NASHVILLE – The departures have been significant – big names with big voices in the Titans locker room for many seasons.
Delanie Walker and Jurrell Casey earned Pro Bowl trips, and their spots as captains. Wesley Woodyard's leadership was on display from the moment he walked in the doors at Saint Thomas Sports Park, and the same could be said for Logan Ryan.
But as of today, it looks like their days as Titans are over. Casey was traded to the Broncos, Walker was released, and Woodyard and Ryan remain unsigned.
There's no denying they'll be missed. But other leaders remain in the fold, and there's reason to believe some new leaders are ready to emerge.
"I honestly feel as though Jon (Robinson) and (Mike) Vrabel, and even Amy (Adams Strunk), I don't think they'd make decisions like those, like letting a guy like Delanie go, like trading Jurrell, I don't think they'd make those decisions without really feeling strong about the leadership that's still in the locker room," Titans safety Kevin Byard said. "Honestly, I think on all levels and in every room, I think we'll be pretty good even with … the leaders and the guys who have been here, even though they're not here anymore."
Following a rash of offseason moves, Robinson and Vrabel have both been asked about leadership in the team's locker room on the heels of a season that ended with a trip to the AFC Championship Game.
The team's decision makers under owner Amy Adams Strunk each made it clear they like the make-up of the roster moving forward despite saying goodbye to some of the most popular players from previous years.
"Kevin Byard has been one of our better leaders," Robinson said. "Rashaan Evans has stepped up vocally, DaQuan Jones is going to take on some more leadership up-front on the d-line. Ben Jones is one of our leaders up front on the line, along with Taylor (Lewan).
"Ryan Tannehill obviously, Derrick Henry stepped up as a leader. So those guys taking on more, even Jonnu Smith. Jonnu Smith had a great year last year and we're going to put more on his plate and ask him to kind of pick up that torch that Delanie had carried for so many years and try and show some leadership to his position group."
Vrabel used his answer about leadership to compliment Henry, and others.
"It's not who I think, it's who develops into those roles," Vrabel said. "I think we have some great leaders. I am excited to see Ryan (Tannehill) continue to lead our football team.
"I am excited to see Derrick continue what I thought was … his biggest improvement was in leadership. So I am excited to see that continue whenever we get back. And I know these guys are staying in contact with one another, because that is what teammates do. Ben Jones is always a great leader, and defensively Kevin Byard and Kenny (Vaccaro), and Rashaan is going to continue. DaQuan and these guys. … Leadership evolves as players come back and they see guys that are willing to put the team into their own personal needs. And hopefully in some sort of way everybody can lead."
On a conference call this week, Tannehill said he took more ownership of his responsibility as a leader after replacing Marcus Mariota as the team's starter early last season.
Tannehill's leadership skills were on display during a memorable playoff run, on the field and in the locker room.
"It's just something that goes along with playing the position," Tannehill said. "It's something last year I kind of had to take a step back from initially for a big stretch there in the offseason and the first part of the season, which was different for me. So, I was kind of taking a step back and figuring out the role where this year I just kind of get to be myself, be the leader that I am, and hopefully bring guys together and elevate the play.
"I try to do the best I can in every situation I'm given. When I was in the backup role, I tried to do the best I could at supporting Marcus, at being prepared to play and at preparing the defense to play on Sundays by giving them the best look I possibly could on scout team. … So, I was taking a step back and figuring out the role where this year I get to just be myself, be the leader that I am and – hopefully – bring guys together and elevate their play."
Byard, heading into his fifth season with the team, knows he has leaders around him on defense, including fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro.
On the offensive side of the ball, receiver A.J. Brown led by example during a rookie season when he turned into one of the league's top first-year players. During the course of last season, Henry was lauded by his teammates for pushing them during the week, and on gamedays.
When it comes to leadership, Byard wants to do his part – the same way others did for him when he first entered the league.
"A guy like Derrick Henry – I know people kind of want to talk about the leadership with him down the stretch last year, but he had shown that leadership throughout the entire year," Byard said of Henry. "He always kept that worker's mentality, he always kept guys alive in the locker room and always said his two cents when he needed to. I think he's going to be a great leader for us this year as he's always been. Ryan Tannehill, I think Rashaan has really come into his own as well. He's always a grinder, but just really speaking up and really showing his energy, and really bringing that passion out there every single day. I think we have guys on every level. I think a guy like DaQuan Jones as well, who really had a great year last year, who's really, I think, who's kind of underrated and really wasn't talked about as much. I think he's a great leader on that defensive line as well.
"… Most of the guys that were here when I was a rookie aren't here anymore. Most of the leaders, Jurrell, all of the guys that I've grown to be so close with, Mariota, Wesley Woodyard, guys that I've learned a lot from as a pro are moving on. The way I kind of look at it is kind of changing of the guard a little bit. I have to use all of the things that I've learned from those guys and teach it to the younger guys. I think it's just one of those, 'Each one teach one' deals. Eventually I'll have my day (when I'm leaving), I feel like everybody is going to have that day. Nobody really knows when it's going to come, I don't think that's something for anybody to think about or kind of dwell on. But, it's all about making sure that when you leave, you leave a really good imprint on the locker room. From Marcus to Wesley to Delanie, to everybody, I could name a lot of guys, they all left a very good imprint on the locker room. That's what I want to be and that's how I want to be remembered when I leave."