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AP file photo by Mark Humphrey / The Tennessee Titans are back together this week for a mandatory minicamp in Nashville. One of the priorities is getting their revamped defense in order, although injury rehab is keeping some of the biggest new names for the unit on the sideline right now.

NASHVILLE — On the Tennessee Titans' first day of minicamp, Janoris "Jackrabbit" Jenkins broke up two passes and Denico Autry worked on the defensive line.

Their two biggest additions since a first-round playoff loss in January — outside linebacker Bud Dupree and rookie cornerback Caleb Farley — stayed right where they've been all offseason even as Tennessee's camp began Tuesday. Dupree is working his way back from the torn ACL that ended his 2020 season, and their top draft pick is recovering from back surgery in March.

The biggest question mark about the reigning AFC South Division champions revolves around a defense that was among the NFL's worst in several key categories last season, something Dupree can't start trying to help fix until he's cleared to practice.

"Being in meetings is different from being on the field as far as feeling the urgency, feeling the real pressure that's built up from those guys who were here last year," Dupree said. "The chip on their shoulder is different from guys who are just getting here."

Defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said he and his teammates have been talking during Zoom sessions about how they expected more out of the defense last year. They know they need to show progress, specifically on third down.

"The mindset we have right now and the approach we're taking, I think we're going in the right direction right now," Simmons said last week.

The front office did its part to make clear it believes improvement is necessary.

Gone are seven players who started at least three games last season, including three in the secondary whose exits were intended to clear salary cap space. Autry and Dupree are among the six veterans signed in March via free agency, and Tennessee drafted five defensive players including No. 22 overall pick Farley.

Coach Mike Vrabel hired former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as a senior assistant on that side of the ball, and Vrabel also named Shane Bowen defensive coordinator while promoting Ryan Crowe to take over Bowen's duties coaching outside linebackers. Jim Haslett, a former head coach and defensive coordinator in the league, will work with inside linebackers.

So when it comes to fixing a unit that ranked last on third-down conversions, 30th in sacks and 28th in yards allowed per game, experience on staff shouldn't be considered a limitation.

"That's my job, to make sure that we're doing things that we feel can help us," Vrabel said.

The coach who played 14 seasons in the NFL at linebacker and won three Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots isn't into comparing defenses from year to year, and any status report on where this unit might be will have to wait until training camp at the earliest.

As for the missing pieces, Vrabel said the team has an individual recovery plan for each player coming off an injury or surgery. He also said he has enjoyed coaching Farley, who had a disk in his lower back repaired in March but has been able to take part in some activities.

"Being able to watch him do the rookie walk-throughs that we have, the rookie walk-through 7-on-7s, he's grasping the knowledge of what we're asking him to do and he's working hard. He's working hard to be back with his teammates," Vrabel said.

The Titans tried to boost their pass rush last season by signing Vic Beasley Jr. and then Jadeveon Clowney. But neither had even a half sack in a combined 13 games. Tennessee was last in sacks in the NFL until getting four in the regular-season finale to finish with 19, ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals (18) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (17).

Dupree has been taking part in virtual meetings to learn the Titans' defensive scheme and knows exactly what's expected of him.

"It's no secret they've got me here for that, to help out with the pass rush, and I put it on my shoulder," Dupree said. "And I wear the hat while I'm working out in the offseason, while I'm rehabbing right now getting my knee right."

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