NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It's Dick LeBeau's show on defense with the Tennessee Titans, no questions asked.
LeBeau smiles at the mention.
A year ago, the veteran coach served as assistant head coach/defense in his first season with the team, but he admittedly took a back seat to defensive coordinator Ray Horton, his former pupil, and understudy.
"I am more comfortable in this environment,'' LeBeau said after Thursday's OTA. "I didn't talk that much last year because I wanted (the players) to hear one voice. I definitely think it is probably better for them to have one voice."
That voice now belongs LeBeau, a veteran of 56 NFL seasons as a player or coach. LeBeau joined the Titans prior to last season after 11 years as the defensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was his second stint in Pittsburgh, after spending time there previously as an assistant coach/defensive coordinator. In his 13 seasons as the Steelers defensive coordinator, Pittsburgh finished in the top-five in total defense 10 times and was number one five times under LeBeau.
LeBeau has taken the muzzle off himself, and he can breathe again. Horton called the defensive plays last season, but he's now with the Browns.
"(It feels good) from the standpoint that I am very used to doing all the talking,'' a smiling LeBeau said, "and I didn't want to do that to Ray, so I didn't. But I don't have any problem talking all the time now, and I am much more comfortable in that environment."
In 2015, the Titans spent a good part of the season ranked in the top 10 on defense. Injuries and inconsistent play down the stretch caused play to slip, however, and the Titans finished the year ranked 12th in total defense. The Titans finished the season with 39 sacks on defense.
LeBeau believes the Titans have upgraded their personnel on the defensive side of the ball since last season in free agency and the draft. Getting players like cornerback Jason McCourty and linebacker Derrick Morgan back should help significantly as well. Both players missed a good portion of the season with injuries.
How will things change?
"I don't think any two coaches in the whole league would call games the same way,'' LeBeau said. "I like to err on the side of pressure. So we're going to be coming, there is no question about that. But we were pretty much a pressure team (last year) also. You may not notice too many differences, but there's quite a few in there."
More than anything, LeBeau wants to see an improvement on Sundays.
"This is the Tennessee Titans, and it's 2016,'' LeBeau said. "And we're going to try and put the most competitive running and hitting defense that we can on the field. And everybody, anybody, that wants to put their hand in the pile with us, they're going to be welcomed."
Titans veterans and rookies take the field for Day 3 of OTAs at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Gary Glenn)