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Without Kevin Byard, Kristian Fulton, how are Tennessee Titans’ DBs getting better at OTAs?

The Tennessee Titans’ secondary needs to fix itself.

That’ll be a challenge when the unit isn’t anywhere close to whole yet.

At the start of OTAs, the Titans’ secondary is nearly as incomplete as it was at the end of the injury-riddled 2022 season. Veteran safety Kevin Byard and fourth-year cornerback Kristian Fulton aren’t at the voluntary practices. Former first-round pick Caleb Farley is still working back to health after a season-ending surgery. Second-year cornerback Roger McCreary says he’s trying to get better at playing nickelback after playing mostly as a sideline corner as a rookie and third-year safety Elijah Molden says he’s trying to learn how to play more safety after two years as a nickelback.

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Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting is the only new face in a Titans secondary that allowed the most passing yards and faced the most pass attempts in the NFL in 2022. If those issues are to be corrected, they’ll predominantly have to be fixed by the players who struggled on the field and struggled to stay on the field last fall.

“If a D-lineman messes up and they’re not on the same page, you’ve got a linebacker and a safety or a corner or somebody who’s going to make them right for a minimal gain,” Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen said. . “If you’re not right in the back end, it’s usually a touchdown.”

What’s the Titans’ biggest issue?

A run-down secondary wasn’t the Titans’ only issue in 2022. It might not even have been the biggest issue, given the way the offensive line and passing game operated from November onward. But it’s been interesting to see how the Titans have addressed those offensive shortcomings compared to the defensive ones.

The Titans devoted all six of their picks in the 2023 NFL Draft to offensive players and signed three likely offensive starters and a rotational contributor in free agency. In the secondary, the fresh faces are Murphy-Bunting and a gaggle of undrafted free agents. That’s a seeming vote of confidence from the Titans’ coaches and front office that the players in place will be able to course correct, no overhaul necessary.

If Byard shows up for mandatory team activities, no one’s going to be worried about him. Titans coach Mike Vrabel says he expects Byard to be in the facility when it’s time and to be in just as good shape as he would have been had he reported in April.

The rest of the unit is a little more worrisome. Fulton’s absence is downright puzzling after he missed six games last season and Vrabel called him out by name in January as a player who needs to work to stay healthier. The former second-round pick was productive when he played, but Bowen knows that caveat isn’t likely to be enough for Fulton to get what he wants.

“It’s a big year for Kristian. He knows it. We know it,” Bowen said. “Going into the final year of his deal, I would expect him to put his best foot forward and do everything he can to be out there. It’s tough to produce and tough to potentially earn a contract if you’re not out doing it .”

Can the Titans get better with the current roster?

It’s not just Fulton who needs to stay healthy. He has missed 20 games in three years. Molden has missed 16 games in two years. Farley has missed 22 games in two years. Safety Amani Hooker has missed 13 games in the last two years and so has Murphy-Bunting.

Molden says he’s getting better at not pushing through pain and overexerting when he should be healing. Bowen said Fulton has looked bigger, stronger and healthier when he’s seen him. And even Farley, who has dealt with repeated injury issues since college, is coming along.

“He’s working his way back right now,” Bowen said. “He’s in meetings. He’s doing stuff. He continues to work with our training staff to do things to get himself ready to go. Whenever he’s available for us to get back out and do some things, he will be.”

If the Titans have at least six players from the group of Byard, Hooker, Fulton, McCreary, Murphy-Bunting, Farley, Molden and Tre Avery available for every game, this unit does not have to be a weakness. There’s proven talent and untapped potential in the room. The Titans wouldn’t have largely ignored the unit all offseason if they didn’t believe they had something to work with.

And if these players can cross-train at multiple positions to ensure one or two injuries don’t wreck the whole group and give up the big plays that derailed last season, that’s an added bonus.

“I got here and primarily I played pretty much two positions,” Molden says. “I feel like I want to expand out of that and play wherever I can. I think they came to me. Like I said, no matter where I’m at in this league, the more versatile you are, the more you’re able to help out and play anywhere.”

Nick Suss is the Titans beat writer for The Tennessean. Contact Nick at [email protected]. Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Tennessee Titans DBs want to improve at OTAs — but key pieces missing