame for last season’s defensive failings. Those were Vrabel’s fault. The head coach accepted all responsibility when he declined to name a coordinator to replace Dean Pees and instead offered muddled explanations of how things would work, how Bowen would be the one running things — when he wasn’t there, that is.

Always a doomed approach, it played out with a rudderless defense that lacked an identity beyond hoping the other team didn’t have a good quarterback or that the Titans’ own potent offense could score enough to win.

With pass-catchers like Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith gone, along with new Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith, the Titans’ defense can't expect the offense to carry as much weight in 2021. The defense needs to hold its own.

'A lot of new things'

This time, that’ll be up to Bowen. A familiar face, whiskers and all, but to those seeking defensive improvement via change: We are seeing some. The Titans, for one, overhauled defensive personnel this offseason, reflecting a belief that last season was more an indictment of players than coaching.

Tennessee Titans outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen gives instruction to his players during a training camp practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park Monday, Aug. 24, 2020  Nashville, Tenn.

And to hear Bowen these days is to think the Titans have dismantled their entire defensive operation, rather than simply handing it to a coach already on staff.

“We’re doing a lot of new things,” Bowen said Wednesday, “a lot of different things, just in how we go about our day, how we go about our business. … We’re kind of starting from square one all over again, trying to rebuild this thing with the new guys that we’ve got.”

Bowen said “a big emphasis” has been placed on improved communication and knowledge of the defense, which was cited by Titans defenders as a glaring problem last season.

Players have echoed that during OTAs.

“We want to make sure everyone can be on the same page,” said safety Amani Hooker. “We want guys not just to know what they’re doing, but to know what the guy next to them is doing. … We’re not independent contractors. We’re all working together as one team.”

Before anyone gets too crazy, the scheme has stayed mostly the same. Bowen said that but added “there’s a lot of ways to skin a cat. You can do things a lot of different ways. Just trying to find what fits with these players.”

Sounds refreshing. 

Sounds like an actual coordinator, not a position coach being told to act like one.

Good for Shane Bowen. Let’s see what he can do.

Reach Gentry Estes at and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.