The Titans returned just about every piece from a defense that reached the AFC title game a year ago, and then signed former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year deal worth up to $15 million just a week before the season opener.
Clowney, the 6-5 Pro Bowl edge rusher, is next in line to challenge the Vikings’ stumbling offense, which saw quarterback Kirk Cousins take four hits from Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in a three-interception game on Sunday. A versatile Titans defense has already shown in two games they’ll move Clowney into any position to exploit a matchup.
“They move him around quite a bit,” head coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday via videoconference. “Sometimes he’s on the right. Sometimes he’s on the left. Sometimes he lines up over center. So, they move him around. Identification will be big for us.”
Clowney does not yet have a sack for the Titans, with a modest three quarterback hits and three run stops in two games. Tennessee is expecting more from Clowney as he gets acclimated to his new team, according to Titans head coach Mike Vrabel.
“We have to keep pushing him to do things better and understand our system better,” Vrabel said via videoconference. “He hasn’t been here very long, and I think those are important things hopefully can take place over the next few days as we work toward our next game. He’s working toward understanding how we do things and the multiplicity of what we do.”
Zimmer said the Vikings’ offensive line “did some really good things” against the Colts, but “there were miscues like everywhere.” Cousins, not just his blockers, will have to seek out Clowney before every snap, too.
“They’re doing a great job of getting him involved and being creative with his rush lanes and his gaps,” Cousins said. “They’re a multiple group that will be a lot of different fronts, a variety of coverages.”
Hughes back on injury report
Nine months after cornerback Mike Hughes’ 2019 season ended with a cracked vertebra in his neck, the area resurfaced on the Vikings’ injury report after Wednesday’s practice. The details of Hughes’ neck injury were not immediately known. He was one of four players held out, including cornerback Cameron Dantzler (rib), linebacker Troy Dye (ankle) and running back Mike Boone (concussion).
Up to this point, Hughes has played a full role with 77.5% of the defensive snaps in two games. Dantzler has not practiced since injuring his rib Sept. 13 against the Packers. Left tackle Riley Reiff was limited Wednesday because of an ankle injury.
Dye replaced linebacker Anthony Barr, whose season is over due to a torn pectoral muscle, in Sunday’s loss. If Dye remains sidelined, the Vikings may turn to Ryan Connelly or Hardy Nickerson Jr., who was promoted from the practice squad this week.
Remembering Gale Sayers
Mike Zimmer was a preteen son of a football coach and Chicago Bears fan in Illinois when Gale Sayers took the NFL by storm out of Kansas. After Sayers died Wednesday at the age of 77, Zimmer opened his media availability recalling the time Sayers was part of a University of Kansas’ recruiting pitch to one of Bill Zimmer’s high school players at Lockport, Ill.
Sayers hosted Bill and Mike Zimmer at his home. Mike Zimmer called Sayers “a great man” did not recalled whether he won the pool game they played.
“I don’t remember,” Zimmer said, “but I got his autograph on a football.”
Practice squad shuffle
The Vikings added linebacker depth Wednesday by signing undrafted rookie Cale Garrett to the practice squad, joining defensive back Nate Meadors, who was re-signed to the practice squad earlier this week.
For the third straight week, the Vikings protected backup kicker Chase McLaughlin, meaning he cannot be signed off the practice squad by another team. This year, NFL teams can protect up to four practice squad players each week to lock in their roster status.