MOBILE, Ala. – At the Senior Bowl, Jon Robinson is back at work.
In reality, the Titans General Manager never really stopped after the team's painful season-ending loss to the Bengals in the playoffs.
The 48 hours that followed included conversations with the team's players and coaches in the wake of a season which saw the franchise win 12 games while capturing the AFC South for the second year in a row. But the AFC's No.1 seed heading into the postseason will now watch the Super Bowl instead of playing in it, which is still tough to accept.
Robinson, however, is now interviewing prospects and watching practices here at the Senior Bowl, just a few days after evaluating players in Las Vegas at the East-West Shrine Bowl. The NFL Combine, and free agency, are on the horizon.
So, the GM is turning the page to 2022, with the reminders of 2021 in the rear-view mirror.
"You feel bad for the players, the coaching staff, trainers, operations – everybody that puts so much into the season," Robinson said of the final result. "When you are fortunate enough to make the playoffs, unless you run the table and you finish it by winning the Super Bowl, it kind of ends like a car crash – it just comes to a screeching stop. When you look back and reflect, you (think), 'What could I have done better? Could I have done this better or that better?' You don't make any snap decisions. You talk to all the players, all the rookies, all the guys who are going to be free agents. You thank them, and you put a charge on the rookies that we need to do X, Y and Z in the offseason, and guys whose contracts are up, tell them we are working through it, and we're not making any roster decisions 48 hours after the game."
Robinson said he'll remember the 2021 Titans, who played with a league-record 91 players, for its toughness and resiliency that exemplified the "next man up" mantra to have success while finding ways to win more game than any Titans squad since the 2008 season.
And while the ending wasn't what anyone wanted, Robinson said he's proud of the Titans, a franchise that's hardly broken after three straight playoff appearances and six straight winning seasons.
"Obviously we wanted to go further in the tournament, but I'm proud of the way the guys fought," Robinson said. "And I'm proud of all of them for how they represented the fireball.
"But every team is different. The 2022 team will look different than the 2021 team. There will be players that were on this past season's team that won't be on next year's team, but that's the way it goes. That's the nature of the NFL, and it happens every single year. And there will be players that weren't on last year's team that will be on the team next year.
"But the one thing that Mike (Vrabel) and I talked about, and that Amy (Adams Strunk) and I talked about, is the culture and the fabric of our football team, and the organization, that is not broken. I think that is firmly entrenched by who we want to be, the style of football we want to play. … (The Bengals game) came down to a few plays here and a few plays there – just as it happened in the Championship games (Bengals vs Chiefs, Rams vs 49ers). A few plays in those games tilted the outcome, and the margin for error when you get to playoff football, it is very small. And ultimately it comes down to those handful of plays, because the teams are all good and they are all playing winning football. It's those handful of plays that ultimately determine the handful of the games, and your fate."
During a 25-minute conversation on Tuesday outside the Mobile Convention Center at the Senior Bowl, Robinson touched on a number of topics:
-Robinson backed quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has been the subject of a lot of criticism from the fan base after his three-interception game against the Bengals.
"I think Ryan is a leader, I think Ryan is tough, I think Ryan has made a lot of great plays for us," Robinson said of Tannehill. "He is our quarterback. I don't know that there is a quarterback who stands in the pocket and looks down the barrel of a blitz and throws the ball as good as he does. I know he works extremely hard, loves his teammates, is competitive. He's played a lot of good football.
"To have a micro-evaluation over one game is not fair to any player. I think you have to look at the scope of the body of work, and what he has done for this football team since he has been here."
-Robinson said he felt like outside linebacker Harold Landry made great strides during his 12-sack season in 2021.
Landry, one of the Titans scheduled to become a free agent, is a player the team wants to keep, Robinson said.
"I think Harold wants to be (with us), not to speak for him," Robinson said. "We are going to do everything we can to try and keep Harold, but we understand there's a lot of other things that need to go down, too."
-Robinson said he expects running back Derrick Henry, who returned for the postseason after missing the final nine games of the regular season with a foot injury, to return to form in 2022.
"You certainly hope so," Robinson said. "Derrick worked extremely hard, and he ran tough in the Cincy game. Most of those running backs, they kind of get in the groove a little bit, kind of get a feel, and I feel confident that he'll get back in a groove and get back to the style of football that we've grown accustomed to watching him play."
-Robinson he's already talked to roughly 25 to 30 players in Mobile, and those conversations will continue throughout the week. He said he'll be watching to see how they perform in one-on-one situations on the field, and in meetings.
"We'll watch these guys compete," Robinson said. "It's a good opportunity to get up close and personal with them, and to start to piece together a profile on each draft prospect."
Robinson said the Titans are looking at all the position groups in the draft, and he said he's watched film of all the players participating at the Senior Bowl.
Asked about the strengths of the 2022 draft class, Robinson mentioned the offensive line, cornerbacks, receivers, and edge rushers.
-Robinson said he felt like receiver Julio Jones, acquired in a trade last offseason with the Falcons, began to get his footing late in the season after dealing with a hamstring injury.
Jones finished the season with 31 catches for 434 yards in the regular season.
"He came and certainly helped us down the stretch," Robinson said of Jones. "He got off to a nice start in Seattle, made a couple of big plays for us, and then fought through some things throughout the course of the season that kept him out of some games, or limited him in some other games. But he fell into the groove at the end of the season and made some plays for us.
"He's a consummate pro, works hard, was one of the first guys in the building. He does things the right way, and you can tell why he's done it for a long time, and why he'll have a gold jacket one day."
-Robinson felt linebacker Zach Cunningham, claimed off waivers by the Titans during the season, played the way the team envisioned he would.
"He was aggressive, he was long," Robinson said of Cunningham. "He did a good job trying to get the ball out. I thought he fit in well, and it was a pretty seamless transition. Obviously when you have a history with somebody like Mike did with him it makes it a little easier.
"He came in and played good football for us, and we're excited to work with him moving forward."
-Robinson said decisions on Landry and the team's other players scheduled to be free agents will be made down the road, "and we have to plan and forecast how we are going to allocate salary cap resources."
Offensive line is one of the positions where the team will have to make some decisions.
"We are working through the guys whose contracts are up, and some younger guys will have to continue to improve and grow," Robinson said. "I thought Dillon (Radunz) did a nice job in the San Francisco game, and he continues to work and improve. Rodger (Saffold) played good football for us, Taylor (Lewan) played good football for us. I think all of those guys as a group played good for us and we'll continue to work through some things and make the best decisions moving forward.
"I tell all those guys: It's a giant puzzle at the end of the season, and there's a lot of pieces. And it's my job to try and put it back together. It's going to be challenging, but we'll work through it. In any negotiation there has to be some give and take on both sides."
-Robinson said he felt outside linebacker Bud Dupree got his "quickness and explosion back" toward the end of the season as more time passed following the ACL surgery he had last year, "and we're excited to see him to continue to grow and develop within the scheme while being an impactful player for us."
-Robinson said he's proud of the four Titans who will play in the Pro Bowl later this week – safety Kevin Byard, defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, and Landry.
"They are great representatives of our organization, and our football team," Robinson said, "with the way they approach their job on a day in and day out basis, and their productivity shows that."